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Organised religion debate

(78 Posts)
ACubed Mon 12-Dec-16 09:40:32

Greetings! After a good debate in another thread it was suggested someone makes a new thread posing some questions about religion, so here are some talking points, I'll number them so easier to reference:
1) holy books - do people believe the stories actually happened? If so how can you square this with modern science/evolution, and if not how can you pick and choose what exists?
2) do people of faith acknowledge that the holy books contradict themselves?
3) is the sexism in the holy texts acceptable? How can this be the true word of God if it's so darn mean?
4) if you had been born into another religion would you follow it or convert? For example, if any muslims on here had instead been born in a Jewish family do you think you would have converted to Islam?
5) following on from that, is it not surely luck which faith most people follow? How does this affect your certainty in your faith?

6) why do none of the holy texts mention the evolution of mankind, other planets or galaxies, or any other modern science which has been proven?

Sure there are lots more questions but I've gone blank. I'm more than happy to answer any questions like these on my lack of faith!

PhilODox Mon 12-Dec-16 09:46:24

7) if we are made in god's image, then why are we all so different? (Credit to Desmond Tutu)

headinhands Mon 12-Dec-16 10:37:48

8) why does a loving God drown babies and order his followers, the Israelites to stab whole ethnicities. I can't imagine the PTSD suffered by the Israelites having to stab babies and small children and pregnant woman or anyone for that matter.

ChristmasPeace Mon 12-Dec-16 18:34:11

1. Holy books – do people believe the stories actually happened? If so how can you square this with modern science/evolution?

Of course you will always get wishy-washy followers of any religion, that’s just life. But if you’re talking about true followers of Christ (Christians) then yes, they believe what the bible says because it is the inspired word of God.

Some people try to explain away bits of the bible by saying its symbolic, and whilst some areas clearly are symbolic (such as Jesus calling us sheep – we’re not actually sheep!), other’s aren’t. Christian scientists either believe the evolutionary model is true so creation is symbolic, or they believe creation story is literal and they crunch the numbers to reflect this. It was mentioned on the other thread that the decay rate being constant or variable changes everything. If it was constant since time began, the earth is very, very old. But it it was variable because of climate change or a world wide flood (Noah) then it would support a very young earth. Obviously current mainstream science goes with constant theory or the evolutionary theory falls apart. But there are fully professional scientists who believe in God and claim that no one was there to measure, and so its much more likely to have been variable, especially since the notion isn’t an impossible one.

2. Do people of faith acknowledge that the holy books contradict themselves?

I can't speak for other holy books of false religions, and would expect them to because they're false. But I do know the bible doesn’t contradict itself. This is one of the best-spread false rumours in urban legend you will ever find. If people twist what is said of course they can make it out to be wrong, but if you take it in context (who is talking, what are they talking about, and to whom) then it fits together in a way that would be very hard to achieve with so many writers over so many years. Find me an example that YOU have studied out (not just cut and paste from an atheist website without researching it thoroughly and fairly) and I am happy to explain it further to you.

3. Is sexism acceptable?

You need to remember that just because the bible describes historical events, it doesn’t always endorse people’s actions. God wanted order in society, and just like order in the military, or in a large corporation, someone needs to lead. However, like everything else, man has corrupted this order and the result is exclusion and discrimination. Galatians 3 says “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ”

In modern society the act of ascribing different roles to male and female is considered sexist. However it is possible to have different roles whilst maintaining value and respect, and without making women inferior.

There are numerous accounts of women not only governing male and female alike, but also leading men to know of God. Proverbs dedicates a whole chapter of admiration and praise for the acts of a good woman. Some of Jesus’ best friends were women. He was revealed to them first when he rose from the dead. As a baby he was brought to a female prophetess Anna. Men are held more accountable to God and are instructed to be sacrificial and consider and love their wives as much as they consider and love themselves. Can you imagine how different our world would be if only men followed this?

4. If you had been born into another religion would you follow it or convert?

Obviously its impossible to say what and if, because we can't say for certain. However it is known that people convert all the time. The website has reported about more than a million Hindus converting to Christianity in a single event. There are some interesting stories logged online in various websites like this one]]. if you like to google it.

5. is it not surely luck which faith most people follow?

No, God is in control over who is born where, and when. He shows himself to people in dreams, visions, word of mouth, books, all manner of different ways. He is a God of the impossible, after all!

6. Why do none of the holy books mention evolution of mankind? Or any other modern science which has been proven?

Some Christians would argue because evolution isn’t correct! However one thing can say for sure is that whether you believe God used evolution or not, is irrelevant when the bible is all about our sin (we all do that) and our judgement (everyone faces God on judgement day), and whether we accept or reject the free gift that God offers us when we believe in him.

It is noteworthy to mention that the bible reflects observable and testable scientific knowledge (evolution is neither of these, since we were not there to repeat the test), even though the people probably didn’t realise how accurate it was when they wrote it! Websites such as show this.

ChristmasPeace Mon 12-Dec-16 18:45:21


God love people but hates sin and tells us that the wages of sin is death. The bible also tells us that God appoints each of us a day to be born and a day to die. He knows the dates, not us. The only thing we can be sure of is that none of us are going to get out of this life alive! 

I presume when you talk of God drowning babies you refer to the World wide flood, where Noah built the ark and warned people for 120 years that they needed to: turn to God, and join Noah in the safety of the Ark if they wanted to be saved from this certain judgment. 

Much like today, people scoffed at the idea. They didn't believe in God! God was a sky-fairy, or spaghetti monster, and was just as false as all the false gods around in the world. So the ridiculed Noah and his message for the whole 120 years. 

He doesn't change the fact that God wanted all men to come to him and be saved. Just like you just today. It also doesn't change the fact that they chose their own fate. You can't blame the NHS for people who are offered chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but refused to take it and turn to homeopathy instead. It's up to people to choose wisely, research their options, and as I've mentioned before, God says that anyone who is open to him, will certainly find him.

headinhands Mon 12-Dec-16 19:41:16

You can't blame the NHS for people who are offered chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but refused to take it and turn to homeopathy instead.

Your analogy works if God saved the babies. Even in a fallen corrupt world the authorities would seek to remove a child from parents who were not keeping their child safe. So your analogy only highlights the despicable nature of God and his actions re: the flood.

headinhands Mon 12-Dec-16 19:44:34

scoffed at the idea. They didn't believe in God! God was a sky-fairy, or spaghetti monster, 

Do you scoff at the idea of Allah. I assume you reckon it's made up. That's how I feel about your God. It's not scoffing as such. Yes I am sometimes amused at the knots believers get in when trying to justify certain elements but only because I can usually see the believers are good people and in a real quandary about the position their in.

Some big questions posed here so from a liberal Anglican (Church of England) perspective and remembering that if you put three Christians in a room you will get four opinions…
1) holy books - do people believe the stories actually happened? If so how can you square this with modern science/evolution, and if not how can you pick and choose what exists?
It depends. If the question is talking about creation then yes creation happened as we are here but the myth of seven days isn’t trying to be scientific. It is poetry and a reflection on the nature of God. So the world comes into being through a word and not through battles between other Gods. God sees that it is good and this is in marked contrast to the creation stories of other cultures in the ancient near east. So the creation myth which was written and rewritten over the centuries (there are in fact two just as there are two flood stories) is about the nature of God and not about the literal when stuff happened.
I have no problem with science as it asks different questions. If I want my car fixed I go to a mechanic. If I want to know how far it is to the nearest star I ask an astronomer. If I want to ask about why I should be moral I would ask a philosopher who would start asking questions about how I know I or anyone else exists before we get down to the knotty problems of truth, beauty and values.

2) do people of faith acknowledge that the holy books contradict themselves?

3) is the sexism in the holy texts acceptable? How can this be the true word of God if it's so darn mean?
The Bible reflects the culture(s) in which it was written so there is plenty of patriarchy present in the Old and New Testament.
The Bible was not written by God. It was written by people. It is not a rule book or reportage. It is writing in a number of different genres in which people reflect on their experiences of the divine. What looks mean to us is contextual but yes, some of the OT looks very mean to us but then we are not a desert people struggling to survive in hostile territory.

4) if you had been born into another religion would you follow it or convert? For example, if any muslims on here had instead been born in a Jewish family do you think you would have converted to Islam?
I know plenty of people in other faiths and I respect their opinions. For me as a Christian there is something different about my faith as it is about a relationship with a person Jesus and there isn’t anything comparable in the other faiths I’ve encountered. I love and admire my pagan sisters but the goddess doesn’t love me back as Jesus does.

5) following on from that, is it not surely luck which faith most people follow? How does this affect your certainty in your faith?
Those of us up the liberal end of the spectrum live with doubt most of the time.

6) why do none of the holy texts mention the evolution of mankind, other planets or galaxies, or any other modern science which has been proven?
Because they are not scientific texts but reflections upon the divine in the form of histories (written much later if you are interested,) poetry, myth and books of law for a people in a time and place that is not the same as ours. The gospels and the letters in the New Testament are there to witness to the events of the life of Jesus and to proclaim the good news of his life, death and resurrection. The letters of Paul and others to the early churches were kept and form the last part of the NT.

If you want the Bible to be a scientific text you will be disappointed. It was never intended to be that and it is only since the 19th century that some Christians have tried to read it that way. It is rare to find Biblical literalism and seven day creationism in the C of E. Other denominations vary.

ACubed Mon 12-Dec-16 21:00:46

Thanks for the really interesting responses! Peace, do you believe in evolution? I'm really interested to know when people who believe in souls think that the first soul was present - for example at what stage between single celled organism and modern human did we become capable of sin? And what of mentally handicapped people who might lack the cognitive capacity for morals? Is heaven full of cave people?
Also please let me know what you would think if alien life of any kind was found - would you believe God had created that as well? Or if there is intelligent life out there with their own belief system who think we are wicked and ungodly...I suppose that would be no different than how different faiths view each other sometimes.
I'm also struggling with god's motivation - why create a species in your own image, and have them born with original sin if you hate sin so much? Why bother with free will of the results displease you? Why allow Satan to exit at all if he is such a bad influence?
Sorry if my comments are just focusing on Christianity, I'm not trying to single out that religion, but being English it's the one I know most about (not very much admittedly).

ACubed Mon 12-Dec-16 21:03:41

Also with regards to science - in my mind science is a beatific description of nature and the universe, and if I believed in god I would want to fully understand then laws of nature he created, and how the universe works, so I don't think you can say religion isn't to do with science, surely they are both trying to make sense of existence. I'm not aware of the scientists disputing the ar of the planet, but the vast majority have aged it accurately so I think trying to tailor your result should to fit your religion is shockingly unprofessional.

ACubed Mon 12-Dec-16 21:05:47

Also re: the flood - does it mean everyone who died would have gone to hell? Sorry I'm a bit ignorant about that but.

ChristmasPeace Mon 12-Dec-16 21:14:42

Adam and Eve had a choice in the same way that you wouldn't want to have children or a partner with you forced to love you. It would really be true love if that happened. When someone loves you out of their own free will it is a beautiful thing, and a reflection of our relationship to God.

Satan started off as an angel, quite high-up as it happens. But he also had a choice: to obey or rebel. He wanted to be above God and so broke away to try and entice God's creation away from him too. A kind of "haha - they're following me now and not you" type response to God.

I don't know why God gave angels free will but I can only assume for the same reason he gave it to humans. I do want to be careful not to add to the words already written though, as man-made religion is a dangerous thing.

As for whether I believe in evolution? Not the sort I think you mean. For example, survival of the fittest is common senses, as is micro-evolution (adaptation). But I tend to agree that it's highly possible the decay rates varied over time and because that gives a young earth reading, and supports the bible, it makes more sense to me.

But I accept you don't have to believe in creation to believe in God. Those people are out there. They just think the decay rate is constant even though there's no way to prove it. You get christians having other differences of opinion about how often to pray, how much alcohol to drink, how to dress, whether to use loans for everything or be satisfied without. None of these things matter in terms of whether you come to know God though. To some degree they're sideline issues.

Above all, it is most important what I believe about God and Jesus, and my condition as a sinner, and my inability to save myself, and his free gift of undeserved mercy towards me - towards all humankind.

KnockMeDown Mon 12-Dec-16 21:32:42

The thing that I don't get with the bible is that it was written by humans, and humans decided which bits should go in it. Yet it's presented as the Word of God. I say this as a Christian, and I don't want to offend any one, but this is something I have been struggling with.

altik Mon 12-Dec-16 22:26:41

You say there are no contradictions in the Bible and...
"Find me an example that YOU have studied out (not just cut and paste from an atheist website without researching it thoroughly and fairly) and I am happy to explain it further to you."

Sorry, but you have volunteered. These are questions I'm frequently asked by my RS class. I can give them the theological response and mythological responses, but as I'm not a Christian, I can never really explain what a Biblical literalist would say. So if you don't mind ... grin


What is the order of creation? Genesis 1 says fish, birds, land animals and then man as the pinnacle of creation. But Genesis 2 has Adam created first, then the animals, then no suitable helper is found so Eve is made. How do you account for the two different account?. I usually refer to the change in authors in Genesis 2v4a... but for Biblical literalists, this does not work.

Secondly, in Genesis 1 you have day and night several days before the sun and moon being created. How does this work...?

Now onto New Testament:

The genealogies of Luke says Jesus was descended from Joseph, Eli, Matthat, Levi, Melchi etc... all the way back to David. But the genealogy in Matthew is different... Joseph, Jacob, Matthan, Eleazar, Eliud,Achim etc... these are totally different genealogies. Now, if this is taken mythically there is no problem, but if you take this literally and used to justify that Jesus was descended from David (which enables him to claim to be the Messiah), then how do you account for these differences? If you can answer this one, it would be great, because my A level class are currently studying demythologisation of the Bible and they only asked me this last week, and of course, I could not answer them!

And finally, In Matthew 2, it says Jesus was born under the rule of Herod, but in Luke 2, it says Jesus was born under the rule of Quirinius in Syria (who commissioned the census). But historical records show Herod died sometime between 6 and 4 BCE, but Quirinius was not governor until 6CE, so approx 10 years after the death of Herod. Clearly, unless Jesus was born twice, both can't be true. So how do Biblical literalists explain this discrepancy? Many Theologians would say that the census never happened, it's just a literary tool to get Jesus to Bethlehem to be born, so he can fulfil the prophecy, but of course Biblical literalists won't accept that, so how would they account for this?

If you can please answer these questions, I would really appreciate it. I don't want the "official" answer - I can give them theological doctrine, but it's how Christians individually respond to these issues that the students ask... so if you don't mind, I'd be most obliged! Thank you smile

altik Mon 12-Dec-16 22:34:24

Oh and one last one...

Regarding Adam and Eve and the fall.

Augustine maintained that Angels do not have free will, but that God knew that Lucifer would rebel and that they were predestined to fall. So how do you maintain God to be benevolent if this was foreseen by God and he still created Lucifer...? I've included a clip from the text book to explain further...

Also Ezekiel 28 is supposed to depict the fall, but it does state that it was about the fall of the King of Babylon. Do you take it to mean both literally? Or is one metaphorical? If so, which one?

Again, I can tell them the theological doctrine... but what my students often ask is how do Christians today answer these questions, which of course, I can never explain!

ACubed Tue 13-Dec-16 07:29:01

Great questions altik, you're very knowledgeable!
My questions are less informed and more vague, but still things which on my mind. Now I know the bible says that's been it's and abomination for two men to sleep together. I know in my own mind that this is not true, and that it is very immoral to say that gay people should not be intimate with each other. How can people agree with this, in this day and age?
And I would love any feedback on what believers think about people with limited brain capacity being allowed into heaven if they have not accepted god.

ACubed Tue 13-Dec-16 07:46:12

And getting back to the age of the earth - I'm no mathematician but I can't understand how someone could come up with six thousand years as an age. The most esteemed scientists in the world would surely be able to easily disprove this? The dinosaur fossils are proven to be far far older than that.
And also may I ask, if you are saying you do believe in the creation story, then you believe all humans were descended from Adam and Eve, so you do not believe all lie came from single called organisms? Would this not have involved a sickening level of incest? Same when Noah's family supposedly repopulate the planet - would siblings have had to procreate with each other? And how would that have created the different races we see today?

Alkit - the book you quote gives you the answer as reading Plantinga and Hick would help you understand some of the debates that Christians are involved in. The different genealogies in Matthew and Luke are there for different reasons which is fairly basic stuff if you are teaching RE. The Oxford Bible Commentary goes into a fair amount of detail here and I'm surprised that you don't have that on your bookshelf. It is by Barton and Muddiman and an absolute standard for those take an academic approach to Bible study.

ACubed - you are asking lots of interesting questions which a book by Keith Ward is well able to help you with. His 'Christianity a Short Introduction' gives outlines of the key doctrines in Christianity - creation, the fall, the soul, the Bible etc and outlines three different views on each from the conservative, more mainstream and very liberal approaches. It helps to understand that there are many answers to the questions posed by faith from a Christian point of view.

altik Tue 13-Dec-16 10:55:27


Yes, I know the theological arguments. But what I can never answer is the question "what do Christians really believe...?"

I can explain the ideas of the theologians, but Traditional theology tends not to be Biblical literalists, tends more to be more Biblical conservatives... this I can explain. But how does a believer personally reconcile both genealogical accounts say, whilst maintaining the Bible has no contradictions and is the infallible word of God...? That's a personal answer and I cannot explain that, which is why I'm interested in it from a personal Christian viewpoint and not what X scholar says!

Maybe you need to get some Christians in to talk to your students and then they can hear different view points which will drive the point home that 'some Christians believe that...'

I'm not sure what you mean by traditional theology can you explain? New material is being published all the time but maybe that isn't what you mean.

When I did my OT module at college I used the library of a very conservative Bible College which was near to me. As expected they were great on the conservative authors but had mostly out of date versions of the more mainstream academic texts which meant trying to source them elsewhere as I would get very poor marks if I only quoted one viewpoint. If you only read conservative Biblical works then that doesn't give you a full picture of the breath of Christian theology which is why I suggested Barton and Muddiman as the go to textbook. John Barton's 'People of the Book?' is excellent on what the Bible is and isn't as is Keith Ward's 'What the Bible really teaches' which is from a more liberal perspective. All of these books have been published in the last 20 years so still current.

As this Christian doesn't believe that the Bible has no contradictions or is the infallible word of God there is absolutely not problem with differing genealogies.

ACubed Tue 13-Dec-16 12:37:48

Thanks for the response, I'll definitely do some further reading, but I too am really interested in what individuals believe and how they can square what's in the holy texts with the reality of the natural world. I only have one religious friend I can talk to about this, but after extensive debate she doesn't really believe any of the bible and Is more spiritual, but enjoyed the rules and rituals that come with Catholicism . I'm so interested to hear views from creationists, not so I can try to tear them apart, just so I can debate them and try to understand how people can't believe the stories in this modern age.

niminypiminy Tue 13-Dec-16 14:54:58

altik and acubed you seem to be wanting only to talk to biblical literalists - those who believe every word of the Bible is to be taken literally. That's quite a small proportion of Christians, in the UK at least. altik" only wants to talk to those who believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God, while *acubed only wants to talk to Creationists (I imagine Young Earth Creationists at that). Fascinating as these minority groups are, they really don't represent Christians in general. It's a shame you don't seem to be very interested in what other kinds of Christians have to say.

altik Tue 13-Dec-16 15:16:59

Niminiy perhaps I'm not explaining myself very clearly... it's not that I'm not interested in what other Christians have to say, but rather I know those views and can explain them to my students... I'm trying to get the views of 'real Christians' who are Biblical literalists, to explain the views I cannot.

It's not that I'm not interested, but I have brought in religious groups who have explained mainstream beliefs to my classes. I can cover this. Also, I can cover all theological arguments, and yes, of course I use Keith Ward, Hick and Plantinga et al. They're bread and butter stuff. I'm asking to fill in my gaps... it's not that I'm not interested in other views, it's just that I can already explain them to my students, with real life examples and explanations.

To draw a comparison, For GCSE I have to teach my students the official Catholic views on contraception. When the students then ask me "but do Catholics really believe this...?" I would then explain the difference between theory and practice! Of course, some do but I can also give examples (from Catholic friends) why some might not practise this, and how they justify or explain their position (not in a confrontational way, but life is more complex than just the theory!)

But the questions asked are all genuine questions I have been asked over the past two topics. I can explain the theological response, from talking to friends etc I can explain liberal / conservative positions, but I cannot explain how your average Christian on the street, Biblical literalist would respond. So when my students ask me, I have to say I don't know. It would be great to have a genuine example to be able to say some literalists might answer X because they believe y. Again, I don't want theological doctrine or what scholars say, but what real life people thinking through these issues might say in response to these questions.

niminypiminy Tue 13-Dec-16 15:33:05

I understand that, but I suppose what I'm not getting is why it's not possible to tell your students that most Christians are not biblical literalists, certainly in this country (I'm assuming you are in the UK). And even where the majority have highly conservative views about many theological questions (for example, in some parts of Africa) they still do not take everything in the Bible literally. It seems like setting up a quite unrepresentative idea of what an 'average Christian on the street' is. The truth is that most Christians on the street don't know that much about Augustine's theodicy, and work out the problem of evil in their own lives through their relationship with Christ, most Christians see no difficulty reconciling God the creator of everything and the ground of being with evolution and view the creation story as, yes, a story, most Christians think of the Bible as a book written by humans about God - full of contradictions, it is true, but telling the great story of human relationships with God and God's coming to live among us in Jesus Christ.

altik Tue 13-Dec-16 15:38:19

Yes, of course I do that already... I do explain that most British Christians are not literalists... but when I am asked.... it would be nice to have an answer!

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