Chllenges from Atheists

sprtslvr1973

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How do we answer Atheists who mockingly deny God's goodness when they reference God killing people in the OT? Have to admit it can be a challenging challenge?
 

Asteriktos

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Fwiw, some approaches I've heard over the years...

Some (mainly conservative protestants from what I've seen) give a long form of "Yeah? So? God can do what he wants!" Obviously it tends to be more wordy than that, but the basic jist is that if God does something, or at least approves it, then it must be morally good. Even thoughtful people like Kierkegaard make such arguments. Obviously most atheists don't find this very persuasive; at the very least it seems to be putting the cart before the horse, and would be better saved for inter-Christian discussions.

Some take the "God can do what he wants" idea in a somewhat different direction. The argument is something like: God can only do good and moral things, and murder and injustices are wrong, thus whatever we read in Scripture God doing must have good/just/moral reasons behind it, even if we can't understand what they are. This also isn't very persuasive to most atheists, since it still amount to "just trust God," which the atheists can easily see as "just trust me" (ie. the  religious person). This type of argument can leave the impression that Christians 'check their brains at the door,' and don't try to understand their own sacred texts when they run into difficult passages.

Some see the Scripture as a collection of texts written from many POVs, with many reasons for being written, various writing styles, and so on. So, in some passages the text says that God ordered, allowed, or at least tacitly approved, killing entire people, taking the virgin females as spoils of war, etc. To this some would say that it was not actually God who said this, but rather speaks to certain divine truths (that God hates sin, that there are consequences for actions), but was not literally God ordering genocide or other horrible actions. The problem here is that it is open to criticism from both unbelievers and believers about how slippery a slope this would be. "How do you know what is historically factual and what is not? Maybe the resurrection was not an actual historical event?" I think it's a valid concern, but frankly it's a concern regardless of how you go about things. The objection amounts to: why should I trust your interpretation (or that of your church)? But you have that problem whether you try to do multi-layered interpretations of Scripture, as the fathers did, or are purely allegorical like some gnostics, or purely literal like (possibly) some protestants.

Personally I think the last one is the best approach, if someone is sincerely asking/arguing. Of course some people aren't comfortable with that approach, as it can be difficult to reconcile that sort of POV with claims of trustworthiness and the inspired character of the Scripture. A good starting place, at least, might be to make clear that the Orthodox don't hold to certain beliefs that the atheist has come across a lot: there is no assumption that a (woodenly) literal interpretation must be the default and probably only valid understanding; Scripture is not interpreted using a DIY process, but rather an  understanding comes about through a process that includes what amounts to 'checks and balances' in the form of tradition, saints, councils, and so on; and Scripture is primarily lived--even the difficult parts--and not just fodder for intellectual arguments, let alone proof text wars.
 

minasoliman

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sprtslvr1973 said:
How do we answer Atheists who mockingly deny God's goodness when they reference God killing people in the OT? Have to admit it can be a challenging challenge?
First you have to find out the personality of the person challenging you.  If he/she seems stubborn minded and wishes only to attack, accept the attack and don't reply.

If on the other hand, there is a sincere effort of a peaceful discussion, be honest.  I also am not comfortable with these passages.  Neither is the Church.  The law of self-sacrificial love, even to one's enemy who strikes you and speaks evil to you,  trumps these passages, and there are many ways in which these violent passages are interpreted in history.
 

Velsigne

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sprtslvr1973 said:
How do we answer Atheists who mockingly deny God's goodness when they reference God killing people in the OT? Have to admit it can be a challenging challenge?
If on the internet, don't engage.  People typically only become more entrenched in their position in internet debates / arguments / insult slinging.

If in person, well, usually people aren't so rude in person....but if they are, it depends as Mina said.  If a person is mocking you to your face, then they are likely coming at you with a great deal of arrogance.  Any attempt to answer might be considered a correction, something an arrogant all knowing proud ego can hardly bear.

If they are a good friend, I would just point out atheist regimes have killed far more than anybody except God, so maybe they are closer to God than they think! 

After joking, might ask them:  God created all of us to die a physical death...so what do they make of that?  For someone who believes this life is all there is, taking someone else's life prematurely is all the more outrageous, yet killing goes on all around us and we are pretty much powerless to stop it.  I can't say why that is from an omniscient perspective, but one way to interpret it is to say, "Well God meant for it to happen that way"  Also, what Mina said, the OT is viewed through the lens of the NT which does not condone killing unless you cherry pick a verse or two.  It certainly doesn't condone genocide.
 

RobS

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Make Marcionism Great Again
 

mcarmichael

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I heard a guy I worked for once say that people deserve every bad thing that happens to them. Maybe try that.

There do seem to be some (at least one) exceptions, however. Try it though.
 

minasoliman

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nothing said:
Make Marcionism Great Again
This is definitely one way NOT to interpret these passages.
 

youssef

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I always had problems  with accepting that God.

Specially that the our ancestors was killed by him ;D
 

rakovsky

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nothing said:
Make Marcionism Great Again
I think that the Marcionites and other 2nd century gnostics preserved some oral traditions about the Christianity of the apostles' time that didn't make it into the Bible, and so there is worth in familiarizing oneself with their texts. Sometimes there are things in those texts that many years later show up in the fathers as truth, so we can tell that some of the claims and facts that showed up in the gnostic texts were considered real oral traditions.

But there is a major problem. When it gets into theology, it goes like slush, separating the NT supreme God from the OT demiurge. And they separated from the mainstream, official bishops. And their stories have things made up outside the official church. I briefly thought that the story of Jesus being on earth for 18 months after the resurrection that I read in Apocryphon of James was a common oral tradition accepted from Irenaeus, but now I realize that Irenaeus wasn't endorsing this. So even reading the stuff looking for those oral traditions has major pitfalls.
 

TheTrisagion

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My personal opinion is that the OT was written by a primitive society to explain truths as they understood them. It is a very minimalist theology of "Our God is stronger, so He proves that by destroying those against Him". Even in the OT, however, you see a change in the understanding of God. The earliest writings show Him most simplistically, while the later writings show a more nuanced God. I think the OT is really a demonstration of how God was capable of using even extremely primitive cultures and evolve that culture into something amazing and beautiful - the Church.

Atheism in America, at least, is deeply colored by evangelical Christianity in which the Bible is viewed as a direct revelation from God. In that context, there is little room for the concept that it is through the perspective of humans.
 

jeffinjapan

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TheTrisagion said:
My personal opinion is that the OT was written by a primitive society to explain truths as they understood them. It is a very minimalist theology of "Our God is stronger, so He proves that by destroying those against Him". Even in the OT, however, you see a change in the understanding of God. The earliest writings show Him most simplistically, while the later writings show a more nuanced God. I think the OT is really a demonstration of how God was capable of using even extremely primitive cultures and evolve that culture into something amazing and beautiful - the Church.

Atheism in America, at least, is deeply colored by evangelical Christianity in which the Bible is viewed as a direct revelation from God. In that context, there is little room for the concept that it is through the perspective of humans.
This is my approach as well. The bible is an ancient book written by ancient people with and ancient understanding of God.
 

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jeffinjapan said:
TheTrisagion said:
My personal opinion is that the OT was written by a primitive society to explain truths as they understood them. It is a very minimalist theology of "Our God is stronger, so He proves that by destroying those against Him". Even in the OT, however, you see a change in the understanding of God. The earliest writings show Him most simplistically, while the later writings show a more nuanced God. I think the OT is really a demonstration of how God was capable of using even extremely primitive cultures and evolve that culture into something amazing and beautiful - the Church.

Atheism in America, at least, is deeply colored by evangelical Christianity in which the Bible is viewed as a direct revelation from God. In that context, there is little room for the concept that it is through the perspective of humans.
This is my approach as well. The bible is an ancient book written by ancient people with and ancient understanding of God.
-I deeply apologize if it's not appropriate for me to post this here.  I won't take any offense for this reply being deleted.-

Atheist here.  (I'm just going to speak for myself; no belief system is a monolith)  I don't think I could ever accept any sort of belief that was based upon anything resembling a literal interpretation of the Bible.  I think that something like TheTrisagion said would be the way to go.  If I may offer my own suggestion, don't take the debate.  Instead - What beliefs do you share?  What values do you both hold?  You may make a friend.  Who knows what happens down the road?  (And as others have also said, this may be a "holier than thou" Atheist and it's totally not worth the time engaging them.)

 

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Jackson02 said:
Atheists aren't worth my time to argue with. Usually they're blinded by their pride.
The same can be said about Christians fwiw.
 

genesisone

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Abstraction said:
jeffinjapan said:
TheTrisagion said:
My personal opinion is that the OT was written by a primitive society to explain truths as they understood them. It is a very minimalist theology of "Our God is stronger, so He proves that by destroying those against Him". Even in the OT, however, you see a change in the understanding of God. The earliest writings show Him most simplistically, while the later writings show a more nuanced God. I think the OT is really a demonstration of how God was capable of using even extremely primitive cultures and evolve that culture into something amazing and beautiful - the Church.

Atheism in America, at least, is deeply colored by evangelical Christianity in which the Bible is viewed as a direct revelation from God. In that context, there is little room for the concept that it is through the perspective of humans.
This is my approach as well. The bible is an ancient book written by ancient people with and ancient understanding of God.
-I deeply apologize if it's not appropriate for me to post this here.  I won't take any offense for this reply being deleted.-

Atheist here.  (I'm just going to speak for myself; no belief system is a monolith)  I don't think I could ever accept any sort of belief that was based upon anything resembling a literal interpretation of the Bible.  I think that something like TheTrisagion said would be the way to go.  If I may offer my own suggestion, don't take the debate.  Instead - What beliefs do you share?  What values do you both hold?  You may make a friend.  Who knows what happens down the road?  (And as others have also said, this may be a "holier than thou" Atheist and it's totally not worth the time engaging them.)
Thank you. This is the kindest, clearest, and most sensible post I have read in a long time.
 

Luke

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I am one of those "dog-gone" literalists who would answer that the Lord  destroys people if He wants.  If He does, the people deserved it.  The atheists might consider this the worst thing that can happen, but it is not.  When the Lord sends His disciples out to preach, two cities He already destroyed are still around:  “Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city." -- Matthew 10:15, NASB.
 
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