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The ‘Book Of Job’ In The Modern Age

The Book of Job, and the trials of Job. Hard and endless. We’ll ask what the hard old Bible story has to say now.

An image from William Blake's engravings illustrating the biblical Book of Job. Job, a virtuous and upstanding man, was nevertheless tormented by God as a test of his conception of faith. (Creative Commons)

An image from William Blake’s engravings illustrating the biblical Book of Job. Job, a virtuous and upstanding man, was nevertheless tormented by God as a test of his conception of faith. (Creative Commons)

The Book of Job is a brutal corner of the Bible.  A good man, Job, thrown arbitrarily, suddenly, into a life of absolute agony.  Stripped of his wealth.  His children killed.  Plagued and hounded and showered with misery.  His only consolation is sounds like none: “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.” Deal with it.  The Book of Job is so harsh.  It’s about unrelieved injustice and the suffering of innocent humans.  About grief and rage and the human condition.  And maybe about wisdom that goes right beyond the Bible.  Up next On Point:  The Book of Job, and life right now.

– Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Mark Larrimore, author of “The Book of Job: A Biography” and a professor of religious studies at The New School.

Greg Epstein, humanist chaplain at Harvard University and author of “Good Without God: What A Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe.” (@GoodWithoutGod)

From Tom’s Reading List

Washington Post: No Government Shutdown: A Biblical Case For Government — “Good government is a blessing to the people, promoting peace and prosperity. Bad government, however, is roundly condemned in the Bible. Especially in the prophets, the Bible rebukes those rulers who do not ‘know justice’ as is made clear in Micah.  Those rulers who ‘abhor justice, and pervert all equity,’ and who ‘give judgment for a bribe,’ are wicked and will be judged. (Micah 3)”

New York Times: After a Crisis of Faith, a Former Minister Finds a New, Secular Mission – “In her insistence on recognizing the social value of religion, rather than merely disparaging it as superstition for saps, Ms. MacBain operates very much in sync with her boss, Greg M. Epstein, the humanist chaplain at Harvard. In his 2009 book, ‘Good Without God,’ and in a subsequent 50-city speaking tour, Mr. Epstein espoused the creation of secular communities. By hiring Ms. MacBain, he has put nonbelieving boots on the ground.”

Read An Excerpt of “The Book of Job: A Biography.”

 

 

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  • Wm_James_from_Missouri

    If you can’t find a job then get a Job. :)

    • brettearle

      Disqus

  • Ed75

    What a wonderful book Job is, showing the faithfulness of God. It also addresses the problem of evil, so much discussed today.

    At the end of the 18th century Pope Leo XIII had a vision of Jesus speaking with Satan, and this dialogue:

    He heard the voice of Satan in his pride, boasting to Our Lord: “I can destroy your Church.” The gentle voice of Our Lord: “You can? Then go ahead and do so.” Satan replied, “To do so, I need more time and more power.” The Lord said, “How much time? How much power?” “75 to 100 years, and a greater power over those who will give themselves over to my service.” was Satan’s reply. Mysteriously our Lord said, “You have the time, you have the power. Do with them what you will.”
    Very Job-like, after which he composed the prayer to St. Michael. It took place 33 years to the day (October 13, 1884) before the final vision of Fatima, which the pope is celebrating this Sunday by consecrating the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

    • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

      I’ll be the one (the first? only?) to give you a rec on this comment. That dialogue of Satan & God suggests there is actual free will is my thought. (If life was easy, we’d die of boredom).

  • Ed75

    As part of Scripture, the primary author of Job is God himself, so we can trust it. Job complains, rightly, of his terrible suffering – foreshadowing the suffering of the sinless Jesus – and asks God for answers. In the end God appears to Job and doesn’t answer his questions, but essentially says ‘Look, I know what I’m doing’. Very funny. And seeing God’s Majesty, Job is fully satisfied.
    (We, today, unfortunately, are far from sinless, and are much more in the position of Israel before the Assyrian invasion, or Judah before the captivity.)

    • brettearle

      To use pain and suffering, as an opportunity to increase faith–even if it were symbolic rather than actual–is outrageous.

      • Ed75

        I would agree, except for the fall of man in sin and continuing sin: we need to be redeemed, and ‘there is no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood’. So we see the need for redemptive suffering. Even Jesus asked to avoid it, but it was necessary. As St. Paul says, we participate in the redemptive suffering of Christ.

        • brettearle

          Sorry, I don’t buy it.

          It did NOT have to be set up that way.

          HE could have done it a different way.

  • J__o__h__n

    The old testament god is the moral equivalent of satan if he torments an innocent man and kills his children in order to win an argument. Not that I would expect more from an infantile self-described “jealous god” who demanded that Abraham sacrifice his son, murdered Egyptian first born sons, and flooded the earth. How fortunate we are that this is fiction.

    • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

      When it appears a particular story isn’t a straight recounting, but instead more a story, then we be better to see it as a kind of teaching device instead of mistaking it for history.

      • J__o__h__n

        Where did I claim it was history and not fiction?

        • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

          No, you didn’t, but the common mistake is to object that God somehow is responsible for the torment.

          • J__o__h__n

            Who else would be if he is as powerful as claimed? If he isn’t, why worship him?

          • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

            Free will. The interpretation I’ve heard (or piece) is that Satan (sic) has dominion on Earth, and then I take that to mean whatever such a force (….luck?) might do is just part of, as it were, the natural world. See?, so if you have “free will” then of course, it would be a violation of that to put you in a controlled environment (where no harm can happen).

          • J__o__h__n

            What is the point of a god who doesn’t intervene with the world? In the story it was god who was torturing him not luck, fortune, or satan.

          • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

            But He does intervene, yes? Just not all the time. Why? And, correct me, but wasn’t it more like God points out Job, Satan torments him. In that universe (that way of seeing the world), what is different is that God doesn’t answer Job’s prayers for a time (and it feels like a very long time!)….

  • J__o__h__n

    The story posted above needs to be updated: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/27/us/minister-admits-overstating-her-credentials.html?ref=us

    Firing someone for fabricating a degree in a fabricated field is ironic.

  • J__o__h__n

    Didn’t satan and god have better things to fight about like debt ceilings?

  • ToyYoda

    Book of Job? Where? Do any jobs pay well? oh wait, I need to clear my mind from the last show. :)

  • fun bobby

    seems like tom ashbrook completely missed the point. its about faith

    • TELew

      For Christians it is about faith. I am not sure that was the message of the original Hebrew author. (Of course, I have heard that the tale may not even be of Hebrew origin, but was “borrowed” from a different culture)

      • fun bobby

        do you have any reason to believe it was not about faith for the Hebrews as well?

        • TELew

          As a matter of fact I do.

          Faith is a Christian idea. It is strongly related to the emphasis of belief that is so central to orthodox Christian thought.

          By contrast, the Jewish approach to the “Old Testament” is very different from the orthodox Christian approach. Traditionally orthodox Christians have viewed the OT as a historical record of events. By contrast, the Jewish approach has been one of seeing scripture as possessing many different layers of meaning. The idea that Job is a fictional story is much less unsettling to a Jew than it is to an orthodox Christian. Since the first century rabbis have had a lively debate on the meaning of scripture, and differing opinions get preserved and recorded in their holy book’s margins.

          By contrast, orthodox Christians (I do not mean Eastern Orthodox, but rather those who believe the interpretation that Christ was a substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of all humans) read the Hebrew scriptures as culminating in the coming of Christ. Part of this understanding is to view the various parts of the Old Testament as recording actual history. Another is an emphasis on faith, as in believing the orthodox understanding of scripture is true–this includes believing that Christ is in fact God incarnate.

          But Judaism places more emphasis on practice than belief. Practice is the observance of rituals and holidays. Now I am not saying that this approach to religion is the same as the Hebrews’ approach. But I do believe that Judaism is closer to the Hebrew approach to religion than the Christian.

          Though the first Christians, like Christ, were Jews, they soon became predominantly non-Jews, and hence the traditions of Hebraic religion did not hold much meaning for them. This would include how Hebrews viewed scripture, such as Job. Rather, Christians developed a meaning of the Old Testament scriptures that gave them a meaning related to Christ, as opposed to Hebrew/Jewish culture.

          Of course, I can’t claim to know what the Hebrew understanding of Job is–that is a project for future reading.

          • fun bobby

            you could have saved me a lot of reading and just said “I don’t know”

          • TELew

            But that would not answer your question.

          • TELew

            I just had a chance to listen to the show. My perspective is very similar to Dr. Larrimore’s perspective.

    • James Degenhardt

      Nothing wrong with faith, unless you let it blind you to reality.

      A woman may have faith that her husband really loves her, but that doesn’t make his beating her every night right.

      • fun bobby

        by faith I mean faith in God.

  • Ed75

    Jesus told parables, it’s like a parable in the O.T. I don’t think there’s evidence of Job’s existence, but he could have existed. It marks a step forward in Israel’s theological understanding also.

  • Ed75

    Himself.

  • gretchen123

    My parents’ first child was a full-term stillborn boy. My mother was an obgyn, so surrounded by pregnancy, birth, and loss. When talking about her experience, my mother told me that she heard from many people
    “God must love you so much to give you such a trial. You are so loved!” I remember her telling me how disturbing that was, and she would say “I have great faith, but not in a God who would do that. God helps us through and gives us strength. I cannot believe in a God who reaches down and gives us suffering as a sign of love.”

    • fun bobby

      without suffering how could someone know joy?

    • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

      Perhaps it is not that God “gives” us suffering, but that he allows us to live without interference. “Free Will” is another piece of that same thing — you are not controlled, neither are you in a controlled environment (which would just be a form of control).

    • fun bobby

      you don’t think that experience made her appreciate that you lived even more?

  • Bruce Teague

    I love Archibad McLeish interpretation. It’s interesting his grandson erick McLeish was a advocate for clergy sexual abuse victims!

  • Alfred Brown

    Regarding the Incarnation being a way for God to make up for what he did to Job. That’s an interesting interpretation, but it’s nowhere close to the Christian interpretation. In fact, that’s the opposite of the Christian interpretation. The incarnation is a way to make up for the shortcomings of HUMANS, not Himself. The sacrifice of Jesus is a the redemption of original sin. Jesus is described as “the second Adam”, not “”the second Job.

    • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

      In The Power of Myth video series, Campbell points out the interesting interpretation (guess) that the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice was to help provoke (invoke?) our compassion (like the real thing, not just a bit of empathy here and there). An interesting idea. Incomplete probably.

  • Ed75

    We suffer because we care? So much for thea humanist (atheist) view.

  • Ed75

    How can you take God out of it and make sense? God … is a main character in the Bible’s events. (It’s like taking the character Hamlet out of Hamlet.) To an atheist the Bible can make no real sense, if only because we understand it with God’s help.
    God didn’t first and foremost test Job, he used Job to prove Job’s goodness, and to show God’s goodness.

    • J__o__h__n

      No, it is like reading Hamlet and realizing that he is a fictional character.

    • James Degenhardt

      If being malevolent and cruel proves God’s “goodness,” then I think we need to rewrite our dictionaries.

    • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

      “To an atheist the Bible can make no real sense…” Well, actually, the condition of being “atheist” is on/off sort of thing, typically in youth, and not even for us to *judge* of course….

  • Barbara Moore

    How about suffering or not suffering not being the measuring stick of the meaning of life and religious faith. After all, one of the most electrifying passages in scripture is, “I know that my redeemer liveth and he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth..”

  • ThatDudeOnABike

    So God was showing Job that suffering has a meaning and makes you stronger? Iraqis must be thanking George W. Bush right now for showing them that and so much more.

  • Ellen

    Could we stop using the male pronoun to refer to God?

    • J__o__h__n

      According to the text he is male. No evidence otherwise.

      • James Degenhardt

        Not quite. The God of the BIBLE is male. God, herself, is not.

        • J__o__h__n

          We are discussing the Book of Job. The character is male. Outside of the text, there is no god or goddess.

          • James Degenhardt

            I was responding to Ellen’s statement, not the article.

            But, as for the text of the Bible, even God admits that there ARE other Gods (1st and 2nd Commandments)

          • fun bobby

            yes they refer to false gods and he punishes people who worship them.

          • fun bobby

            oh ye of little faith

          • J__o__h__n

            less than little

          • fun bobby

            does that bring you joy and contentment?

          • J__o__h__n

            No. It is neutral.

          • fun bobby

            i’ll pray for you

          • J__o__h__n

            Please don’t. Thanks.

          • fun bobby

            too late. I was once an avowed atheist as well.

    • fun bobby

      only if we are unitarians

    • ThatDudeOnABike

      I feel pretty uncomfortable with all this idolatry of a male god. My god is a woman. A wonderful, beautiful lady of the sky who comes to me at night and answers all my prayers.

  • Ed75

    I know some people who don’t care at all … but still suffer.

    • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

      People suffer. Our challenge is often about what % of the time they have real “joy” or “flow” or some other really good experience.

      • donald

        Without a “god.”

  • Ed75

    At the end God restores to Job his wealth in all its dimensions, restores to him a family and more than he ever had before. God is very good.

    • fun bobby

      because he had faith.

    • James Degenhardt

      In other words, he tortured the poor man until he capitulated, and then rewarded him for his capitulation. Extortion at it’s finest.

      • fun bobby

        the point of the story is that he never gave up his faith, he never capitulated at all

  • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

    Tom just said part of what I wanted to say — suffering is already a fact of all living, to begin with — so, I’ll add the rest:

    No faith is needed for one’s spirit to transcend anything, because “spirit” or whatever word you want “forebrain” whatever (naming doesn’t matter here), that part of you already transcends all events, and even functions evenly, unperturbed in the worst moments, like drowning, whatever, that part is unperturbable. Call it any name you like, it’s there, and you’ve probably even experienced it (or will, surely).

    So…..the bet (heh heh) between Lucifer and the God, is a fun wager, ultimately, cause it’s only about faith, and only is an acceleration of typical, normal loss (happening all at once instead of a piece at a time).

    Job isn’t a medium-depth story, it’s deep. Even Carl Jung wrote a whole book on it right?

    So, the why questions are the reason it is there I think: to make you think. Maybe to challenge us to try to reach up to our potential (which is always higher), and not just get caught up in some temporary material situation/stuff/concern.

  • J__o__h__n

    The cosmos doesn’t personally single out victims to abuse.

  • fun bobby

    this reminds me of a sermon I was subjected to. the question was why does god allow bad things to happen to good people? I don’t really wonder about that. I wonder since god allows bad things to happen to good people why should not I?

    • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

      A better way to say that question? : What exactly is “bad” that happens to someone? (this is not an easy question!) At first, in our youth, it seems really simple.

      • fun bobby

        excellent point.

  • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

    The humanist makes a predictable mistake — thinking the “wife” was an actual person…..no, in a myth the characters are sorta like pieces of our consciousness.

  • DeJay79

    Greg Epstein- “If I treated people this way and then spoke to them from a whirlwind, and not even answer their questions. They would say I am a bad manager or husband.”

    They very well may say your a bad manager or husband but that is because their true faith has not be placed whole in you.

    • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

      Subtle.

  • Walt

    Job is the perfect example of our purpose to glorify God in all circumstances.
    God created all things no matter what some scientific theories might say!
    He deserves to be glorified!

  • truegangsteroflove

    This discussion is entirely within a context of “God” as some guy. All powerful, etc., but still a guy. This is because the typical human mind can’t conceive of a level of being or consciousness beyond personhood. We are told that man is made in the image and likeness of “God.” Actually, this is backwards. “God” is made in the image and likeness of man.

    There is value in Biblical stories, but we would do well to recognize that it is a book written and edited by men for twenty centuries. It is made up. It reflects the culture(s) and dominance of beliefs of the times in which it has proliferated. The Book of Job is part of the mythology of the culture, part of the context.

    We are entering a time of global climate change, of reaching the limits of economic growth, and of the cost of our degradation of the planet finally catching up with us. A better question to be asking is whether our archaic mythology and cosmology will be suitable for an greatly different and unknown cultural context.

    • notafeminista

      Has there been an era, an epoch, a millenia, a century, any measurable length time during which the climate did not change?

  • fun bobby

    I am going to pray for a lot of you

    • donald

      Thanks, but it won’t work and never has.

      • fun bobby

        if its not working you are not doing it right

  • Ozzymum-lonewolf

    Before u talk to your invisible friend in the sky try educating yourself. Read some science books and learn how the world really works. The bible was written by roman ceasers to control its people. Mythology

    • fun bobby

      oh? science has figured everything out? let me know when scientific paradigms stop shifting. string theory can be used to prove the existence of God but don’t ask to explain it. you are partially right about the bible but that has no bearing on the existence of God

      • Ozzymum-lonewolf

        Science will never figure everything out because there is always more to learn. New discoveries based on observation and proof. Not blind belief and no proof. Being taught to not question just believe keeps one in ignorance and easily controlled and manipulated. I would not want to spend eternity with a being that did the things to people like Job that the bible claims. The human fear of death is what keeps them bound to these ridiculous beliefs. Keeps them restricted from enjoying the one gift of life that exists. When you free yourself from that fear you can then see the wonder of this life and universe. Common sense tells you snakes dont talk,a man cannot live inside the belly of a whale due to stomach acid and no oxygen and that the sun being created on the 4th day means that let there be light on the first day is impossible. Educate yourself so we as a society can move forward to greater things and not be forced back into the dark ages!

        • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

          Certainly if we take the worst instances of “Christians” (often not acting ‘christian’), then it seems pretty unattractive. So far as I’ve experienced, there is no teaching to “not question.” I seem to question all the time, but haven’t been in any way penalized for that, in several churches (moves). Each of the attributes you list are unrecognizable to me except as a false stereotype, such as how some people stereotype by race or ethnicity, etc. invalid stuff. I can definitely say my experience has been full of wonder, both at amazing stuff like quarks and superconductors, but especially by the universe, by hundreds of billions of galaxies, by relativistic effects. I love gravity lenses — that is so amazing. Lots of fun.
          But, hey I would agree with you that those really ugly stereotypes you mention are extremely unattractive. :-)

        • fun bobby

          one needs to read the bible critically. strict biblical literalists are a small minority. fear of death has nothing to do with my belief in God. you are too caught up in the details.

          • Ozzymum-lonewolf

            Details and contradiction are important in the validity of a claim. I was raised on this lie but finally grew up and realized why I felt so ridiculous in church. I was forced by my mother to go and now she is totally looney from it. Can’t reason anything. No thanks. There is an explanation for everything on this earth and beyond and its not in that book of fairy tales

          • fun bobby

            one need not believe the bible to believe in a higher power. there are a lot of options between and beyond being a biblical literalist or an atheist

          • brettearle

            I had the feeling you were a deist.

      • brettearle

        Again, I find myself agreeing with you.

        I’m developing this fierce headache.

        • fun bobby

          its ok just go with it

    • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

      To learn what “mythology” really is, I suggest Joseph Campbell, and the video series “The Power of Myth” is excellent, an instance where the video is more than the book.

  • Walt

    Are you referring to the same “ceasers” that tortured Christians?

    • J__o__h__n

      They did stop doing it.

  • Sy2502

    It always amazes me that anyone would worship the despicable deity of the Book of Job. A god that makes a bet, and part of the bet involves the death of innocent people and the suffering of an innocent man. For a bet! But, and here’s the kicker, all is well folks, don’t you feel sorry for poor Job having lost all his children because, are you ready for it… he has MORE children. And since children as we all know are interchangeable, they all lived happily ever after. One needs to wonder about the mental competence of anyone who thinks that is a stellar example of divine goodness and love. I could introduce you to plenty of human beings who are much better people than this god. And they don’t demand to be worshipped either.

    • fun bobby

      Job was not upset because he knew that he only had those things to lose due to the grace of God. you seem to think that we can understand God’s plan

      • Sy2502

        I don’t care about god’s plan. If it involves killing innocents and making people suffer, his plan sucks. Simple as that. As I said, I can tell you 10 names off the top of my head of people, humble human beings, who are much better people than this god.

        • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

          Ok, but suppose there is no God, then would people no longer suffer?
          If they would still suffer, would one then say God doesn’t “impose” the suffering, but allows it, as a condition of life?
          Would you have any “free will” if you could somehow be kept from suffering whatever is in nature around you?

          • Sy2502

            I much rather like the idea of suffering being an inevitable condition of human life than the idea of suffering being perfectly and easily preventable by an omnipotent god who, instead, can’t be bothered helping or even, in Job’s case, uses his omnipotence to cause the suffering for futile reasons.
            As for preventing suffering, if you saw a child run in front of a car, and you could save him, would you leave him there to be run over because otherwise you’d interfere with his free will? Because people who’d do so are called “psychopaths” not “gods” and it’s a mental illness.

          • fun bobby

            the lord works in mysterious ways

          • Sy2502

            No there’s nothing mysterious about the god of the Bible. He’s a fictional character created by flawed individuals to make sense of the randomness of life. What they created is an irrational, logically inconsistent character whose despicable actions contradict his supposed good and loving nature. Simply because that was the best the people who invented him could come up with.

          • fun bobby

            all I said was the lord works in mysterious ways. not only in the bible but here and now

          • Sy2502

            A perfect god with perfect knowledge wouldn’t need to test anyone, as he’d already know how the test would end. Moreover a perfect god wouldn’t torture his children to test them, that’s repulsive. Would you beat the crap out of your spouse to test her loyalty to you?

          • fun bobby

            god does not test people for his benefit he tests them for theirs.how would the person know what tests they were capable of? I don’t think anyone advocates wife beating, that’s offensive. overprotective parents never did anyone any good as far as I can tell. For humans it is impossible to say what is “good” or “bad” because humans exist on such a short timeline. My car broke down over the weekend and I was stranded in a bad neighborhood in another state. The first thing I did was thank God.

          • Sy2502

            In case you haven’t read the book of Job, the test wasn’t a broken down car. God killed all his children, took away his hard earned possessions and made him destitute, and gave him an unspeakable disease. Whatever god intended to teach Job, given god is omnipotent he could have found a less despicable way of doing so. Again, you keep forgetting GOD IS OMNIPOTENT. If he wants you to learn a lesson he can very simply put in into your brain. If instead he chooses to teach it to you by killing your children, something is very deformed in your god’s brain.

          • fun bobby

            I was not comparing myself to Job. merely pointing out how it is important to thank God for everything because it is all good. its not really possible for us to judge Him given our lack of omniscience. God has not got a brain. He is not a physical being. I have read the book of Job. the lord givith and the lord taketh away. at the end he gets more than he lost.

          • Sy2502

            Again the issue here isn’t that god is so powerful that he CAN torture and kill us as he pleases. The point is that a god that does so is evil and despicable and doesn’t deserve to be worshipped.

          • fun bobby

            i guess calling it evil is your opinion. where did the concept of evil come from?

          • Sy2502

            Human concept of evil comes from our being social creatures, and a society can only survive if its members treat each other a certain way. Caring for and protecting the young is a pretty obvious survival trait. That a society does best when its members cooperate instead of whacking each other at every occasion is also self evident.
            As for evil being my opinion, I hold the same concepts of good and evil that most normal Western people hold, so I guess we all share the same opinion.

          • fun bobby

            because we share common Judeo-Christian ethics. have you read Nietzsche?

          • Sy2502

            The fundamental moral values are much older than Jews or Christians. Have you read Hammurabi?

          • fun bobby

            yes what about him? are you saying our moral values and Hammurabi’s are the same? his moral values would have much more in common with those at the time of Job than ours. we would think his laws barbaric.

          • Sy2502

            Actually I find Hammurabi’s Code to be more enlightened than, say, the Ten Commandments. The point is that Judeo Christian tradition doesn’t hold the patent on moral values that are as old as humanity itself (don’t kill, don’t steal, be kind, etc)

          • fun bobby

            his code included many directives to the effect of if you kill someone’s slave you have to buy them a new one. today we find the idea of slavery morally repugnant but they did not. (unless you support that part) this is a great example of why its illogical to apply modern morals to ancient stories. Hammurabi’s code and the ten commandments came from a common Semitic source so it makes sense they have some commonality.

          • Sy2502

            Considering the Bible also condones slavery, I am not sure why you think Judeo Christian tradition is in any way better.

          • fun bobby

            i don’t. i have not made any remarks about what is “better”. my point is that it does not make sense to judge things that are thousands of years old with todays morals

          • Sy2502

            Let me remind you how the discussion went:
            me: god does evil
            you: where does your concept of evil come from?
            me: it’s the evolutionary product of being a social species.
            you: no, it comes from Judeo-Christian tradition.
            me: no, these concepts predate Judeo-Christian tradition.
            you: yeah but the ones that predate it are bad.
            me: Judeo-Christian values are equally bad or worse.
            you: so it doesn’t make sense to use old values.

            No actually it does. The fundamental values against murder and torture are as old as humankind and still valid.

          • fun bobby

            i see you have more fun arguing with yourself. anyone who cares can read what I actually said.

          • brettearle

            But what if the paradoxes and the contradictions appear that way to us?

            What if God still exists despite your description of how bogus the Bible is?

          • Sy2502

            No, contradictions are contradictions. The concept of a “married bachelor” is a paradox and a contradiction no matter how you look at it. There’s no hidden information there that would fix it if you only knew it. So an omnipotent god who could achieve his goals through any means (that’s what “omnipotent” means folks, like it or not) and chooses to achieve his goals through suffering, torture and genocide is simply not a good god. It really is that simple.

          • pjjb33

            It’s fascinating that so many ignore all the people who’ve died and come back. The research shows how consistent the experiences are, and what they discover is that WE CHOSE THIS LIFE with all its potential for negative experiences, so we might grow. WE achieve goals thru suffering, and thinking of God as an external being that tortures is incorrect. No more whining – you chose it. Listen to their accounts on YouTube (Gordon Allen , Joe Geraci). They have learned some of the secrets, and it’s mind-blowing, and it feels right.

          • Sy2502

            Nobody has come back from the next life. All so called near-death experiences have been explained physiologically.

          • pjjb33

            Veridical experiences explained “physiologically”? Pam Reynolds’ case, well-documented, explained “physiologically”? Parnia’s early conclusions? 30 years of research, you’ve read it all? LISTEN TO THE ACCOUNTS and decide for yourself. 700 people come back every day in the U.S. – Ken Ring was the chair of psychology at UConn and his research is available to you. I can’t convince those who would ignore the literature.

          • Sy2502

            Nobody is saying they didn’t experience hallucinations of some kind. But those hallucinations can be explained physically. In other words, their oxygen starved, traumatized brain constructed spurious sensations, dreams if you like. It’s like when you are very drunk and you feel the room is spinning. It’s not that the room is actually spinning, it’s your brain constructing that sensation due to the intoxication.

          • pjjb33

            Thanks for debating. I’m a physician, so trained to analyze data. There are good quality studies comparing hallucinations to NDEs, and many people have experienced both in their lifetime. There is NO comparison between them – the accuracy of the memories over time, the duration of the memories over time, and most importantly the life-changing effects. Show me a multimillionaire financier who left all that money behind to become a counselor because of a hallucination – but this DID happen because of an NDE (Gordon Allen, you can watch it on YouTube). Show me a high-powered Chicago attorney who’s doing volunteer work because of an alcohol-induced “spin” – but this DID happen because of an NDE (Chris markey, you can watch it on youTube). Show me a full professor of art, and an avowed atheist, who becomes a pastor because of a hallucination – but this DID happen because of an NDE (Howard Storm, again YouTube). The stories are truly endless.
            Are you really saying that the thousands of people who have NDEs, and say that that experience is more real than this life, are all suffering from a delusion? They all say the same things about their experience, but you can judge it from the outside and know better? Really? Why aren’t there ANY people who claim to have died, saw and experienced things, and come back to say “well, that was just like a hallucination and wasn’t at all real”? NO ONE DOES. I trust the studies, but I trust my gut too – I believe what they’re telling me. I strongly encourage you to look them in the eye and judge for yourself. Doesn’t it feel right that we chose this life, we’re here to gain empathy (study after study shows that the happiest people in their work are the ones that help others), the life review is the golden rule applied, and the instant we die we are faced with infinite love and mercy? Because this is a difficult life.

          • pjjb33

            Please, please, please search for “Joe Geraci NDE life felt insignificant” on You Tube, it’s just 7 minutes. Comparing his experience to a hallucination is, well, ineffable.

          • Sy2502

            I never said these people didn’t have hallucinations, and I am sure they were powerful enough to influence their lives. Nevertheless nobody has been able to show they had those hallucinations while dead, or that they were seeing something that really existed. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and such evidence has never been presented. On the other hand, evidence has been presented that the brain in certain conditions can and does generate this kind of hallucinations. It has also been shown that there’s small brain activity when we previously thought there was none. So given these experiences can be explained naturally and that nobody has brought any proof of anything supernatural going on, I see no compelling reason to go with wishful thinking. I understand wishful thinking is powerful, and I have come to realize to some people it is more important than reality. I am not one of those people.

          • pjjb33

            So your claim is that a hallucination resulted in the significant life changes that result, an atheist becoming a pastor, etc, and they’re saying that something very real caused those changes. Which claim is the more extraordinary?

            As an aside, Dawkins once ridiculed an audience member’s Islamic faith, because “if you’d been born in the southern U.S., you’d be Baptist. ” Inherent in that statement is the assumption that we are randomly placed on this earth. What an extraordinary claim to make. His evidence? He doesn’t have any. NDErs learn that we chose our specific life, after extensive counseling, and there’s nothing random about it.

            It’s easy to ask for evidence that’s difficult to gather, since this experience lies outside the bounds of usual human experience, but you show no indication that you’ve reviewed all the research that has been done. It seems that a reasonable assessment of the NDE experience should be based, at least partly, on all the evidence that we do have. I suspect that some skeptics just keep hiding behind that lack of evidence that they continue to claim we need, knowing full well that it just may be unobtainable. Do you care to describe the study that would satisfy your evidence threshold? Instead of resuscitating someone, we’ll do a PET scan of their brain instead, as they die. Riiiight. And only 10% of those who are resuscitated report an NDE, so good luck getting your study approved. Looks like we have to decide without it.

            I’ll ask it again: Why aren’t there ANY people who claim to have died, saw and experienced things, and come back to say “well, that was just like a hallucination
            and wasn’t at all real”? NO ONE DOES. And no one comes back and says “Wow that was a really strong hallucination, so I think I’ll change careers.” There are people who’ve had both an NDE and hallucinations, perhaps you should find out what they say before presuming to know. Your presumption to know what these people experienced better than they do is arrogant, and so far at least you show ignorance of the full depth of literature around these experiences. Those two traits won’t take you very far.

            Have you bothered to listen to these people’s accounts? Gordon Allen, Pam Reynolds, Howard Storm, Joe Geraci? The consistency of the experience across thousands of people means nothing? Come on. That can only mean you’re close-minded also.

          • Sy2502

            What those people experienced was real even if it was all in their heads. Even sensations and emotions that are all in your head can be extremely powerful. Your brain processes data equally regardless of whether it’s actual data coming from the sensory systems or whether it’s caused by lack of oxygen, drugs, neurotransmitter imbalances, etc. Ask somebody with depression if their pain is any less just because it’s all in their head. People kill themselves from the pain in their head, talk about a life changing experience!
            Do you have objective proof that these people were dead and experiencing the afterlife yes or no? If you do, present it. If all you have to go by are subjective experiences, then sorry, it doesn’t cut the cheese.

          • brettearle

            The question of genocide is, perhaps, the most convincing reason for not being able to understand the existence of God through the rational mind.

            To do so, is a fruitless and a hopeless task.

            That’s why prayer exists.

            That’s why faith exists.

            That’s why meditation exists.

            That’s why worship exists.

            People who do these things make an attempt to get through to God’s domain–or what they think is likely to be God’s domain.

            If you want to believe that logically, or rationally, God couldn’t possibly exist, because of the Holocaust, that is your choice and perfect right.

            Even though I deplore the Holocaust and I deplore God for not doing anything about it–or not being able to do anything about it–I still believe that God exists.

            Too many things have happened in my personal life, not to suggest otherwise.

            But even though I think God exists, it does mean I worship him.

          • brettearle

            My point might not have been clear–earlier, below, in my comment before this one–because I wrote `does’ instead of `doesn’t’ in the second to the last line.

            I have corrected that–and I believe that it changes the complexion of the entire comment (funny how that happens).

            In any case, I am taking the time to explain the correction, because I am interested in your viewpoint.

          • brettearle

            There is no reason to believe that the relationship between God’s existence and free will and faith and suffering HAD to be set up that way.

            God, if he exists, CHOSE to set up it up that way.

            He didn’t necessarily have to.

          • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

            Consider nature. If some supernatural force prevented harm from happening to you: no deposits in your arteries from a bad diet, etc. — would you still have free will?

            I think we have true free will — we get to experience the real world without training wheels.

          • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

            Ok, I answered the easier stuff actually. Would I rather panthers exist even if one might kill or maim me? — Yes.
            But the hard question I think is something like: there’s a famine in Africa, and a young child is dying of malnutrition.
            This isn’t simple, of course.
            You, yes, you, the person reading this. You could do something about that starving kid.

          • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

            Actually, with a degree in Engineering Physics, I have a fair understanding of our current understanding of the laws of nature, and I cannot yet conceive of how any free will could exist at all except by allowing us full freedom within the laws of nature.
            In other words — allowing us to have suffering, pain, joy, excitement, death, failure, success, any and all, without interference, but with the possibility that by faith some surprising things can happen now and then.

          • brettearle

            My vision tries to take into account the following notion:

            The rules and the laws–as well as our understanding of those rules and the laws–are based on a cosmic system, a cosmic culture, or a cosmic environment.

            This macrocosm may be limitless and chaotic; limited and determined; or a combination of both.

            None of this HAD to be set up that way.

            You only assume that it had to be.

            I don’t.

            But I could certainly be wrong.

            However, frankly, you may assume that it had to be set up this way, more than I do–because you may feel that you have more of the answers.

            I would argue that NEITHER OF US have ANY of the answers.

          • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

            But don’t you think there are Laws of Nature?
            If not, how do you explain stuff like how Einstein predicted the (not yet precisely observed!!!) bending of light by gravity by calculating (this uknown!) from his new Theory of General Relativity, and only in 1919 were astronomers finally able to even measure accurately enough for the first time to test the prediction, and it was right.
            !
            Laws.
            Unyielding, absolute Laws.
            In other words, laws that existed previous to us. See?
            Now, if the Laws of Nature were different, then we would not exist, for precise reasons, as a consequence. Some other form of intelligent life might, perhaps.

          • brettearle

            [Prologue point, before the main, brief body of my response:

            This "statistical stability and randomness" business.....

            Is this the `Stuff' that may be one way of viewing (or thinking about) the underpinnings of quantum physics--where particles and waves are interchangeable?; or may be the same exact entity, in time and space but may co-exist, simultaneously?; may transform from particle to wave and back again, without pattern and/or because of randomness?; or where a specific particle and a specific wave are the same exact entity, with the same exist physical properties, but co-exist at a certain point in time?

            [I realize that all my questions are naive because of my limited understanding of Physics. But I, nevertheless, so ask....]

            Now, as regard to your point–which I consider compelling, but, nevertheless, in the final analysis, to be, possibly, misguided….in terms of the way I view things–my approach is rather incorrigible, for the following reason (and I offer it as a disclaimer, so that you develop some patience with my `New Age’ vision, as it were):

            When I think of Einstein’s Vision, I see an absolutely extraordinary human being who was able to delve into the secrets of the Universe that, up until that time, such observation was unprecedented.

            But my reaction and response is almost as exasperating as William Jennings Bryan’s response in the Scopes Trial:

            “Bible says that the Universe was created in 7 days then it was created in 7 days.”…..

            And my incorrigibility is tied to your very astute observation that if the Universe weren’t set up this way–or the Laws of Nature weren’t–”some other form of Intelligent Life might perhaps.”…..is, in one way (not the only way, maybe),

            PRECISELY my point.

          • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

            As I understand it roughly (and this is not my field/area at all) there is random fluctuation, particles appearing and disappearing, but at the same time stability, such as how an Oxygen atom or water molecule is stable under common conditions. So matter on the macro level (like a mechanical watch, or most of the time for a transistor in an integrated circuit, etc.) will function predictably in response to certain ranges of certain forces. But then, consider the human brain which functions with electrical impulses and rates, and biochemical, and you have such an enormous amount of interactions where the forces are low enough so that some of the random fluctuation could come through — thus non-deterministic — yet also the macro level (the large number of neurons and networks of neurons) is still moderately stable (on our time scales we of our lifetimes). Or usually so!
            See? Both randomness and stability, due to having a large set of these fluctuating sub particles, you get statistical stability.
            Though much of how you think might seem predictable given the exact state (which is unknowable due to uncertainty principle!) a moment before, the random fluctuation allows the uncertainty to grow and grow, like a butterfly causing a hurricane days later.
            A fun example I thought about in college once is the air in a balloon: those are molecules bouncing off one another and the sides of the balloon. But, though extremely unlikely statistically, they could all move to one side of the balloon for a moment (very unlikely!), so that the surface wobbled just a bit before the molecules got back into a typical distribution. See? Statistically the balloon is relatively stable.


            Oh yeah — about where there has to be “suffering” (things we don’t like happening)….. Has to be, as a result of existence, so long as we have needs and drives, which in turn are the result of the requirements of cells, etc.

          • fun bobby

            Einstein has a lot of interesting theories on religion

          • brettearle

            Your first question is an absolutely great one.

            But your second question, from my way of thinking, partially contradicts your
            first.

            In the case of your first two questions, it is impossible for me to easily
            speculate about the capacity for pain, without a God.

            The reason for that, of course, is because I believe God exists. [And, again, I
            hold this belief--even though I don't worship God.]

            It could be that people might actually suffer less–if there were no God. But
            I, of course, don’t know if that would be the case.

            Our problem is that so many of us need to see God as an all-loving entity.

            But I do NOT think that’s who God is.

            That is MUCH too narrow of a definition….

            Additionally,

            It is also a moot point for me–this question of suffering if there were no
            God–because I believe that Life evolved by God’s creation through Evolution.

            And therefore, though quite intriguing, it is impossible for me to reasonably
            speculate about the existence of Life without God….because, could we go on to
            say,

            “Well, let’s look at life without God…and then when that Epoch is over
            with, let’s compare it to life with God–now that God has arrived, so that Life
            can now adjust to God’s presence?!

            “Or, let’s look at life with God…and then, when that Epoch is over with,
            let’s compare it to life without God–now that God has left, so that Life can
            now adjust to God’s absence?!

            Let’s simply see, now…would we conclude, that if pain and suffering still
            existed, after God left, that he now doesn’t “impose” it, but allows
            it, as a condition of life?

            These are impossible comparisons to me–even though they may not be.

            It’s kinda like the simultaneous existence of the same subatomic particle!

            Behold what a sizable/monstrous matrix!

            Your hypothesis about God’s provision for suffering–based on whether suffering
            might exist without God–is, therefore, for me ESPECIALLY intriguing; and yet,
            ultimately, a distraction. ……

            Your definition of Free Will, in your third question, is too `tainted’, I
            think, by the Catholic concept of Free Will.

            Free Will, for me, is not simply whether we have a choice between Right and
            Wrong.

            Free Will, for me, is whether there is no element of Destiny in one’s life.

            I believe that there IS an element of Destiny.

            How much of a factor Destiny plays is unknown to me. And it may vary, with the
            individual–for all any of us know.

            But it is possible, for me to speculate, that the degree and frequency of
            suffering may have a factor of Destiny, connected to it…..

            Am appreciating our discussion….

          • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

            “Free Will, for me, is whether there is no element of Destiny in one’s life.”
            Exactly.
            But tricky also, because we know another factor is our genes. My current understanding is that very roughly a significant part (between 1/3 and 2/3rds) of our personality/disposition is genetically influenced. For instance, the level of happiness of a person has a “set point” (genetic) from which they can go up some or down some. They can be *relatively* (to themselves) “happy”, which means happier than their set point. Also, the genetic set of abilities (relative to others) you have often play a heavy role in what career you choose I think, that is partially about initial ease. But someone can choose to excel in an area where they start out only with average difficulty (of the general population; e.g.– a random person trying to master Physics or accounting), yet continue working at it long enough to become very good, etc.
            So there is a certain amount of — is “destiny” a reasonable word? — in our genes. That predisposition.

            But the more classic “destiny”, non genetic, I agree would violate Free Will. I’m not Catholic, and don’t know anything of the Catholic take on “Free Will.” I’m just using the words in the sense of “freedom” only.

            Just in case it clarifies anything (might not!), as I see it God has nothing to do with suffering at all, one way or the other. Suffering seems solely a condition of nature, and a result of our being animal, with drives (e.g.–we feel bad when anything even seems similar to something that could possibly work against our success at surviving and reproducing and protecting our offspring, like not yet finding a conversation at a party composed of strangers, or having a tool stolen, etc.). Those bad feelings are programmed into the genes by nature as a survival/reproductive drive, in a simple biological drive, like hunger is.

        • fun bobby

          if people never suffered how would they know joy? God is not a person so its kinda silly to try to evaluate him using human criteria.

          • Sy2502

            Does god suffer? Does god know joy?

          • fun bobby

            great questions. I don’t know. perhaps you should pray and meditate on it for a while, maybe read the scriptures and see what you come up with.

          • Sy2502

            I grew up in a religious fundamentalist family, I know the Bible inside it and backward. I have analyzed and reasoned about god for years, I have debated it with believers, and nothing either in my life or in what people said convinced me god was anything more than a fictional character. But I thank you for your words anyway, I suppose you mean well.

          • fun bobby

            those were some intriguing questions. i think the God in the bible and fundamentalist sects is often a reflection of Man instead of vice versa.

        • brettearle

          We can’t know why god does what he does.

          [That is, if he does what he does, at all.]

          Millions of men and women, all over the world, have lived and died believing in god.

          And yet they are, and were, aware of the same contradictions that we are aware of.

          I choose to believe that God exists.

          It doesn’t mean I have to worship him.

          • Sy2502

            Why god does anything is irrelevant. The only thing to keep in mind is that he’s omnipotent, therefore he could achieve his goals using any means he wishes. That he chooses to achieve his means by making sentient beings suffer, or through genocide means god is evil. This is simple logic.

          • brettearle

            It isn’t SIMPLE logic.

            Instead, it is a complex mystery.

            It is impossible to understand God by using one’s rationale mind, to assess evil and to assess good.

            I don’t believe it works that way.

            The more you try to do that, the more you’ll lose sight of the actual way through, to an implicit, or intuitive, understanding of God’s bounty, God’s grace, and perhaps even God’s justification or provision for pain and suffering.

            And though that may be my belief, it doesn’t mean that I practice what I preach.

          • Sy2502

            Actually it would be very simple if people didn’t try to bend over backwards to fit mutually exclusive concepts into one rational concept. Think about, the supposed mystery comes because people start from a premise “god is omnipotent and infinitely good”, then look at god’s actions, which contradict their premise. Now any rational person would immediately realize that if facts contradict the premise, the premise must be false. But believers don’t want to give up their premise, so they do all this mental gymnastic to fit together 2 contradicting things.

      • brettearle

        We can’t.

        But who says his Plan’s always a good one?

        • fun bobby

          its the best possible plan

          • brettearle

            You don’t know that.

            You only can assume it and nothing else.

          • fun bobby

            Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.
            -BF

          • brettearle

            Scripture quotes do NOT prove it’s the best possible plan.

          • fun bobby

            yes, but that is a Ben Franklin quote. that it is the best possible plan is self evident. who could come up with a better plan than God?

    • brettearle

      Your point’s a good one.

      But this is a parable, is it not?

      It’s didactic and symbolic.

      We are supposed to read it literally.

      • Sy2502

        I don’t know, is it supposed to be read as a parable? Plenty of Christians will tell you it’s to be taken literally. In fact plenty of Christians to this day believe that appalling things that happen to them are in fact sent by god to test them. Which one’s right?
        Also what’s the supposed didactical value of the book of Job? That god is a psychopath? That we are pawns and our suffering doesn’t matter? That we should be abused and tortured by our supposed father and thank him moreover, basically some sick form of “battered wife syndrome”?

        • brettearle

          All the more reason to recognize the issue of Faith, as the teaching, here–EVEN if its original intention was otherwise.

          But don’t get me wrong:

          I believe God exists. And yet I am TOTALLY with you, with regard to the pain/suffering issue.

          That’s why I DON’T worship God [even though, again, I think God does exist].

          I don’t understand him. What I don’t understand, I can’t worship or have faith in.

          And, like you, I object, bitterly, to the pain and to the suffering.

  • donald

    Please, next time you talk about the bible, please label it the Book of Hooey. Non-believers don’t need readings from the bible to tell them about the stark reality of living today. And you and most interviewers on NPR rarely interview the famous atheists about these very things. And we don’t need any “Sky God” to guide us or save our lives.

    • fun bobby

      they interview Richard Dawkins all the time. It seems that you are having existential angst.

      • donald

        Name me the last time and who did the interview? It isn’t “all the time.” More than anything, believers are interviewed first.

        • fun bobby

          instead I will pray for you and Richard Dawkins

      • brettearle

        Shows how brilliant men, like Dawkins, can miss the mark.

    • Sy2502

      It’s ok, the Bible is its own worst enemy. Repulsive content like the Book of Job have opened many people’s eyes to how repulsive the Bible’s god really is.

      • fun bobby

        I am sure many have drawn strength from Job’s story

        • brettearle

          A rare moment when I agree with you……..
          ….even though Faith should never have been tied to Suffering, in the first place.

          • fun bobby

            i blame Eve

          • brettearle

            Unfair bias.

            But I see where you’re coming from.

    • brettearle

      Everything’s a mixed bag.

      So’s the Bible.

      You can still pluck some things out of it, that are of redemptive use.

      Makes no sense to reject it out of hand.

      Let’s say your viewpoint is accurate about the Bible:

      Still doesn’t prove there isn’t a God.

  • TELew

    Does not the fact that Job’s entire family died in a horrible fashion disturb you at least a little bit?

    • Jennifer Kelly

      Absolutely! I cannot imagine going through that anguish. And then having everyone around me tell me it was my fault and that I must have done something wrong to upset God? I can’t imagine.

      • TELew

        Do you not see any inconsistency between the “point” you made in your first post, and your reply in the second? In effect, would God make a deal with the devil in which the devil was allowed to wreak such destruction not just on Job but on his entire family, just to prove that Job has faith?

        • notafeminista

          Ooohh I don’t know. In the battle between good and evil I would think “just proving” someone has faith would be kind of a big deal.

          • TELew

            Yes, but I find it hard to support God if his actions in the story of Job are representative of “good.”

          • notafeminista

            Guess you haven’t considered the alternative closely enough then. That is to say, what if Job had lost his faith? What comes to him then?

          • fun bobby

            like God could lose a wager

          • notafeminista

            Well there’s at least a couple souls in Hell..Saddam Hussein for one according to the South Park fellas.

          • J__o__h__n

            Is he banned from casinos like the card counters?

          • TELew

            Actually, I believe the story is fictional. Hence, what God and Job do is a reflection of the author. I personally find the idea of a Supreme Deity wagering on whether his servant will be able to persevere extreme torture to be repulsive.

            I understand the moral of the tale, but I do not agree with its morality.

          • notafeminista

            Whether or not you agree is immaterial. If one accepts the premise of good, then one must accept the premise of evil; they do not exist without each other. What is the alternative if good loses?

          • TELew

            Actually, your premises are not entirely correct.

            Among the early church fathers (Augustine and others), the idea was that evil did not exist except as an absence of good. So if all is good, then nothing is evil. When good is less than perfect, then you find evil. The idea is that, given that God is good and eternal, ultimately good cannot lose.

            Your premise is more Manichaean in perspective, in that it posits the idea that the is a good and an evil that compete on a level playing field. In this instance, evil can triumph over good. Although Manichaeanism actually developed after Christianity, it drew largely from the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism, which saw a cosmic struggle between a good deity and an evil deity.

            I actually think it is kind of strange that so many Christians view things as a struggle of good vs. evil, that there is in someway an equivalency between the power of God and Satan. The Bible makes it clear that no such equivalency exists. In the Christian myth, Satan, who was originally an angel, is a creation of God’s. His great sin is trying to be God (pride), and although he is known as the great deceiver, his greatest deception is pulled on himself. For God, who has infinite foreknowledge, already knows the outcome of the struggle, which is that good triumphs. This is revealed in the Book of Revelations.

            Although I don’t believe in the devil, my opinion is that such a creature has no power except what you give it. So again, you come to the notion that evil is in fact the absence of good, rather than something that exists in and of itself.

            Again, I will say that what God does in the story of Job does not sound very “good” to me.

          • notafeminista

            Not that good and evil compete on a level playing field. Evil must cheat in order to “win” – it is the nature of evil – by definition the playing field is not level. Nor did I make any mention of equivalency.
            It’s not strange at all to humans see the struggle between good and evil when all three of the Abrahamic religions speak of reward and punishment – and who will be rewarded and who will be punished and for what. One is rewarded for good and punished for evil.
            If you don’t believe in Satan, then one assumes you don’t believe in God either. This does not mean the two have equal power – it simply means one does not exist without the other. As you stated, Satan’s downfall was trying to be God. If God did not exist, there would be nothing for Satan to emulate – and therefore Satan would not exist either.
            However, if one believes in Satan (or God) then the other must follow. If one accepts the Christian premise humans already “know” the outcome as promised in the Bible of either life everlasting or eternal damnation. Whether or not you have faith in that promise and follow the prescriptions thereof, is entirely up to you.

          • TELew

            Again I disagree (surprise).

            I see no necessary relationship between God’s existence and Satan’s existence. Satan is a creation of God’s (at least as an angel before the Fall), and God could have chosen not to create Satan or anything else that would take the role of devil.

            And I don’t see the logic behind the statement that if one does not believe in Satan one does not believe in God. Nor does Satan have to exist if God exists–the relationship is Creator and Creation.

            I will concede you (almost) cannot be a conservative Christian and not believe in Satan. It is all part of the theology.

          • Jennifer Kelly

            @ TELew. I am almost finished in reading the book of Romans. Would you consider reading it and telling me what you think? I believe it answers many of the questions people have about God, faith and grace. Try the NIV, NLT, or ESV version of the Bible. There is a great Bible App that has many different versions at your fingertips.
            I would be truly interested in hearing your thoughts.

          • TELew

            Jennifer,

            I don’t know that I have the time to do this in a timely fashion, but I will take a look at Romans in the next week. Maybe we can catch up.

            Growing up in the Christian tradition, I of course have read Romans before. It is considered a “primary source” in studying early Christianity because it is an actual letter from Paul addressing the concerns of the Christian congregation in Rome.

            In contrast, at least among scholars who are not trying to prove the Bible is true (they are not trying to prove the Bible is NOT true; they are studying it from a scientific perspective), the four Gospels are not really considered primary sources for the life of Jesus. Evidence indicates that Luke and Matthew drew material from Mark, and all three drew material from an earlier common source which scholars have designated as “Q” (which in German is short for “quelle,” or source–the originator of the theory was German). On the other hand, scholars believe that the various gospels represent the perspectives of different groups in the “Jesus movement.” Each group emphasized different things, and hence you will find different answers to the question of just who or what was Jesus (son of Man, son of God, etc.), as well as differing accounts of the Crucifixion.

            On a personal note, Chapter 1 of Romans has been very important to me because I am a gay man. Romans 1 of course contains the most explicit condemnation of homosexuality in the New Testament. It claims that homosexuals first turn their backs to God, do their own wills, and then develop “unnatural” passions. I can tell you from my own personal perspective that this is not true. I was very much an every Sunday go-to-church Christian as a teenager. I never had homosexual encounters, and I did everything in my power to become straight. Among those things was to pray everyday, usually several times, that God would remove my homosexual feelings and replace them with heterosexual feelings. He never did. Ultimately, by my senior year in college I decided to resolve the homosexual issue once and for all. I found that I was homosexual, and that was not going to change. It was certainly not my will to be homosexual. I ultimately decided that there was nothing wrong with me, nor was there something wrong with God. The problem lay in the way the churches presented these issues, how they understood the Bible.

            Since that time I have continued my spiritual quest, and the thing I am most comfortable with is a scholarly perspective on religion. Most of the time I am an atheist, but at critical times I find I have a deep faith in God.

            I don’t claim to know the truth, but being well educated I believe I can point out logical flaws in what many people uncritically believe is the truth.

            BTW, I am currently studying world religions. I am finishing Huston Smith’s World Religions. From there I think I will read William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience. Earlier this year I began reading the Bible from the beginning. Although I got bogged down in Numbers (surprise, surprise), it is still a project I intend to return to. But before then I have books on Indian and Chinese religious texts that I purchased as part of a World Religions class I took about twenty years ago, and I think I will slog through them first.

          • TELew

            Hey Jennifer,

            I had a chance to read Romans last night. It has been a long time since I have read it, and I have since done a lot of studying (college courses) on Christian theology since then. In light of this, it was very interesting and enlightening. Please understand my comments are not made as a believer in orthodox Christian views. I have used a King James Version because that is what I have most readily at hand.

            As you know, the largest part of Romans seems to deal with justification by faith versus justification by works. Paul’s believes in justification by faith, of course. Today when we hear the word “works,” we think of doing good moral deeds, which without faith, if you agree with Paul, is not sufficient to “save” a person. However, what I found really interesting is Paul specifies what he means by “works.” For him, works refers to keeping to Jewish law.

            Romans 3:20 “By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight…”

            Romans 3:28 “Therefore we conclude that man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.”

            Romans 3:30 “Since there is one God who will justified the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.”

            Underlying all this is the question of whether adherence to Jewish law without faith in Christ is sufficient for a person to be “justified.” The “circumcised” are Jews; circumcision was a body modification used by Jews since ancient times as a mark of their covenant with God. By contrast, the “uncircumcised” are non-Jewish converts (Gentiles) to Christianity (note that Paul does not use the term “Christianity”) According to scholars, this reveals a conflict within the early Jewish movement between traditional Jews who demanded that Gentiles must be circumcised and observe Jewish customs (Peter) versus those who believed that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised or observe Jewish customs but were rather “justified” by their “faith,” or belief, in Christ as the saviour.

            I will continue on grace in a second e-mail.

          • TELew

            Here is my continuation on grace.

            I found this subject particularly interesting. As I said, the last time I read Romans was a very long time ago, and there are things in Paul’s discussion of grace that one may not pick up unless one is well-read in the history of Christianity or belongs to a church which believes in predestination.

            My first impression is Paul’s ideas on grace are very similar to those of St. Augustine (perhaps the greatest of the early Church fathers when it came to theology; he lived ca. 400 C.E./A.D.). They seem very much to be the basis for the position of John Calvin (1500s Protestant reformer based in Switzerland), as well as the Puritans who settled New England. That position is that God has “foreknowledge” of what is to happen.

            Romans 8: 29-30
            “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son . . . Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called: whom He called, these He justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”

            Romans 8: 33 “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.”

            In Calvinistic theology the elect are those to whom God extends His grace, allowing them to believe.

            Romans 9: 15-16 God “says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whomever I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.’ [16] So then it not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.”

            This statement indicates that not everyone will receive God’s grace, but only those whom God wills.

            In this theology God knows if a person will become a believer in Christ before the person does. Furthermore, only a limited number of people will have grace extended to them. A major problem with this kind of theology is that critics believe that because God foreknows how a given person will react, He somehow controls whether the person will believe; those who don’t believe are doomed to Hell. In effect, He could have willed the person to believe, but instead He chose not to and allowed the person to be doomed to Hell.

            Grace is needed to deliver individual humans from sin, because (Romans 5: 12) “just as through one man [Adam] sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” and (Romans 5: 18-19) “Therefore, as through one man’s [Adam] offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation . . . For as by one man’s [Adam] disobedience some were made sinners, so by one Man’s [Christ] obedience many will be made righteous.” So here death is a punishment for the original sin of Adam; grace grants men everlasting life; Romans 5:21 So that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ.”

            Another major problem is that God extends his grace to only a limited number of people (See Romans 9: 15-16 above). Here critics argue that God bears the responsibility for condemning to Hell the persons whom He does not extend His grace.

            I will summarize with a third post.

          • TELew

            Today, orthodox Christians remain divided on the question of God’s grace. At the heart of this is the question of predestination and limited extension of grace. An argument for this position is spelled out in Romans. However, the intuition of many Christians leads them to consider Paul’s position untenable. After all, God is a loving God–why would He give only a limited, “elect” group the chance for salvation? We may think of grace as something God does to allow an individual to believe in the Christian miracle.

            As for “works,” it is the tendency of modern Christians to view this term in general terms. That is because the struggle between whether the convert should observe Jewish law or not was resolved some 1900 years ago, and hence has no meaning for us except as an historical curiosity. However, as Romans reveals it was an extremely important issue for the early Jesus movement. And Paul specifies what he means when he refers to “works”–observance of Jewish custom, especially circumcision. The argument over “works” was essential the issue of faith. One faction of the Jesus movement (Peter) held that Gentile converts had to adhere to Jewish customs. By contrast, another faction led by Paul rejected that notion, claiming that “faith,” or belief in the Christian miracle, was sufficient to “justify” the believer. (One has to wonder what impact grown Gentile men had on this discussion; clipping a baby is one thing, but clipping an adult male is quite another!) So that is why so much is said about circumcision.

            Romans is amazing in that it is undoubtedly one of the main sources for orthodox Christian belief. It includes the doctrine of Original Sin (with Adam’s fall, we sinned all); the idea of a new covenant (the old covenant was made with Hebrews who were to follow the Law; in the new covenant, achieved by the sacrifice of Jesus, faith rather than following Jewish law justified the believer); the doctrine of predestination, the elect, and limited extension of grace. It also includes a section on morality for Christians which includes much of what is taught in the four gospels, including a version of the Golden Law.

            What is does not include is a reference to Christians; rather Paul thinks of the converts as new covenant “Israelites.”
            Romans 9: 6-8
            “But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. for they are not all Israel who are Israel. [7] Nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called.’ [8] That is, that those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.”

            I will have one more final word

          • TELew

            Concerning the section on homosexuality in Romans 1, we must first understand that Paul is corresponding with Christians in Rome. From the text it sounds some of them might be Greek, or even Roman. They of course had very different opinions on homosexuality than the Jews did. It would not be unusual if some of the converts were homosexual. At a minimum, underlying the first chapters of Romans is the suggestion that members of the Roman group led a rather free sexual life. Remember the various references to “members” and “carnal” behavior. I think Paul was trying to define parameters for “Christian” behavior.

            For Paul any sexual behavior was degrading to the body. The best solution was to remain celibate. But he recognized that some people “burn” with desire, so he allowed them an inferior outlet for their sexual desires–to marry. Undoubtedly Paul believed that even in marriage one should remain chaste, resisting the sexual urge as much as possible.

            One thing is missing–other correspondence. This document is first and foremost a letter, no doubt answering questions posed by Roman followers of Jesus in other correspondence. Just what was in this correspondence, and were there other letters from Paul to the Romans? We are unlikely to know. But when studying Romans, modern Christians rarely if ever consider the implications of this fact. Of course after the fact the letter was copied and widely circulated, and was considered of such significance that it made it into the canon that later became the orthodox Christian Bible.

            Jennifer, thanks for the suggestion. It was a lot of fun (or I would not have written this much), and I learned some things. I hope I answered your questions to your satisfaction.

          • Jennifer Kelly

            Very interesting comments. I hope to get back to you this weekend, after toting family around. : )

          • TELew

            Thanks.

            By the way, I am now reading Acts. The book I am (was) reading (William James, Varieties of Religious Experience), is literally a slog through.

            As I indicated previously, I had already started reading the Bible from the beginning (recently I had taken some courses on Jewish history and read books on current academic views on the Torah, ie. first five books of the Old Testament). But I wanted to get through the Old Testament before I turned to the New Testament, but . . .

            By the way, I grew up Methodist, although my Methodism was from the perspective of southern (Texas, Arkansas) and rural, which has a lot stronger evangelical element to it than urban Methodism does. It is still all United Methodist though.

            I say this because in our Sunday school studies we tended to read the New Testament rather than the Old. As a result, I have a much better familiarity with the NT than the OT. And Methodists are not predestinarians.

            Yes, I am having fun.

          • TELew

            Jennifer,

            If you want to continue this conversation, I have just created a Google Group called “Looking at the Bible in an Historical Context.”

        • Jennifer Kelly

          @TELew. Sorry I didn’t respond to your last message until now. I have been thinking about how to respond. Is there a way to reach you outside of this public forum?

  • Art Toegemann

    This from a text that omits a Book of Masada.

  • pjjb33

    One translation has Satan saying “He (Job) will curse you(God) to your face.” When St. Augustine saw God’s face, he described all his writing up to that point as worthless as straw, and quit writing. Incredible. I believe the 700 people every day in the U.S. who have a near-death experience – unbiased competent researchers have studied it for 30 years. But our culture dismisses science, and we don’t believe each other’s stories. What a shame. I’ve heard 150 people describe dying, their stories do not conflict with each other nor with spiritual teachings I’ve read, they have consistent themes but vary and are deeply personal, and many involve veridical experiences. The life review is an exercise in the Golden Rule – you will feel every effect you’ve had on everyone FROM THEIR VANTAGE POINT, and you will judge yourself (with counsel of others, whom you’ve known for an eternity.) If you watch the accounts on YouTube and claim they’re lying, you’ll be the first I’ve known to react that way. They exude credibility. Andy Petro, Howard Storm, Hamish Miller, Pam Reynolds. What do they discover? The fact that WE CHOSE THIS LIFE (with the counsel of other wise beings), which makes the question “Why does God allow evil in the world?” absolutely meaningless. We took on difficult lives that foster growth, and agreed to have the memory of our eternal lives erased. That’s the only way this passion play can seem real. Atheist or not, consider it at least as a hypothetical, because it’s interesting to consider the consequences. No more whining! It ain’t proof, but every element of the NDE just feels right to me.

    When Job saw God’s face, he understood this mortal life in the context of our immortal lives, and secrets were revealed to him. That’s what seeing God’s face means – he understood the purpose of suffering and was OK with it . So will we.

    • fun bobby

      I guess ayahuasca has a similar effect

  • SamEw

    Before we all jump on the bandwagon about how ‘modern’ the book of Job remember yes it does challenge orthodoxy in some ways but it is also where much of the orthodox Christian understanding and conception of Satan comes from. The tangible presence of evil in the story is at least as challenging to secularist as anything in the story is to traditional believers. I would have liked to have heard Epstein talk more about how he reconciles the existence of evil with his world view or even if he believes in evil as such.

  • Lusitan75

    As I listened to this episode, I kept thinking of the references to The Book of Job in the recent film The Tree of Life. I think that’s an amazing film that’s worth seeing regardless, but now I want to watch it again having listened to this discussion.

  • anon

    All this research and discussion, and no mention that Job is also a prophet in Islam, and his story is mentioned in the Quran? It’s not only ‘two faiths’ that have this story. (I don’t think there’s any wager in the Islamic version.)

  • Mark

    Many miss the point of the book. This is because those who read the story put themselves in Job’s shoes. The story is about how the powerful can be corrupted by evil. God is tricked by Satan to harm Job, in effect Satan used God’s narcissism to hurt Job. The lesson is about how the powerful, no matter how pious, can do evil acts.

    Leaders should take this lesson to heart. Especially with respect to the poor and downtrodden.

  • Walt

    Sorry Mark, you missed it too.

  • fun bobby

    you have never heard Dawkins on NPR? it seems like he is on whenever he comes out with a new book. I will say a little prayer for you as well.

  • http://www.sevengrainsofsand.com/ Bill Callahan

    I think it would be great if he did Ecclesiastes next.

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