Question of the Week: "Make man in OUR image?"

On 11/26/2017 The Mentionables received this question from Jim B.:

"To whom was God speaking when he said 'Let us make man in our image'?"

By sculpture: Tadeusz Kowalski, photo: Karol Kowalski via Wikimedia Commons

By sculpture: Tadeusz Kowalski, photo: Karol Kowalski via Wikimedia Commons

The following answer is from Mentionable Network member Jeremy Jones to see the answer by Joel Furches, scroll down.

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God was speaking to the Holy Spirit and to Christ.  Evidence that Christ was, although not specifically mentioned in the creation account found in Genesis, at the beginning is found in the Gospel of John.

John 1:1 – 3: “In the beginning (same as Genesis 1, In the beginning God created…) was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.  All things were made by Him; and without Him was not made any thing made that was made.”

Here John clearly points out 3 major points showing that Christ was all the way back in Genesis:

  1. Verse 1 – “the Word was with God” here John gives clear evidence that God was not alone when creation happened, by using the word “with”.  

2) Verse 2 – “The same was in the beginning with God” again John reiterated that way back when God was creating the world He was not alone.

3) Verse 3 – “All things were made by Him” here John continues his thought that that the Word was God and it was through the Word that the world, including man, was created.

John combines all these with saying that “the Word was God.”  And clearly throughout the Gospels Jesus is repeatedly stating that “I and the Father are one; If you seen Me, you’ve seen the Father” all these statements that connect Jesus and God as being the same.  That is why the Pharisees wanted Him dead.

And although, there is no direct speaking of the Trinity Scripture does speak in threes many times when discussing God, Christ and the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14; Matthew 28:19; Luke 3:21 – 22).  

All throughout Scripture where the Father is the Son is and where the Son is the Holy Spirit is.  So, it is only logical that if “in the beginning the Son was there and the Father was then the Holy Spirit had to be there as well.  And as all 3 where present throughout the 6 days of Creation, it is only logical that on that final step of Creation God was speaking to the Son and the Holy Spirit.  And as God said, “Let us make man in our image” we humans are made, just as God is (He is, not that is made of), up of three parts (Body – Son, Soul – Father, and Spirit – Holy Spirit).

** Italicized my add in**

*** All Scripture quotes come from the KJV ***

The following answer is from Mentionable Joel Furches. To see the answer from  Tyler Vela scroll below:

joel+furches.png

One may speculate as to what the writer of Genesis had in mind when this statement was recorded. It has been suggested that the writer was referring to a “heavenly council” as seen in the book of Job, when the “sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD,” or in 1 Kings, wherein the prophet Micaiah has a vision during which the LORD consults with “all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left.” 

Regardless of what the author had in mind when he penned these words, it is not unreasonable to suggest that this is a hint at the trinity. After all, another hint of the trinity within the creation account includes “the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters,” which may be taken as a reference to the Holy Spirit. 

It is particularly telling of this passage that later on in that same passage, it states, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him.” And in Genesis 9, it says “for God made man in his own image.” Note that both of these passages have man made specifically in the image of God – singular. 

Clearly the intent was to say that man was made specifically in the image of the one God of Israel. This being the case, it is not unreasonable to believe that God was referring to himself when he said “let us.” And since Christian doctrine gives us a mechanism to explain why God would refer to himself in the plural, the trinity becomes a good explanation. 

There exist a number of occurrences and references throughout the Old Testament which may be taken as a reference to the trinity, however this was not a Jewish doctrine in any of the early rabbinical teachings to which we currently have access. 

For this reason, it is doubtful that the writer had the trinity in mind when he wrote this passage. This does not prevent the passage from being a reference to the trinity. The New Testament suggests that prophets did not always have perfect insight into the meaning of what they wrote (1 Peter 1:10-12). 

Moreover, it is widely accepted that many prophecies have a double meaning. So, for instance, many prophecies related to King David are also fulfilled in Christ. Therefore it may be that the writer had a specific meaning in mind, but, in addition to the original intent, this verse also pointed prophetically toward the triune nature of God. 

The following answer is from Mentionable Tyler Vela:

TylerVela.png

This verse in Gen 1:26 is an interesting verse that has led to numerous interpretations. Some have argued that God is speaking to the heavenly host and determining to make man personal like he and the angels are. Others have noted that God is given the title Elohim (a general term for “God”) rather than being called by his personal name, Yahweh (YHWH). The relevance is that Elohim is a kind of singular-plural (a construction that has no parallel in English) where the word refers to a singular plurality. They argue then that the pronouns “we/us/our” are used to reflect the plurality within the title Elohim. And so they function more like a “royal we” would in English. Still others have seen an early Trinitarian concept where the plurality of pronouns reflects a dialogue of sorts within the Triune Godhead.

Without going into the merits of each of these, I would argue that they likely all touch on a conceptual component of what is happening within 1:26, particularly the last two. Here I think it can be compellingly argued that YHWH really is being shown as a singular plural and that this is used to display the triune nature of God. However, I also think that something else is happening in this text that is often overlooked.

I have argued elsewhere that Genesis 1 is a literary framework used to convey the functional creation of the cosmos in a non-literal and diachronic sense in order to polemicize or satirize the gods of Egypt, and that Genesis 1-3 form a kind of Ancient temple text. This is extremely helpful for several reasons.

  1.        If this view is adopted, we are already in the mode of understanding that Genesis is a highly stylized piece of literature and should expect to find poetic or structured prose which function in developing the concepts contained within. To this regard, it is interesting to note that the summary of the creation of man in the image of God found in Gen. 1:27 is presented in a triplicate manner:

                                                               i.      God created man in his own image

                                                             ii.      In the image of God he created him

                                                           iii.      Male and female he created them

Now while each of these develops the idea of exactly what God is creating, the triplicate structure of the summary is telling of the kind of plurality that the author has in mind. It is not an innumerable amount like the host of heaven, nor is it a simple duality, but is expressly triplicate. If we observe the way that literary structures form and develop and advance the  theology of Genesis 1, we cannot help by notice the Trinitarian import of this structure.

       2.       In all other Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) cultures, and specifically in Egypt, the masses were not viewed as being image bearers of the gods. Humanity generally were viewed as created servants meant only for menial labor to help build temples to house the gods and offer sacrifices to feed them. The only exception to this was typically the king and the princes, or in the case of Egypt, the Pharaoh. They were frequently viewed in deified light, but the common man was not. Genesis 1-3 as a temple text flips the script on this and satirizes the surrounding anthropology of their neighboring cultures. Rather than man being made only as servants of God to make a temple to house him and offerings to feed him, it is man who is made in the image of God and YHWH is the one who fashions the garden temple to give a lush land to house and sustain the humans that he has placed within it. A cherry is placed on top of this complete reversal by then adding that man is not only not the slavish handservant of the gods, but is actually a vice regent of the one true Creator God, given authority to exercise dominion and rule over the whole of the earth that God had given them. This would serve as a gigantic upheaval and slap in the face to the surrounding religious views of Israel’s neighbors.

Once we understand the broader literary framework of Genesis 1, and the theological/polemical purposes that it has, this helps us to more fully understand what is being said by the plural pronouns and the triplicate pronouncement than man is made in “our” image. Not only does this likely reflect the singular-plural nature of God, and the triune nature of the godhead as mentioned above, but also shows an intentional and complete rejection of the ubiquitous ANE religious beliefs about the lowly status of humanity as merely menial labor to house and feed the gods. Instead, humanity is seen in total as being of immense value as image bearers of God and are given the temple to live in communion with God, not to serve him hand and foot.

To this, the purpose of Genesis 1-3 is further illustrated in and through the otherwise bizarre statement by God, “Let us make man in our image.” It helps direct our hearts toward the God who created us with worth and purpose, and to ascribe glory to him that he made us as image bearers meant to commune with him in the temple and the land that he has provided to us.

Praise be to God.

God Behaving Badly?

Michelangelo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Michelangelo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

An atheist follower said this to The Mentionables:

"There are examples in the Bible of things I would call immoral behavior from God."

Many atheists object that God did has done immoral things in the Old Testament. But before we examine any specific instances of God’s supposed bad behavior, we first need to define what we mean by immoral.


OBJECTIVE MORALITY

For an action to be called immoral, it must be contrary to some moral code. So what is this moral code that the atheist is accusing God of breaking? If it his own personal opinion on how people should act, then who cares what the atheist thinks? It’s tantamount to him saying “I don’t like what God did in the Old Testament.” Well, so what? That’s your opinion.

This is known as subjective morality, meaning that every person, or group of people, decides for him- or herself what is right or wrong. I have my moral code, you have your moral code, and there’s no way of judging between them. But is that really how morality works? No. There are certain actions that are really right or wrong for everyone. For example, it is truly good to love and care for a little child and it is truly evil to harm and abuse her. This applies to all people at all times. And this is what is known as objective morality.

But where does this moral code come from and why must we follow it? We know that human laws come from a human authority, like a ruler or government. And an objective moral law that binds every human being across all of time requires a grand moral authority who rules over everyone and everything: God.

God is the ultimate standard of right and wrong. Behaviors that align with God’s nature or commands are good and actions that contradict them are evil. This is how we determine right and wrong. So for an atheist to accuse someone of performing a truly immoral act, he is actually providing evidence for God’s existence.


INCONSISTENT MORALITY

However, a skeptic may simply be arguing that God has done things in the Old Testament that contradict his all-loving, morally perfect nature. Now is when we must examine the actual act or command and see if God had a morally-admissible reason. The one cited most often is the destruction of the Canaanites.

 

Destruction of the Canaanites

God commanded the Israelites to completely wipe out the Canaanites: “you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy” (Deuteronomy 7:2), “do not leave alive anything that breathes” (20:6). But how could a good and loving God possibly command something like this?

 

King of the Universe

We first must understand who God is. God is not just another ruler of some earthly kingdom. God is Creator of all things and King of the Universe. He gives life and he can take life whenever he wants, however he wants.

Furthermore, there are times that we think it is justified for humans to take another’s life, like in the case of self-defense, to protect others, or in a just war. A general can order his troops to attack and kill enemy combatants. So was God morally justified in destroying of the Canaanites?

 

Divine Judgment

The Bible is clear that God did not arbitrarily order Israel to kill the Canaanites. They were evil. God told the Israelites “It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations” (Deut. 9:5). And while the Canaanites committed many wicked acts, I think only one example would suffice: child sacrifice. They would burn their children alive in a fiery furnace as a sacrifice to the god Molech. Just that one act alone would be justification for their complete annihilation.

The irony is that many skeptics question why God doesn’t prevent great evils in the world. But here we have an example of God eradicating a wicked culture, and yet skeptics complain about it!

Skeptics can point to other instances of God supposedly behaving badly in the Old Testament, such as the great flood or the plagues sent to Egypt. But God was not acting rashly or arbitrarily. He was judging the wicked. And He even imposed harsh judgment upon his own people, Israel, when they partook of the same wicked actions of the nations surrounding them.

God Is Patient and Merciful

God does not enjoy the death of the wicked but patiently waits for us to repent of our sins (Ezek. 18:23, 2 Peter 3:9). Yet, he will permit evil only for so long until he finally passes judgment. God gave the Canaanites 400 years to cease their wickedness. But when their evil reached its peak, then the Israelites were to destroy them (Gen. 15:16).

 


CONCLUSION

To complain that God has committed immoral acts is also to admit there is an objective moral law. God is the best explanation of objective morality. Therefore, calling certain actions truly immoral actually provides evidence for God’s existence.

But what about examples from the Old Testament where God seems to betray his own morally perfect, all-loving nature? Yes, God is love, but he is also Judge. The destruction of the Canaanites was an act of divine judgment. And God is always willing to show mercy and forgive our sins, no matter how bad.

Question of the Week: An Atheist In AA

By User:Vangore  derivative work: Technical 13

By User:Vangore  derivative work: Technical 13

On 11/17/2017, the Mentionables received this question from an anonymous source:

"I know an alcoholic who went to AA, but was put off by all the religious implications. He couldn't complete the program because the last step was to "give it up to a higher power," and he doesn't believe in a "higher power." He wants to quit, but he can't put up with the program because he doesn't like the religious stuff. What do you tell someone like that?" 

This answer by Mentionable Joel Furches

 

Speaking to the person himself, I would say this: 

I understand your position. However, whether you realize it or not, I would contend that you do, in fact, believe in a Higher Power. I realize that you don’t believe in God, and probably aren’t spiritual in any way. However, what we can both agree on is that you want to make a change in your life. You have become, in some sense, physically dependent, but you are working against that dependency in order to better yourself. 

Consider this: if you were simply a biological mechanism, then you are your body. There is no separation of distinction between your mind and your body. However, your body craves one thing, and your mind wants to be free from that craving. There is a conflict of desires, and you are working against your body to break this dependency. Consider drug testing done on animals. It is easy to get an animal to become chemically dependant on a substance. Never once in the history of drug testing has an animal struggled to break its addiction. But you do. There is a part of you that transcends your body, and fights to re-train your body to meet the desires of your mind. 

If there is some possibility that your mind is transcendent, then this opens the door to the possibility of transcendence. This begs another question: why do you crave to break this addiction? The desires of your mind do not match the desires of your body, and this indicates that you recognize some kind of transcendent standard which places an ultimate good over physical desire. You want more out of your life. You want to be a better person. You are straining toward some kind of standard that exists outside of your skin. And if there is a standard that transcends the grey matter between your ears, there is a Higher Power from which this standard proceeds. If you desire something greater than your body can give you, your desires are straining toward that which is higher than yourself. Recognize that you want something outside of yourself, and then ask that the transcendent come to you rather than you working to come to it. 

The Danger of Turning Tragedies into Personal Platforms

First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas

First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas

In 2002 this writer received an email from a college acquaintance. It said that a mutual friend had been killed in action overseas. This announcement was immediately followed by a diatribe against the war in Iraq. 

In the August 10th, 2013 episode of the skeptic broadcast Reasonable Doubts, the panel talked about the Aurora movie theater shooting of a month before, criticizing people for turning to religion rather than thanking the people involved in rescuing and caring for the victims. 

Evangelist Ravi Zacharias gives an example of a funeral where the minister had no sooner delivered the eulogy than he began to use the death as a platform to preach his political beliefs, while the shocked and grieving family and friends listened on. 

On Sunday, November 5th, 2017, at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs Texas, a gunman shot and killed at least twenty-six people, with at least 20 others wounded. This kind of tragedy is becoming all-too familiar to Americans since the Columbine school shooting of 1999. And so the national reaction has become predictable. For a day or so there will be national shock and sorrow. Then, quick on the heels of the shock, pundits, preachers, politicians and people will begin using the tragedy to push their pet platform. Gun Control will be debated. The existence of God will be alternately attacked and defended. Government funding of schools will be questioned. Video game and movie violence will be attacked. And soon, the tragedy of the situation will be lost in the muddled mass of argumentation. 

Some of this is well intentioned. People are looking for solutions to prevent these things from happening. But just as often, people are looking for a target for their anger, frustration, and sorrow. Worse, some simply see these events as an opportunity to motivate people to their cause. 

Whatever the motivation for these kinds of arguments and discussions, it is deeply inappropriate and a slap in the face of the devastated people involved in the tragedy. Whatever it is that the victims require; comfort, encouragement, or support, it is not to have people use them as a convenient banner for whatever cause they are already committed to. 

If a person is already convinced of their particular position, and a tragedy like this simply reinforces their convictions, that is all well and good, but it is not helpful to others to point to a funeral and say “I’m right and you’re wrong.”  

If, on the other hand, a tragedy like this causes a person to seek answers outside their current convictions, it is their prerogative to be able to explore and ask questions without having someone else’s ideas shoved down their throat. 

This writer encourages his readers to please consider what they say and do in response to this tragedy, and to remember that these are people whose lives have been destroyed, not political or religious causes. 

For the Christians who hear of this tragedy, it would be wise to remember the words of Paul as he said “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ,” and “weep with those who weep,” the words of James who says "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction," and the words of Christ who said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.

Question of the Week (10/26/2017) Perseverance and Salvation

Caravaggio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Caravaggio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Mentionables received this Question on 10/26/2017 from Paul M.:

"THERE APPEARS TO BE A DISCONNECT BETWEEN SALVATION BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH AS A ONE TIME ETERNAL EVENT AND MANY VERSES THAT SPEAK ABOUT HAVING TO PERSEVERE TO THE END TO BE SAVED."


THIS ANSWER IS PROVIDED BY JOEL FURCHES  (SCROLL DOWN TO SEE TYLER VELA'S ANSWER).

joel furches.png

 

Possibly the most telling passage of scripture related to perseverance is the parable of the Sower and the Seed.

Here Christ breaks the conviction that comes with the hearing of the Gospel down into four possible responses:

  1. The person neither listens or believes, because their heart is hard.
  2. The person listens and is attracted to the Gospel, but at the point that their belief leads to hardship, they abandon the faith.
  3. The person hears the word, but is more concerned with worldly things, and consequently never fully embraces the Gospel
  4. The person hears, believes, endures the trials and hardships that come as a believer, and values the Gospel above worldly things.

 

From this we may take it that there is some period (x) between the exposure of a person to the Gospel and the conviction thereof. This does not necessarily indicate that there may be some loss of salvation in the full sense of the word, as there is a loss of conviction. Certainly this still allows for a “by grace alone through faith alone,” interpretation allowing for the period between exposure to the gospel and the instance of repentance.

Many of the passages which seem to speak of perseverance unto salvation are speaking directly to a people under persecution. In these instances, when the author speaks to the reader encouraging them to “endure unto the end” in order to receive salvation, he is speaking specifically about an endurance under persecution. This type of language is typified in Mark 13, wherein Jesus lists all of the hardships and persecution the disciples (and later, the church) will endure at the hands of those who hate his name. He speaks of them being delivered to rulers, being beaten and badly treated, and then ends the passage by saying, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

One may take it that, in this passage, he is not so much speaking about deliverance from sin and reconciliation to God, as he is talking about enduring trials - looking to God for salvation from hardship. It is a warning not to give up. In Hebrews, the saints are encouraged to consider Christ’s endurance of suffering as a model of how Christians ought to face suffering, keeping their eyes on their future reward, just as did Christ.

It is also possible to tie these passages back to the sower and the seed wherein the seed that falls on rocky ground withers and dies due to its inability to cope with trials. But one must parse the difference between saints who are discouraged and disheartened in the face of persecution, and one who does not ultimately repent because of the hardships that come when one associates with Christ.

Consequently, when one reads a passage which seems to say that a person must endure unto salvation, it is worth looking at the context to see if the passage is about the salvation that comes through repentance, or rather the endurance of hardships without giving up.


THIS ANSWER IS PROVIDED BY TYLER VELA 

TylerVela.png

 

The question of what the Reformers have called the “perseverance of the saints,” is a vitally important issue for every Christian to understand. It is crucial to a Christian’s assurance of their salvation and hope of heaven in this life. I will be giving my answer from the framework of a historic Reformed position as I find it to be the most Biblical faithful and the most spiritually enriching.

Once one has studied through the Reformed order of salvation (“ordo salutis”), one will finally arrive at the pinnacle of that journey – how a Christian is sustained until the day of the Lord’s coming. The whole impetus of the order of salvation is to show us that from our election in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4), through the regeneration (Acts 16:14), atoning forgiveness (Rom. 3:24-25) and imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer (Rom. 4:24) is from God, by God, and for the glory of God. The focus is on the activity of God in every aspect of our salvation from election to glorification such that we can be assured of our salvation because God himself is the guarantor of the means and the ends.

It is to this end that the order of salvation ends with the perseverance of the saints. The question is easily asked how we will maintain in a state of grace despite our sin? Sure God may have chosen us, redeemed us, effectually called us, regenerated us, atoned for us, and given us newness of life, but we all still sin. Don’t the scriptures show us the vital importance of good works and righteousness are to the Christian life?

The answer is yes. Good works and righteousness are vital to the Christian life, but we are also given the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of the fulfillment of the hope of the promise (Eph. 1:13-14) and we are told that God’s elect can never ever (the Greek is emphatic) be snatched out of God’s hand (Jn. 10:27-28). We are promised that it is God who started the work of salvation, and God himself will finish that work (Phil. 1:6). 1 Pet 1:3-5 tells us that our inheritance is not only imperishable, but that God is protecting us for the day of his coming. We are even told that all those that God had predestined to salvation will be called, justified, and finally glorified (Rom. 8:29-30, often called the golden chain of salvation). In fact, the New Testament is so confident in the guarantee of our final glorification that it says that we can be assured of our salvation (Heb. 3:14; 6:11; 10:22; 2 Pet. 1:10). This assurance would not be possible if every day we had to live in fear that our bouts of doubt or sins could disqualify us from our future hope. If our sin could disqualify us, it would disqualify us. The only way to have the assurance that we are promised in the New Testament is if God is both the just and the justifier (Rom 3:26) and the indefatigable guarantee of our glorification in Christ.

There are other theologically significant supports for such a view that I have detailed elsewhere and will list below. Several brief examples are that our mystical union with Christ, our election, our inclusion in the Covenant of Grace, and our possession of eternal life would all guarantee the culmination of our hope. In addition, we can trust that God is just and that if God has said that Christ paid the price and the full penalty for all of our sin, that it means exactly that – all of our sin, before and after our conversion. God would not demand double payment for the same sin – first from Jesus and then from us.

As Augustus Toplady wrote in his 18th century hymn,

From whence this fear and unbelief? Hath not the Father put to grief His spotless Son for me? And will the righteous Judge of men
Condemn me for that debt of sin Which, Lord, was charged on Thee?
Complete atonement Thou hast made, And to the utmost Thou hast paid Whate'er Thy people owed; How then can wrath on me take place, If sheltered in Thy righteousness, And sprinkled with Thy blood?
If thou hast my discharge procured, And freely in my room endured The whole of wrath divine; Payment God cannot twice demand, First at my bleeding Surety's hand, And then again at mine.
Turn then, my soul, unto thy rest! The merits of thy great High Priest Have bought thy liberty; Trust in His efficacious blood, Nor fear thy banishment from God, Since Jesus died for thee.

 

It is my hope and prayer that all believers can come to a place of such confidence in death of Christ for them and the hope held out in the gospel that they enjoy the assurance promised to them in the Scriptures, to the glory of God.

 

For more on the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints, and the Doctrines of Grace as a whole, you can see my Bible study here: or listen to the 6 episode audio version on The Freed Thinker Podcast.

Why Christians and Atheists are Hostile: The Science

Hypothalamus.jpg

THE MENTIONABLES PODCAST - EPISODE 3 - DISCUSSED THE SCIENCE OF TROLLING. IN THIS ARTICLE, JOEL FURCHES LAYS OUT THE FACTS DISCUSSED IN THE 'CAST:

It is undeniably the case that the atheist/theist argument sparks more emotional exchanges than rational ones. 

While one Atheist opinion blog states

“We should boisterously and unashamedly make fun of people who invoke religion or mythical beings at every opportunity. We should make them embarrassed that they even opened their mouths.” 

An analogous theist opinion blog states: 

“I hate Atheists more than any group of people, because they claim to be pure and unbiased and that everyone else is living ‘under rules’ and it makes me angry …[Atheists make] the rest of us feel inferior. I've had so many … like them try to tell me what's right and what's wrong. They think that not having a religion is going to make them the fittest candidates for any roles in government, opinions, etc. Ugh, I despise them.” 

This is not, of course, to say that either side presents their opinions entirely devoid of rational arguments, but rather that such arguments are overwhelmingly accompanied with – or overridden by – emotional shouting matches unbecoming of either side. 

This is, of course, somewhat understandable on the side of the religious. They are not only defending their own eternal fate, but the fate of those they are trying to convince. 

Moreover, the rules, mandates, and codes they seek to defend are backed by an eternal, all powerful judge; as opposed to atheism, whose rules can only really be imposed and advanced by fellow human beings. 

One aspect of religion is the love, devotion, and worship of the object they seek to defend, whilst Atheism simply opposes an object in which they do not believe. Why, then, the hatred? 

“Hate” may seem a strong word, but still an accurate one according to some studies. 

One such study from the January 2011 edition of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that when Atheists and Agnostics were prompted with measures related to past experiences, or with images of a hypothetical God, they responded with feelings of anger and bitterness. 

In an ideal world, arguments and worldviews would be judged in a cold, rational way based on the supporting facts and logic. The conclusions thusly reached would then guide the actions and decisions of the person. 

Do the conclusions of either Christianity or Atheism warrant the polarization and hatred? 

Well, in the case of Christianity, presumably they do not. If Christianity is true, then the believer is compelled to follow the teachings and example of Christ who said such things as: 

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,” (Luke 6:27

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15

“…forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37

Do the conclusions of Atheism warrant hatred and strong emotions against the religious? 

This is a little more difficult to say. Atheism, as a worldview, simply says that God does not exist. There is no atheist Bible, no “teachings” that atheists are compelled to follow, no moral, judicial, or political doctrines that can be drawn from disbelief, and no object of love or devotion inspired by such disbelief except, perhaps, one’s self. 

However, since Atheism – in its purest form – is simply the opposition of a particular kind of belief, this may serve as a partial explanation of the negative emotions that accompany it. 

Perhaps the sometimes fanatical opposition adopted by both sides of the argument can be partially explained by the work of Psychologist Dr David Lewis-Hodgson, director of research at Mindlab International. 

In his recent book, The Brainsell, he explains the radical polarization that occurs in society over branding. It turns out that some of the shallow reasons that people adopt to defend a particular brand such as Coke ™ over Pepsi ™, or Mac over PC, are surprisingly similar to the vitriolic behavior of Christians and Atheists toward one another. 

This list contains a number of reasons why religious and irreligious zealots behave so rudely toward one another. 

This list is modified from a similar list in the article “Why Fanboys Act Like Jerks” written by Keza MacDonald, and published April 15th, 2014 on the Kotaku website. All quotes from Dr. Lewis are taken from this article. 

 

The human mind will interpret the world in a way that supports our existing beliefs

Known in popular psychology as “Cognitive Dissonance” this phenomena was first noted by psychologist Leon Festinger in his book When Prophecy Fails which followed the plight of a UFO cult who failed to meet their alien overlords on the predicted date, but bounced right back with an explanation as to why their predictions didn’t come true. 

In branding, this was demonstrated in a blind-test study where people were asked to taste two sodas and mark the one that they liked best. 

The subjects overwhelmingly chose Pepsi ™ when they didn’t know which soda they were drinking, but when they did, they nearly all preferred Coke ™. 

This wasn’t just something they said, either. Studies of their brain activity showed that the preference registered in their brain was actually different when the brand name was known – their brain actually liked the label on the bottle better than it liked the taste of the beverage! 

In religious studies this is evident as well. On the April 6th, 2014 episode of Atheist broadcast “Reasonable Doubts,” speaker Jeremy Beahan outlined a study he had participated in wherein he spoke to an audience about charity work he had done wearing a Christian fish symbol on his t-shirt, and then gave the same talk to an audience wearing the Darwin fish. The reactions of the audience were generally more positive to the first talk, whereas the audience questioned his sincerity and motivations in the second talk. 

--Neither side is immune to this uncritical approach to those arguments and persons that happen to agree with them. 

This can be partially explained by the Coke/Pepsi study mentioned above. Once a belief is embraced, the mind invents reasons to continue to agree with it, and tends to be emotionally unable to handle criticism of this belief system, as the over-ride in brain chemistry kicks in. 

In order to rationally and critically consider one’s own beliefs, a person has to consciously fight against their own brain chemistry. 

Dr. Lewis puts it this way

"I've never thought that intelligence had anything to do with being smart. You get an idea fixed about things, almost an illusion, and it can seem real, and you seek out people who will support your view. And no matter how weird you view is, there are going to be people out there who share it, and thanks to the internet they are easier to find than ever before." 

 

The human mind tends toward tribal instinct

In the study of “heuristics” – the rules adopted by the human mind in its functions and calculations – identity is most often found in the “groups” to which people belong.No one person has a single group identity. The same person might identify themselves as a Marvel Comics person, a Coke lover, a Republican, an American, and a Christian.The feelings of belonging that these invoke tend to cause a person to adopt a charitable view of anyone belonging to their “tribe” and a generally distrustful and hostile attitude toward anyone who they see as belonging to an out-group.In his studies on branding, Dr Lewis says that:  

"We like to belong to tribes, we like to belong to groups, and however much young people may feel that they are unique and individual, their individuality is often as part of a group - nobody really likes to be all by him or herself. We like the support and positive affirmation from others." 

While religious tribal behavior can be easily seen in the types of gatherings and international cooperation in which people of the same religion participate, such tribal behaviors are increasingly evident in atheists as well. 

Despite the fact that atheism is a disbelief, and therefore has no teachings or ideas around which its adherents may gather, atheists seem to be strongly drawn to community. 

The recent “Reason Rally” in Washington DC attempted to draw atheists from all over the nation to participate in their shared objection to religion, and similar events have been seen throughout the world. 

More than this, a recent trend in both America and Europe is for Atheists to gather weekly in “Churches” to foster a sense of community and belonging; something that makes far more sense in a shared belief than in a shared disbelief. 

 

Devotion to a particular idea mirrors the brain chemistry of a person in love

In the human brain, love tends to follow two stages. The first is almost purely chemical. This is seen in the feelings of euphoria felt in infatuation and the physical touch and interactions with this person. 

The next stage, once the dopamine stops flowing, is to look for reasons to justify continued devotion to the object of affection. 

It turns out that devotion to products and ideas can invoke a surprisingly similar response in brain chemistry. 

Says Dr Lewis

"It's like falling in love - what happens then is that you get a tsunami of a neurotransmitter called dopamine into the brain, which gives you a huge buzz. This happens with products, they can do exactly the same thing - in fact when we look at addictive behaviour, we find that people become addicted to products. That's how people become obsessive collectors of things like Barbies. The sight, feel, taste, touch of the product will evoke these huge responses in the brain, like getting a high." 

Similar responses can be seen in religious behavior. People who “see the light” often describe an experience of similar intensity to falling in love. Some of the more extreme behaviors of Christian worship that involve intense physical responses to supposedly spiritual inspiration look very similar to fanhood, and the desire to continue to get the chemical “high” that comes with the association with the object of affection. 

Nor are religious people the only ones who are victims to the purely chemical side of inspiration. This can frequently be seen in the words and behaviors of atheists who devote themselves to the freedom they feel from any kind of spiritual attachment. 

The late atheist Douglas Adams says in his book The Salmon of Doubt: 

“It {Darwin's theory of evolution] was a concept of such stunning simplicity, but it gave rise, naturally, to all of the infinite and baffling complexity of life. The awe it inspired in me made the awe that people talk about in respect of religious experience seem, frankly, silly beside it. I'd take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.”  

Atheist Aldous Huxley is quoted as saying

“I had motive for not wanting the world to have a meaning … the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political.” 

And Christian-turned-atheist Rachael Slick, in her article “The Atheist Daughter of a Notable Christian Apologist Shares Her Story,” states

“Someone once asked me if I would trade in my childhood for another, if I had the chance, and my answer was no, not for anything. My reason is that, without that childhood, I wouldn’t understand what freedom truly is — freedom from a life centered around obedience and submission, freedom to think anything, freedom from guilt and shame, freedom from the perpetual heavy obligation to keep every thought pure. Nothing I’ve ever encountered in my life has been so breathtakingly beautiful.  

“Freedom is my God now, and I love this one a thousand times more than I ever loved the last one.” 

Since at least one of the motivating forces of Atheism is the opposition to religious ideas, it is worth noting that the brain chemistry of hatred is surprisingly similar to the brain chemistry of love. 

In his article “Scientists prove it really is a thin line between love and hate,” Steve Connor, Science Editor of The Independent, states: 

“A study using a brain scanner to investigate the neural circuits that become active when people look at a photograph of someone they say they hate has found that the ‘hate circuit’ shares something in common with the love circuit.” 

This study was published in the online journal PloS ONE, and was led by Professor Semir Zeki,; who stated: 

"Like love, [hatred] is often seemingly irrational and can lead individual to heroic and evil deeds.” 

In the study, it was shown that, upon viewing photographs of someone the subjects claimed to hate, portions of the brain’s sub-cortex, identified as the putamen and the insula, lit up. 

Says Professor Zeki: 

"Significantly, the putamen and the insula are also both activated by romantic love. This is not surprising. The putamen could also be involved in the preparation of aggressive acts in a romantic context, as in situations when a rival presents a danger. 

"Previous studies have suggested that the insula may be involved in responses to distressing stimuli, and the viewing of both a loved and a hated face may constitute such a distressing signal." 

This is significant because if studies show that devotion to an idea or brand mimics romantic love, and romantic love is but a stone’s throw away from the chemical hatred of the human brain, this would explain both the fanatical defense of one’s cherished ideas; and the equally fanatical attacks towards ideas with which a person strongly disagrees. 

Upon this subject, Professor Zeki states: 

“Hate can …be an all-consuming passion like love. But whereas in romantic love, the lover is often less critical and judgmental regarding the loved person, it is more likely that in the context of hate the hater may want to exercise judgment in calculating moves to harm, injure or otherwise exact revenge.” 

 

In the internet age, hateful behavior becomes far more prominent. 

Dr Lewis says this: 
"Whenever you set up a view, one way of getting yourself noticed is to put up a contrarian view: say the opposite as loudly and offensively as possible, and you will be noticed. 
"I think a lot of people want to be noticed. They want to rise above the huddled masses. They don't care how offensive their views may be or how they are expressed; indeed that can be a source of pride. They put themselves in a mental state that excuses and explains their behavior to themselves. Very often, people who feel inadequate in other aspects of their lives will try to make themselves 'big men' online." 
Quite simply put, the more of an audience a person has, the more satisfaction they get from voicing their opinion and participating in controversy. 

 

Possible solution

As popularly stated by G.I. Joe, knowing is half the battle. 

The brain chemistry involved in fanatical behaviors does nothing to prove either side right or wrong. These facts can frequently be seen in attacks leveled at the other side, as in “You can’t believe anything those people say – they only believe because their brain chemistry tells them to.” 

This may, in fact, be the case. Consequently, if truth is really important, it is incumbent upon the seeker to fight against their natural inclinations to defend the side they’ve already chosen, and to openly and rationally weigh the arguments for and against their preconceptions. 

It is also important for a person to be sympathetic to the other side, knowing that they are acting out of instinct more than rational concern. 

Moreso, it is important to understand that the kinds of ignorant and aggressive behaviors of which both sides are guilty tend to further repel rather than persuade the other side. In short, it is far more conducive to rational discussion to persuade rather than to attack. 

There is no shame in admitting that you do not have enough facts to form a conclusion – or to abandon your current beliefs – however if the facts in support of the other side are compelling, the intellectually honest person must admit these facts. 

One may choose to adopt a worldview based entirely upon emotion; but they should at least be honest enough to accept that they are being irrational.  

The Origin of Human Rights

Image Source: Tony the Misfit (own work), from Wikimedia Commons

Image Source: Tony the Misfit (own work), from Wikimedia Commons

Many people say the United States is a secular nation. Insofar as we allow people of all races, beliefs, and nationalities within our borders, this is true. At our very core however is a reliance on God.
This can be seen particularly well in the declaration our leaders made when breaking away from England.

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another
and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them,
a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of
Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."


The Declaration of Independence begins with the assumption that Nature and Nature’s God entitle us to a station that is equal to the station of all other people on the earth. This also indicates that the authors (however poorly they may have shown it in their personal lives) consider all other peoples to be our equals. Nature and Nature’s God entitles all peoples to this station. These ideas of natural law can be traced at least to the Roman philosopher Cicero, who died in 43 B.C.

How would Nature entitle anyone to anything however? Where do these rights come from? It seems that in the absence of God, the state is the greatest arbiter of what is good. Why is the state the arbiter? Because it is the governmental structure arrived at through evolution. It is the structure for a group of humans that has been shown to best allow for the survival of the people within that state.  If this is the case however, there is no good reason for one people to dissolve the political bands, because the ultimate arbiter of morality is the state from which we are dissolving our bands.

In the next paragraph we are told that there are self-evident truths, including that we have an unalienable right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Where do these rights come from? Jefferson told us they come from the creator. But what about the government… the being that in the absence of God would be the greatest arbiter of morality? Jefferson states, “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men”. So the signers of the Declaration of Independence considered God to be the one who granted rights, and Governments as the organizations tasked by God to secure these rights.
The Government is the servant of the people and is expected to do God’s will. It is not the determiner of what is right and wrong... moral and immoral.

If the state determines right and wrong, the founding fathers were wrong to rebel. Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Kaepernick… all are immoral, because they protested the state. Anyone who protests laws they consider unjust is fighting against the moral truth of the society in which he is protesting, and is by definition immoral. Only by appealing to a God whose moral law was greater than that of society could our Founding Fathers justify their protest.

Let’s see what the preamble would look like if we took away language that showed our dependence on God… We hold these truths to be evident, that all men are equal, that they are endowed by their State with certain Rights, which in our case include Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. How frightening is the idea of our rights being granted us by the state? Is this the sort of state towards which secularists strive? Of course not. They want to think we have transcendent rights as much as everyone else. Only in a state that places itself under God however can we expect to have a right to life, liberty, equality, freedom… all of the things that we expect in our society. The only way a secular society with all of its differing beliefs and people groups can expect to thrive is by believing deeply in ideals that require God to justify. Such a society requires that we accept that all people share our rights, are equally worthy of those rights, and that the state cannot remove those rights from any of us.