There is a story that a high-level Russian official visited America during the Reagan presidency and was shown the abundance of goods in American stores. He was astonished at the bountiful display and how it compared to the meager offerings in his home country.
“Who planned all this production?” he asked.
“Nobody,” his hosts replied. “People just decide for themselves what they want to produce and sell.”
He thought they must be concealing something. “No, seriously. Tell me: what authority is behind all this?”
“We assure you, this did not come from a central plan. People are free to go into business as they like and produce what they want, and what you see on the shelves is the result.”
A friend recently encouraged me to recall the times I perceived the hand of God on my life.
A friend once earnestly invited me to his very fundamentalist church. I was a Christian at the time but, according to his church, I was not the right kind of Christian and was destined for hell. He said to me, “With the stakes so high, doesn’t it make sense to come check it out?”
He had a point, but I declined.
Perhaps God engraved the Ten Commandments with his finger on stone tablets because he knew they would become the touchstone of morality in the western world. (Come to think of it, is that where the word touchstone comes from?) Even Christopher Hitchens, no fan of the biblical ten, connected to them when he produced his own ten.
Sean Carroll’s book, The Big Picture, is an exposition of what he calls poetic naturalism. He has this to say about the Ten Commandments (page 420).
A good poetic naturalist will resist the temptation to hand out commandments. “Give someone a fish,” the saying goes, “and you feed them fish for a day. Teach them to fish, and you feed them for a lifetime.” When it comes to how to lead our lives, poetic naturalism has no fish to give us. It doesn’t even really teach us how to fish. It’s more like poetic naturalism helps us figure out that there are things called “fish,” and perhaps investigate the various possible ways to go about catching them, if that were something that we were inclined to do. It’s up to us what strategy we want to take, and what to do with our fish once we’ve caught them.
It makes sense, then, to put aside the concept of “commandments” and instead propose Ten Considerations…
Here are his Ten Considerations with excerpts from his few paragraphs about each.
Even if you don’t believe in God in the traditional sense, you might be open to supernatural phenomena such as extrasensory perception (ESP), ghosts, or the ability of a spirit world to influence what happens in the familiar world of our senses. I like to think I’m open to such things; how can we possibly claim to know that our everyday experience is all there is?
Sean Carroll, in his book The Big Picture, has me opening up to the idea that maybe I should not be so open.
His argument is simple:
Last time, I promised this post would consider the purpose of hell. It has been so long since that promise that some of my readers may think that I have actually gone there, but fear not: I have not and neither will you.
Alive and well so far, let’s turn to the cheerful subject of why hell is so important to evangelical Christianity.
1) Without hell, Jesus’ death on the cross is meaningless.
Several years ago, one of my daughters, who was a Christian, said she was worried about going to hell. At the time, I was still a Christian too, but, in the midst of my four-year period of deep questioning, there were some things I had figured out. I assured her, “Don’t worry. The doctrine of hell is ridiculous. A just God would not punish anyone for an infinite amount of time for sins committed in this lifetime’s comparative blink of an eye. Infinite punishment for finite sins makes no sense.”
She immediately saw the truth of my argument and stopped worrying about hell.
Faced with evidence for an old universe such as starlight that has clearly taken billions of years to reach us, young-Earth creationists say, “God created the universe about 6,000 years ago, but in a mature state. Your conclusion that it is old is a matter of faith in naturalistic, uniformitarian assumptions. How do you know the speed of light or the passage of time have always been the same as they are now?”
Faced with evidence for evolution such as what we saw in the last post, creationists often reply, “You see evidence for evolution, but this could equally be the work of a Designer. Your conclusion of ‘evolution’ is a matter of faith just as much as my conclusion of ‘creation’.”
Is this true? Is the choice between mainstream science and creationism just a matter of choosing one faith or another?
At one level, yes. But let’s keep going.