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Culture War Roundup for the week of March 4, 2024

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Christian Nationalism

Within my own circles this is rather a hot topic, but I've yet to see it discussed in this forum. Christian evangelicalism has had its own version of the culture war; to whit, how involved and in what manner should Christians (both individually and the Church) be engaged in society and politics. There are factions of "Big Eva" who seem to be moving more Left (see the recent "He gets us" commercial in the Super Bowl). There are those who think that the "third-way"ism of Tim Keller (taking a high road that transcends politics and culture war) is still relevant in these days (from my perspective, with echos of Martin Niemoller). And there are those who are actively seeking a more aggressive and explicitly Christian approach to governance and policy. For those interested, a useful taxonomy provided by the Gospel Coalition describes to a reasonable first approximation the different approaches that Christians have to our current moment.

I have had my own journey in the direction of Christian Nationalism (though I wouldn't...yet...apply that label to myself). While in college I was a pro-life Ron Paul libertarian, over the years I've become less individualistic as I've grown in my faith. I used to think of religion as a private exercise. I know recognize the centrality of community. I even have begun to entertain the idea that there may be salvific consequences for those who are under the authority of a Christian leader. If the unbelieving spouse can be sanctified by his or her believing counterpart, and an entire house can be baptized when the head of the house believes, could there not be salvation extended to a nation whose head of state is an orthodox Christian and whose government practices the precepts of the Word? (If you are interested in more of my ramblings on this topic, https://pyotrverkhovensky.substack.com/p/what-is-christianitys-role-in-culture and https://pyotrverkhovensky.substack.com/p/on-theocracy-and-redemption)

Christianity in America has enjoyed centuries of being a dominant culture. Many Christians, having grown up in a culture that was at least outwardly compatible with Christianity, have slipped into casual acceptance of cultural norms. They are in the world, and of the world. In many cases self-proclaimed Christians are functionally agnostic, with no significant lifestyle differences from Atheists. Do we really believe Christ is Lord or do we not? Do we not believe in divine judgement and divine mercy? Is Church a weekly therapeutic exercise or is it a place where we meet the transcendent and drink of the body and the blood? Christian Nationalism, at its core, recognizes the reality and consequence of a world in which Christ is Lord. There is no "third way", there is only God's way. (For a somewhat related essay on the reality of God, see https://pyotrverkhovensky.substack.com/p/christianity-and-culture-continued).

There is a common assumption among Christians that all sin is equally damning. Man can never follow the Law, and Jesus even makes it clear that the Law didn't go far enough (the Law allows divorce, and does not explicitly proscribe lust). At the individual level, this assumption is correct. Outside the atonement found in Jesus, we all stand condemned. Yet at the societal level, there are varying levels of alignment with God's will. Every single person in Nazi Germany was a sinner. Every single person in 1941 USA was a sinner. Yet it would be an unusual Christian who would argue that 1941 USA was not more aligned with God's will than Nazi Germany. Not all societies are created equal, and there are varying degrees of misalignment. If I look at a woman in lust, I am clearly sinning and am condemned; but at least my desires are in alignment with God's ideal. It is only the object of my desires that is inappropriate, as being attracted to my wife is not only not a sin, but is a key part of a relationship that is a representation of Christ's love for the Church. Same-sex attraction is more disordered as both the object and the desire itself are misaligned. Transgenderism is completely disordered: the object, desire, and self are all misaligned. Societies that venerate increasingly disordered behavior will inevitably sink into corruption and decay. Christian Nationalism, perhaps alone among contemporary strands of Christian thought, fully acknowledges these implications.

The question is whether you'd be behind such a project if this Christian Nationalism were actually Catholic Nationalism (or Methodist Nationalism, or Presbyterian Nationalism, or whichever major denomination you find most distasteful). Roman Catholicism is the largest individual denomination in the United States, has a clearly defined doctrine, and an Episcopal structure. The current president is a practicing Catholic. If we go in that direction, Catholicism would be the obvious choice. This would have some added advantages — along with combating social degeneracy, we could also use this to combat spiritual degeneracy. Since the First Amendment is no longer in play, we can use the power of the state to marginalize non-Catholic religions. Mainline Protestants whom we've had good relations with would be okay. Their numbers are declining anyway. Evangelicals and anyone outside of a long-standing denomination? Well, they're getting slayed. Any denomination not on the approved list is getting taxed at corporate rates. And you'd better be Catholic if you expect to be able to hold office and preference will be given in all public employment.

All the public schools will be Catholic and named after saints and kids will be required to take religion and attend church every day. Those who aren't Catholic will obviously be singled out by their inability to receive communion. We'll get to work on making sure that the it's the official position of the government that doctrines like justification on faith alone and sola scriptura are bunk and that veneration of Mary and the saints are where it's at. And we'll obviously take our cues from the Pope, regardless of whether he's viewed as liberal, conservative,m or otherwise. I'm obviously not being serious here, but when I hear people talking about Christian Nationalism it's pretty clear that they're assuming that their idea of Christianity is the one that will become predominant. When you suggest that some other group might be the ones with all the power, then it no longer seems like such a good idea.

along with combating social degeneracy

It makes me smile when someone talk about Catholicism combating social degeneracy. I live in one of the most religious area of Southern Europe[1]. The amount of social deviancy, disfunction, filth (both physical and moral) observed while people keep professing their Catholic faith makes me think that when "studies prove" that religion is "actually good for you" are talking about American society. American culture is generally more optimistic and extroverted and American religious people bring this to their relationship to God. Here the Church is interwoven with scandals and organized crime. Yes, I am talking about Sicily.

[1]Many of my acquaintances are even scared to say to their parents that they are atheist and I've witnessed a 36 years old woman being scolded by her mother for not attending service while being sick.

I think you're giving the Americans a bit too much credit; the population of the Bible Belt isn't exactly a paragon of moral virtue, at least if you believe the statistics. Anyway, if you couldn't tell, I wasn't being serious. The reason I used that as an example is because I'm Catholic and most of the hardcore Christians in this country make it pretty clear that they don't consider us to be real Christians, which is ridiculous. Obviously, a Catholic state would be pretty distasteful to them. Socially compelled religious displays don't do anything except create the illusion of virtue. IT reminds me of the NFL kneeling scandal, where some people acted as though someone standing for the anthem because they were compelled to was akin to genuine patriotism.

where some people acted as though someone standing for the anthem because they were compelled to was akin to genuine patriotism.

Standing up to a national anthem of any country, let alone one's own, is basic human decency and doesn't indicate a particularly high degree of loyalty for the country the anthem of which is played. But refusing to do so for one's own does show a high degree of contempt due to rare it is to sit during anthems of even other countries.

You're making my point for me. However you want to couch it, you can't use the fact that someone stands for the anthem, or the pledge, or whatever, as evidence of their patriotism, because it has been culturally ingrained to the point where not doing it becomes a conspicuous sign of disrespect among certain people. If church attendance and public religious displays ever reached the same level of ubiquity in our society, they would lose whatever virtue-signalling power they have now.

You know how one can tell that someone is subscribed to Journolist? because there have been a bunch of "Christian Nationalist" posts all of a sudden. Tu quoque

‘Christian nationalism’ has been an occasional interest topic for the left since the Bush days, arguably before too. It’s not a new subject, it was just temporarily overtaken by dissident rightists calling Christians cucks.

The woke left has been have been calling us cucks since the Reagan years, how has that worked out for you?

Not all societies are created equal, and there are varying degrees of misalignment. If I look at a woman in lust, I am clearly sinning and am condemned; but at least my desires are in alignment with God's ideal. It is only the object of my desires that is inappropriate, as being attracted to my wife is not only not a sin, but is a key part of a relationship that is a representation of Christ's love for the Church. Same-sex attraction is more disordered as both the object and the desire itself are misaligned. Transgenderism is completely disordered: the object, desire, and self are all misaligned.

This sounds like ranking sins, which is commonsensical and popular in e.g. Catholicism, but hard to reconcile with ideas like the Divine Command Theory of ethics. If what's wrong with sinning is disobeying God, then committing adultery in your heart is bad in exactly the same way as raping and murdering a baby. There's no moral sense in which you are better or worse than the cruellest, most perverted person you can imagine; the only possible difference of moral significance between you and a baby-raper-killer is that God may have chosen (and I stress "chosen") to save you from what you morally deserve. Focusing on e.g. the difference in harms is swapping the DCT for something like consequentialism or care ethics.

(I leave aside https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pelagianism and non-DCT metaethics as interesting but very widely condemned by Christians.)

If Jesus or the Bible had provided a comprehensive ranking of sins with varying degrees of sinfulness, then it's obvious consistent with a Christian DCT, but as you know that's not the case.

Societies that venerate increasingly disordered behavior will inevitably sink into corruption and decay.

I think that this is the better option for what you want to say. Even if all sins are equally sinful, you can still coherently argue that different societies have different propensities to sin vs. redemption. A hardline Christian DCT fan can still reason in a consequentialist way about maximising the probability of redemption and minimising the probability of sins.

Every sin, no matter how "small", condemns us. However, at a societal level there is a clear distinction between a population that occasionally looks on someone with lust, and a population that murders and rapes babies.

Yes, I noted that a Christian can say that there are differences. It's just debatable whether Christianity gives one a basis to say that there is a difference of moral superiority, rather than e.g. a difference of predisposition towards sinful behaviour; of course, that's not an insignificant difference from a Christian perspective!

This sounds like ranking sins, which is commonsensical and popular in e.g. Catholicism, but hard to reconcile with ideas like the Divine Command Theory of ethics. If what's wrong with sinning is disobeying God, then committing adultery in your heart is bad in exactly the same way as raping and murdering a baby. There's no moral sense in which you are better or worse than the cruellest, most perverted person you can imagine; the only possible difference of moral significance between you and a baby-raper-killer is that God may have chosen (and I stress "chosen") to save you from what you morally deserve. Focusing on e.g. the difference in harms is swapping the DCT for something like consequentialism or care ethics.

I'm definitely not a fan of the Divine Command Theory, but I think you're being unfair here. Why not posit a difference in degree of disobedience? Surely murdering someone is more disobedient than committing adultery in your heart.

If Jesus or the Bible had provided a comprehensive ranking of sins with varying degrees of sinfulness, then it's obvious consistent with a Christian DCT, but as you know that's not the case.

Sure he didn't provide a comprehensive list but he did on many occasions outright define a hierarchy of sins.

Matt. 22:36-40:

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy bheart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

38 This is the first and great commandment.

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Matt. 23:23

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and canise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

I think the better question is why you'd give your own interpretation of Divine Command Theory any time at all, given the many times in the Bible when it's explicitly contradicted.

I'm definitely not a fan of the Divine Command Theory, but I think you're being unfair here. Why not posit a difference in degree of disobedience? Surely murdering someone is more disobedient than committing adultery in your heart.

What's more disobedient about it? Both are breaking God's commandments.

On Matthew 22, the key term here is magos (μεγας) which is used in the New Testament to mean largest or highest in rank, just as "greatest" is ambiguous in English. One clever thing about the commandment Jesus gives is that it is both largest in scope (every violation of every other commandment is an instance of it) and rank. If humans truly had complete faith and love for God, then they would neither commit adultery in their hearts, nor murder.

Note I'm not saying that this is common sense, but just a natural implication of an unranked DCT.

I think the better question is why you'd give your own interpretation of Divine Command Theory any time at all, given the many times in the Bible when it's explicitly contradicted.

Oh, that's just teasing! Don't be so coquettish, show the goods.

What's more disobedient about it? Both are breaking God's commandments.

  1. Some actions break more commandments than others
  2. Some actions break commandments to a greater extent than others
  3. Some actions break more important commandments than others
  4. Some actions more deliberately break commandments than others

All of these are quite clear examples of more disobedience.

One clever thing about the commandment Jesus gives is that it is both largest in scope (every violation of every other commandment is an instance of it) and rank.

You conveniently ignore the second part of that, which is loving thy neighbor. I agree that all sins violate the first commandment, but not all sins violate the second, so why, according to Divine Command Theory, is it explicitly placed above all other commandments?

Oh, that's just teasing! Don't be so coquettish, show the goods.

You should at least address both of my examples before accusing me of not providing enough. Jesus explicitly says that judgment, mercy, and faith are "weightier" than small tithes; a strong implication that obeying such commandments is straightforwardly more important.

There is plenty of direct evidence contradicting your interpretation of Divine Command Theory and very little actually supporting it. I can't think of a single passage anywhere in the Bible which comes close to saying "all instances of sin are equal" whereas I came up with two off the top of my head which contradict that. The closest I can think of is James 2:10:

For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.

This might sound bad for my position, but read the very next verse:

For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.

and I think it becomes clear that he's more referring to whether someone has transgressed the law or not. In this sense, yes, one sin does make you a sinner, but it doesn't mean that that sin is exactly perfectly equal to any other sin.

I'm interested in why you think DCT holds any weight at all. What evidence is there for it?

All of these are quite clear examples of more disobedience.

But all of them are punished in exactly the same way, according to traditional Christianity. So while there is more disobedience, it doesn't seem to make a moral difference: someone who commits one sin is treated by God exactly the same as if they've committed them all.

You conveniently ignore the second part of that, which is loving thy neighbor. I agree that all sins violate the first commandment, but not all sins violate the second, so why, according to Divine Command Theory, is it explicitly placed above all other commandments?

If all other sins (breaking of God's commands) are implicit in the first commandment, then it isn't.

You should at least address both of my examples before accusing me of not providing enough. Jesus explicitly says that judgment, mercy, and faith are "weightier" than small tithes; a strong implication that obeying such commandments is straightforwardly more important.

That's one possible interpretation of the text. However, the text itself is not a contradiction, since it's not clear that Jesus is saying that these are more morally important, as opposed to e.g. important for spiritual development (the context is condemning the religious practices of scribes and Pharisees.

I'm interested in why you think DCT holds any weight at all. What evidence is there for it?

Biblically? One advantage is that it (allegedly) explains why a benevolent Father would punish his children in a lake of fire for the slightest infraction of his will, excepting grace. More generally, it neatly answers the Problem of Evil which otherwise perplexes the Bible (Job in particular; the Jews' efforts to explain their suffering in spite of being God's people; Jesus's partial revelation to humanity) as there is no separate standard of morality by which God can be judged. On a DCT view, God being anything other than perfectly good is a category mistake. This is not so much grasping one of the Euthyphro Dilemma's horns as try to ride it off into the sunset.

But all of them are punished in exactly the same way, according to traditional Christianity.

Maybe "traditional christianity" is doing some work here that I'm unaware of, but I'm going to assume that the text of the bible is still in play.

The bible does absolutely give us at least two classes of sin, with different punishments. For most sinners, once they have committed a sin, they are given a chance to repent and be forgiven. But for those that blaspheme against the holy spirit, this option is cut off (Matthew 12:31). It would seem to be a reasonable interpretation of the words of Christ here that at least 1 sin is viewed more harshly by the divine.

Those are different conditions of forgiveness/non-forgiveness (given grace) not different punishments.

But all of them are punished in exactly the same way, according to traditional Christianity. So while there is more disobedience, it doesn't seem to make a moral difference: someone who commits one sin is treated by God exactly the same as if they've committed them all.

Well I'm not a believer in "traditional" Christianity i.e. medieval Christianity. That said I don't think this is an accurate framing. It's not that all sins are equal, it's that without grace, one sin of any magnitude is sufficient to send you to hell. This doesn't imply that all sins are exactly the same in magnitude.

If all other sins (breaking of God's commands) are implicit in the first commandment, then it isn't.

Well why was it named as the second commandment then, the one which in addition to the first supports the rest of the law and prophets? Clearly it has some sort of exalted position over the other commandments. There's no way Jesus was just referring to chronological order when he called it the second commandment.

Biblically? One advantage is that it (allegedly) explains why a benevolent Father would punish his children in a lake of fire for the slightest infraction of his will, excepting grace. More generally, it neatly answers the Problem of Evil which otherwise perplexes the Bible (Job in particular; the Jews' efforts to explain their suffering in spite of being God's people; Jesus's partial revelation to humanity) as there is no separate standard of morality by which God can be judged. On a DCT view, God being anything other than perfectly good is a category mistake. This is not so much grasping one of the Euthyphro Dilemma's horns as try to ride it off into the sunset.

I was more looking for verses that say this directly, the way I've been finding verses which directly contradict this. There are many explanations for theodicy, and this one seems to have a lot of contradictory evidence.

Many Christians do believe that God can say what's good and what's bad, but I'd argue that most of this is a practical belief rather than a theoretical one. It's not that God is defining good and bad, it's that he's right about what good and bad are, and if you disagree with him you'll always be wrong. However to describe it as I have--God as a perfect, omnipotent being, but not one who actually invented the concept of morality--is to "limit" God and so was seen as increasingly unpopular and heretical by the medieval Church.

So I won't argue that DCT isn't popular but I don't think the Bible supports it at all.

It's not that all sins are equal, it's that without grace, one sin of any magnitude is sufficient to send you to hell. This doesn't imply that all sins are exactly the same in magnitude.

It's not the only explanation, but if God doesn't treat them as morally different, it indicates that they are morally equal. If there was a moral distinction, wouldn't that (a) be made clear in the Bible and (b) factor into punishments?

Well why was it named as the second commandment then, the one which in addition to the first supports the rest of the law and prophets? Clearly it has some sort of exalted position over the other commandments. There's no way Jesus was just referring to chronological order when he called it the second commandment.

Some sort, maybe, but it doesn't follow that this distinction is a moral one. For example, it could be more important as a test of faith than some other commandments, which is not the same as being more morally significant.

I was more looking for verses that say this directly

I think that the Bible was created by scholars and outlaws in a largely illiterate and philosophically alien time, with no more or less divine inspiration than any of the other thousands of bewildering religious texts that have emerged from human minds, so it doesn't surprise me that this sort of issue is not made clear in the Bible, any more than it doesn't surprise me that the Bible doesn't actually give a clear answer to the Problem of Evil (for instance, the Book of Job raises more questions than answers, e.g. what is God doing chatting with Satan and playing tricks on mortals like some Olympian or Norse deity?) or to avoid about 1500 years of debate on whether the Holy Spirit processes from the Father or from the Father and the Son.

Many Christians do believe that God can say what's good and what's bad, but I'd argue that most of this is a practical belief rather than a theoretical one. It's not that God is defining good and bad, it's that he's right about what good and bad are, and if you disagree with him you'll always be wrong. However to describe it as I have--God as a perfect, omnipotent being, but not one who actually invented the concept of morality--is to "limit" God and so was seen as increasingly unpopular and heretical by the medieval Church.

I'm not too sure about the exact history, but I do know that Augustine was a divine command theorist. I wouldn't be surprised if the question is anachronistic in the context of early Christianity, so if you asked Paul or Jesus, they'd say something that unsettled you further. Perhaps Paul would say something about miasma or the Word being the Good, while Jesus might throw you off by saying that your conceptual framing is wrong: there is intentional sin and rebellion... and unintentional sin.

So I won't argue that DCT isn't popular but I don't think the Bible supports it at all.

That may well be true.

if God doesn't treat them as morally different, it indicates that they are morally equal.

I don't believe that any sin will land you in hell, but again, even if one did, that doesn't mean they're punished equally, or that equal punishments are the full extent of God's treatment of them on a moral level. Many Christians believe in different levels of hell. Also, God could punish all sins equally but still consider some worse than others.

If there was a moral distinction, wouldn't that (a) be made clear in the Bible and (b) factor into punishments?

It is made clear in the Bible. I can keep finding verses, I bet there are at least a few dozen on this level, but Luke 12:47-48, Ezekiel 8:13, and John 19:11 all clearly indicate the existence of greater and lesser sins.

Proverbs 6:16-19 directly mentions a few sins which God hates more than other sins.

It certainly factors punishments too, both divine and temporal. The Law of Moses punishes different sins differently, and Jesus on many occasions implies that the punishment for some sins is worse than others.

For example Matthew 18:6 says:

but whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Again, I'm sure I can find plenty more, but there are quite explicit verses talking about different punishments for different sins. At this point we've established:

  1. Some sins have different punishments than others
  2. Some commandments are more important in the eyes of God than others
  3. God hates some sins more than others

What exactly is left in the meaning of one sin being more "morally" important than another? To me it sounds like you're relying on that word when we've already extracted all meaning from it. I'm not aware of any verse where someone explicitly says "X commandment is morally more important than Y commandment" but again all of the relevant meanings of the word moral that I can think of are covered in pretty much exactly that way.

I think that the Bible was created by scholars and outlaws in a largely illiterate and philosophically alien time, with no more or less divine inspiration than any of the other thousands of bewildering religious texts that have emerged from human minds, so it doesn't surprise me that this sort of issue is not made clear in the Bible

So, based on conversation of expected evidence, the fact that the Bible is clear about the opposite, and clearly mentions multiple times the existence of greater and lesser sins, the greater punishment assigned to greater sins, and the increased importance which God puts upon those greater sins, should surprise you at least a little. Such an incoherent and illiterate book should not have been so clear about such an esoteric issue.

I can just keep finding verses that directly back me up, whereas your point is so much more indirect and relies on weird, esoteric, indirect readings of verses whose plain meaning is fairly obvious.

I'm not too sure about the exact history, but I do know that Augustine was a divine command theorist.

Augustine is a lot later than my church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) believes the early Christian church fell into apostasy. At the latest it happened with the Nicene Creed which happened decades before Augustine was born.

As far as the other two, "maybe you're wrong!" is really not a strong argument or worth mentioning at all.

If your point is that DCT is wrong, and therefore early Christianity is wrong, well, I agree with you there. But to claim the Bible preaches DCT, and then fall back on "well the Bible is incoherent so it's no surprise it's not very clear about supporting DCT" after I've found multiple clear passages opposing DCT, is too far. It sounds less like you have an actual opinion regarding what the Bible teaches, and more like you've discovered an obviously-wrong interpretation of the Bible and are trying to use it to prove that the Bible is also obviously wrong.

More comments

Matthew 12:31 even states that blasphemy against God the Father is forgiven whereas blasphemy against the Spirit is not, which is a blow to DCT because you would expect the opposite given that the Spirit proceeds from the Father according to Trinitarians. Then 12:37 specifies the two greatest commandments on which the whole of the law rests. But you can probably make DCT compatible with some kind of ranked utilitarian ethical formulation given that the underlying meaning of “feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, visiting the poor and imprisoned” is clearly signaling that we have an obligation toward another’s Ultimate Happiness, using particularly salient examples, rather than being an exhaustive list of ethical obligations. God, perhaps, commands that we see ethics as a means of promoting the greatest feasible sum happiness in a community.

Historical Christian theology has tended towards an eccentric form of virtue ethics, which doesn’t completely exclude divine command theory.

I've thought recently on this topic and I'll approach your comment from a different perspective than others. If we truly believe Jesus is God and man we can look to his life in the gospels and see how he lived his life. He never set up a national state or created an enduring political edifice, which if we believe he is omnipotent would have been within his power to do so. This is strengthened by viewing the Old Testament through the lenses of salvation history. God offered a holy kingdom and wholly enmeshed religious political state, and it did not save humanity. Jesus' message, and those of his followers soon after him, was a message that was not constrained by political, ethnic or 'national' boundaries. He instead founded a church.

My thought is 'Christian Nationalism' as an idea mixes the christian idea that should be universal with something that is more parochial-nationalism and does a disservice to the Christian message. It is a current response to the loss of prestige and political power of organized religion. Instead I think Christians should focus on living lives of holiness and raising families that follow the Christian message. Let us be judged by our fruits, let them know us by our joy.

The most reactionary explanation of this, of course, is that Christianity was an original form of what we call progressivism or liberalism, and that some resistance to the use of power and hierarchy are a common theme. The many historical Christian states, by this standard, simply didn't follow Jesus's teachings as they were intended, because ideas and religions co-evolve with power. And the thing that claimed to be the Church ended up having quite a lot of political power and wealth anyway.

Nope, Christian nationalism won't amount to much. At most it could get a seat at the table at the evangelical coalition, but evangelicals are far, far less culturally relevant than they were 20 years ago. It'll be nothing more than a fringe position.

There are 3 main issues:

  1. The Christian part. It's clear a lot of people want some form of "cultural Christianity" without the actual religious superstitions, but all attempts to create something like that have been failures. A lot of Christians do genuinely believe much of what's written in Bible either literally or semi-literally. But this places them at odds with younger generations that demand some actual evidence. Despite tons of trying, nobody on this forum or anywhere else on the Internet has been able to come up with a compelling argument for a deity. At best they ramble on about goofy metaphysics that’s either unfalsifiable, or merely haranguing about definitions. None of it’s particularly persuasive.

  2. The nationalism part. A lot of Christians see their religion as more of a passive thing, not something that demands extreme fervor that a pugnacious nationalist movement would require. Again, born-agains and evangelicals might be willing to go along with it, but there's a whole bunch of less committed Christians who take part as more of a habit or because it’s just a social gathering. They're not going to want to sign up to be Soldiers of Christ.

  3. The combination of the two. Christianity is not a naturally aggressive religion. Sure, people will ignore tons of contradictions if politically convenient, e.g. the Crusades happened. That said, it comes at a cost of things being generally more difficult to be pushed in that direction. There will always be an undercurrent of people saying things like “hey the Bible tells us to Love Thy Neighbor, not Love Thy Neighbor Unless They Vote Against Trump”. There’s a reason white nationalists have long flirted with Paganism and Norse stuff, as it’s much more consistent to be aggressive when your god is Thor. On the other hand, much of Christian morality boils down to being servile, of always turning the other cheek. It’s not a natural fit to any degree.

It seems to not be true that Christianity is in some kind of tailspin, though- there’s no evidence for declining religiosity overall in younger generations, more that people who never went to church to begin with stopped calling themselves Christian.

Funny you mention church attendance since that's also been in a tailspin. The percent of people never attending church has more than doubled since 2000. Combine that with religion's increasingly irrelevant cultural position and yes, it's fair to say religiosity is definitely declining. There's no use trying to hide it with No True Scottsman of "they weren't really Christians in the first place".

There's no use trying to hide it with No True Scottsman of "they weren't really Christians in the first place".

I don't think this fully explains the decline at all, but it is at least part of it. When everyone was Christian you were Christian even if you never went to church or otherwise followed the religious teachings at all. The unexamined life would be a Christian one. Those people would have contributed very little to Christian teachings. Now the same people are "agnostic"--they always were but now it's more honest.

A lot of Christians do genuinely believe much of what's written in Bible either literally or semi-literally. But this places them at odds with younger generations that demand some actual evidence. Despite tons of trying, nobody on this forum or anywhere else on the Internet has been able to come up with a compelling argument for a deity. At best they ramble on about goofy metaphysics that’s either unfalsifiable, or merely haranguing about definitions. None of it’s particularly persuasive.

yawn

Sure, the metaphysics is very silly. Arguments like the unmoved mover are, I think, essentially just word games. That said the world is replete with evidence. Ask in faith and ye shall receive. Apply a commandment in your own life and your life will improve. Miracles will not usually benefit those who are entirely unready for them, so until then the only evidence is more general (and easily explainable) statistical evidence to do with longevity, life satisfaction, marital/family stability, etc. among practicing Christians.

To be more clear, there are already some precepts you know to be true and yet do not live by. What makes you think that more such knowledge/evidence would be helpful? Some have gotten their lives in order when faced with literal miracles, but most continue to live as they did, inventing new reasons to doubt what they saw, and deeply wounding their own souls in the process.

Apply a commandment in your own life and your life will improve. Miracles will not usually benefit those who are entirely unready for them, so until then the only evidence is more general (and easily explainable) statistical evidence to do with longevity, life satisfaction, marital/family stability, etc. among practicing Christians.

None of this is proof of a Christian deity, nor that the claims of literalists or semi-literalists are true. At best, it's proof that the Bible can teach some helpful lessons about how to live your life, but that's hardly a high bar. A fairy tale about trolls and gremlins could do the same.

Some have gotten their lives in order when faced with literal miracles, but most continue to live as they did, inventing new reasons to doubt what they saw, and deeply wounding their own souls in the process.

There is no evidence of supernatural miracles ever having occurred. If you have some evidence, then please share it, as this sounds like a fun avenue of debate.

None of this is proof of a Christian deity, nor that the claims of literalists or semi-literalists are true. At best, it's proof that the Bible can teach some helpful lessons about how to live your life, but that's hardly a high bar. A fairy tale about trolls and gremlins could do the same.

Sure, it's not proof, at least not at the beginning, but it's evidence, however weak. In the beginning the evidence is more "the Bible teaches useful lessons" but I'm confident that as you actually apply that evidence you'll get more and more evidence actually pointing to the Bible being literally true. Eventually the heap of evidence, or a singularly impressive piece of evidence, will constitute proof.

Fairy tales do often teach good moral lessons, so in this sense as you follow the lessons better you'll see increasing evidence of both those moral principles and of God. I don't really see any issue with this. The bible will generally serve you better but it doesn't have a monopoly on truth.

If you truly do zealously follow some fairy tale about honesty or whatever, you'll cultivate other virtues alongside honesty, and those other virtues will tell you when it's time to look for moral truth elsewhere.

There is no evidence of supernatural miracles ever having occurred.

I think you mean no sufficient evidence. Evidence exists for essentially all hypotheses.

If you have some evidence, then please share it, as this sounds like a fun avenue of debate.

In my own life the strongest proof is the aforementioned mechanism of increasing moral intelligence. You have your own habits which you know to be sins; I claim that the way mortality has been designed, you have the power to conquer those habits, and doing so will improve your life. No belief in God required, but if you consistently do so I do think that you, like me, will begin to feel the hand of God helping you along and giving you strength to continue in your efforts. This is easy and undeniably worthwhile to test, and has quick results.

As far as physical proof, here are some miracles I've seen. I've essentially never earnestly prayed for something without either getting it, getting a clear response along the lines of "this isn't something you should ask for," or in one case both.

I have performed bayesian analysis on my own prayers in the past. Eventually the results were clear enough that it felt disrespectful and counterproductive to continue testing, rather than putting that effort into increased praying.

As far as tangible proof available to all, I've pontificated in the past about why we probably shouldn't expect to see that. In short, greater understanding leads to greater accountability, and you don't actually need greater understanding to tackle your current sins.

Why is greater accountability undesirable, assuming greater understanding?

Sin and evil are harmful to the soul and lead to less happiness in the long run. The greater one's understanding of a choice and the ramifications of that choice, the worse the "damage" i.e. negative consequences should the choice be the wrong one.

Greater understanding is good if we're ready for it--if we're using the understanding we have reasonably well.

Wow!

"I've essentially never earnestly prayed for something without either getting it, getting a clear response along the lines of "this isn't something you should ask for," or in one case both."

That is an amazing superpower!

Guess all those parents of millions of sick and dying kids just didn't measure up. They and their parents were undeserving of God's grace. You must be one of God's true Chosen!

I'm really happy to break this to you--all kids go to heaven. They all get God's grace, and in fact everyone does.

As far as superpowers, getting everything I asked for would be one thing, but all I claim is to know beforehand when one of my requests is inappropriate. This has more to do with a correct understanding of God than any spiritual sensitivity or righteousness on my part.

Lucky you, to know the true mind of God...This is really trending towards the absurd, even for religious nonsense.

Exactly what is your claim? I've been recording these things for years and have advance predictions written down.

They all get God's grace, and in fact everyone does.

There are a whole bunch of Christians who disagree with you on this. Some have even posted here.

"Grace" is a broad term which refers to more than just salvation. I think pretty much all Christians would agree that everyone has access to God's grace.

But more importantly, it's not like I'm claiming that all Christians are correct about everything.

I think your miracle evidence is confused, but in lieu of that I'll point somewhere else - many intelligent Muslims and members of other faiths have similarly seen personal miracles from their god(s) and used them as evidence for their faith. Their arguments are very similar to yours. Which is weird, right?

No. Why would God ignore their prayers? I'd expect people of other faiths to have somewhat fewer prayers answered because they have less understanding of what to ask for, but that's all--they're God's children too.

The other types of claims give me more pause. It's clear that some people believe (to some extent) that they've genuinely been visited by angels or dreamt of a message from their god, etc. When I hear the actual account though, it's generally fairly easy to dismiss it as a hallucination, a fabrication, or simply a normal dream.

Right, but then your miracles are evidence for 'any entity or process that intervenes in the world to help humans', not 'God specifically', because by that logic it isn't evidence for the Muslims when "Allah" appears to do it.

When I hear the actual account though, it's generally fairly easy to dismiss it as a hallucination, a fabrication, or simply a normal dream.

I think there are some rather sophisticated claims of Buddhist, Hindu, and Islam miracles, and many unsophisticated and obviously false Christian miracle claims. This means the distribution of miracle claims on plausibility is as far as I know similar for different religions, so if you're arguing that this is evidence for Christian God over others I don't think that's true, although I'm not sure if that's the argument you're making or not.

The thing is Christianity, I think, claims that a significant number of instances of angels visiting people / God speaking to people / observable divine intervention happened. It's weird that it just stopped, and all we get now isn't easily falsifiable.

Also, I think you're just getting lucky generally. You pray a lot, sometimes something like it happens, you count the few pieces of strong evidence that prayer works and discount the larger number of weak evidence that it doesn't.

Right, but then your miracles are evidence for 'any entity or process that intervenes in the world to help humans', not 'God specifically', because by that logic it isn't evidence for the Muslims when "Allah" appears to do it.

Yes, I know this. Put another way, my miracles are evidence concerning the existence and nature of God. They're not sufficient to prove God's existence, let alone nature, but they are indications of both.

I think there are some rather sophisticated claims of Buddhist, Hindu, and Islam miracles, and many unsophisticated and obviously false Christian miracle claims. This means the distribution of miracle claims on plausibility is as far as I know similar for different religions, so if you're arguing that this is evidence for Christian God over others I don't think that's true, although I'm not sure if that's the argument you're making or not.

I think it's very weak evidence of the Christian God over others, and fairly strong evidence (at least for me) of some kind of God.

To be clear I am extremely skeptical in general, and entirely discount pretty much all claims of miracles both in and out of my own religion. This is just my natural impulse and if I hadn't seen such things as I describe myself I would also discount them as made-up or exaggerated. I think this impulse is essentially correct but I cannot deny my own experience.

The thing is Christianity, I think, claims that a significant number of instances of angels visiting people / God speaking to people / observable divine intervention happened. It's weird that it just stopped, and all we get now isn't easily falsifiable.

It's not all that weird given what I was saying about agency and accountability. Given that, you'd expect such obvious miracles to grow much rarer. That said I'm also highly skeptical of essentially all such accounts.

Also, I think you're just getting lucky generally. You pray a lot, sometimes something like it happens, you count the few pieces of strong evidence that prayer works and discount the larger number of weak evidence that it doesn't.

I worried the same and conducted tests to try and determine whether this was happening. I wrote down a list of things I wanted, randomized which I prayed for, attempted to determine the likelihood of each happening on its own (e.g. without prayer) and then attempted to evaluate the results. It was the closest I could get to a randomized controlled trial.

This worked fine, and produced extremely strong evidence in God's favor, but I didn't really find it all that convincing, due to the possibility that my own bias seeped into the experiment. Since then I've conducted plenty of other tests. The most relevant to this discussion is that I always write down when I seriously pray for something. Since I started doing so no serious prayer has gone unanswered in one way or another.

I had to break the news to maybe 200 people over the past 6 months that their cancer was fatal. Including maybe a dozen children.

I had to clean out the suppurating wound in a patient who had a mandibulectomy for a orofacial carcinoma. When I removed the bandages, coated in pus, he could have played a flute both ways. I suppose his incoherent prayers and moaning were of no avail because they ended up directed simultaneously to heaven and hell. Then again, that ward has poor cellular reception.

I have heard earnest praying and fevered pleas for divine aid. It was never forthcoming.

What facile excuses for miracles you recite. If that's the standard of evidence you deem acceptable for the sweeping claims of Christianity..

What sin did a two year old child with ALL commit, such that she wasn't worthy of a miracle while your remission from UC was? Wrong deity I presume? The post-office does a better job directing mislabeled mail. Do you think a "fast" done by your family outweighs the RCTs showing that prayer, both direct and directed, is useless?

Thankfully I have not had too many cases of people thanking the Lord/Allah/Ram for their cures, or I'd have gone to jail for strangling them. Most of them are far more genuinely grateful for the actual miracle that is modern medicine, and by God we've got more to show for it.

What sin did I commit, getting ulcerative colitis and spending months in agony? What sin did anyone commit to experience any amount of suffering at all?

You stand upon others' graves and claim that their suffering was for naught. I stand upon my own experience and disagree in the strongest terms possible. Each moment of life, even when experiencing some of the worst pain imaginable, is still better than even. In our very worst, most agonized moments, God has seen fit to grant us greater and more meaningful pleasures than the pain which we experience. It's simply a matter of being able to recognize it. I have spent hundreds of hours in physical agony, but relative safety and calm, so I've had time to think about this and know it better than most.

The true tragedy is not the dead children, who have been taken to heaven and will be reunited with their family eventually, but the parents and siblings forced to cope with their absence for decades afterwards, lacking any knowledge that their child is okay. I promise you that that kid is okay, though, and that all of this will eventually work out to everyone's benefit. There are greater joys meant for humanity which we must be prepared to receive.

To be clear, I have seen miracles far greater than the ones I've shared. The greatest, to me, is the miracle of my own conversion and moral growth, but there have been plenty of others. I'm glad I didn't share them--you would probably be calling me a liar directly, rather than just insinuating it. I've already told you that I don't think I deserved any cure for my UC, but that the timing of it does indicate its miraculous nature. And I've already told you that even such miracles don't outweigh RCTs for me, but that they did give me confidence enough to continue investigating, including by conducting my own trials.

Given that we've already discussed all of this, and that I've already addressed each of your points in detail, I'll choose to interpret the substance of your comment as a result of your anger at the problem of suffering rather than as deliberate bad faith argumentation. I understand--it's certainly a problem I grappled with as well. Next time you do experience serious pain, I encourage you to slow down and experience just one instant of the pain at a time. It soon becomes clear that no matter the severity of the pain, a single instant of it is really quite tolerable, easily outweighed by the simple joy of other sensory inputs. The real trouble comes when our brains run ahead and try to experience all of the suffering at once, both feeling the pain of the instant and dreading the countless instants to come.

The same is true of all suffering. It may feel unjust, it may feel like God has unjustly condemned us to suffer agony for nothing, but the pain teaches us, and God has also unjustly granted us countless joys to pad life out and outweigh even the worst of our pains.

but the pain teaches us, and God has also unjustly granted us countless joys to pad life out and outweigh even the worst of our pains.

Who is “us” here exactly?

Countless humans and sentient creatures have not been granted “countless joys” to outweigh their suffering. Your theology deals with this moral inequity by saying god will make up for it in the afterlife.

Only problem there is the lack of evidence for said afterlife.

As I said, the simple pleasures of existence, rational thought, and physical sensation outweigh physical pain.

There are plenty of other joys, but just one or two of those are sufficient to outweigh pain.

"us" is everyone and virtually everyone has been granted such gifts or has died very quickly after birth.

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What sin did I commit, getting ulcerative colitis and spending months in agony? What sin did anyone commit to experience any amount of suffering at all?

The answer to this question becomes mu when you recognize that the Universe has no particular regard or disdain for you, it simply is.

You did not commit any "sin" in order to come down with ulcerative colitis. It boils down entirely to mechanistic interactions between your genes and the environment, and the way it moulded your body/immune system in a defective manner. While genes and environs are certainly components in what can be considered one's moral predilections, being Mother Teresa herself is no recourse from an agonizing death.

The only place where sin approaches a meaningful concept is when it comes to things that are the outcome of behaviors that are (nominally) amenable to intervention. A thief has sinned and loses his hand for it. A child with a Philadelphia chromosome has probably cried a little too often, but I wouldn't call that warranting a death sentence or the misery of chemotherapy.

All efforts to reconcile the stochastic distribution of boons and curses dished upon us with a belief in an Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnibenevolent Creator are, well, rather moot when you recognize that there's no reason (or grossly insufficient reason) to assume one exists.

And taken at face value, a Creator who knows with omniscience everything a conscious being will go through, including that it will inevitably sin and be punished for it (infinitely so, depending on which doctrine of Hell you adhere to), is prima facie disgusting to me. It certainly conflicts with any reasonable definition of benevolence, though attempts to torture them into reconciliation have been a pastime for theologists for aeons.

It would be akin to me "torturing" a sorting algorithm for putting 1 before 3 in an array, when I know with ~100% confidence it will make that decision every single time.

That is the relationship between a 3-O God and every poor bastard down here.

To be clear, I have seen miracles far greater than the ones I've shared. The greatest, to me, is the miracle of my own conversion and moral growth, but there have been plenty of others. I'm glad I didn't share them--you would probably be calling me a liar directly, rather than just insinuating it. I've already told you that I don't think I deserved any cure for my UC, but that the timing of it does indicate its miraculous nature. And I've already told you that even such miracles don't outweigh RCTs for me, but that they did give me confidence enough to continue investigating, including by conducting my own trials.

I would call you deluded, rather than a liar. It is a common enough delusion, but there is no more polite way of phrasing it.

You do not recognize the sheer magnitude of the empirical, physical, metaphysical and ontological claims you make if you think any amount of "moral growth" should sway your opinion one jot.

Given that we've already discussed all of this, and that I've already addressed each of your points in detail, I'll choose to interpret the substance of your comment as a result of your anger at the problem of suffering rather than as deliberate bad faith argumentation. I understand--it's certainly a problem I grappled with as well. Next time you do experience serious pain, I encourage you to slow down and experience just one instant of the pain at a time. It soon becomes clear that no matter the severity of the pain, a single instant of it is really quite tolerable, easily outweighed by the simple joy of other sensory inputs. The real trouble comes when our brains run ahead and try to experience all of the suffering at once, both feeling the pain of the instant and dreading the countless instants to come.

I have suffered plenty of pain. I put more stock in painkillers than your approach, not that I am calling it useless. Meditation and other techniques do help. They just don't help as much as fentanyl when you've broken your hip or are choking on your own secretions.

Religion is the opiate of the masses. I can't ding it too much on those grounds, I prescribe plenty of opioids myself. But what it also happens to be is a sheer refusal to take the universe as it is and a distraction from efforts at making it better.

No deity has pulled Mankind out of Malthusian Hell, we've dug up the rendered corpeses of our primordial ancestors and burned them, smelted steel and split atoms till we are in spitting distance of a Heaven on Earth, of our own making. Or we could all die after we build a Molochian monstrosity trained, in part, on this very conversation. But we live and die by our own, human hands, and God certainly hasn't been swiping in often enough for me to give him any credit.

The same is true of all suffering. It may feel unjust, it may feel like God has unjustly condemned us to suffer agony for nothing, but the pain teaches us, and God has also unjustly granted us countless joys to pad life out and outweigh even the worst of our pains.

Taken to its logical conclusion, any attempts at alleviating it is cheating God and his ward out of a valuable life lesson, though what that might entail to a child with appendicitis is questionable.

Not all suffering is bad. But I have seen far too much needless suffering to remotely privilege that claim. And when it has come to mitigating it, I assure you that even Jesuit clinics will hand out medication instead of just thoughts and prayers. When a child with ichthyosis vulgaris comes out of the womb and lives a short, yet excruciatingly painful existence before inevitable death (which can only be drawn out for a while, not remedied till the normal age at which we're supposed to die), I struggle to think of any mitigating factors that might make their short time on this Earth a net positive.

You do not know pain. Pray that you never have to.

Please talk to me directly, or create a blog somewhere rather than pretending you're actually responding to me.

The answer to this question becomes mu when you recognize that the Universe has no particular regard or disdain for you, it simply is.

I wasn't actually asking you, and you know this. You have no privileged position as a doctor and the bearer of bad news to accuse others of ignoring people's suffering. The problem of suffering is the same no matter the degree of suffering.

I put more stock in painkillers than your approach

My approach isn't a way to deal with pain, it's a way to understand it. It's a test you can perform yourself which will grant you evidence one way or another regarding the veracity of the rest of my claims. If you think I'm right or wrong, say so, but don't pretend that I was giving you pain management tips.

I don't have anything against painkillers, but the fact that God didn't grant us the ability to dull our own pain at a whim means that pain-without-painkillers is a problem which must be addressed.

And taken at face value, a Creator who knows with omniscience everything a conscious being will go through, including that it will inevitably sin and be punished for it (infinitely so, depending on which doctrine of Hell you adhere to), is prima facie disgusting to me. It certainly conflicts with any reasonable definition of benevolence, though attempts to torture them into reconciliation have been a pastime for theologists for aeons.

We've already been over this, but, like you, I suppose I'll have to pretend to be talking about this for the first time and pretend to have never heard any counterarguments from you.

Agency is extremely important. If one cannot choose then they lack agency. If one's choices lack consequences, then they cannot choose. I prefer being free to choose, even when that means making harmful mistakes, to being locked in to a life of unwilling righteousness. I prefer being created, even if that means occasionally being punished for sin, to not being created.

Whether sin should be punished at all is its own question. I find punishments for sin to be quite merciful so it's easy for me to understand them as corrective rather than punitive. They provide immediate consequences to actions which might otherwise become habit and lead to a greatly diminished capacity for joy in the long run.

Taken to its logical conclusion, any attempts at alleviating it is cheating God and his ward out of a valuable life lesson, though what that might entail to a child with appendicitis is questionable.

Only if you're also assuming that no other principles exist. "Pain teaches us lessons" doesn't preclude things like "helping others teaches us lessons," "pain-lessons have diminishing returns," etc.

Taken to its logical conclusion, I don't think it's ethical to prevent literally all of the suffering of any single person--at least unless some other method is discovered for teaching the same lessons. That's all.

You do not know pain. Pray that you never have to.

lol

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Damn dude. If you want to move to the US I'll make it happen for you.

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The true tragedy is not the dead children, who have been taken to heaven and will be reunited with their family eventually,

Isn't that very much disputed within Christianity? In addition the kids he speaks of are almost certainly Hindu and/or Muslim. I am guessing almost none of them are baptized. And then even if the kids get in because they were too young to actively choose, will the parents who are also most likely Hindu and Muslim be reunited with them?

Catholics:

"Likewise, whosoever says that those children who depart out of this life without partaking of that sacrament shall be made alive in Christ, certainly contradicts the apostolic declaration, and condemns the universal Church, in which it is the practice to lose no time and run in haste to administer baptism to infant children, because it is believed, as an indubitable truth, that otherwise they cannot be made alive in Christ. Now he that is not made alive in Christ must necessarily remain under the condemnation, of which the apostle says, that "by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation." That infants are born under the guilt of this offense is believed by the whole Church."

"The Roman Catholic view is that baptism is necessary for salvation and that it frees the recipient from original sin. Roman Catholic tradition teaches that unbaptized infants, not being freed from original sin, go to Limbo (Latin: limbus infantium), which is an afterlife condition distinct from Hell. This is not, however, official church dogma."

The Orthodox:

"And forasmuch as infants are men, and as such need salvation; needing salvation, they need also Baptism. And those that are not regenerated, since they have not received the remission of hereditary sin, are, of necessity, subject to eternal punishment, and consequently cannot without Baptism be saved; so that even infants ought, of necessity, to be baptised."

or the Protestants:

"Since we must make judgments about God’s will from his Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature but by virtue of the gracious covenant in which they together with their parents are included, godly parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in infancy. "

The Baptists would back you up however:

"We do believe, that all little Children dying in their Infancy, before they are capable to choose either Good or Evil, whether born of Believing Parents, or Unbelieving Parents, shall be saved by the Grace of God, and Merit of Christ their Redeemer, and Work of the Holy Ghost, and so being made Members of the Invisible Church, shall enjoy Life everlasting; for our Lord Jesus saith, of such belongs the Kingdom of Heaven. Ergo, We conclude, that that opinion is false, which saith, That those little Infants dying before Baptism, are damned."

In other words aren't you assuming the best possible case for your argument here? What if you are right about God existing, but that those kids will never be reunited with their families, either because they will go to Limbo/Heaven as they were too young to choose Christ and their parents are Damned, through not being Christian? Would you still maintain that pain is worth it? Or that you are correct but that they will be reunited with their parents in Gehenna being as neither was saved, and suffer even more torment?

Your argument could be true for Christian baptized kids born to Christian parents and false for everyone else.

I'm just making a claim without arguing every single one of my positions from first principles. Of course if I'm wrong about my religion then I'm wrong about my religion, that goes without saying, and therefore my claim that kids go to heaven wouldn't be correct. If I were wrong I'd have to rethink essentially every belief I have.

Given the quality and good faith (or lack thereof) of the comment I was responding to, spending hours crafting a full dissertation on all of my beliefs would just be a waste of time.

edit: to answer your question, though, my own experience was that very great pain was very tolerable. This doesn't make it good or mean there are endless lessons to be learned from it, or even that any amount of pain is "worth it." SOME amount is useful to learn certain lessons though.

I think I should have been more careful with how I worded my original comment, given how people seem to be interpreting it.

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What sin did a two year old child with ALL commit

What sin did Job commit?

Going for herbal and dietary remedies for pancreatic cancer, especially a variant that was amenable to evidence-based medicine.

(I'm aware.)

He's referring to Job from the Bible, not Steve Jobs.

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Please speak plainly and explain what you're aware of.

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Having read your linked thread, it seems you are a Mormon.

Tl;dr: Proper epistemology can save you 10% of your lifetime earnings (and more!) if you let it.

BLUF: Independently researching and leaving Mormonism was the hardest intellectual/emotional thing I’ve ever done. Trapped priors, anchor beliefs, upbringing and social pressure all make it very challenging, because you have been emotionally conditioned to perform confirmation bias to develop a testimony since before you could talk, and to avoid “antimormon” sources and evidence (the very opposite of an isolated demand for rigor). Try pretending you were born a Muslim or a Buddhist and consider how this version of you would be, religiously. Would you end up leaving your childhood faith and somehow finding Mormonism?

I gotta say, even by Mormon standards, those “answered prayer” stories are weak sauce.

“I was dealing with a problem, I prayed real hard for help, and so the omnipotent creator of the universe stretched forth his finger to help me find my keys” is a classic in the genre, but brings up the issue of why the power of prayer is seemingly so limited to things like not getting lost in the woods, healing from an illness, or encountering your ex, instead of solving larger-scale problems. God is so powerful, but his preference to work in mysterious ways really gets in the way of effectiveness.

“You are the easiest person to fool” and so “Bayesian” “analysis” of your prayer outcomes is just so remarkably divorced from a worldview based on keeping beliefs proportional to evidence (the antithesis of “faith”). Try running an experiment at scale on say prayer/faith healing at hospitals and then we can talk about Bayesian analysis. Or provide concrete evidence of a soul/The Spirit.

My favorite thing is that Joseph Smith claimed he possessed gold plates and other ancient artifacts, like a sword from the old world, and couldn’t just produce them as evidence. He had them, just take his word for it. He even had “witnesses” make formal claims they saw them (with their “spiritual eyes” as it turns out), and yet he wouldn’t let say outside experts examine them.

Strange way to go about establishing credibility. “I’ll let you see the relics but only if you already believe me.” It’s a level of credulity most children won’t demonstrate—Santa at least does provide presents.

Mormonism has no way to reconcile evolution, the archeology and genetics of the Americas, and the conspicuous lack of evidence of living prophetic power with its claims and doctrine—to a unique or stronger degree than trad Christianity, due to literal claims made by the Book of Mormon and early prophets. The apologists try to fit various camels through needles here, but it usually means contradicting claims and doctrine set forth by older prophets, which isn’t exactly good for establishing credibility. Early Mormon sausage making is just too well-documented for most moderns to accept, and Mormonism’s plunging conversion rate shows it.

Of course, the modem LDS church can’t settle the issue and make me look foolish because the plates and certain other artifacts were turned over to an angel. Tellingly, the one sacred relic the church does possess is a regular old seer stone, which was mostly ignored until recent times and is a point of controversy regarding exactly how it was the “translation” was done by Smith (it mostly did not involve looking at the plates, though most pictures depict it that way).

It’s a preposterous situation that would not survive scrutiny today (at any real scale), but people today—many of them very intelligent—can pretend it was a reasonable thing for a prophet of god to do in 1830 or so because they were raised believing it.

Trapped priors, anchor beliefs, upbringing and social pressure all make it very challenging, because you have been emotionally conditioned to perform confirmation bias to develop a testimony since before you could talk, and to avoid “antimormon” sources and evidence (the very opposite of an isolated demand for rigor). Try pretending you were born a Muslim or a Buddhist and consider how this version of you would be, religiously. Would you end up leaving your childhood faith and somehow finding Mormonism?

This is precisely why I took so long to eventually determine that Mormonism was true.

I never accepted anything along the lines of "you should avoid antimormon sources" and actively sought them out from a young age. Anytime someone would say something like that my respect for them would drop precipitously. Now, having read all the literature I could get my hands on, I find myself agreeing that there were better, more edifying uses of my time than deliberately studying such a vast quantity of opposing viewpoints.

I was raised by rationalists online more than by Mormons--I certainly understood rationalist doctrine better than Mormon doctrine, knew more details of rationalist doctrine, paid more attention to it, like it better, etc.

I gotta say, even by Mormon standards, those “answered prayer” stories are weak sauce.

They're not the only ones I have, as I've mentioned elsewhere, but they're the only ones I think should be shared.

“I was dealing with a problem, I prayed real hard for help, and so the omnipotent creator of the universe stretched forth his finger to help me find my keys” is a classic in the genre, but brings up the issue of why the power of prayer is seemingly so limited to things like not getting lost in the woods, healing from an illness, or encountering your ex, instead of solving larger-scale problems. God is so powerful, but his preference to work in mysterious ways really gets in the way of effectiveness.

This is pretty easy, and has to do with accountability, as I was saying. The amount of evidence we receive is pretty much exactly the amount we're morally ready for. That said, "I prayed and found my keys" was pretty much always a laughable "miracle" lol.

“You are the easiest person to fool” and so “Bayesian” “analysis” of your prayer outcomes is just so remarkably divorced from a worldview based on keeping beliefs proportional to evidence (the antithesis of “faith”).

I disagree, I think that keeping beliefs proportional to evidence is essentially the definition of faith--not the commonly-used, mangled "faith" that's been warped by centuries of apostasy, but the one described in the scriptures. There are many things I know to be true and yet do not live by because I lack the faith--my emotional strength of belief has not caught up to the evidence. This is true for all of us on a moral level, and is described by rationalists as "akrasia."

Try running an experiment at scale on say prayer/faith healing at hospitals and then we can talk about Bayesian analysis. Or provide concrete evidence of a soul/The Spirit.

I'll provide concrete evidence of a soul when you provide a concrete alternative explanation for consciousness. I don't even need evidence, just any kind of materialist explanation at all which even vaguely makes sense. I'd love to run my own prayer/faith healing RCT, and may do so if/when I get the resources, but honestly I think given how convinced I already am that money is probably better spent on healthcare for the patients in those hospitals.

My favorite thing is that Joseph Smith claimed he possessed gold plates and other ancient artifacts, like a sword from the old world, and couldn’t just produce them as evidence. He had them, just take his word for it. He even had “witnesses” make formal claims they saw them (with their “spiritual eyes” as it turns out), and yet he wouldn’t let say outside experts examine them.

Martin Harris was the only one who said anything about spiritual eyes, and he also explicitly said that he saw them with his natural eyes.

Meanwhile we have direct statements like this one from David Whitmer:

“I was not under any hallucination, nor was I deceived! I saw with these eyes and I heard with these ears! I know whereof I speak!”

as well as the plainly written language of the Testimony of Three Witnesses and the Testimony of Eight Witnesses, and the lifelong testimonies of the men involved, all of which directly contradict one maximally uncharitable interpretation of a single witness's words.

Mormonism has no way to reconcile evolution, the archeology and genetics of the Americas, and the conspicuous lack of evidence of living prophetic power with its claims and doctrine—to a unique or stronger degree than trad Christianity, due to literal claims made by the Book of Mormon and early prophets. The apologists try to fit various camels through needles here, but it usually means contradicting claims and doctrine set forth by older prophets, which isn’t exactly good for establishing credibility. Early Mormon sausage making is just too well-documented for most moderns to accept, and Mormonism’s plunging conversion rate shows it.

You should know as well as I do that there are fairly reasonable explanations for these things. I understand why one wouldn't give such explanations much attention--certainly, the null hypothesis should not be that Mormonism is true--but my own view is that the decades have steadily confirmed more and more of what were originally seen as anachronisms and other flaws.

If you want to discuss in more detail I'm happy to, but it will have to be another day, as I've been on this site way too long today already.

On the salvation question- why in the world would a loving God grant salvation to someone if their spouse or national leader was a believer, but condemn an unmarried person in an atheist country to eternal damnation?

As I understand it, the standard Christian position is that nobody deserves salvation, but God sometimes grants it. So the Christian answer is that there is no reason. Whether that is satisfying is another debate, but it's an important aspect to understand if one is going to understand them charitably: from a Christian perspective, God is not morally obliged to save anyone. In fact, from a Divine Command Theory perspective, the very notion of moral obligations for God is a category mistake, like a moral obligation for the number 11. God behaves morally not because he is obliged to e.g. keep his promises, but because that is what a supremely benevolent being does. In contrast, from a Christian perspective, a supremely benevolent being does not necessarily save anyone from the consequences of their nature which he created.

Any version of an all benevolent and all powerful God where He won't grant salvation to someone if they're an atheist in a secular country ruled be an atheist, but will if they're an atheist in a secular country ruled by a Christian, feels exceedingly unlikely to be true to me.

Sure, I'm not trying to argue that Christianity is plausible. If anything, I suppose my most point is that Christianity is far weirder than people (including many Christians) think. This can make it harder to argue against in a fair-minded way, but it doesn't help with its plausibility.

from a Christian perspective, God is not morally obliged to save anyone. In fact, from a Divine Command Theory perspective, the very notion of moral obligations for God is a category mistake, like a moral obligation for the number 11.

I'll grant that this fairly sums up Divine Command Theory and once again want to reiterate my disagreement with it. Morality does exist separate from God, and he cannot simply redefine it at a whim. He's not a simple force of nature forced into making only one choice at every possible juncture; he has agency and always chooses to be good.

He is bound by his promises more than we are.

I think that what you are describing is what the vast majority of Christians actually believe. It's not so good for Christian intellectuals trying to use morality in various ways to support their claim that God exists (because you're not an ethical deviant or impotent, are you?!).

Let me know if I've gotten this wrong, but here's my understanding of what you're trying to say:

  1. Christian intellectuals say morality can't exist without God
  2. They also say that morality does exist, therefore God does exist
  3. So claiming that morality exists apart from God bodes poorly for their position

I do have a couple disagreements with this.

  1. "Morality" refers both to abstract morality and to morality-in-practice i.e. the belief that the universe is fundamentally moral and good things happen to good people. These should not be conflated. God did not define Good, but the fact that we can look around and see a fundamentally Good universe is still evidence of God.
  2. This is similar to a cat coupling, because there's an implication that you're talking about all Christian intellectuals. They do not all rely on DCT for proofs of God's existence, and most of those who do still do not solely rely on DCT.

"Morality" refers both to abstract morality and to morality-in-practice i.e. the belief that the universe is fundamentally moral and good things happen to good people. These should not be conflated. God did not define Good, but the fact that we can look around and see a fundamentally Good universe is still evidence of God.

Right, but then the inference is hypothetico-deductive ("If God exists, then good things to good people; good things happen to good people; which is some evidence that God exists") which is different from a deductive argument ("If morality exists, God exists; morality exists; therefore, God exists"). These are very different arguments both in logic and content.

Of course, different Christian intellectuals have different arguments.

Sure, it's not a Proof.

Sorry, to clarify, I hope that I have throughout distinguished Christian intellectuals and DCT fans, e.g.

"from a Christian perspective, God is not morally obliged to save anyone. In fact, from a Divine Command Theory perspective, the very notion of moral obligations for God is a category mistake, like a moral obligation for the number 11."

The idea that grace is a gift of God, not an obligation of God, is more or less unanimous among Christians, AFAIK. The DCT is not.

But a supremely benevolent being would give all his creations at least of a chance of accepting grace. This is a chink in the armor of the theodicy, because Christians' omnipotent benevolent God did not lift a finger to give 100s AD Malaysians even a shot at accepting grace — they could not have heard Christ's ministry. Nor, indeed, does God give us moderns the benefit he was willing to extend to 20s AD Near Easterners, who saw tangible miracles to guide them to God's kingdom.

Catholics, orthodox, and Pentecostals at least all regularly claim tangible miracles. You might believe these miracles not to have happened or have mundane explanations, but many of them haven’t been disproven and are much better documented than the gospel accounts.

I absolutely agree, but the natural Christian response is that 100s AD Malaysians did not deserve a shot at accepting grace, nor do moderns deserve to see tangible miracles. The key thing about grace is that it is not what anyone fairly deserves. God is going beyond what people deserve and giving a gift.

(There are other responses, like saying that there are other ways to salvation than through Christ, but they struggle with the standard Christian interpretation of e.g. John 3:16.)

But a supremely benevolent being would give all his creations at least of a chance of accepting grace.

The Christian followup to this point is: how do you know? Then you might say, "How do you know that God isn't just playing a cruel joke on you, so that heaven is just a great big spider in front of a dark glass?" And then, arguments for God's existence aside, their answer is "Faith." And then you can say, "That is not a reliable way of knowing things."

So the theodical debates end with the epistemic debates, AFAIK, which is why I find epistemology more interesting than things like the Problem of Evil, even though the point you raise is actually the original one that made me doubt Christianity as a child. (The best explanation of God's restricted grace is not his inscrutable will of gifting, but that Jesus was a Jewish prophet living near the Red Sea who didn't have access to mass communication to reach the whole nations.)

This is a chink in the armor of the theodicy

Or in the armor of Divine Command Theory, or in the armor of your understanding of salvation.

Did something about this discussion make you like Merry from LOTR less? That's a steep handle downgrade.

Or in the armor of Divine Command Theory, or in the armor of your understanding of salvation.

Let me quote C.S. Lewis:

"When Christianity says that God loves man it means that God LOVES man: not that He has some 'disinterested'; because really indifferent, concern for our welfare, but that in awful and surprising truth, we are the objects of His love. You asked for a loving God: you have one. The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the 'lord of terrible aspect', is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes. How this should be, I do not know: it passes reason to explain why any creatures, not to say creatures such as we should have a value so prodigious in their Creator's eyes. It is certainly a burden of glory, not only beyond our deserts but also, except in rare moments of grace, beyond our desiring"

I think it's reasonable to expect that this God, who I heard of in sermons throughout my childhood, would put in slightly more effort to save the uncontacted heathens than "none at all". If someone offers me a version of Christianity that doesn't talk about God in terms of this extreme love, then I will address that religion and their theodicies in another way.

I think it's reasonable to expect that this God, who I heard of in sermons throughout my childhood, would put in slightly more effort to save the uncontacted heathens than "none at all".

Isn't there an entire strain of christian analysis of history that chalks the rising of the roman state and later the expansion of the european powers as this?

I think it's reasonable to expect that this God, who I heard of in sermons throughout my childhood, would put in slightly more effort to save the uncontacted heathens than "none at all".

Isn't there an entire strain of christian analysis of history that chalks the rising of the roman state and later the expansion of the european powers as this?

Yes, but there were definitely people left behind in the last chopper out of 'Nam, so to speak. Christians posit an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent deity; thus, even small edge case exceptions are highly damaging to this claim. Why did God not do 100 AD Malaysians the favor he did for Saul on the road to Damascus? Or even just send a missionary or two?

That's a steep handle downgrade.

Haha, honestly I'm working on opsec. That handle has been around for too long--I'll probably switch to an entirely new account soon.

I think it's reasonable to expect that this God, which I also heard in sermons throughout my childhood, to put in slightly more effort to save the uncontacted heathens than "none at all"

The LDS belief is that there is a plan laid out for them too, through which they have full access to all the blessings of Christ's atonement and the salvation offered thereby. I certainly think that any church which doesn't posit such a plan is flat-out wrong. This is why I say, your observation could easily be a chink in the armor of DCT or your understanding of salvation, rather than in theodicy.

Certainly churches who believe that such people will go to hell must have a much harder time grappling with theodicy.

I think Christian nationalism as a terrorial project could never happen in this century, and would also not be beneficial. You would be uniting the non-zealot Christians (nearly all) with increasingly influential Hindu and Muslim lobbies, not to mention the Jewish lobby, and influential atheist donors… while the state-worshipping intelligence community would see an obvious national security threat in such a project. And the dominant strains of Christianity in America, Catholicism and mega church evangelicalism, are ineffectual at promoting moral change or preventing consumerism/etc from seeping in. Do you really want them to have their own nation? Imagine the Christian rock radio stations they would subsidize… no thank you.

A much better solution is to create a Christian Hasidim which is, in a sense, a nation within a nation. A lot of the social technology they have developed can be grafted into a Christian setting: dress codes, mandatory prayers, mandatory (Christianized) rituals, a strong national identity as Christian Israel (this is already in the New Testament yet simply ignored in today’s theology). You can even gradually introduce Latin as a new internal language. Go back to original Christian house churches and you can reduce your community’s tax burden. Create your own kashrut which must be blessed by a priest. Etc.

This idea — creating your own insular community wholecloth — is both deeply Christian and deeply American. The American history is common knowledge. For Christian history, you have the Gospel which is easily read as a practical guide to starting a church and retaining a following. Remember that orthodoxy simply did not exist in ancient Christianity, but instead a multitude of often insular competing churches. You have the archetypal story of Noah who sees a threat and reproduces an insular culture anew (hence the animals two-by-two, and the bitumen coating the ark). You have the highly influential pre-Christian Essene community which established their own communities and possibly influenced Christianity. Lastly you have the monastic traditions, with a lot of them forming their communities in the middle of nowhere with their own regulations.

If you look at the history of insular religious movements, the Amish or the Salafists or whatever, it’s easy to forget that they started with just one dude. Then the one dude found some other dudes who agreed with him after a few years. Even with Methodism, IIRC it took a decade to bring the follower count up to a dozen. Then the dudes beget more dudes, because the world does not lack dissatisfied dudes. Now there’s, like, 80,000 Amish in Ohio alone. It’s compound interest, like a seed which multiplies 30 or 60 or 100 times what was sown. This is a more practical idea than a territorial project.

I think something like this is the authentically Christian way to approach things. The state can be helpful (see imperial aid in the ecumenical councils) but can also be a hinderance -- leading to the theological indifferentism of state churches like the Church of England (even in its heyday) and the inflitration of clerical orders by political agents (see the Russian Orthodox Church for the past several hundred years). Christian nationalists speak of using the faith to change the political order, but they refuse to see that entangling the political order in the faith often does the opposite. This is a weird mistake for a movement made up of evangelical Protestants to make, since, if I know anything about them at all, many are likely to believe that consorting with Constantine fundamentally changed the Church (I disagree, but that doesn't negate the contradiction in their views).

And this is perhaps too connected to my own struggles, but if the churches of the world want to gain the respect of voluntary converts and make disciples, not brow-beaten conversos, they would do well to focus inwardly, and to "strive for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord." As someone deeply open to Christianity, but troubled by Christianity's presence in the world, emphases like Christian nationalism go in exactly the opposite direction -- trying to change the world to solve the spiritual crisis of the Church, rather than trying to actually solve the crisis. Purify the church, then we can talk about purifying the state.

A much better solution is to create a Christian Hasidim which is, in a sense, a nation within a nation. A lot of the social technology they have developed can be grafted into a Christian setting: dress codes, mandatory prayers, mandatory (Christianized) rituals, a strong national identity as Christian Israel (this is already in the New Testament yet simply ignored in today’s theology). You can even gradually introduce Latin as a new internal language. Go back to original Christian house churches and you can reduce your community’s tax burden. Create your own kashrut which must be blessed by a priest. Etc.

We already have this in the form of the Amish and Mennonite churches. They have their own German dialect, rules, and dress code. But I don’t think you could completely wall off a community unless you cut off technology.

The Hasidic use technology and live in/around NYC. They have their own “kosher phones” and they force everyone to use it

https://www.timesofisrael.com/kosher-phone-freedom-policy-changes-hard-to-swallow-for-ultra-orthodox-rabbis/

The most obvious point against this is that the Christian nationalists (or whatever you want to call them if that term displeases) don't want to be cultural secessionists (for the most part). They generally see themselves as the rightful heirs to the American legacy and to give that up in favor of being the Amish mk II is to abandon their birthright. People like Rod Dreher have advocated for separation from secular society, but somewhat tellingly, Dreher lives in Hungary now, not the United States.

Logistically, it is problematic as well. The Amish aren't very numerous and are able to isolate themselves from external influence via technological proscriptions as well as the hard division their beliefs create from everyone else. You can't really be Am-ish. By contrast, Christian nationalism encompasses potentially tens of millions of people in the US. At that scale, you can't really wander off into the wilderness to start your own society, even if you could persuade people to do so.

They may not want to do that, just like the Essenes before them preferred not to secede territory to the Pharisees, and Jesus wanted his own nation to find agreement with him, and Mary didn’t want to flee to Egypt under Herod… but their wishes don’t factor in at all, only the will of God. They had to do what was necessary. Any good Christian must ultimately capitulate to reality: “yet not as I will, but as [God] wills.”

Amish … Logistics

Not Amish. I had used Amish as an example of growth, but the subculture to copy would be Hasidim. The Hasidim can live in the middle of NYC and yet retain complete cultural sovereignty. They have their own rules, their own courts, their own ambulance service, their own local police; the politicians know they blockvote and come to their communities to make a speech every election cycle; they lobby fiercely for their own issues; they hire in-group; they have the highest birth rate in America; their schools barely teach English. Rather than technological proscription, the Hasidim simply have their own phones with only certain app permissions. And having millions would make this process much easier, not more difficult; you can spread out your centers in culturally influential places.

but the subculture to copy would be Hasidim. The Hasidim can live in the middle of NYC and yet retain complete cultural sovereignty. They have their own rules, their own courts, their own ambulance service, their own local police; the politicians know they blockvote and come to their communities to make a speech every election cycle; they lobby fiercely for their own issues; they hire in-group; they have the highest birth rate in America; their schools barely teach English.

I've actually proposed this sort of model to Christians of my acquaintance before, and have gotten three general replies:

  1. that even this much separation from the mainstream constitutes an abdication of the "Great Commission" (and that, therefore, the Amish aren't Christian at all)

  2. that they can't emulate the Hasidim, because they're not Jewish — meant in two rather different ways:

2.A. that pulling off that sort of community — particularly the "their own rules, their own courts, their own ambulance service, their own local police" stuff — requires fundamentally immoral and "scummy" tactics which they could not countenance, as only the Jews would ever stoop to such depths.

2.B. that pulling off that sort of community requires a tolerance from the broader system which is extended only to Jewish groups — to a great extent because they can accuse their critics and opponents of antisemitism — while Christians attempting the same would find no such leeway.

I’m not convinced by those replies. Re: 1, the early Christians themselves abstained from participating in normative Jewish life, and the Roman Christians abstained from the Pagan civic rituals which defined mainstream Roman life. They formed their own schools based on Christian teachings. Even if we didn’t have this historical example, an insular community may do a better job at securing and promoting Christianity than a lukewarm, mainstream Christianity. The Great Commission is time neutral — it took Lithuania 1400 years to become Christian. And a Christian has an obligation to love God, which means surely he has an obligation to develop a community which permits the most love of God.

Re 2A: we are lucky, because the original founding document of America recognizes that God provides the right to freedom of association and freedom of religion. What better way to practice these rights than to worship the one who provides it?

Re 2B: America’s lax tolerance of this is because the community is insular and skilled at politicking. When you organize 200,000 men hierarchically, who all believe the most important thing in their life is the protection of their community, they are able to accomplish great things.

Critically, it was the very abstention of the early Christians from public life that, ultimately, led to their success -- while there were certainly some failures to communicate doctrines like the eucharistic presence (leading to claims that Christians were slaughtering and eating human babies) and universal fraternity (leading to non-Christians seeing Christian spouses calling each other "brother" and "sister"), there was also a sense in which the strength and conviction of the early Christians impressed the Romans. Later on, Christians whose theology spared them from the fear of death worked in hospitals treating the sick, which astounded the Romans who abandoned the plague-ridden. It was these things that the later Christians could point to and say, "look how impressive we are, you should adopt our belief system."

This co-existed, of course, with attempts at public preaching. You've got to do both. You can't abandon the public spectacle of St. Paul, but you must, you must, embrace the cloistered enlightenment of St. John. Any form of Christianity that embraces one while rejecting the other becomes imbalanced.

And notably the much softer Gab-style parallel society is not taking off like an arrow.

What would you think of a territorial project like Utah, where a group of Christians all coordinated to have a very large influence over one state?

Alabama already exists.

Although frankly, that jibe could be applied to a lot of red states. Conservative Christianity is an extremely powerful political force in Republican-dominated states. What it isn't, that it sort of used to be, is a cultural juggernaut. The opprobrium of the religious right carries very little weight outside of the religious right. They have virtually no influence over trends in media/entertainment (outside of internally produced media that is largely considered a joke by outsiders). Increasingly, young people aren't interested in the story they tell about the world and are shedding their religious affiliations. Etcetera. A lot of recent conservative political priorities are fundamentally about trying to remediate cultural defeats with state power.

While in college I was a pro-life Ron Paul libertarian, over the years I've become less individualistic as I've grown in my faith. I used to think of religion as a private exercise. I know [sic] recognize the centrality of community.

I think there's a conflation of what 'private' necessarily entails in this domain. There is one sense that you used -- of being interior to an individual as opposed to exercise within and by a community. But there is another meaning (cf "a private club") which does not denote individual but does explain that it is non-universal and non-totalizing.

I'll probably be censured for this, because for some reason--- religion, despite ZERO proof, needs to be respected on this forum. This is pure fantasy and shouldn't even be brought up as a serious topic. It is like watching Harry Potter fans argue over what fanfic should be cannon. It is made up out of whole cloth and shouldn't be in a rational adjacent forum.

  • -19

I posted on this forum because I did want to hear a non-Christian perspective on Christian Nationalism (good, bad, and ugly), so I appreciate your response. I hope that non-Christians can find the topic interesting, in the same way that I find discussions on GamerGate interesting despite not being a gamer.

EDIT: To respond to your larger question about the appropriateness of religion in a rat-adjacent forum, I believe rationalism is an incredibly useful tool for uncovering knowledge. I believe rationalism is downstream of Truth: in the beginning was the Logos (the Word), the Word was with God, and the Word was God. If I'm understanding you correctly, you conclude that there is no God because it doesn't follow from rational principles; without God I don't think there is such a thing as rational principles. Or, to put it crudely:

Jesus is Lord -> 2+2=4 -> everything else that follows.

Starting with 2+2=4 can get you quite far, but it won't uncover all knowledge and it would be futile to ask it to prove or disprove revelation.

You literally couldn't help it. This is what I am talking about.

I largely agree. To be clear, I am not a materialist/physicalist reductionist. I think that the hard problem of consciousness is a real mystery. But at the same time, I think that all organized religions, including Christianity, are extremely unlikely to be accurate models of reality although in many ways they are fascinating as historical and psychological phenomena. I do not wish the Christians here to be censored for being Christian, but I do often feel annoyed by them when they write long posts which are based on assuming that Christianity is true. It is the same way as I would feel if the forum had a significant subset of devout communists who frequently wrote long screeds that assumed communism was both workable and a good thing but rarely bothered to try to explain why they think communism is both workable and a good thing to begin with.

Yes, I bring this up because I am getting a bit peeved at the dozens of posts on here each day that are basically proselytizing. Extolling the virtues of Faith and poo pooing anyone who pushes back by telling them to be humble and that they need provide no proof of anything, and that you sir, would understand if you just had FAITH! It is madness.

All that said, you'll see in just a few years here that consciousness is not a mystery at all and that with enough recursive compute and long enough context window you'll see software becoming self aware. It may already be happening.

https://newatlas.com/technology/anthropic-claude-3/

It's not the self-awareness itself that is the big mystery, it's the qualia of self-awareness. The light might be on, but why does someone have to be looking out the window?

Yes yes we've all read blindsight. But this is just a clever metaphor you have here. If you make a thinking system complex enough consciousness is an emergent property. All it needs to do is to be able to reflect on itself. Not a tall order really.

If you make a thinking system complex enough consciousness is an emergent property. All it needs to do is to be able to reflect on itself. Not a tall order really.

Neither you nor anyone else here can support this statement with evidence, because the necessary evidence does not exist. This despite the fact that many, many people have affirmatively claimed that it existed, that they knew exactly where to find it and how to demonstrate it, were granted vast resources and many decades to confirm their claims, and had all their predictions uniformly falsified.

You, like many before you, are confidently asserting that the evidence supports you, when in fact zero evidence actually supports you, the version of your statement that made falsifiable predictions has been falsified, the version you employ here has been meticulously selected for unfalsifiability, and even this is only maintainable by discarding the strong contrary evidence via axiomatic reason.

To the extent that "facts" can be said to exist, the above is simply a fact.

And as I point out each time this comes up, none of the above is actually a problem. The problem is that you don't seem to recognize the obvious mechanisms of your own reasoning, the mechanisms underlying all human reason. What you're doing here is what everyone does when they reason about the world. There is no other way to do it. The problem is pretending you aren't doing what you very clearly are doing: accepting or discarding evidence based on pre-rational axioms, rather than through some objective, deterministic process-based assessment of the evidence itself.

You have adopted Materialism as an axiom. You discard as inconsequential all evidence that conflicts with or contradicts that axiom, as is proper, because that is what axioms are for. But the fact that you choose the axiom over contrary evidence demonstrates that the axiom is not itself the deterministic product of evidence, but rather is chosen by you for non-evidence reasons. If you can select or discard evidence for non-evidence reasons, why should others not do likewise?

What is the contrary evidence? Humans are thinking machines that are self aware and they exist. So clearly it is something that can be constructed. Shouldn't it logically follow that more thinking self aware machines can be made? If it exists, which it does, it can be created by us given enough resources.

What is the contrary evidence?

We can make choices, every minute of every day. We can directly observe ourselves and others making those choices, and have direct insight to the apparent cause of those choices, which appears to be individual will and volition. We can observe that the behavior of others is not perfectly or even mostly predictable or manipulable, and that the degree predictability and manipulability that does exist varies widely across people and across contexts. All of our experiences conform seamlessly with the general concept of free will, none of them conform with Determinism of any sort.

All long-term-successful social technology presupposes free will and attempts to engage it on its own terms. All attempts to engineer society along deterministic principles have failed, often repeatedly and at great cost. This is not an abstract question; it has innumerable direct and obvious impacts on the real world in every facet of human organization, cooperation and activity. There is a long history of actually testing determinism in the real world, and the results have been uniformly negative.

Humans are thinking machines that are self aware and they exist.

There is no evidence that humans are "machines", ie deterministic chains of cause and effect. This claim is not supported by any direct, testable evidence available to us, and is in fact contradicted by our moment-to-moment experience of making choices freely. Many predictions have been made on the theory that humans are machines, and all of those predictions, to date, have been falsified. Even now, you form the claim in a way specifically designed to be untestable, because you are aware that such a machine cannot now be made. You only believe that it will be possible to be made at some indeterminate point in the future, perhaps ten years hence; ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred years ago and more, your predecessors believed the same thing for the same reasons.

Materialists claim that there is no evidence for anything but materialism. Then they claim that our common, direct observation of free will can't be accurate, because it would contradict Materialism. But if our direct experience contradicts Materialism, that is evidence against Materialism.

You do not believe in Determinism because it has been directly demonstrated by evidence. You believe in Determinism because you are committed to Materialism as an axiom, and because any position other than Determinism evidently breaks that axiom. Beliefs are not generated by a deterministic accretion of evidence, but are rather chosen through the exercise of free will, by a process that is easily observed by anyone with a reasonable memory and a willingness to examine one's own thought-process dispassionately. As I said before, this is how all human reason works, how all beliefs and values are formed and adopted. The mistake is only in failing to recognize the choices being made, to allow oneself to believe that the choices are anything other than choices.

Shouldn't it logically follow that more thinking self aware machines can be made? If it exists, which it does, it can be created by us given enough resources.

It logically follows, provided one chooses to adopt Materialist axioms, and thus commits to ignoring all contrary evidence. Logical deduction from axioms is not evidence, though, and, as I mentioned previously, all attempts to actually demonstrate Determinism have failed. We do our actual engineering off free will, not determinism.

None of the above is a language game or a pointless abstraction, all of it can be directly and reliably demonstrated by universal, directly-observable experiences. None of it relies on supposition or interpretation. I reiterate that to the extent that facts exist, the above is simply factual.

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If you make a thinking system complex enough consciousness is an emergent property. All it needs to do is to be able to reflect on itself.

This is a gigantic assumption that you are making. As far as I can tell, there is no good reason to believe it.

This does not answer the question. Just because you might be incurious about the experience of self-awareness and only thinking in terms of practical application, doesn't mean others aren't.

I'm very curious, I just don't find it mysterious. Like everything else in the universe it is based on real phenomena and understandable.

It might be in principle understandable, or it might not be. In any case, I think the fact of the matter is that neither you nor I understand it. And neither does anyone else, as far as I can tell. You do not know how the physical universe gives rise to consciousness, nor do I. If you did understand it, you would be able to provide an explanation. "If you make a thinking system complex enough consciousness is an emergent property. All it needs to do is to be able to reflect on itself." is not an explanation, because there is no good reason to believe that it is true. Even if it were true, that would not necessarily explain consciousness, subjective experience. It would just add one more fact to what we already know about the correlation between physical states and self-reported consciousness, such as "if a person takes sleeping pills, they self-report losing consciousness and then regaining it at some point later". None of that necessarily brings us closer to explaining what subjective experience is or how physical reality gives rise to it (if it even does at all).

All phenomena that are in the universe are real by definition, yes. But you seem to believe that we're as close to understanding subjectivity as we are to understanding self-reflection.

Ah, but something acting self-aware and something being conscious are not necessarily the same thing. I can imagine a p-zombie that acts just as self-aware as any human, but has no subjective experience.

Even if we create AI that is indistinguishable from a human in terms of how self-aware it acts and how intelligent it is, that does not necessarily mean that we will understand whether it is conscious or not, even though we have access to all of its inner workings. I think the same is true of humans. Even if we manage to completely map a brain and learn to understand every minute detail of how that brain thinks, how it deduces new insights and so on, I do not necessarily think that that would bring us any closer to understanding why that human being is conscious.

To me, assuming that eventually, mapping the brain or creating human-level artificial intelligence will explain to us how consciousness works is just as unsupported an argument as any pro-Christian argument. Intelligence and consciousness might well be orthogonal, in which case no level of understanding how intelligence works will bring us any closer to understanding consciousness.

Even if we create AI that is indistinguishable from a human in terms of how self-aware it acts and how intelligent it is, that does not necessarily mean that we will understand whether it is conscious or not, even though we have access to all of its inner workings. I think the same is true of humans. Even if we manage to completely map a brain and learn to understand every minute detail of how that brain thinks, how it deduces new insights and so on, I do not necessarily think that that would bring us any closer to understanding why that human being is conscious.

Speaking as someone who believes in the existence of a soul--if we fully mapped out a brain, then I think consciousness would by necessity have to be an emergent property of normal neuron behavior. That's not to say we'd necessarily understand consciousness, but we'd at least know that it somehow stems from neurons and physical matter.

The alternative is that consciousness has no causal effect on matter, in which case, how do you know that you're conscious? How does your brain receive the signal telling it about consciousness and the qualia of self-awareness?

I find that to be a distinction without a difference. It could be that we aren't self aware and are just next token predictors with a large context window. If it is indistinguishable then that is the same as being as self aware as we can prove we are.

It is a distinction with a huge difference. I don't need to prove that I am conscious. It is self-evident to me. I am, currently, having subjective experience. The mystery is, why? Why is this subjective experience correlated with this physical body? Does the physical body give rise to the consciousness somehow? Many people assume that it does. After all, if the physical body is given certain drugs the self-reported consciousness will go away (deep sleep). So it seems as if there is some connection. Yet all the efforts of philosophers and scientists have brought us not even one millimeter closer to understanding why the consciousness exists. I think it is possible that in principle, the hard problem of consciousness is and always will be beyond the reach of science.

Yes they have, basically if you stuff enough compute into the prefrontal cortex you get consciousness, you damage or remove it and you lose it. It is all physical stuff we can understand.

basically if you stuff enough compute into the prefrontal cortex you get consciousness

There is not one shred of evidence for this.

It is all physical stuff we can understand.

Nope, philosophy and science do not understand why consciousness exists in the least bit. There has been literally zero progress on this front despite enormous efforts.

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Yes, religion gets treated with a certain courtesy, just like communism, remote viewing, gender politics, conspiracy theories, Austrian economics, and any number of other subjects which one or more people find insane.

Calling for any of these topics to be disallowed flies counter to the classical-liberal spirit of the forum.

I don't call for them to be disallowed. People should be free to say what they think. My only point is that vociferous pushback against baseless/evidence free claims should be encouraged rather than guarded against.

The vast majority of this forum is atheist/agnostic. Some are Christian. But the numbers have to be seen to be believed

Source: Tracingwoodgrains's First Annual Survey, N = 885

Agnostic: 23%

Other Atheist 13.6%

Atheist Humanist 27.8%

Atheist Antitheist 12.7%

Making the total non-believer population round nicely to 77%. A little bit more if you include those who put down things like "catholic but lazy, not really believing" or "Taoist".

A census of what percent of the US is atheistic is difficult to pinpoint. An atheistic secular Jew may decide when asked on a polling question that his religion as ethno-religion is more important then a discreet theological claim and thus when the pollster asks "what religion are you" he answers Jewish. Even though when later asked 'do you believe in a God" he responds with a clear no. So too may the no longer believing Catholic who raises their kid in the church and keeps their thoughts to themselves because their Catholicism is too intertwined with their ethnicity to be unwoven. There is no contradiction here, just note that how big or small you want atheists to appear does depend on what precisely you are asking.

But for the simple "what religion are you" question. "Atheist" got 2% in 2007 and 4% in 2023. Source: Pew Research 2023 National Public Opinion Survey

What makes this forum so outrageously non-representative compared to the US population as a whole is not only that 4% vs 77% number, but also that the First Annual Motte survey also asked "what religion were you raised in". 30% were raised broadly non-religious. Meaning the average Motteizen isn't just non-religious, they are someone who was immersed and walked away. They say there's no zealot like a convert and I think this applies just as well to deconversion.

So if this forum has 3x as many explicitly anti-theists as the atheist population of the US as a whole and population here is more atheistic by literally 15x as much then your question transforms into something a little bit different. It's not just 'why does this forum broadly...' but rather 'why is a forum of this specific belief breakdown treating religion with such respect'

And for that I return us to perhaps the source. In favor of Niceness, Community, And Civilization, by Scott Alexander

I seek out people who signal that they want to discuss things honestly and rationally. Then I try to discuss things honestly and rationally with those people. I try to concentrate as much of my social interaction there as possible.

So far this project is going pretty well. My friends are nice, my romantic relationships are low-drama, my debates are productive and I am learning so, so much.

And people think “Hm, I could hang out at 4Chan and be called a ‘fag’. Or I could hang out at Slate Star Codex and discuss things rationally and learn a lot. And if I want to be allowed in, all I have to do is not be an intellectually dishonest jerk.”

And so our community grows. And all over the world, the mysterious divine forces favoring honest and kind equilibria gain a little bit more power over the mysterious divine forces favoring lying and malicious equilibria.

Andrew thinks I am trying to fight all the evils of the world, and doing so in a stupid way. But sometimes I just want to cultivate my garden.

Or as Our Own Tracingwoodgrains brought up iwhen trying to explain this place in On Mottes and Mythologies

It’s pretty simple. I remember the kid I was, born into and seriously committed to a set of beliefs that I would need to seriously examine and step away from later in life. I remember just how rare it was to have a candid, good-faith discussion with people on the other side. I remember just how damaging the Arthur Chus both in and against my community were, how much unnecessary pain they caused. And if there’s any chance in an increasingly polarized world to build a space that allows that kid to honestly discuss his most controversial, difficult opinions and get sincere engagement and pushback instead of being shut down or mocked?

I will drag myself across broken glass to maintain that space, and all the Arthur Chus in the world aren’t enough to convince me otherwise.

That’s The Motte for you. It’s not perfect. It doesn’t always live up to the ideals Scott Alexander and others have championed. But it comes closer to being a working discussion ground for people who hold dramatically different beliefs than anywhere else I’ve found, and that’s just not the sort of thing you give up on.

What we've all participated in constructing here is a precious little creature. I take seriously the horrific implications of why treat them with respect at all.

The Thirty Years War became the benchmark to measure all later wars. The inhabitants of eastern France interpreted each subsequent invasion int he light of stories told about the Swedes and Croats who devastated their region in the 1630s. Soldiers fighting in the trenches along the eastern front of the First World War believed they were experiencing horrors not seen in three centuries. In his radio broadcast on 4 May 1945, Hitler's architect and armaments minister, Albert Speer, announced 'the destruction that has been inflicted on Germany can only be compared to that of the Thirty Years War. The decimation of our people through hunger and deprivation must not be allowed to reach the proportion of that epoch' For this reason, he went on, Hitler's successor, Admiral Donitz, had given the order to lay down arms. Public opinion surveys carried out in the 1960's revealed that Germans placed the Thirty Years War as their country's greatest disaster ahead of both World Wars, the Holocaust, and the Black Death. - Peter Wilson, The Thirty Years War: Europe's Tragedy, pg 5-6

I find this forum to be a civilizational candle in the dark in these ircivilizational times. And that means taking the religious among us here seriously. If we are excessively demure to them then that is only a reason to expand that sensibility to others, not to deny them that environment in the first place. There is enough vitriol on every other website and in every other which side are you on boy shibboleth seeking interrogation-conversation. If you J'accuse this place of taking people who hold unsubstantiated beliefs ridiculed in greater rat-dom and engaging with them with seriousness of tone and tenderness of heart then I take your accusation in stride.

Yes. It is.