This article continues a series examining R.E. Pucket’s article “Top 50 Questions Christians Can’t Answer”.
Part 1 may be found here.
Part 2 may be found here.
Part 3 may be found here.
Part 4 may be found here.
Part 5 may be found here.
Part 6 may be found here.
R. E. Pucket was a faithful Christian for much of his life. However, as he began to expand his reading and investigate arguments against faith, he became convinced that faith was irrational. This impression was strengthened by the fact that Christians with which he interacted largely told him that he should believe for belief’s sake, and that faith trumped rationality.
Pucket now spends a significant amount of time interacting with born again Christians who he feels are trying to convert him and win his soul. He rebuffs these attempts by presenting arguments that seem to stymie these Christians who in turn make vague appeals to “God’s Plan” and blind faith.
In his article, “Top 50 Questions Christians Can’t Answer” on Yahoo voices, Pucket lists out some of the arguments he has found that Christians seem to have no rational, logical answers for, and invites the readers to inspect their faith in light of these questions. Says Pucket:
“Don’t get me wrong, they will have an answer for them. You will find, however, that their answers have no basis in verifiable fact or evidence whatsoever, and will be largely based in their blind faith forsaking all reason.”
This series of articles will examine all fifty of Pucket’s questions, five per article, and offer responses to these questions.
One of the important things that the Pucket list teaches is the danger of dogmatism. If a system of belief stands or falls on every minute doctrine or teaching within the system, then disarming one of these causes the whole thing to fall.Christianity has undergone inspection by hosts of intelligent and thoughtful people over its 2000-year history. Some, like Pucket, have come to the conclusion that it was untenable. Many more have explored different ways of thinking about and applying Christian ideas that do not involve abandoning the system. The very fact that Christianity is a system of thought that allows individual thinkers to explore it, rather than to blindly embrace it, at least suggests that it is not a system of intellectual tyranny.
This author suggests that many of things about Christians popularly believe may be found faulty without the entire system being destroyed. For Christianity to be untrue, it would have to be shown beyond a reasonable doubt that either humans do not require some sort of salvation from evil and suffering, or that no such salvation has been provided.
The answers provided to the questions in this series may not always be punchy rejoinders, magic bullets, or truth bombs. They may be far from convincing to a skeptic; however they do show that Christianity is at the very least internally consistent and existentially plausible.
A variety of the Christian views that Pucket attacks in these questions are held by a very specific sect of Christian believers, and by no means characterize the whole of Christian views. The questions also occasionally make broad statements which either mischaracterize Biblical teachings, or are backed up with no supporting evidence. Where these mistakes are made, the responses are largely aimed at correcting these mischaracterizations. This is not to say that the attack has no merit, but the attack would need to be re-worked to fit a proper representation of that belief.
Finally, it is worth noting that the questions are sometimes phrased in highly emotive or sarcastic forms. These articles will attempt to respond to the fundamental objection being raised, rather than the tone in which they are presented, however the questions themselves will be presented in their original form.
31 and 32 – If you believe that your eternal life is more important than your physical life and you believe that all children are innocent in the eyes of God, why not kill your children so they are guaranteed to go to heaven?
(continued) You can’t tell me that it is because killing is a sin. First of all, you could repent thereafter and be forgiven. Secondly, if you would sacrifice your life for your child who is about to be hit by a train, and you believe your eternal life is more important than this life, then it would stand to reason that you should kill your children to ensure their entrance into heaven before they are old enough to be held accountable for being a creature of sin, right?
32 – If you do believe that children are innocent in the eyes of God, wouldn’t it be reasonable to suggest that abortion doctors are winning more souls for Christ than Christian missionaries? Why not bomb a pre-school? That would surely win a lot of souls for Christ.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
The teaching of scripture is that human beings are the property of God. To that end, they exist on earth to fulfill his purposes. When parents raise their children, they do not own those children as a person might own piece of furniture. The parents are responsible for raising those children on behalf of God, and will be held accountable for the way in which they discipline, instruct, and provide for those children by God. If it was God’s will that those children die before they reach adulthood or never existed at all, he certainly has the ability to fulfill this desire. Moreover, God allows every human being to die in due time. Between a persons birth and death, however, they exist for a reason, and that reason is assigned to them by their Creator, else no humans would exist at all. The responsibility for that child’s eternal destiny is a matter between themselves and God, not something for the parents to determine. The most beneficial thing that parent can do for the child is to instruct that child about God so that they will be equipped for making that decision on their own.
33 – If you do not believe that children are innocent in the eyes of God, wouldn’t it be fair to suggest that God is a monster for sending babies and toddlers to hell upon their death? Do you see the conundrum here?
To suggest that God does something “wrong” in any choice or action that he takes is to suggest that there is some standard of “right” and “wrong” that exists outside of God, and by which he must be judged. In order to accuse God of violating this standard, it is necessary to first determine what the standard is, and why it has authority over God. There is no grounds upon which such a standard might exist.
There are several passages in scripture that indicate that at a certain stage of development, children do not suffer judgment by God. Upon the death of his infant son, King David says “I will go to him, but he will not come to me,” a statement that has led Bible commentators to speculate that the child ended up in a blessed eternal state.
34 – It is a common belief among Christians that the only unforgivable sin is consciously rejecting Christ as Lord and savior.
(continued) With that said, it is also believed by Christians that those who have never heard of Jesus and the Christian faith, i.e. individuals within an isolated tribe, babies and so forth, have no concept of Christ and can not, therefore, be in the position to consciously reject him. This would allow them entrance into heaven by default. With that said, why would you tell anyone about Christ? Why would you spread the word if that would put them in the position to consciously reject him? If they are already going to heaven due to their ignorance of the word of God, why not just let that be? You would, in effect, be losing more souls to Satan by spreading the word. You might want to rethink that whole “fishers of men” thing.
One of the more prominently held beliefs regarding this is that all people have some knowledge of God and his law, whether this be profound or superficial:
Romans 2:12-16 English Standard Version (ESV)
God’s Judgment and the Law
12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
Consequently, even those who have never heard the Gospel of Forgiveness are judged by the information that they do have regarding morality and how they have responded:
Luke 12:47-48 (ESV)
47 And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. 48 But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.
It is important to note, however, that humans benefit greatly by having a relationship with their Creator, a relationship made possible by the Gospel message. Not only are people who are made aware of the Gospel more likely to repent and gain a direct relationship with their Creator, but more than this, God created humans, not the other way around. If God wants others to know of Jesus and his sacrifice to his own glory, this is for his purposes, whether or not it benefits those people. As their Creator, God is not beholden to his creation, yet he gave everything to redeem it. Humans, on the other hand owe God everything, and may only truly live up to this by submitting their lives wholly and entirely to God.
Presumably the person who is unaware of the Gospel of Christ will occasionally try to live a good life, and feel the guilt of his indiscretions, while another will consciously choose to live a life of selfish abandon. In so doing, they have determined their relationship with the God they do not know. If the Gospel were to come to them, the one who already feels the guilt of his misdeeds will happily embrace this forgiveness and be enriched by doing so. The one who has chosen selfish living may, himself, be convicted and repent, to his benefit. He may also reject the message just as he has what little morality he did know about. The Gospel has become more of a benefit for this person, but either way, the Gospel has enriched rather than doomed these people.
35 – Imagine that I had the power and ability to feed millions and end all suffering. Now, imagine that I simply chose not to do so because these millions of people that are suffering did not like me. You would probably like me even less then, right?
(continued) Then why does God get a ‘get out of jail free card’ on that one? Wait a minute, ‘God’s plan,’ right? Gotcha.
To say that God allows suffering because people “do not like him” is to ignore the suffering of all of those people who do worship and adore him. Hence the more classic question “If God is all powerful and all loving, why does he not simply remove human suffering to begin with,” is more appropriate.
The question assumes that the cessation of suffering would be “good” and that its continuation is “bad.” If the existence of God is assumed, then one must also assume that he created everything and that those things serve some purpose for existing. Is this purpose to live in comfort until one dies, or is there some deeper pursuit – some existential fulfillment – that is more noble a pursuit than mere physical ease?
In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote a paper entitled “A Theory of Human Motivation.” In this paper he proposed his now-famous “Hierarchy of Needs.” What Maslow said is that human beings begin with a very basic set of needs that they pursue in order to live. These include such things as hunger, thirst, and physical comfort. Once these immediate needs are met, they pursue more long-term needs such as safety and security. The third tier of needs Maslow suggests includes love and belonging. Fourthly, an individual would pursue respect and accomplishment. Finally they would seek out things such as philosophy, knowledge, and wisdom.
In all likelihood, Maslow would have considered things like religion and spirituality to belong to this final tier of human needs, making them the most expendable of all the needs a person might have.
The Bible appears to have the opposite view. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses instructs the new generation of Israelites with these words:
Deuteronomy 8:3 English Standard Version (ESV)
And he (God) humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Later, Jesus quotes this same passage when responding to Satan’s temptation to break his fasting by turning the stones to bread.
In fact, the practice of fasting itself, recommended throughout the Bible, is a blatant denial of the Maslow Hierarchy. What the Bible seems to suggest is that spiritual needs are superior to physical needs such that physical needs must be placed in subjection to them.
While this may seem topsy-turvy, it makes a great deal more sense when one considers that, no matter how effective a person is in meeting their physical needs, they will still inevitably die. There is no amount of food, water, comfort or safety that can eliminate the possibility of death; these things can only delay it. However, if Jesus’ teachings are correct, then the meeting of spiritual needs affords a person eternal life beyond death.
Additionally, it is disputable that, even if a person were to rise to the top of Maslow’s hierarchy, they would ever truly be satisfied.
The author of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes walks the reader through his pursuit of existential satisfaction. He relates that he tried physical pleasure – living a life of hedonism; he tried vocational pleasure – gaining wealth and accomplishing great building projects that brought him fame; and he tried mental and spiritual satisfaction – studying and becoming renowned for his wisdom. After accomplishing every stage of Maslow’s Hierarchy, he found it all to be meaningless and unfulfilling.
The search to meet these physical needs may, in fact, be a catalyst that brings people in search of God. As an example of this, consider this passage from the book of Matthew:
Matthew 9:2-8 English Standard Version (ESV)
2 And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” 3 And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” 4 But Jesus, knowing[a] their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5 For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 7 And he rose and went home. 8 When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
Presumably the purpose for which the people brought the paralytic to Christ was not to have his sins forgiven, but rather to have him healed. Jesus, instead, put the priorities in their proper perspective by forgiving the sin for the eternal net benefit of the paralytic, rather than healing his paralysis, which was a temporary benefit at best. It was only when they questioned his authority to forgive sins that Jesus healed the man, doing so to prove his authority, and, as is fitting, the people who saw it “glorified God, who had given such authority to men.” Thus the man’s suffering served the ultimate purpose of glorifying God.
In fact, a strong argument could be made that people are brought to knowledge of God most frequently through suffering. The case of the paralytic is a good example. This man came to Jesus because of his suffering, an act that resulted in eternal rewards: a net gain for his suffering. The Gospels and the book of Acts are packed with such examples of people in suffering who, by seeking relief, came to saving knowledge in Jesus.
But one need not turn to the Gospels to see examples of this. Ask any Christian to give you their testimony and, in the vast majority of cases, they will sight an example of suffering that brought them into union with God.