I met Pastor Andrew while he was preaching at Rutgers. I asked him why he believes what he believes.
How long have you or members of your ministry been coming to Rutgers?
I came to Rutgers this past week with an out reach from a group called Living Waters. Last year we came on campus and gave away free copies of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. We go on different campuses to engage in conversation. I know there are some guys who go regularly to Rutgers; I haven’t. I’ve gone to places like Princeton.
I was actually thinking of coming back to Rutgers because I had a lot of good conversations, even with people who don’t agree with me. They were willing to dialogue, which is better than people who just want to shut down and not discuss. I don’t say everyone’s gotta agree with me; I enjoy the dialogue. And people get me thinking, which is always a good thing.
What are your aims when coming to Rutgers?
Rutgers or anywhere else, it’s really an issue of being able to dialogue with people with different views. Specifically, our goal is to explain a Christian worldview and explain Christianity to people who would probably never darken the doors of the church. If people only find out about Christianity from the media or what other people say, they’re going to have a very different view of what Christianity is.
An example would be a dinner I had with a Rutgers student after my first visit. He’s a practicing homosexual, which didn’t bother me at all. He kept bringing it up, expecting that I was going to judge him or be bothered by it. He gave me a hug when we met and I was okay with it. I jokingly said, “If you kiss me on the lips, I might have an issue.” But I’d feel the same way if some woman kissed me on the lips.
After that conversation, this young man said to me, “Andrew, if your goal was to get my thinking—mission accomplished.” He told me he had a very different view of what Christianity was and where Christians were coming from. And that’s a big thing. We have a message we want to share with people; some people are good ambassadors for the message they have and some are not. And usually the poor ambassadors are the ones we see on the news.
One of the tracts that you handed out was called “God’s Answers to Man’s Questions.” It was from the Lake Road Chapel.
I didn’t personally hand that one out.
Ah, okay. Well, this one takes the form of a Q and A. The first question is, “Aren’t there many different ways to God?” The second one is, “Did Jesus ever claim to be God?” All of the answers are excerpts from the Bible. I was curious: a tract such as this one presupposes some degree of belief on the part of the audience in order to be effective. What I wanted to know is what sort of approach do you take with someone who is not a believer compared to someone who is a believer but is not living up to the standards of what your website calls, “The Twelve Characteristics of a Godly Elder”.
An elder would be someone who’s looking to have a leadership position, so it’s a bit of a higher standard. Still one we should all seek though. As to your question: I can’t speak specifically to the tract that you have because I’m not familiar with it, but I can answer the question apart from that.
I’ll start with the non-believer and I’ll break that into two groups: a non-believer who doesn’t believe in God and a non-believer who believes in a God other than the one I believe in. If I’m dealing with a non-believer I’d start right there. If they don’t believe and you start telling them about God, they’ll probably just say, “See ya!” And then you’ve got no dialogue.
I believe that there are two different things that God has given as evidence of his existence. One would be creation and the other is our conscious. I like to ask people if they think Mt. Rushmore came about by natural processes, like wind erosion or rain, which we’re all familiar with. We all know that these processes erode rock, but most people would say that it couldn’t possibly be the case that Mt. Rushmore was formed by them because of its complexity, its design. I would say we even see more design in a single cell of a human body. Even Richard Dawkins, in his book The Blind Watchmaker, talks about the complexity and the appearance of purpose. He just doesn’t believe in the presence of purpose. I would say that God made things that way so that we can clearly say that he did design it.
So, I’d say creation is one piece of evidence. I would say our conscious is another piece of evidence—that you can go anywhere in the world and find that people, more or less, have the same set of laws (basically the Ten Commandments). Every culture thinks that lying ‘s wrong, stealing’s wrong, murder’s wrong. We have those there because I think God wants us to recognize that we can’t keep his law—that we break it and we need him.
A lot of times when you deal with these issues you end up coming up against questions of science versus religion, which I think is an unfair argument. I say all the time that I cannot prove that God exists; it’s a belief that I have. It’s a presupposition that I have, that God exists, and that affects my worldview. But, I will ask an atheist, “Can you prove that God doesn’t exist,” and they’ll say, “No.” They have a belief system too; most people just don’t think of the presuppositions of their own belief systems because they’re the beliefs that they hold. Christians are just as guilty of that. So, we all need to examine our presuppositions. I know what my presuppositions are.
Once we get to that point, we’re going to see that we have two different worldviews and that we’re going to look at a piece of evidence from two different worldviews and come to different conclusions. We both might have very good evidence on our sides, but we’re also going to interpret the evidence differently.
That’s how I’d approach a non-believer. Our belief doesn’t really make it true. Some people talk as though it’s belief in the minds of the believer that makes the belief true. That’s like jumping off the Empire State Building because you don’t believe in gravity. If it’s reality, our beliefs don’t matter.
Then when you talk to someone who has a belief in God but it’s a God different from my own, you’re going to start at a different point. You’ll both start with an understanding of who God is and his attributes. For instance: if you were to look at some of the Gods of different religions, you see that the attributes of the various God’s go against each other. So, you’ll have a just God and a merciful God. If he’s just, he’s going to punish lawbreakers; but if he’s merciful, is he going to let lawbreakers into Heaven? Well, if he does, he’s no longer just. I like to focus on that because that’s a struggle for a lot of religions.
There’s a part on my website about world religions. I don’t want to be guilty of mystifying some other positions because I don’t like it when people do that with Christianity by claiming to know what Christians believe in when they actually don’t. What I do is, I go to different college campuses and have interfaith discussions. I’d give those lessons to Imans, Rabbis, and other religious figureheads and they’ve told me I’ve been accurate in describing what they believe, which makes me feel good—that I did the homework well. So, what I’ll do is bring up the fact that what makes Christianity different from every world religion I’ve ever studied is that every religion teaches that we can be a good person, that our good can outweigh the bad, and that somehow scales of justice will tip in our favor. We’d never accept that in a court of law though. If someone breaks into your home and kills your family, you’re not going to say, “Well, he felt bad about it; let him off.” You’re going to want justice.
We tend to view God’s justice as if he’s going to know we had good intentions and not judge us too harshly. That’s how most people view it. What makes Christianity different is that Christianity says that our good can’t outweigh the bad because we’re already guilty, so payment has to be made. The difference is that, in Christianity, God has paid the fine that we owe. That would be the difference with Christianity. It’s not by our works that we get to heaven; it’s by what God did that we earn it. And that’s what I see as making a difference.
In the situation where you confront a non-theist rather than a theist: are you providing reasons for faith?
We can think of it that way. I would say “beliefs” instead of “faiths”. We both approach it from a different worldview and because of that we see things differently. I would give evidence for what I believe and have him give evidence for what he believes. When we were out there on Wednesday, I was speaking to a young man named James who said that God couldn’t exist because he’s a male who loves other men. His real issue was that he doesn’t want to believe that a God exists because, in his words, if God exists what he, James, is doing is wrong.
I said to him that there’s a lot of things that God says that I don’t like, but I don’t have the right to tell God what to do. A good scientist will take all the evidence and follow it wherever it leads. And if it leads to where the scientist doesn’t want it to lead, but that’s where it leads, then that’s where they should go. I know of many who have been lead to believe that there’s a designer and they’ve been fired over it. And that can happen.
It might be useful if, at this point, you told me how you use the word “faith”.
I’ll give it to you from the Bible, in book called Hebrews. It’s from Chapter 11, Verse 1. It says, “faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.” I would say that it’s not a blind faith. One person had said on Wednesday that he disagreed on one of the speaker’s views of faith because faith cannot be proven or has no evidence (Author’s note: he’s talking about me). I think faith can be proven. I think it does have evidence; it’s not a blind belief. So I would not agree with that usage. If we have faith, we have reasons for our faith. They may not be good reasons, but there’s a trust factor. We believe in air, but we can’t see it. We believe for very good reasons; we see its effects. I wouldn’t call it a blind faith.
In that case, I’m curious, what are the reasons for your faith?
I gave you one of my presuppositions. I believe God exists and I believe that creation and our conscious are two pieces of evidence for that. That’s one presupposition. Another presupposition is that I believe that God has spoken. In other words, He wrote down a Bible. I’m of Jewish background and my understanding of Jesus Christ before I became a Christian was that Jesus Christ was Hitler’s God. That’s what I’d learned going to Hebrew School. I had no knowledge of who He was; had no love for Him whatsoever.
What got me was having some lengthy discussions with someone who was trying to convince me of the truth of Christianity. I said, “Look, I’m a logical person. Emotional arguments don’t do much for me. Give me a logical reason to believe and I’ll believe.” What he did was look at prophecy. We all accept that men wrote the Bible. There’s no dispute there. The real question is whether God also wrote it. That’s the big question. If God wrote it, it had to be one hundred percent accurate. It’s not a history textbook, but when it talks of history, archeology, or science, it better be accurate.
One of the strongest arguments, I think, is that of prophecy. It better be one hundred percent accurate; if it says things will happen, they better happen. When I was going down this road, I argued that some prophecies are self-fulfilling. There are some that are coincidences. Jesus Christ just happened to be born of the line of David, could have just happened to have be born in the town of Bethlehem, he just could have happened to have been betrayed by one of his followers. Some things I can say are coincidences or self-fulfilling, but after a while you start seeing some very specific prophecies— mentioning King Cyrus by name hundreds of years before he was born. Some things people might fulfill just to prove the Bible right. But you have Alexander the Great fulfilling prophecy from the book of Jeremiah that he probably had no knowledge of in the first place. And Alexander the Great was not trying to fulfill scripture; he was trying to conquer the world.
Now, I think that’s one of the strongest arguments I can give, but that’s probably not going to convince somebody of what the Bible teaches. Those two presuppositions that I hold, that there is a God and that he has spoken, and I think there’s strong evidence for those two.
Is it possible to believe without evidence?
What do you mean?
I don’t think, for example, that a scientific description of any particular state of affairs necessitates the absence of a Creator.
I’d argue that someone’s going to have to be convinced of the existence of some evidence. The Bible describes us as God’s enemies. We don’t agree with God from the starting point because we want to be in control, even as far back as Adam and Eve. And as creatures who want to be in control, we’re not going to believe without evidence. We’re not just going to trust in something. And this gets onto a topic you brought up earlier: people who say they believe in something but don’t really follow it. There are a lot of people who grew up in a Christian, Muslim, or Jewish home but don’t have an idea about what they claim to believe. But I don’t know if they’re believers until they study their beliefs and what they stand for. I think a lot of people say. “Well, I’m a Christian.” But they have no idea what Christianity is. Or they say, “I’m Jewish,” but they don’t really know what that means. What they mean is that they grew up in a Jewish home, but they’ve never studied it or understand it.
Do the pre-suppositions that you bring up require evidence or are they freestanding?
I’d say that the evidence is all around us. The amount of beauty and complexity is just amazing. The universe is an amazing thing to study. And when we look at it, I’d argue, we have evidence for a God by the same common sense that guides us to say that Mt. Rushmore wasn’t formed by chance. Science can’t answer everything. Science can’t prove what you’re thinking. It can’t prove what you had for breakfast last Monday. It can’t prove the past in that way.
I think that even if science answered every question that one could give, that there’d still be room for faith in God.
I do a quiz sometimes. I’ll have people argue against my beliefs and they’ll make people make statements like, “The Bible was written by men.” What they’re really saying is that the Bible’s not trustworthy. It’s a way to shut people down, but it’s not a good way to stimulate intellectual discussion. I’ll ask them if they believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution. And they’ll say, “Yes.” But wasn’t that written by a man? Just because it’s written by men doesn’t make it untrustworthy. The question is whether or not it’s written by trustworthy men.
To prove a point, I’ll ask the person their name. Let’s say they say, “John.” And I’ll say, “Well, Bob,” and he’ll interrupt and say, “No, it’s John.” And I’ll say, “No, it’s Bob and we all know it.” How can you prove your name is John? If I start with the conclusion I can find a way to prove it. If he’s going to try to prove it, say with his birth certificate, I can just say, “I think you made that up. It was forged.” I can come up with a way to answer any argument if I start with the conclusion. If I say that you’re name is Bob when it’s really John, any proof you give me could be argued. So we have to be fair with evidence. There’s evidence that would support for a designer and the absence of a designer. The issue is seeing what evidence has better argument.
My concern with the sort of skepticism you point to when doubting a person’s name is that you can only doubt when certainty is a possibility because if you have nothing but doubt there’s no juxtaposition for that doubt to be meaningful. So if you doubted a thing that couldn’t be verified, then that doubt doesn’t seem to be doubt at all to me. It’s like if you doubt all of reality without grounds for doing so besides the capacity to say, “I doubt it.” So, this doesn’t seem like a fruitful path to me.
The problem is that we’re both in the same position. We can’t know how the universe began. We weren’t there. So either way you go, you have something unfalsifiable.
I am curious to know, though, do you need to have faith to frame evidence for faith as evidence for faith? If, for example, you have a “religious experience”, is faith what prompts you to call it a “religious experience” or do you call it that for some other reason? How would you know to call it a “religious experience” without already knowing what a “religious experience” is like?
That’s a good question. How do you know it’s a true religious experience and not heartburn or a bad LSD trip. Or maybe a good LSD trip. When people tell me that they’ve had some sort of experience, two things come to mind. One: I can’t speak to their experience. Experience is a very subjective thing and if you ever need proof of that just go to a courtroom to hear people give testimony. “Were you all there?” “Yeah, but we all saw it differently.” Experience, then, I would say is not a very good thing to base a belief on. The book of Jeremiah says that our heart is deceitfully wicked. Obviously, if we’re self-deceived we wouldn’t know if we’re deceived. So, I would say experience is not a good thing to trust your eternal life on. If your experience was wrong, there’s a heaven and hell, and there’s a just God who will punish wrong doers, then the difference is an eternity in heaven or hell.
How does one know, then, that reality is evidence of divine creation?
Whether you believe God exists or not, you have the same dilemma. You’ve always got to question your own worldview. One young man I talked to Wednesday said that, “I can never say that I know anything with complete certainty.” He’s right. And then he asked me if there’s anything that could convince me that God doesn’t exist. And I quoted him back to him and said, “I can’t know anything absolutely. If I could, then you could call me God. And I wouldn’t make a very good God.”
How would you know what the evidence is evidence for?
If you apply scientific principles to anything that you study, you need to look at the evidence. Few people realize that science doesn’t prove anything; it disproves. I make a hypothesis that something is true, and I look for evidence that it’s true by seeking to falsify it. If I can’t falsify it, it becomes a theory. And if it survives multiple peer reviews, we hold it as a law. It’s the same process no matter what we do. We need to evaluate knowing that we confront everything from a particular worldview that has presuppositions. And the worldview we have stems from what our understandings are. I find few people are able to question their presuppositions and that few people are even aware that they have presuppositions until you sit down and explain what a presupposition is. Very few people can identify how to question their presuppositions, and that makes it harder. And I think that we need to be able to question ourselves.
If you’ve read the Old Testament, you’ll know that you don’t get very far before you start seeing these long lists of genealogies. “So and so begot so and so; and so and so begot so and so.” I said to you that if the Bible’s wrong in any one area that you can throw the whole book out and not waste your time studying it. So, in an attempt to do that, I started looking at all the genealogies. They’re boring to read and most people skip over them. I thought, ” Let me add it all up.” Because if I can find one person other than Noah and his family who survived the flood, then I can toss the whole thing. That’s something people wouldn’t really think through if they were making something up. That’s where you’d goof.
So, I started doing it. I went through every one of the genealogies. And when you run the dates, the closest you get is a man named Methuselah, who died the same year as the flood. He would have been Noah’s grandfather. So, I’ve looked it from the perspective of trying to falsify the Bible, but the more I study it the more convinced I become because I see more and more evidence there.
Whether or not one believes the Bible is the word of God or not, I still think it has a lot of wisdom that I wouldn’t necessarily throw away just because the numbers in the genealogy were off. For example: I would like to not be murdered.
If you found out the math were off in the genealogies, what would you have done? You said you’d “throw the whole thing out”, but would you still, “Do onto others as you would like others to do onto you?”
I would not have believed that the Bible was written by God and would have the proof. I would not have followed the Bible. Doing good things to others is not the core message of the Bible. It is the core message of some religions and many attempt to make it the core message of the Bible because that is the standard that they want God to judge them by, instead of by God’s standard.
But, I am curious: could someone be a good Christian without believing in God?
I’ll answer it specifically, but with some explanation. The simple answer is, “No.” Here’s why I say that. I’ve given a lecture on the uniqueness of Christianity. Here’s what makes it unique. You can remove Joseph Smith from Mormonism, Buddha from Buddhism, and Muhammad from Islam. Muslims might get upset when I say that, but if Muhammad was just a man and not God, you can remove him and still have the teachings of Islam. You can’t do that with Christianity and that’s what makes it unique. Let me explain why that is and why you can’t be a good Christian without believing in God.
Christianity is the belief that we have violated God’s law–God’s law being the Ten Commandments. We lie, we steal; we justify the things we do. I’d say we make ten to twenty thousand decisions a day. God says the first and greatest commandment is to love the lord your God with all your mind, heart, soul, and strength. I don’t know about you, Ben, but I probably break that one at least nine hundred nine thousand times a day, times three hundred sixty five days a year, times however old you and I are. We’re not so good. And yet we often don’t think of it that way.
Christianity teaches that we’ve broken God’s law, we haven’t been good, and that because of our guilt there’s a punishment that we deserve. The wage of sin is eternal death and that’s what we’d properly deserve according to Christianity, but that’s not what we may get. The argument is this: God is just, he is going to punish wrong doers for breaking the law, and we don’t have a way out. If you owe an eternal fine, when do you finish paying?
Now, if I never broke the law, I can pay it for you–just like in a court of law a person who is innocent of a crime can pay the fine for you. The issue is, though, since it’s an eternal fine, I’d have to pay it for all eternity. So, if you had a ten million dollar fine, I’d have to pay it all for you. I’d have to have the ability to pay. But I can’t pay an eternal fine for you because I have to pay it for myself.
What Biblical Christianity teaches is this: Jesus Christ died in our place, paying the fine that you and I owe. Because Jesus is God, he’s eternal. So Jesus has a way to pay it, but he had to come to Earth and be a man and be perfect, innocent of our crimes, to pay the fine for us. That’s why you can’t remove Jesus from Christianity; Jesus Christ is Christianity because the belief of Christianity is that God as Jesus Christ came to Earth, died in our place, took the punishment upon himself, and offers us eternal life in him. That’s different from every other world religion, so you can’t be a Biblical Christian and say there’s no God. Otherwise, what about Christ do you believe in? You wouldn’t have belief in the Christ of the Bible.
What about people who haven’t heard of God, Christ, or the Bible?
I still think they can look at creation and know that there’s a God; they can look at their own heart and know that they violate his law; and they can still call out to him. Do they have the knowledge of Jesus Christ? No, they might not, but can God send someone to them, yes he can.
There was a gentleman from the inner parts of Africa. He said he was sitting by a lakeside, staring up at the sky, and he realized that they couldn’t have been there by chance. He thought, “there must have been a God who put them there.” And then as he was pondering that, he meditated on his own behavior and his own heart, and he thought, “If there’s a God who can create like that, he must be good. And I’m not good.” He claimed that he asked God, “If you’re out there, reveal yourself to me and tell me how to know you. I know that I need to get right with you.”
Several years go by and this gentleman gets the opportunity to come to America to get an advanced degree. When he’s walking the streets of New York, someone gives him a gospel tract. He read it and thought, “This was the God that I prayed to.” We are in the realm of going back to an experience based belief. He started going to church to investigate, but the thing is that in the story he tells he first looked at creation and found out about Christ years later. That’s the very reason so many Christians are burdened with missionary work. They go to places where there’s no indoor plumbing, electricity, clean water, and live among people so they can share that news. So, I think God has always sent missionaries.
Is it possible for a person to never have an encounter with a missionary or to have had a “religious” experience?
I think everyone knows that they’ve been guilty one time or another. I think someone once said, maybe a comedian, that they could go into any crowd and tell you something that’s true of every person in that crowd, “You have a problem with your self esteem.” The point he was making is that every one of us has a low self-esteem, has something that we think of as bad about ourselves, perhaps compensating for in other areas. All of us have things that prompt us to feel guilt. So, I think any one of us could call out to God. How God would respond I leave in God’s hands.
I get asked a lot, “Am I going to go to hell because I don’t believe in Jesus Christ?” And that’s not why we’re going to go to hell. We’re going to go to hell because we broke the law. We’re guilty; we’ve sinned. And we’re truthfully oblivious to how often we’ve sinned. People say, “God knows my heart; I’ll trust in that.” But God knows our hearts and says, “If we look at a woman with lust, we’ve committed adultery. ” If we’re angry with someone, we’ve committed murder. He does look at our hearts. He judges our motives and not just our actions. And that’s even worse. Would you want the last twenty-four hours of your thought life projected onto national TV for your family and friends to see? I wouldn’t want that.
We know what goes on inside our minds. You would want your thoughts projected?
I wouldn’t object.
If it was edited?
The best of. Otherwise people would think, “Little too much about talking houses in this. We get it.”
Let’s say you’ve got a talking house helping people woo one another like Cyrano de Bergerac. Cyrano de Townhouse. Ha ha! But, anyway, on your site you talk about how Paul saw his past sins as an opportunity to do glory to God, so I imagine a similar state of affairs could emerge with the twenty-four hour broadcast of one’s thoughts.
(laughs) Yeah. I guess the more I see my own sins, the more I’m amazed that God would have anything to do with me because I definitely don’t deserve it. It humbles me if anything.
What happens if someone doesn’t believe the Bible is evidence for the existence of God?
Earlier you mentioned someone claimed to be a Christian but didn’t believe everything that Christianity held to. I think this would be the case you’re describing. There are a lot of people who are Christian in name only. Maybe they believe some of the premises, believe in the morals, and if you want to get political, there are plenty of people who think we should live in a Christian nation. But when was it ever that? We might be founded on Christian values, but it was never a Christian nation. So, there are plenty of people who look at Christianity for morals. I think there are cases like that.
If we look at a missionary, though, he or she can be someone that’s just telling a story as opposed to someone who’s telling a story with a capital “S”–a story that is the truth. So, one could read the Bible, for example, but not, “Hear the good news.” What happens in these situations where someone just sees religion as some stories people made up and how does this compare to an islander that has never had a direct experience with Christianity?
You mean what will happen after they die?
Perhaps, but more so I’m interested in why it is that such people are not convinced by the Christian message. They listen but can’t hear it, if that distinction’s useful.
Ultimately, when we look at this area, there is a notion that it’s God who will open hearts to understand. Some people might say, “People can’t believe unless God reveals it to them.” Some people will make that statement and say, “You can’t believe in God without God revealing himself.” And then the argument becomes an issue of God doing the work so someone would believe. If God is doing something, he works through a person, so when we talk about this issue it’s ultimately God who does something within a person so they can believe in him. It’s God who does it. But he doesn’t do it apart from us either. It’s not like he’s saving us against our will or something.
The best I can say is that I can’t comprehend. I’m not trying to take the easy way out. I’m saying there are things of God that we can’t comprehend, which we would expect. If you look at everything we’re trying to do; we’re trying to understand the universe, but we’re just reaching the surface. We look at the universe and study as far out as we can and are amazed by it, and we can go as small as possible and look at a cell. We can go deeper and deeper there as well. Atoms, sub-atomic particles, quarks, it’s just amazing. If a God exists that created all that, he’s greater than all that. So, I would say God does things that we cannot comprehend. There is some mystery that I can’t comprehend when it comes to the question of why one person and not another.
I see what you mean. It makes me think of Alexander Pope and St. Augustine. I think it was Augustine who believed that Grace was up to God and not up to people, so it’s like one of those team building exercises where you fall back and trust Bob from human resources to catch you, except it’s God from accounting you put your faith in. And Pope because he said we only see part of the plan and not the whole and, as a result, our evaluations are at best guesses and, at worst, misrepresentations. But this makes me wonder, then, is the person responsible if they only listen to the message but not hear it?
They are responsible. We are responsible for our actions. We’ll give an account to God. Some argue that we’re off the hook because it’s all on God, but that’s not really true. We’re not off the hook. No one made us break God’s law.
I think we can look at why people do what they do and the historical and social processes in which their action is but a node. We can blame or praise people, but I think we’d be doing a disservice to the social and historical processes that lead to the action in question if we were to stop there. My concern is: if there are so many elements that constitute any given event, how do we justify pinning the blame on any one individual, especially if more than one individual is necessary for there to be an individual at all.
We make choices, we make decisions, we have moral agency, and we can choose whether we obey or disobey. That’s a choice we make.
The Bible might, for example, say that killing is wrong, but what do we say if we’re in a situation where it seems like we have little choice but to kill or if all our choices are “wrong”?
We can have a scenario where I’m a father with the responsibility to protect my family and then I encounter someone who might be intending to kill my family.
Right, so if we’re in a situation where everything we do is “wrong”, what does that mean for our level of sinfulness?
When it comes to ethics, I’m what’s called a non-conforming absolutist. That means I believe there’s always a right way to solve a problem without violating God’s law, though the right way may be hard to find. It might not be evident. In what’s called situational ethics, the classic example is someone breaks into your home and asks, “Is your family upstairs?” If I answer, “yes,” he’ll kill them and if I say, “No,” I’m lying. I would say I don’t even have to answer his question and there’s nothing wrong with that. He asks me the question and there’s nothing that compels me or makes me obligated to answer. He asks me that question and I can ask him, “Why do you want to know?” or, “What are you doing here?” Or I can tell him it’s none of his business.
It seems to me like if someone’s so determined that they break into your home, that they’re not going to say, “I’m here to kill your family! Are they here?” I think he’d be a little more imposing of a figure. I don’t think he’d say, “My bad. It really isn’t any of my business. I should go.”
There’s some story I heard about a guy who jumped into the car of an eighty-year-old woman. He demanded she give him all her money. She asked him, “What do you need it for, young man?” She got into the issues in his life, he broke down crying, and then she started sharing with him what Jesus Christ had done for her. He ended up apologizing for trying to rob her, and she gave him all the money she had in her wallet. She took the conversation a completely different way.
I knew of someone who had their house broken into and offered the guy coffee. They just said, “I’m putting on some coffee. Do you want some? We’ll sit down and have a cup of coffee.” The guy didn’t expect that! Now, are they still taking responsibility for their own actions? Yes! But they found a way to deal with it that avoided all the conflict. They defused the issue.
In both those cases, the people who found themselves in these situations reacted unexpectedly. But if one found themselves in such a situation but didn’t know how to do what these people did, can they still be held responsible for not doing what they don’t know how to do?
I think every person is responsible for their own actions. I don’t know of someone who’s incapable. We might make excuses because people don’t have the ability to understand things, but people tend to have more of a capability then we may think.
I see what you mean. What I’m thinking is– I think in the Harry Potter series there’s a game called Quidditch or something. I’m not sure.
You don’t know because you haven’t read the books?
I haven’t read the books and I haven’t seen the movies. I only know because I’ve heard about it on TV shows and there was a headline somewhere that said, “World Criditch Champions.”
So, if someone were to ask me how to play this game, I’d be unable to answer them.
Ok. I would disagree with you because you can. Your answer would be, “I don’t know,” which is perfectly reasonable, is it not?
I would say so, but what if they got angry at me? Are they justified in their anger?
No. Why are they getting angry? Are they angry because you’re violating their sense of justice somehow, you know what I mean? You’d have to ask the question of, “What are they getting angry over?” But, ultimately, they’re still responsible for their own actions.
So, this person, then, would be unjustified in their anger at the fact that I don’t know this detail about the Harry Potter series?
I’m not sure I understand the question’s going. I’m just not sure. I guess I’ve answered it that the person would be responsible for their actions.
You mean the person who got angry?
Both. The person who got angry is responsible for their anger and the person who doesn’t know is responsible for saying he doesn’t know, but the responsibility would be different there. Because his response will be, “I have no idea.”
So, in this particular instance, it seems like it would be unjustified anger if one were angry at someone for not knowing about Quidditch.
I guess. The question would be is it something they should know. Now, obviously, Harry Potter, okay, but if it’s something they have a responsibility to know or have an innate knowledge of.
Let’s go to another example. In the Nuremberg trials, the German leaders said they weren’t guilty because they were just doing what the law said was legal. The argument that was made was that they have an innate knowledge that murder is wrong regardless of what the law says. This goes back to the issue of absolute morality. The Germans appealed to what’s called situational or societal morality, and that was thrown out the window. The prosecutors said, “Sorry, you have an innate knowledge that what you were doing is wrong.” Otherwise, you wouldn’t have been able to find them guilty. If our morality evolves, then they didn’t do anything wrong because what’s wrong today could be right tomorrow.
In that case, do people think murder is wrong because it’s innate or because people generally don’t want to be murdered and don’t want other people to be murdered either.
I would say God wrote those laws into our hearts. If it’s consensus, you can’t say that what the Nazis did was wrong because what consensus told the Nazis was that it was right. And that that 11 million Jews, Gypsies, and mentally handicapped people said, “No,” doesn’t matter because might makes right. And if you think they were wrong because those people disagreed you’re in a very difficult situation. How do you get any ethics? Just look at politics. Everyone’s saying that everyone else is wrong. If you don’t have absolute morality, who gets to decide? If you say whoever’s in power, then you can’t say that what the German’s think was wrong.
Why do you think someone would not believe in Christianity? What’s holding them back from accepting what would otherwise be only a good deal for them?
That’s a good question. What would cause someone to not believe? As a creature, we are extremely prideful and controlling. We want to control everything, and I think that’s where the rub is. We want to believe that we’re in control.
If one were to give up one’s presuppositions, how would one be able to find one’s way back to them? If, for example, the atheist says that they will give up their belief that there is no God and the theist gives up their belief that there is a God, can they work their way back to their presuppositions? If one of them is right, it seems to me like they should be able to make their way back to their starting point.
I’m not sure I agree with the initial premise. It’s not a question of somehow giving up something that’s a blind faith such that if I examine the evidence I will come to a different conclusion. That’s how I’d answer that. I’m curious, what’s your position on some of the things we discussed? Where do you stand?
To read my answer, click here: