Tom Gilson

Why I Support the (Atheist) Clergy Project

What does a priest or pastor do when he loses his faith? That happens, certainly, and it puts the minister in a very tough position. He or she as an identity, a position in the community, and a livelihood based on belief in Christ. There’s a lot at stake. It might be easier just to hang in there and pretend. That’s why I support the atheist Clergy Project.

There’s a church I knew of that had a history of strong Christianity. They brought in a new pastor, and as the Sundays and the sermons went by, questions arose over what he really believed. Some members left the church. Others had long talks with him. He adjusted his message to accommodate their requests. More members left; others stayed because “this is still my church,” even as it shrank by half.

I still don’t know what this pastor really believed, but from a distance at least, it appeared he was pretending. The story is a microcosm of what’s happened in American Christianity over the past several decades. Where leaders boldly and confidently teach the message of Jesus Christ, churches tend to thrive. Where they don’t, churches wither.

And that’s why I support the Clergy Project, an anonymous online community for pastors who no longer believe. Greta Christina, writing at AlterNet, thinks it could be religion’s greatest threat. It’s very small at this point: just 77 members, with 86 “awaiting interviews,” but as it gathers steam (if it does), it could provide the support an unbelieving clergy member needs to finally walk away from the church. And then what? “If clergy members start publicly abandoning religion,” Christina predicts, “the whole house of cards could collapse.”

I say that where religion is a house of cards, collapsing is the best thing for it.

I won’t try to speak for the rest of the world, but Christianity in the United States is afflicted with double-mindedness. It’s sending mixed messages—very mixed, tragically. I church I once visited announces on its website that it “values theological diversity.” A member said to me after the service, “Oh! You’ve got to meet so-and-so! He’s the other believer who attends here!”

This church had the word “Christian” in its name. I can only imagine how confusing that kind of thIng would be for  the man or woman walking in naively off the street. There’s no way a church like that could be a strengthening community for its two believers.

There are other mixed messages in Christianity besides rank unbelief—the prosperity gospel, for one. The Clergy Project couldn’t clear out all of it, but to remove some of it would be salutary. Some churches would close, some denominations would wilt further away—but those that remained would be much more identifiably Christian—and less confusing to all.

Clergy Project? Bring it on!

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66 thoughts on “Why I Support the (Atheist) Clergy Project

  1. So is the Clergy Project a brewing counter-Christian community?

    It sounds like when the interviews start coming out that these will be used to challenge the Christian faith to not be so exclusivistic.

    Testimony is a powerfully persuasive tool in our relativistic culture because of their essentially subjective nature.

    Isn’t it great that the Christian’s subjective experience is tied to the objective reality of the resurrected Jesus?

    We need something more that purely subjective experience to stand.

  2. Lawrence Hunter shares this experience. A former associate minister in the Black Pentecostal denomination Church of God in Christ, he says that a bad marriage “allowed me to see how life really was instead of the fairy tale versions that are espoused every Sunday… questions about good and evil, the Bible, marriage, suffering, tithes, church corruption and hell filled my mind. I realized that I needed to expand my understanding.”

    He adds that the failures of religion to meet basic human needs — and the failures of church leaders to live up to the moral standards they demanded of their flock — contributed to his questioning. “As a preacher,” he says, “I could see that prayers weren’t healing people, despite preaching on wealth the only people getting rich were the pastor. I could see that many, many people were mentally disturbed and a host of problems. Not to mention the scandals and adultery. This caused me to look deeper and really find out the true essence of my faith and why the holy spirit wasn’t active like it supposedly was back in the Bible days. The rest is history.”

    What is sad here, is that he had a choice to decide whether he completely misunderstood Christianity and was a false teacher, or that Christianity is false. By becoming an atheist, he actually chose the easier path. It’s much easier to say “everyone is wrong” than “I was wrong”.

    This charismatic prosperity gospel is a cancer.

  3. Well said, Tom.

    People should not feel forced to believe something just to make other people happy or fulfill a perceived obligation.

    One of the big weaknesses in the business model that I see so many churches function in is that the pastor is the center of it all – if he goes down, the church goes down along with him. I run sound for a local church, and I saw it happen there a few years ago – the pastor re-engaged in his alcoholism, was caught in infidelity, and it broke the church apart. 2/3rds left when he did.

    It doesn’t seem like it should be like that – it seems like what people believe should hold them together better than that. If all the power is centralized into one person, though, I guess that’s the consequence. I know that if our current (main) pastor fell, the church would be done…. and that would be a shame. There is rarely grace or forgiveness when a pastor sins…

    In my “seeker” days I visited a church that did the “slaying in the spirit”, the laughter thing, the “name it and claim it”, the prosperity doctrine… it sickened me. It’s too easy for me to look at that and see human desires, human greed. Where is the transcendence, the higher cause, the higher potential, the humility, the service, the things that the Bible credits Jesus and Paul with teaching?

    Anyways. It is what it is, I suppose. The victory for atheism is the ability for those who can’t believe to have the courage to leave their faith.

  4. You make good points Sault. One thing to remember though that one way or another God brings His message through people. People are flawed and that’s a problem.

    As far as “the higher cause, the higher potential, the humility, the service…” they’re out there. They aren’t everywhere but there are many, many chruches that teach and practice just what you suggest they should. (Perhaps I can find one in your area for you!)

  5. @ SteveK

    I was all excited until you added the “mostly” at the end. Ah, well, I’ll take it.

    @ BillT

    Thank you kindly, but I should have been more specific. The people that I do sound for (I hesitate before saying “the church that I go to,” since I’m not Christian and all) are some of the nicest and most loving people I have ever met. There is no trace of the prosperity doctrine and that nonsense. I love them, they love me, and we’re happy to be in each others’ lives.

    And I get to run sound. I even play on the worship team every now and then (will be playing in two weeks, come to think of it). We get along pretty well. As I said – great people.

  6. Sault,
    My only disagreement was with your ending (The victory for atheism …), but let’s not dwell on that.

    Do your fellow church members know you are an atheist?

  7. I think there needs to be an effort made on our part to offer support to clergy (maybe called “The Real Clergy Project”)who have doubts or who are having trouble with their ministry- a place where questions can be answered, encouragement offered, and problems diagnosed. If they have a choice between our support and the Clergy Project, and they choose the Clergy Project, then we know those people were really not supposed to be in the ministry.

  8. You raise a very good point. The atheists fatal assumption is that Christianity is untrue. If that is the case it won’t endure, and that would be a good thing. However if it is true, there is, in fact, nothing that can ultimately stop it, nor kill it. I have heard testimonies of atheists who were formerly Christians, and the type of beliefs and teachings they had the Church was better off without. It’s as scripture says “They went out from us to show that they were not of us.”

  9. If that is the case it won’t endure, and that would be a good thing.

    that’s true, and you can see evidence of that in the past half century. Now, it’s also true that the imminent demise of Christianity was predicted by many 18th and 19th century thinkers, but the main mistake the made was that, although they were right in thinking people sufficiently informed of the advances of knowledge since the discoveries of Galileo would grow more and more atheistic, they didn’t take into account the fact that only a small percentage of the population could actually gain access to that information, and that’s why for a long time non-belief has been largely confined to academia; until the explosion of information technology in the late XX c., and especially the advent of the Internet, that is. I think those who say that for the past 15-20 (or more) years the church has been facing something it never faced before, namely the ready availability of information, which nowadays can be accessed by anyone from anywhere really, are right, and it’s no accident that, based on research done by the church itself, Christianity would be all but completely marginalized in a generation or so.

    Here’s what they found: between% 60 and 70% of Baby Boomers profess to be “Bible-believing” (which apparently is the present day word for “biblical innerantist”, i.e. fundy) Christians. However, that percentage drops to about 20-30% among the so called Generation X, and to something like 8%(eight!) among the “Millennial” generation(those who are between the age of 20 and 30). True, I haven’t seen those studies myself, but I’ve heard Daniel Dennett mention them, and more recently William Craig talks about them in one of his podcasts:
    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/important-international-influences (around 3rd min.)

  10. AOR,
    None of that easily-accessible information requires a loss of faith. The conclusion: “therefore, atheism” doesn’t follow from any of this factual information of recent history.

    You’re not entirely wrong about information being to blame though – at least in part. Today’s easily-accessible false information and distorted information has helped to contribute to the rise in atheism.

  11. …that’s true, and you can see evidence of that in the past half century.”

    Actually, there is little evidence of that. Despite the loud noises coming from the atheist crowd, atheism remains at about 4% as it has for decades.

    And of course the other statistics mentioned don’t take into account the hundreds of millions of new Christians in Africa, China, India and in other places around the world.

  12. @ BJ Lee re: Comment #1…

    I’m a little confused about your use of the phrase “objective reality of the resurrected Jesus”—and that may be a lack of understanding on my part with regard to the distinction you’re making between objective/subjective.

    But as I understand it, if Jesus’ resurrection were an objective fact… then it wouldn’t be an article of faith. Gravity itself (although a theory) is objectively a fact & not a point disputed by some who claim to be under its force & others who claim not to. In part this is because gravity is experienced in a sensory way that different people can agree upon without hinging on subjective opinions.

    Yet from the outset there have been those who claim that Jesus’ is resurrected & those who insist that he is still very much dead. As I understand historical Christianity, the affirmation & recitation of the Creeds has been an effort to say “these are the articles of faith that we take as True.” But it is not an attempt to say “these are the facts, plain for all to see.”

    Perhaps you or another commenter can explain to me better the way in which Jesus’ resurrection is objectively factual for us as 21st-century Americans? The biblical witness (which seems to be the only source of claims for objective bodily resurrection as opposed to simply reporting the facts of an empty tomb, etc.) is clearly tinged with opinion throughout & discrepancies that seem to count as subjective to me. And my understanding is that the Bible is the only Indeed the entire project of Christendom seems to be a staggering coordination of the subjective experiences of millions—coordination of these varied, discrepancy-riddled, subjective testimonies into something whose common rhythm pushes forward with the insistence that Christ is risen from the dead. And it is this in which Christians profess faith.

    To be clear, I don’t think subjective = false. And in fact I think subjective experience is entirely what faith is based upon. It lives in the hope of an objective Truth, but articulates that hope based on subjective claims.

    Could you or others say more about the objective/subjective distinction where claims like the Resurrection are concerned? It seem to me that the Clergy Project is predicated largely on a collapse of worldviews that were rooted in objective assumptions that were later found to be wanting.

    Perhaps this is the sort of ironic truth that Christ points toward over & over–that the Way to a living faith treks through uncertainty & impossibility, resting not on objective facts, but rather in the coordinated, subjective testimonies of many pilgrims.

  13. BACH,

    I’m not quite sure I understand your question, but reading between the lines, this is what I think you’re saying. Please correct me if I’m wrong. I think it’s one of these:

    1. If something is really true, it cannot be an article of faith, or
    2. If something is really known to be true by just about everybody, it cannot be an article of faith.
    3. If something is really known to be true by some people, for those who know it is true it cannot be an article of faith.

    Is it one of those, or something else?

    I wouldn’t want to try to answer your question here until I understand better what it is that you’re asking. Thanks.

  14. @ AOR, etc

    Acquisition of knowledge does not preclude faith, and neither does rational thinking. If that were the case, then there would be no theistic scientists, and in the age of Google there would hardly be any Christians left. There are, though, so while I appreciate the sentiment, it is simply not true.

    @ SteveK

    I mentioned the victory of atheism earlier… what I meant by that is not so much a “we win, ha ha ha” but a “we’re finally beginning to be recognized as a legitimate alternative to faith.”

    Recognizing that… yeah, that’s a victory.

    I think that pastors are in a somewhat unique position – they are exposed to the heartbreak and the loss and the tragedy that happens when prayers aren’t answered, when that supernatural intervention does not take place. I think that it takes a peculiar kind of strength to accept the tragic and heart-breaking aspects of faith along with the joyous and peaceful ones, too, and some people aren’t cut out for it.

    Right now “my” congregation is going through a struggle. One of our members has stage 4 cancer. She’s wonderful, creative, loving, and a passionate believer. She’s a fighter, and won’t go down without putting up a struggle. We all want her to recover, because we will ache in her absence. But after the prayers and the pouring out of our hearts… His will be done, right? And if she does die… how do you accept the suffering and death of the good people of the world?

    It is the problem not of evil, but the problem of suffering, if you will. A pastor must deal with that even more than your average believer, and they must wrestle with it, I believe, even more fiercely.

    Perhaps the benefit of this project is not culling the weak, but recognizing and validating their struggle, and finding ways to counsel them, support them, and maybe even save them.

  15. Sault:

    … how do you accept the suffering and death of the good people of the world?

    How do YOU accept the suffering and death (by deicide) of Christ? I’ve noted this a number times here, Sault: You ask where is God in the midst of suffering? He’s right there on the Cross suffering with us. Any other god would be no god at all…

    By the way, suffering can be redemptive. Whether you accept that or not is another issue…

  16. Sault, I agree that is a huge burden for a leader of a group to bear. For Christians, however, there is hope in eternal life having fellowship with God. Pastors can offer that hope and comfort to loved ones, but for those who reject Christ there truly is no hope.

    “How do you accept the suffering and death of the good people of the world?” That is a good question. We all know that it is more than likely we all will experience death. “And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

    I don’t think it should come as a surprise that we will experience death and troubles. God doesn’t guarantee us a life free from suffering in this present world, but in the next life we can have that if we just accept God’s gift of salvation. You’ve probably heard this before since it seems like you’re in church, but the latter part of the first verse mentions a time will come where in the next life unbelievers are judged according to their sins. It’s a day of reckoning, and for those who have not accepted God’s free gift, they will serve the consequence of rejecting a Holy God-they won’t be able to take part in God’s goodness and bask in His love. The way to salvation is simple- realize that humans are naturally sinful and acknowledge that Jesus paid the price with His life and that He took our sins upon Himself so that when God looks at those who have accepted His free gift, God sees that we are holy, too. So, what if? What if Christianity is true?

    Back to the OP, people, especially pastors, must have a place to go for Christian support. Although Bart Ehrman was not a minister (at least I don’t think he was), I couldn’t help but thinking that Bart may have kept his faith had he found the answers to his questions. I thought of this when he made this reply to Dinesh D’Souza in a debate on the Problem of Evil after D’Souza explained how God could allow evil. “I wish my students would have been as smart as you.” Why would Ehrman say that? Because those answers made sense and he would not have left his faith? How many other pastors have the same questions? So we should have our own Christian support group before being content to watch clergy seek worldly advice.

  17. @ Holo

    While my comment was rhetorical, sure, I’ll answer.

    Let’s see.

    Being crucified must be a horrible way to die… but Jesus is only one of many gods who were crucified – Horus and Dionysius come to mind, for instance. He didn’t even have the worst of it – Odin stabbed himself with a spear and hung from Yggdrasil for 9 days!

    How much did Jesus suffer? A pretty fair amount…. but there are many who have suffered worse. What about one of the tens of thousands of children who are born into such abject poverty that they die of starvation? A short life bereft of hope yet full of misery. It is one thing to die in your early 30’s, it is another to die so young. Or how about cancer patients, when the medication stops working? Or how about someone ensnared in sexual slavery?

    So what do I think of Jesus’ suffering? Finite. Limited. In a broader context, not all that remarkable or significant.

    Can suffering be redemptive? Of course it can. Pain instructs…. sometimes, at least. I guess it depends on what you mean by “redemptive”. Sometimes it doesn’t mean anything.

    …He’s right there on the Cross suffering with us….

    Ummm…. no, he’s not. He suffered for three days, died (kind’ve), then came back to life a few days later. I suppose you meant it in the metaphorical sense?

    I don’t think much of the problem of suffering (or evil), because that would require some sort of belief in God/god/gods. I have seen no reasonable evidence of the supernatural, so its sort of hard to make the jump to God/god/gods.

    It must be difficult for someone who does believe in an omnipotent, loving God to see those they love suffer. In many ways I have a lot of sympathy for pastors. I sure couldn’t do it.

  18. @ Grace


    …for those who reject Christ there truly is no hope….

    …a time will come where in the next life unbelievers are judged according to their sins….

    …You’ve probably heard this before since it seems like you’re in church…

    Yeah, nothing new. Grew up in the Mormon church, dad was a bishop, researched my way out of the faith by my second decade. Had to deal with the LDS theological double-bind – turns out that the only people who actually go to hell (“Outer Darkness”) in Mormon theology are those that deny the faith. Nah, I’ve been told I’m going to hell for the better part of my life – after a while it’s just another stick-and-carrot routine.

    Now, what’s really fascinating to me is how the belief in Hell has evolved over the last two thousand years… but that certainly brings us off-thread. A discussion for another time, perhaps.

  19. Sault-I don’t think it’s an evolution of the idea of Hell, but interpretation of the Scriptures, which would be similar to the old earth, young earth debate. But yes, that should be reserved for another time for discussion.

  20. I hear what you’re saying, Sault, but might express it slightly differently: “Who pastors the pastor?”, or perhaps “It’s lonely at the top”.

    Putting a Christian spin on it, I don’t see it as the problem of “unanswered prayer” or “suffering”, but that Christianity is a struggle; indeed, the Scriptures frequently suggest that this is normal. Members of the congregation have peers and pastor to support them through this, but who is peer and pastor to the pastor? The pastor may end up struggling alone.

    Worse, in many mainline churches the top of the church hierarchy has abandoned biblical Christianity in favour of a progressive social agenda, so a pastor seeking help his superiors is not encouraged to renew focus, but instead told that it doesn’t really matter but that’s OK.

    Perhaps the benefit of this project is not culling the weak, but recognizing and validating their struggle, and finding ways to counsel them, support them, and maybe even save them.

    I agree that culling / condemning the weak is the wrong attitude, and that doubts / questions / struggles need to be faced rather than dismissed. And yet when a man is struggling to persevere through a marathon, there is a world of difference between encouraging him to press on and encouraging to stop struggling and relax. I’d hope the church can figure out how do the former better.

  21. Sault:

    Much of your response grasps at straws, but in particular the comparison of Christ with Horus and Dionysius as well as Odin is ridiculous on its face… and something as petty as you conveniently leaving out the question “why did he/they undergo crucifixion/suffering?” might have given you some pause. I did not expect such a superficial approach from you.

    You’re NOT being honest in your “search” Sault… and I’m NOT saying that because you’ve left Christianity. You’re looking for something that satisfies YOUR personal, self-serving judgment of what God should be: He’s in the dock because you’ve tried to put Him there, and when he doesn’t match YOUR Grand Inquisition, well then, He’s not up to snuff, is He? Take a lesson from Job: you resemble his “friends” much more than you seek the God who is no tame lion and bows to know creaturely judgments.

  22. @Sault:

    Anticipated apologies for being little more than an echo of Holopupenko, but I think some of the points he makes are so important that repeating them is useful, nay, essential.

    I am just going to address your comments on suffering, as the comparisons between Jesus Christ and Odin are just too ridiculous for words. Warning: long post ahead.

    He suffered for three days, died (kind’ve), then came back to life a few days later. I suppose you meant it in the metaphorical sense?

    First, He really died. Second, no it is not just a metaphor. In Philippians 2:7, St. Paul uses a Greek word, kenosis, which in the context, means that Jesus Christ emptyed himself out of the divine afflatus and assumed a full human nature. This is the doctrine of the Incarnation and is central to Christianity. In short, He really was one of us, He *is* one of us.

    It must be difficult for someone who does believe in an omnipotent, loving God to see those they love suffer. In many ways I have a lot of sympathy for pastors. I sure couldn’t do it.

    First, you discount the problem of evil then you restate it in the form, paraphrasing, how can an omnipotent God allow all this suffering. One answer has already been given, actually *The* answer: the doctrine of the Incarnation. Whatever suffering there is, He communes with it (in senses that need to be made precise, but for now this gloss will suffice). But let us get out of the field of revealed doctrine and into what our reason can accomplish on its own. Based on past posts, your thinking seems to be something like this: if *you* were omnipotent *you* would stop all the suffering in the world. So even if God existed, *your* intentions and feelings are better than His, so either He does not exist, or even if He does, either He is not omnipotent or He does not give a whit about human suffering, in which case worshiping him is futile.

    Let me start at the end. A pagan’s relation with his god or gods, was one of propitiation or of placating his fury, and thus we can meaningfully say that worshiping such gods was useful or useless. But that is not how Christianity views worshiping. Probably you will object by giving the example of the carrot of heaven and the stick of hell. I readily admit that that is how some Christians view their relationship with God, just as the pagans did. But they are just wrong.

    But on to your formulation of the PoE. Roughly, you are asking why has not God made this world a better world, where better is judged according to a variety of factors like the amount of suffering, the amount of death, etc. But this idea, while superficially simple and cogent, is on a closer analysis simply *incoherent*. Here are a few reasons:

    1. You are judging better or worse according not only to subjective criteria, but through your own limited perspective — localized in space-time, bounded by your finite, incomplete, partial knowledge, etc. Who’s to say what an omnipotent being will do or would do in any given situation? It is simply impossible to answer. Earlier you conceded that suffering can have its redemptive aspects, so it stands to reason that from some evil, good may be drawn out.

    I am *not* saying that God allows these evils (suffering, disease, death, etc.) just so He can draw out good from it, because that would make of people mere instruments in His hands, a means to an end. God is omnipotent, He does not need anything or anyone to achieve His ends. So what am I saying?

  23. @Sault (continued:)

    2. The first problem with your formulation is that you are smuggling an ought in there. You are saying that God *ought* to make this world a better world and yet He (were He to exist) fails to do so. In other words, you are charging God (were He to exist) to be *morally* deficient. But by what standards are you judging Him? By human moral standards. But why should we presume that God ought to follow human moral standards? Human morality is *objective*, given what human nature is, that is, what is morally good follows from our essence qua human beings. But God is *not* a human being; God is *not* even *a* being, but rather Being Itself, ipsum esse subsistens. His essence is indistinct from His existence so what can it mean to say that this or that action, doing this or that, is good for Him? What standard of behavior is the source and fountain of all being supposed to conform to? He freely sustains the world in being, and in doing so he establishes the conditions which enable us to make moral judgments in the first place, but what ought is there that could bind Him or what standard to evaluate His actions?

    Yet another way to look at this: the creative act of God was an act of Free Will so it was possible that there was no creaturely order at all. But in that situation, what does it mean to say that God ought to do this or that given that there is naught besides Him? Given that evil is a privation and parasitical on being, there would be no evil if there were no creaturely order to begin with. But then, what sense is there to say that He should do this or that towards the creaturely order that He not only brought into, but sustains in being by His freely willed creative fiat?

    3. The second problem is Leibniz’s idea of best possible worlds. One way to understand this is to note that the gift of being is an incommensurate good because its contrary is to not be, that is, it is nothing. Thus presumably, this world with an extra being on it is a better world than the actual world, but then it makes no sense to excoriate God for not making this world a better world, because given any possible world there is always a possible better one. Now suppose said being is a human, but now dying of a horrible disease. Name him after your worst enemy and laugh the evil maniac laugh. Is this world better or worse than the preceding example of a possible world or than the actual world? This question once again does not make much sense, because the evil itself, the horrible disease, *presupposes* an incommensurate good, that of being.

    Since to not be is well, is *nothing*, what comparison can be drawn between being and not being? *None* at all. Is being freely given? Yes. Insofar as God is the source of all creaturely goodness, and all creaturely goodness is a free gift from Him, it can be said that God is freely giving *you* all good things (as the epistle of James 1:17 so aptly puts it). Is not the usual reaction to free gifts one of thanks and praise? Yes. Does God stand in a direct causal relationship to our sufferings? No. Why? Because suffering is an imperfection and imperfection is not a something, like trees, rocks, and people are. Imperfection in a thing such as a human being is the gap between what is and what should or could be given the essence of the thing; it is not a something with attributes that God makes or to which He stands in a direct causal relationship.

    4. *All* formulations of the PoE ultimately rely on these two incoherent ideas: that God is just another member of a moral community sharing moral obligations, and as a consequence, that He ought to make this a better world than it is. You could try to argue along the lines that God, as creator, bears a responsibility for His creations, in much the same way as a father bears a responsibility towards his children. But this hinges on an equivocal comparison between God and us as His creation and human fathers and their children, a comparison that fails for the reasons already stated. Maybe you could try instead to argue that because evil suffered seems to happen randomly, with no rhyme or reason that we can discern, God is either not omnipotent or not all-loving. Even if we buy the “no rhyme or reason” line (which I do not, but let that pass), once again, this is just a different way of saying that God should have created a better world than the actual world or that somehow He owes us the best of all possible worlds, or ought to have given each and everyone of us the best of all possible worlds. But this is incoherent. Or maybe insofar as He has allowed certain privations or did not brought into being certain goods for certain people, He is morally defective. But once again, this is just the same old two incoherent ideas in a different guise.

    5. In fact, since what is good for us is dictated by our natures and He freely willed our natures into being, it can be said that He positively wills that we pursue the good, so He *cannot* be indifferent to our plight since He wills some definite, higher goods for us instead of other, lesser goods (say, the selfish goods pursued by the morally indifferent persons). And as the ultimate source of morality itself, it is hardly coherent to say that He is indifferent to our plight, for not only He enables the very conditions for us to pursue the good (e.g. invent that new medicine to bring some measure of relief to the suffering of cancer patients), He positively entreats us to pursue the good in that He freely created a world where it is indeed good for us to pursue just such goods and not other, different goods, such as the already mentioned selfish goods pursued by persons indifferent to the plight of others.

    6. What I have said is from the point of natural theology, that is, what human intellect, unaided by the light of revelation, can reason to. But there is not much more that reason unaided can say (although I will be glad if someone can prove me otherwise). The answer, *The* ultimate answer is the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

  24. Tom, thanks for asking follow-ups. Admittedly I’m still trying to puzzle through my own question!

    I don’t think I’m trying to exactly say any of those three things. But rather… that an article of faith (while it may contain experiential knowledge or second-hand witness) does not rest on objectivity. If people dispute the claim of Jesus’ Resurrection & one cannot offer objective evidence, then the claim of Resurrection cannot be an objective fact. It must be taken as an article of faith.
    (And I am suggesting here that the evidence of said claim for anyone living today is entirely subjective, second-hand, non-empirical, laden with opinion/agenda, etc.)

    The bind there of course is that while I feel more comfortable in what “subjective” means, I’m not sure what “objective” means in this arena. As I understand it, the terms don’t have clearly defined domains within philosophy, theology, etc.

    My biggest confusion seems to be the degree of overlap between “objective” and “empirical”. In the Synoptics, the claim of resurrection is second-hand knowledge from the outset. John’s Gospel is the only portrayal of the claim of resurrection being received objectively/empirically (?) — and of course that’s immediately translated into the sort of second-hand witness to which people have for centuries been asked to either offer assent or dismissal.

    If I claim the Resurrection personally, I do so based on my personal experience & based on second-hand testimonies that I have found to be credible. But that doesn’t mean I believe they are objective.

    Does that clarify where I’m coming from or have I just chucked another mugful of silt into the stream? 😉 Thanks for engaging.
    I think these questions are relevant to the Clergy Project because it seems that many Christians find the subjective reality of faith to be erosive to objective certainty.

  25. P.S. – a clarification… I meant to say that John’s Gospel is the only one of the four to portray the INITIAL claim of resurrection as an objective/empirical one.

  26. Good discussion, Bach, but I’m still stuck on this:

    If people dispute the claim of Jesus’ Resurrection & one cannot offer objective evidence, then the claim of Resurrection cannot be an objective fact. It must be taken as an article of faith.

    Are you saying that something must be knowable as an objective fact in order to be an objective fact? That’s what it sounds like from here.

    Thanks.

  27. @Bach
    Good questions. You might find this
    series very helpful. It’s a long series, so be prepared to read alot, and there are a number of good reference links to follow up with as well (like this one).

  28. @Bach
    Do you think that historical evidence can be considered empirical and objective, or are you applying the criteria of modern empirical science (where both observation and controlled experiment are used) as a standard to the historical sciences?

  29. Sault:

    You know, there’s something else that’s strange about your responses.

    You keep on criticizing Christian faith because God doesn’t live up to YOUR expectations, and yet…

    … what about YOUR sins… including the selfishness of trying to force God to be your god or get lost?

    When asked why he entered the Church, G.K. Chesterton, replied: “To get rid of my sins.” You may want to give that some thought.

    If you think God is supposed to jump through your hoops or if you think churches are supposed to be dispensers of social justice, then as harsh as this may sound, neither the Christian faith nor God have any need of that.

    Christ is NOT promising you a bed of non-suffering roses. In fact, He’s hoping you move toward and embrace the instrument of torture He took up for you. NOT for the sake of suffering and torture, but for YOUR sake. That’s the kind of YOUR you might want to consider.

  30. @Bach

    P.S. – a clarification… I meant to say that John’s Gospel is the only one of the four to portray the INITIAL claim of resurrection as an objective/empirical one.

    Ah, but you are forgetting the book of Acts (Luke-Acts are really a unit)

  31. @Bach
    and also what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, for example

    Go back and read carefully the accounts in Matthew and Luke, as well as John, concerning Jesus’ resurrection and appearances. All three gospels present testimony of those who met the Risen Jesus in person, so perhaps you had better explain your assertion about John’s gospel

  32. @Tom:
    I think we may be verging into Schrödinger’s Cat territory soon! To your question, I think I’m working from the assumptions of empiricism with regard to a fact’s objectivity. That is to say:

    If ‘Jane’ posits X, but X is not empirically verifiable… then ‘Bob’ cannot be certain that X is a fact with an objective character. He can either trust Jane or dismiss her report. The subjective representation of X by Jane will remain as a liability to the accuracy of X, regardless of whether or not X is factually true. Thus Bobe can only accept X as factually true on some degree of faith from Jane’s subjective report.

    I regard the Resurrection as factual truth. But I don’t make the claim with objective certainty & wouldn’t begrudge anyone their doubt thereof. I don’t think something must be knowable in order to be factually true. But I do think it must be knowable in order to be objectively true.

    @Victoria:
    Thanks for the interesting links. As mentioned above, I’m working from an assumption of empirical observation being rooted in the sensory perceptions. Empiricism or not, I’m not sure how one would prove the claim of bodily resurrection without… y’know… a body. 🙂 And since the follow-up claim to the Resurrection is the Ascension, we don’t have a physical body available for proof.

    So the only things we can work with are second-hand reports. Now let’s be clear: I’m not disputing the historical reliability of this or that report. But as I said before:

    I am suggesting here that the evidence of said claim for anyone living today is entirely subjective, second-hand, non-empirical, laden with opinion/agenda, etc.

    I guess I’m back to my initial wondering @BJ Lee… what does “the objective reality of Jesus’ resurrection” mean (to any of y’all that might use the phrase)?
    I’d be interested to hear from anyone how they understand the Resurrection to be objectively true or an objective fact.

  33. P.S. – ah geez, I’m still figuring out this formatting stuff. I only meant to blockquote that first sentence. The second bit was intended to conclude my original post. *facepalm*

  34. @Bach
    Ah, I see where you are coming from, then 🙂
    But, are you not being somewhat hyper-skeptical about any historical testimony/evidence for any historical event? Once the generation of eyewitnesses and those who were alive during the time of some event has died off, subsequent generations have only historical records and artifacts to go on.
    For example, I was 14 years old when the Apollo 11 astronauts landed on the moon back on July 20th 1969 – I know as certainly as anyone else who was alive and old enough at that time to witness the televised event (conspiracy and hoaxmongers notwithstanding) that it really happened. Yet someone born after the Apollo program ended has only eyewitness testimony, historical records and artifacts to go on. In another generation, all of us who were there, so to speak, will no longer be alive, and the people of that future time won’t have the first person accounts of what happened. Admittedly, record-keeping in the 20th and 21st centuries is much better than at any other time in history, yet we know all too well from the movie industry how anything can be made to appear real.
    Yet we who were alive then know with certainty that it happened – shall our descendants be hyper-skeptical about the events of the late 20th century?

  35. I think the best way to summarize our understanding of Jesus’ supernatural resurrection is that it is the inference to the best explanation of all the historical evidence available to us. Naturalistic explanations are all found wanting – the only reason for a skeptic to cling to them is a presupposition of metaphysical naturalism that they don’t want to give up. Facing the implications of the resurrection of Jesus Christ demands a response, either by falling down in front of Him and declaring Him as Lord and God, or rejecting Him and all that He represents.

  36. Mark Roberts concludes one of his posts with

    I’ve tried to show that it’s reasonable to believe that the miracles of Jesus as portrayed in the canonical gospels actually happened. The theory that Jesus performed miracles surely helps to account for His widespread influence in His own day. And the theory that He rose from the dead helps to explain the otherwise inexplicable rise of early Christianity. Such theories are reasonable, as I’ve explained, from the perspective of a theist who believes in a God who can do unusual things in His creation.

    Reasonableness and proof are not the same thing, however. There is no way I can prove that Jesus actually did miracles or actually rose from the dead. Neither can anyone prove that He didn’t, for that matter. History doesn’t allow for such proof, but only contingent knowledge based upon evidence, probabilities, and reasoned argument. So, as a historian of early Christianity, I would argue that it’s highly probable that the gospels faithfully portray the miracles of Jesus as they happened, given, of course, the shaping of tradition and the evangelist’s intentions. I would also argue that a theistic approach which allows for miracles produces the most elegant and persuasive account of Jesus’s ministry. Yet historical inquiry can take us only this far along the road of reasonableness. The next steps belong to the realm of faith

    I think he nicely captures the relationship between reason and faith. Faced with the historical evidence, faith moves forward to what and Who that evidence points to, and what He offers and asks of us.

  37. Victoria, Bach, and others:

    I would stray outside my immediate competence if I were to comment on what you folks are discussing. So, instead, I offer the following:

    First, this is a topic that’s been discussed and debated at least since St. Augustine… so you’re not going to solve it here. (That’s not to suggest you shouldn’t try!)

    Second, here are some sources that may shed some more light (with an interesting contribution of Plantinga in support of the view that Aquinas and Calvin are almost in full agreement, varying only to the extent of the source of faith):

    http://www.iep.utm.edu/faith-re/
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/faith/
    http://www.unc.edu/~theis/phil32/natural.html

    And here’s a rebuttal of Plantinga’s notion that Christian beliefs are “properly basic”: http://pantheon.yale.edu/~kd47/basic.htm

    My final point is that Luther really messed things up with his anti-reason rants (admittedly pulling back later). I’m not so worried about that as much as Luther confused things royally with his on-again, off-again fideism and permitting Ockham’s nominalism to infect his theological reasoning. Centuries of unnecessary confusion have followed… with Plantinga trying to find grounds for coming together. I don’t follow Plantinga fully on this because there is a component he (in my opinion) doesn’t do justice to: the organic nature of the Church and its contribution to faith. However, I welcome him trying to find common ground.

  38. @ Victoria:
    The example of the Apollo program is a terrific one. Born in the 80’s, my world has always included routine human space flight & I certainly have no empirical experience of the moon landing as a cultural/historical event. YET I’ve been told second-hand of the U.S. claim to lunar landing by multiple sources (parents, teachers, NASA, etc—for the sake of argument here I’m considering even the NASA footage as second-hand & agenda-laden). I’ve also been made familiar with those who claim the whole thing was a hoax. Evaluating the evidence, I decided that I trusted my teachers & NASA… so I articulate belief that in fact Americans have landed and walked on the surface of Earth’s moon.

    Did it ACTUALLY happen? Heck if I know. But I choose to live my life believing that it did. And my inability to declare it an absolute fact makes it no less powerful or awe-inspiring for me. That may sound “hyper-skeptical” to you… but to me it just feels honest & realistic.

    Your quote from Roberts in #43 is helpful too. He acknowledges that when we move into the realm of faith, things like ‘proof’ fall away. Hence my discomfort with the notion of “objective fact” where the Resurrection is concerned.

    @Holo:
    Thanks for these links. I gotta run to work, but I’ll look at them later on. Appreciated. Oh, and you’re entirely right—I’m not worried about resolving the factual nature of the Resurrection. I think the debate is healthy though—honest inquiry and acknowledgment that there is doubt & real possibility of total error are the only way (I believe) that Christians retain a faith that is as alive as the man himself.

  39. @Bach
    When you say that you regard empirical as

    Thanks for the interesting links. As mentioned above, I’m working from an assumption of empirical observation being rooted in the sensory perceptions. Empiricism or not, I’m not sure how one would prove the claim of bodily resurrection without… y’know… a body.

    I’m assuming that you also mean, by extension, instrumentation that extends our ability to observe events and objects beyond our natural sensory abilities (so, telescopes, microscopes, particle accelerators, particle detectors, etc).
    Otherwise you have just eliminated most of modern laboratory science. Even instrumentality is not model-free, but is based on applied physics – we never directly observe quarks, but we infer their existence and properties from particle accelerator experiments and current models of elementary particles.

  40. @Victoria…
    Yes, absolutely! (ha. episteme pun.) I would include measurement & observation as extensions of our sensory perceptions, recognizing of course that the only reason I can measure a centimeter in the first place (to say nothing of a lightyear or an atomic radius) is because a group of folks have gotten together at some point & agreed upon a working standard.

    I think that false senses of security that fail to acknowledge these sorts of epistemological contingencies are exactly the sort of conditions that ultimately necessitate something like The Clergy Project.

  41. @Bach
    So, how can you know what you did yesterday with any certainty (assuming no abnormalities in your functioning memory or that you didn’t spend yesterday in a drug or alcohol induced state)?

    Yesterday is not accessible to your sensory perceptions and we have no instrumentation that can access it, yet presumably there will be evidence (acceptable in a court of law) that you did certain things, were in certain places, etc – other people who remember what you did, perhaps artifacts that you created, etc, your own memories. It seems that the most commonsense viewpoint is to view your own past sensory experiences as real events that you can be certain of, especially when corroborated by other persons and tangible artifacts. For example, suppose you were speeding in traffic, and were pulled over by the police, issued a ticket and had to appear in court, etc.
    Two weeks later, you are in court, and so is the officer who caught you speeding, along with his copy of the ticket, and your copy of the ticket. Are you going to argue your way out of the ticket and fine by claiming that what happened is in the past and cannot be known with any certainty?

    If experiences like that have to be considered certain, then by extension you have to give the same consideration to other people’s experiences (unless you are a solopsist 🙂 http://www.iep.utm.edu/solipsis/)

  42. I’m pretty tired of the complaint against Christianity that “the pastors demand morals of their flock that they themselves don’t live up to”. It really seems that people (Christians and non-Christians alike) have it in their heads that being a priest/pastor means you have no faults, or at the very least should be supremely morally superior, such that any sin committed is somehow ten times worse just because it’s done by such a person. This seems like a pretty warped understanding of Christianity.

    Priests and pastors are human beings. They screw up, sometimes in big ways. That’s not evidence that Christianity is false. If anything, it would be small evidence for its truth.

    Regarding the clergy project itself, one concern is this: are they only going to help clergy who are now atheists? Or are they going to assist, say… the Rabbi who now believes in Christ? Or the Calvinist preacher who is now an Arminian?

    Actually, that was an easy question to answer: “No supernatural beliefs.”

  43. Incidentally, the “Preachers who are not believers” paper is filled with, quite honestly, some extremely nasty stories. I get the impression their goal is to try and paint these preachers in a sympathetic light, but the content of the stories just makes a number of them come across as, frankly, rotten people. Not all of them, but a number of them.

    Frankly, there should be a theist version of this.

  44. Tom,

    It’s very small at this point: just 77 members, with 86 “awaiting interviews,” but as it gathers steam (if it does), it could provide the support an unbelieving clergy member needs to finally walk away from the church.

    I understand your point entirely. But I’d be hesitant here, and I’ll put one reason to be so bluntly: do you notice that the Clergy Project is all about getting the clergy to walk away, if and only if they feel they’ve finally reached a point where it would benefit them to do so?

    Look at the pdf I referenced. Notice how there were some clergy who stayed on in their churches, finding ways to ‘guide’ their church towards their beliefs, without being explicit about it.

  45. @ Tom, etc

    Thank you for the resources about pagans vs Christians. I appreciate it, and will research it over the next few days. I didn’t specifically reference “Sixteen Saviors” etc, but if it influenced the sites that I did reference, I didn’t realize it. I didn’t intend to be superficial, in other words.

    @ Holo, G

    If I don’t believe in God, why blame Him for not living up to my expectations? When I was freshly non-Christian, I did feel animosity towards God. As I gained maturity and insight and especially healing, though, I shed that. Makes as much sense to blame the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Same with sin – why would I feel sinful if I don’t believe in sin? I’d have to believe in God before I could believe that He judges us fundamentally impure or unclean. I don’t accept the concept of blood sacrifice, required to see Jesus’ sacrifice as redemptive. And, of course, all of it requires a supernatural belief. I don’t have that either.

    Anyways, this isn’t about me so much as it is about my perception of what a pastor has to go through – that’s what I’m trying to say. Dealing with a congregation full of people is challenging, but it gets harder when they suffer, when God doesn’t meet their expectations, etc. As I said – I couldn’t do it, and I can’t blame those who are deeply troubled and even lose faith because of those experiences.

    The comment above basically saying “who pastors the pastors” was spot on. “My” church pastor has gone to a conference/retreat once or twice in the last two years or so… but beyond that? He’s full of love – but he carries a lot of tension and stress, too. His faith is truly a pillar for him, and for many others besides. I can be his friend (and I’m honored to be counted among them), but in matters of faith I’m not of much use, I think. I can only hope that he has a support network more extensive than I know about.

    …You know what? That’s a damn good question to ask him. I’d rather not see him lose what has brought him so much strength and comfort.

  46. @Victoria…
    I would say that our memories are indeed quite fallible & susceptible to warping, distortion, etc. And to the extent that ‘certainty’ is ever possible, you can only know that for yourself. Indeed there will be evidence of various types—some more & some less compelling—and we as individuals evaluate just how trustworthy or credible it is. Given the notorious inaccuracy & potential inconsistency of eyewitness testimonies & self-reports, I don’t think any of our experiences have to be considered certain. Everyday life requires an enormous amount of ‘faith’, however secular.

    @Crude…
    I would point out that there already ARE support groups that assist Rabbis who believe in Christ (such groups are called churches) or Calvinists who become Arminians (namely the Methodists).

    @Sault, et al….
    It’s worth highlighting here that the question of “who pastors the pastor?” finds an answer in the traditional threefold ministry of the Church (bishops, priests, & deacons). In many churches with such hierarchy/structures, the role of bishop includes serving as pastor to the pastors.

  47. G. Rodrigues,

    *All* formulations of the PoE ultimately rely on these two incoherent ideas: that God is just another member of a moral community sharing moral obligations, and as a consequence, that He ought to make this a better world than it is.

    Rowe’s evidential POE doesn’t rely on those ideas.

    Rowe’s POE relies on (arguably) reasonable inferences as to what God WOULD do, based on His supposed attributes, not what He is morally obligated to do.

    For example, one inference might be that God WOULD eliminate any evils he had the power and to eliminate – because He is all-good, not because He has a moral obligation – unless there was an even better reason to permit them.

  48. @All
    Don’t forget that in many churches, especially evangelical ones, the pastoral staff is supported in tangible ways by the members of the congregation; in our Church, we regularly have a rotating group of people who commit to a prayer ministry for the staff, as well as ministering to their physical needs.

  49. @d:

    Rowe’s POE relies on (arguably) reasonable inferences as to what God WOULD do, based on His supposed attributes, not what He is morally obligated to do.

    For example, one inference might be that God WOULD eliminate any evils he had the power and to eliminate – because He is all-good, not because He has a moral obligation – unless there was an even better reason to permit them.

    Same idea in a different guise. For what do you mean by God is good in this context? That His goodness is *moral* goodness in the same way we say of some man that he is morally good. I can expand on this if you want me too, although my post to Sault was already too long. Suffice to say that under classical theism this is simply incoherent. God is supremely good in a metaphysical, ontological sense, but not in a moral sense. Your “reasonable inferences” simply do not follow.

    I will admit that the PoE *may* have some bite against what Brian Davies termed “Theistic personalism” (although personally, and even though I favor Aristotelian-Thomism, I think theistic personalists defend themselves much better than Thomists usually credit them for), but not against the God of Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas, jut to stick to the most prominent Christian A’s.

  50. G. Rodrigues,

    I don’t really understand why the reasonable inferences could not follow, even if God is the metaphysical good, instead of merely morally good (and why wouldn’t He ALSO be the latter, on account of being the former)?

    If you can’t make such reasonable inferences about the metaphysical good, then it’s pretty darn meaningless to say “God is good” – you’re just saying “God is God” or something like that.

  51. @d:

    I don’t really understand why the reasonable inferences could not follow, even if God is the metaphysical good, instead of merely morally good (and why wouldn’t He ALSO be the latter, on account of being the former)?

    Because from the goodness of God, understood in the metaphysical and ontological sense, no should or would follows. Simple as that.

    If you can’t make such reasonable inferences about the metaphysical good, then it’s pretty darn meaningless to say “God is good” – you’re just saying “God is God” or something like that.

    No, it is not meaningless. From the fact that God is pure act (this is not entirely correct, but you can translate it as supreme, preeminent metaphysical goodness), Aquinas deduces several things about Him. The Questions on God of his Summa Theologica runs over 250 pages. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange’s God: His Existence and His Nature devotes about 500 pages to the subject. These are just two examples. You are letting your ignorance do the talking.

    Look, I will repeat what I have said in my earlier post. Some arguments are good against some brands of theism some are not; there is no one size fits all polemics.

  52. For now, I’ll just have to take your word for it, that no “would” or “should” follows from the ontological good, though I don’t get really get why (and I won’t be delving into any book length treatises on it for a while).

    If the ontological good were merely an impersonal platonic abstract object, then I could understand what you are saying more clearly. We certainly wouldn’t be concerned about a POE in that case.

    But…

    However one might resist the hyper-anthropomorphic idea of God that so many are enticed by, classical theism still calls God a personal being. The conjunction of personal being and ontological good sure seem to hint that “moral goodness”, “woulds”, and “shoulds” might follow, for they are all things that concern the personal.

    If we subtract “woulds”, “shoulds” and “moral goodness” from the personal, then it seems we have yet another word that classical theism moves toward the vacuous.

  53. @d:

    For now, I’ll just have to take your word for it, that no “would” or “should” follows from the ontological good, though I don’t get really get why (and I won’t be delving into any book length treatises on it for a while).

    A “would” or “should” would follow if either you could show that that there is indeed a best of all possible worlds — in which case, it is a “reasonable inference”, to use your own expression, that God would pick such a possible world — or that God, which not only created but sustains the whole created order in being, has an obligation to bring about such and such a world. For reasons I explained in my post to Sault, both are incoherent ideas.

    Some possible worlds are better than the actual world, some are worse. You can ask why this particular world and not any other possible world, say why Jane won the lottery and John got hit by a car as opposed to some, any other, possible alternative. But that is the *mystery* of evil, not the *problem* of evil, and it is a question that it is unanswerable, at least not in this Life. And here we leave the terrain of natural theology to the terrain of revealed doctrine, and the specific answers that Christianity adds to this (e.g. the Incarnation).

    If the ontological good were merely an impersonal platonic abstract object, then I could understand what you are saying more clearly. We certainly wouldn’t be concerned about a POE in that case.

    Wrong again. You are talking to an Aristotelian-Thomist not a Platonist.

    A possible starting point is to understand that when we predicate something of God, e.g. that God is good, we are using the word in an analogical sense, that is, neither in a univocal nor in a wholly equivocal sense. So to say that God is good is analogous to say that a man is good; we are not saying the same thing in the two sentences, which would be the case if “good” was being used in a univocal sense, but neither what we are saying in the two sentences can be completely extricated apart, which would be the case if we were using “good” in a wholly equivocal sense. A careful analysis of what we mean by using the word “good” shows that we *always* predicate it of things that are successful wrt their natures or essences, that is, a thing is good insofar as it *is* in some specific way, and thus good derives from being, from that which is. In the Scholastic jargon, good is convertible with being. Thus, the analogical use of “good” hinges on one of the central points of Aquinas’ view, the analogy of being, that being is not a genus and is not predicated univocally of all things neither in a wholly equivocal way. Parmenides was right in that there is a rigid demarcation between being and non-being, but he was wrong insofar as being and non-being is a false dichotomy as there are modes of being so to speak, the primary division being that between potency and act.

    With this in mind, what do we mean when we say that a person is morally good? It is a person that acts according to the moral duties and obligations dictated by his nature of human qua human being, in other words, it is a person that *is* in some specific way wrt his human essence. What do we mean by saying that God is good? Since God is the source and fountain of all being, He is the source of all creaturely goodness, and thus not only He is good, He is preeminently good. *This* sense of good is analogous to the sense of moral goodness, in the way explained, but if you construe the goodness of God as acting in accord to a moral standard of behavior than *that* is indeed equivocating and to be blunt, it is sheer idolatry.

    However one might resist the hyper-anthropomorphic idea of God that so many are enticed by, classical theism still calls God a personal being. The conjunction of personal being and ontological good sure seem to hint that “moral goodness”, “woulds”, and “shoulds” might follow, for they are all things that concern the personal.

    Wrong again. Start by reading my previous paragraphs. Carefully. God is certainly not *less* than a person, in the sense that He has an intellect and a will. In what sense does He have an intellect and a will? In an analogous sense. There is something in God which resembles our intellects and wills. What is an intellect according to the AT view? Very roughly and shoddily, it is the power to abstract, contemplate and hold Forms as knowable universals. Can we rightly say that God is just, loving, etc.? Yes. How? You guessed it, in an analogous sense. To love someone means to will the good for said someone. So how does God will the good towards persons? So on and so forth.

    If we subtract “woulds”, “shoulds” and “moral goodness” from the personal, then it seems we have yet another word that classical theism moves toward the vacuous.

    1. Read what I said previously.

    2. To repeat myself, some arguments simply do not work against all brands of theism. Them’s the breaks, deal with it.

    3. And there you go again, making vacuous charges against what you do not know or understand. If you are not going to bother to properly learn what you criticize as you say in a parenthetical remark, could you at least refrain from making vain, ignorant pronouncements?

  54. Thanks for the explanations.. but before I respond to anything else, something is confusing me.

    A “would” or “should” would follow if either you could show that that there is indeed a best of all possible worlds — in which case, it is a “reasonable inference”, to use your own expression, that God would pick such a possible world — or that God, which not only created but sustains the whole created order in being, has an obligation to bring about such and such a world. For reasons I explained in my post to Sault, both are incoherent ideas.

    Are you saying it is a reasonable inference (coherent, if you will) to believe that God would have actualized the best possible world (given that there could be such a thing)?

    You sort of say that, then take it back with the sentence, unless I’m misunderstanding you.

  55. @d:

    A “would” or “should” would follow if either you could show that that there is indeed a best of all possible worlds — in which case, it is a “reasonable inference”, to use your own expression, that God would pick such a possible world — or that God, which not only created but sustains the whole created order in being, has an obligation to bring about such and such a world. For reasons I explained in my post to Sault, both are incoherent ideas.

    Are you saying it is a reasonable inference (coherent, if you will) to believe that God would have actualized the best possible world (given that there could be such a thing)?

    On second reading, it is indeed confusing (warning: there may be other confusing bits and pieces, so do not blame AT, blame me and my incomplete and partial knowledge), so let me rephrase it the following way.

    1. For the PoE to get off the ground you have to insert a “should” or an “ought” in there. But it is incoherent to say that God, who not only brought into being but sustains in being in the here and now the whole of the created order by His freely willed creative fiat, has an obligation to bring about a state of affairs rather than another.

    A good analogy is that of a writer and its novel. It is incoherent to say that Shakespeare should have written a Bowdlerised version of “King Lear”, with a sane Lear beaming down on Edgar and Cordelia happily married. You will protest that I am equivocating, since Lear is a fictional being, so the matter of ought does not pose itself. But that is precisely the point of the analogy. God freely willed *this* particular world, in which substances have causal powers and actualize their perfections, and persons have Free Will and can, at least in part, decide their own fate. The actual world is what it is. There is here methinks, a failed analogy operating in the background: this world is good (as God proclaims in the opening chapter of Genesis) and to that extent, His creative act is good, because He freely willed it into being. But when a man does a good action, the action is not good because he willed it but rather the action is *objectively* good because such and such (fill in the blanks). Aquinas goes on to defend God’s Free Will in regard to creation, because every created world, insofar as it is an admixture of act and potency, is imperfect, and thus there is no necessary connection between God’s will and its object.

    Why this world rather than another? Only He knows. Why the insane King Lear carrying a dead Cordelia in his arms off the stage? The question is hardly meaningful. Maybe Shakespeare thought that that heart-wrenching end would be the most popular and bring in more money. But Shakespeare is a riddle wrapped inside an enigma, so really, who knows? Only He knows. You could protest that there is no sense to be made of a better world as regards “King Lear”. But once again that is the point of the analogy.

    But:

    2. Suppose for the moment that it was indeed coherent to speak of the best of all possible worlds. Then while you still have to overcome the obstacle of showing that there is an obligation of God to bring about that specific world, it is also hard to see why exactly God would *not* bring about such a world, so in that sense, it is a “reasonable inference” and undermines point 1.

    note: you may want to read Aquinas and the Best of All Possible Worlds.

  56. @ G

    But it is incoherent to say that God, who not only brought into being but sustains in being in the here and now the whole of the created order by His freely willed creative fiat, has an obligation to bring about a state of affairs rather than another.

    You’ve written a great deal about this, much of it directed my way, and I wanted you to know that I appreciate the time and effort that you’ve put into it. I don’t know if it was the way you worded it or having simply repeated it for the nth time, but this is where it clicked and I think I’m beginning to understand.

    I’m also appreciating Holo’s remarks about what I would expect from God (making God fit my expectations) a little better, too, because it is difficult to realize and accept that my moral “oughts” are not necessarily God’s.

    I hope that you, Tom, Holo, d, and everyone who contributes here had a wonderful Father’s Day, too!

  57. I don’t know if it was the way you worded it or having simply repeated it for the nth time, but this is where it clicked and I think I’m beginning to understand.

    Good for you, Sault.

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