Changing Truth »« Two questions, three (incomplete) answers

Tempting God

Via Ed Brayton comes this quote from Senator Jim Inhofe:

Inhofe: Well actually the Genesis 8:22 that I use in there is that ‘as long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night,’ my point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.

Even by Christian standards, that’s a monumentally stupid and irresponsible thing to say. Of course, Inhofe isn’t the first guy to say something like that. You can find very similar words being ascribed to Satan in the Gospel according to Matthew.


I’m referring, of course, to Matthew 4:5-7.

Then the devil *took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written,

‘He will command His angels concerning You’;

and

‘On their hands they will bear You up,
So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Every Christian knows this story. The devil is tempting Jesus by suggesting that he behave recklessly and presumptuously, endangering himself on the grounds that God had promised to protect him from the consequences of his own irresponsibility. This is the verse Christians invoke all the time whenever you ask God to actually do something tangible in the real world. You didn’t get what you asked for, because you were “testing” God and therefore God is exempt from any obligation to fulfil whatever promise you might have been depending on.

You see the problem. Inhofe is advocating a policy of recklessly and presumptuously endangering, not just his own personal life, but the entire frickin planet—at least as a human-habitable zone. Sure, he can quote a promise in Genesis that offers some kind of implicit guarantee that God will supernaturally prevent us from any negative consequences of our irresponsible behavior. When those consequences arrive anyway, however, the very well-established precedent is that God is off the hook. If there are catastrophic climate changes, if countless numbers are uprooted and their property and livelihoods destroyed, that doesn’t mean the Genesis promise failed (at least, not to Christian thinking). It just serves us right for putting God to the test by demanding that He supernaturally protect us from the clear and inevitable consequences of our own misdeeds.

The smart thing to do would be to say, “Well, promise or not, we still have an obligation to behave wisely and responsibly.” That makes sense both in a Christian context and in a secular context. But here we see Inhofe using religion as a sedative, dulling the minds of his supporters and lulling them into thoughtless and heedless complacency to protect the interests of those who get their riches from exploiting the land and the people.

Comments

  1. Al Dente says

    So Inhofe’s reliance on the Genesis verse is not only socially and politically dangerous but also theologically wrong.

  2. raven says

    He has it half right though.

    The earth will survive, no matter what we do. That isn’t questionable with our present level of technology.

    The question is: Will we, as a species, still be living on it? That remains to be seen.

  3. Otto Tellick says

    Inhofe’s stance reminds me of the old joke about a farmer living in the flood plain of a river. When there were heavy rains upstream and a flood was immanent, local authorities came to his house, told him he should evacuate, and offered him a ride, but he refused, saying that with God’s help, he’d be fine. As water covered the fields and roads, someone came by in a row boat and offered to take him to higher ground, but he refused, saying he would trust in God. As the water rose above the windows of the house, and he climbed onto the roof, a helicopter crew hovered over and offered to lift him to safety, but he waved them away, saying God would provide. Then the house collapsed in the torrent, and he drowned.

    When he arrived at the pearly gates, he asked, “Why did God leave me to drown?” The welcoming angel replied, “We sent you a car, a boat, and a helicopter. What were you waiting for – some kind of miracle?”

  4. Ed says

    This is a thing that got on my nerves to no end, even as a believer. Yes, the idea of total destruction of all life as we know it on earth is incompatible with most traditional relgions until “the end” in Abrahamic religions or the beginning of a new cycle on some other ones.

    HOWEVER, even when I believed such things, I could distinguish between total human extinction and /or total ecocide and our capacity to cause great destruction and misery. It made me so angry when people didn’t care about nuclear war, pollution, .mass extinction of other species and other serious objective dangers because they had faith that it couldn’t happen.

    At most, the only thing their religion actually promised was the survival of some humans until the appointed apocalyptic time. Nothing whatsoever about health, living standards, or the survival of particular civilizations, which even when I was incapable of questioning supernaturalism , I realized were up to us.

  5. busterggi says

    “The devil is tempting Jesus by suggesting that he behave recklessly and presumptuously, endangering himself on the grounds that God had promised to protect him from the consequences of his own irresponsibility.”

    How does anyone tempt a being that is omnipotent and owns the universe – which Jesus is according to believers?

    And how is it that omnipotent being allows his hated worst enemy (supposedly, although the bible earlier shows Satan as a loyal servant) to stand in front of him and not take any action?

    Totally senseless.

  6. Tony Hoffman says

    I understand Inhofe to mean that nature is under the control of God, and that man is just incapable of controlling nature (and God). So, I would guess that Inhofe just means that we puny humans can’t actually be behind any existential changes to the natural (God-controlled) world. Ipso facto and all that.

    It seems kind of like a “climate of the gaps” argument to me; because we can’t absolutely control the climate, therefore something else (God!) must be controlling it. Not so surprisingly, it’s just an expression of a preference for ignorance and apathy in the face of information and warnings. Thanks, religion!

  7. rapiddominance says

    The smart thing to do would be to say, “Well, promise or not, we still have an obligation to behave wisely and responsibly.” That makes sense both in a Christian context and in a secular context

    Fair enough.

    Speaking as a christian, there’s an interesting passage I want to cite: Rev. 16-18, with the focus on the last part of verse 18. You can do the looking yourselves, if you like, but the notion that humans can “destroy the earth” is not at all biblically foreign. That said, I don’t expect you (Deacon) or your audience to take my “bronze age deity” seriously, but I am concurring with you that I think we theists owe it not only to God but to fellow humans to try to preserve the environment.

  8. Anri says

    rapiddominance:

    That said, I don’t expect you (Deacon) or your audience to take my “bronze age deity” seriously, but I am concurring with you that I think we theists owe it not only to God but to fellow humans to try to preserve the environment.

    Ok, but correct me if I am wrong, but if we do not do so – that is, if we do indeed render the earth uninhabitable – that will have been god’s plan all along, yes?
    In fact, whatever we do at any time, that will always have been god’s plan all along, right?

    To put it another way, how can we worry about doing what god wants us to do when literally everything we do is always exactly what god planned for us to do?

    (Please ignore if this post is too OT – thanks!)

    • rapiddominance says

      Anri, thanks for the reply and sorry about the late response–we had a death in the family and I’m just getting back. I hope I’m not too late to reach your ears.

      According to my scriptural understanding, God’s not going to let us “render the earth uninhabitable”. I’m not good at quoting verses ( I actually think trying to memorize verses too much takes away from the joy of reading the bible) but I’m pretty sure God promises to stop us before we do that.

      That said, should the earth become uninhabitable by our hands, I don’t suppose either side would have the opportunity to call the other out.

      Now, as for why a christian would care about doing God’s will if the future is already predetermined, it should be out of love and the joy of sharing in God’s glory.

      Hey, you didn’t go “too OT”. Predestination and “God’s sovereignty” is a strong NT theme just as in the OT.

      Scott

      • rapiddominance says

        I’ve noticed a lot of atheists take it easy on theists when they’ve lost a loved one, and I appreciate the consideration. That ‘s kinda why I wish I didn’t mention it. I should have just said “i was out of town.” I didn’t mean to be disarming. Emotionally, I feel fine. Feel free to poke holes in my ideas. Its good to be able to write here again.

      • John Morales says

        rapiddominance, there’s no need to poke any holes in your (or anyone’s, really) theology — that would be like poking holes in a colander.

      • John Morales says

        Unlike the idiom, the sentiment is quite literal, rapiddominance — and in no sense circular.

        (To point out incoherence and contradiction is not to create it, and to note that is not to assume, but rather to report an observation)

        I tell you that, as an avowed Christian willingly interacting here, you are gazing into the Nietzschean abyss.

        (Perhaps you might give some more thought to the issue of fatalism vs. free will within the Christian tradition — for example, consider Judas Iscariot’s betrayal)

      • rapiddominance says

        So you’re merely pointing out an observation. I’m glad! I thought you were tossing out an insult.

      • rapiddominance says

        Could you elaborate on Judas for me and the problem he poses? Don’t get me wrong–I’m disturbed that a man could follow Jesus for some 2+ years and then turn on him, but I’m thinking you might have something to say that I need to chew on further.

      • John Morales says

        rapiddominance, I (ahem) choose to elaborate rather than to elucidate, since what I want is for you to think about this for yourself rather than to seek to formulate an apologetic towards my own reasoning — and in passing, I note that the “doubting Thomas” incident should disturb you no less than Judas’ turning for similar (but not quite the same) reasons.

        The problem at hand is related to the cock-crowing incident in which Jesus knew beforehand what was to pass, though Peter himself did not at the time of the prophesy (he had made no choices at that point, and was indeed inclined otherwise to the eventual outcome).

        Also as an aside, I note the OT god is regularly surprised by outcomes and reactive to them, entirely unlike the NT deity (who is merely ineffable).

      • rapiddominance says

        Also as an aside, I note the OT god is regularly surprised by outcomes and reactive to them, entirely unlike the NT deity (who is merely ineffable).

        Based on some of the OT dialogue that comes to mind, I can see why you think God is “caught
        off guard” at times, and often doesn’t speak like somebody omniscent. That said, Jesus once walked up to a fig tree when he was hungry (according to certain literature) only to find there was no fruit on it. Also, there’s a story where a woman needed healing and thought that by just touching Jesus’s robe she would be well. After she did this, Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” Shouldn’t he have known? So I think we have a “like father, like son” situation going on.

        —–

        Hey, I had to look up the Neitzchian Abyss thing last night. I wasn’t familiar with the concept before and I found myself digging into it for a while (along with “Godot”, which you mentioned to me on anothe blogsite). Trying to keep up with you can be tough work, to say the least. I not only have to learn what these ideas are but I also have to try to understand how you’re applying them. Thanks for at least trying to work with me.

      • Anri says

        Thanks, and I appreciate the response.

        I suppose my larger point was that whatever happens is god’s plan, him having all knowledge and so forth. Every good deed, and every evil one as well, every person going to heaven, and everyone doomed into hell – all as god planned it.
        The alternative, as I see it, is to assume that humans can oppose god successfully, do something he didn’t predict. This, I believe, is incompatible with omniscience.

        To put it another way, if someone were to ask god if they were going to heaven or hell when they die, god might not answer them – but god would know the answer, and never be wrong. And that, in fact, god knew that answer before he ever created that person, or indeed the entire universe.

        God essentially created all the people who are going to hell foredoomed. He created them to eternally suffer.

      • rapiddominance says

        Hey Anri

        Romans 9 does, in fact, acknowledge that God knows in advance who is to be an “object of his glory” or an “object of his wrath”. I’m only pointing out this chapter because predestination is spoken of so blatantly here. The theme shows up in the gospels (especially John) as well as some of the other NT letters. While its noted also that people “freely” make choices in the bible, those choices are known in advance. If you haven’t read Romans 9 in a while, check it out.

      • Anri says

        rapiddominance:

        Ok, I went and looked over Romans 9. As far as I can tell, the only answer given to ‘why blame us for decisions god makes for us’ is ‘because shut up, that’s why’.
        I do not accept that merely having ownership over a person (even assuming you accept the concept of owning a human being, which Romans 9 apparently does unconsciously), that you then have the right to arbitrarily decide to plunge that person into eternal suffering. I certainly reject that doing so makes you anything other than a monster.
        Why someone would claim to love, or want to worship such a being – other than outright groveling fear of reprisal – is beyond me.

        Let me put it this way: god has condemned certain people to eternal agony capriciously. He also demands love, devotion, and worship from these self same people. In what way is that the epitome of morality?

      • rapiddominance says

        Anri, I was trying to biblically clarify between two alternatives you mentioned:

        I suppose my larger point was that whatever happens is god’s plan, him having all knowledge and so forth. Every good deed, and every evil one as well, every person going to heaven, and everyone doomed into hell – all as god planned it.
        The alternative, as I see it, is to assume that humans can oppose god successfully, do something he didn’t predict. This, I believe, is incompatible with omniscience.

        Its a difficult teaching for a lot of christians as well as nonbelievers–but its on the table, as unpretty as it might appear. And there is a theological paradox–God wants all people to be saved and none to perish, yet God created those he knew would spend eternity separated from him (in some form of torment, and to varying degrees).

        Speaking of which, did you check out the dialogue Morales and I were having about the omniscent God who seems to find himself at the crossroads of surprises? John’s a better communicator than I am, but I talked also.

        I’m not very good at apologetics.

      • Anri says

        Well, it’s not difficult for this non-believer, due to being a non-believer – since I consider god a myth figure, him being a monster is not all that terribly upsetting.

        There’s also only a theological paradox if you build one for yourself. It only occurs if one assumes the god of the bible actually wants everyone saved. He certainly doesn’t act that way.
        If you assume he’s lying, (or that the narrative is incoherent) the paradox is gone.
        Of course, once you start down that path, it’s difficult to know when to stop, isn’t it?

        Problems like this are the major reason why I stopped being a believer in the first place.

        And, yeah, John M’s writing puts lots of us to shame, myself fully included.

      • rapiddominance says

        When I said “difficult for nonbelievers”, I meant those that might be entertaining christianianity–obviously, committed nonbelievers with their minds made up aren’t troubled by it.

        Thanks for talking.

        Scott

      • Nick Gotts says

        And there is a theological paradox–God wants all people to be saved and none to perish, yet God created those he knew would spend eternity separated from him (in some form of torment, and to varying degrees).

        That’s not a paradox, it’s just blithering nonsense. A paradox is either something that appears impossible, but isn’t (like the wave/particle duality of quantum physics); or something that cannot consistently be assigned a truth-value (e.g. “This statement is false”).

  9. raven says

    There is one clear cut case of humans modifying the global climate.

    When I was growing up the big scare was…the Ozone Hole. We were all going to end up wearing floppy hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen all the time while hoping the biosphere didn’t collapse.

    Everyone should know what that is. The Ozone Hole over the south pole. Extrapolations were that we were well on the way to destroying the ozone layer totally.

    So we did the logical thing. Outlawed the cause, human made chlorofluorcarbons. Heard anything about the destruction of the ozone layer lately? You haven’t because the Ozone Hole over Antarctica stopped growing and is now starting to shrink.

    I suppose Inhofe opposed the Montreal treaty oulawing spray can propellants of that particular type. Because humans can’t mess up god’s very own ozone layer.

  10. markr1957 says

    Since Revelations presumes to know the mind of god, even in the minds of believers it should be ignored, yet time and again I hear (read) Christians in one sentence tell the world “only god knows”, and in the next sentence talk about Revelations as though it was anything other than the rambling of a delusional fool living in a cave full of mind-distorting aromatic gases escaping from cracks in the rock formation, so which is it? Either nobody knows the mind of god and Revelations is nonsense, or Revelations is for real and we can know the mind of god!

    • rapiddominance says

      Revelations, as I understand it, was written rather metaphorically (if not cryptically)–and if its authentic, it will be understood by some “when the time is right”.

      I’m biased and believe its authentic.

      • raven says

        I’m biased and believe its authentic.

        You are blind at best then and I’m being polite.

        1. Even my old, large, Mainline Protestant church thought it was gibberish. They never said it that way but never, ever referred to it. Then again, they didn’t believe in the 6,000 year old earth or the Demon Theory of Disease either.

        2. Revelation started me on the way out of xianity. I was 8 years old, sitting in church, bored. I’d been told the bible was a magic book and Revelation was the roadmap of the future. So, I thought, far out, might as well find out what the future is, straight from god. How cool is that?

        I read a few pages and decided it was gibberish. So much for the Big Book of Mythology. I’ve since read it several times. It’s still gibberish.

        It did take another 40 years and colliding with the fundies to finish my exit.

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