Last week I had a Gospel Disproof on the topic of “salvation by faith,” and a believer by the name of Eric has been kind enough to offer me a Christian response to the points I’ve raised. Since one of the points he raises repeatedly is that I haven’t said enough about certain topics, I thought I’d take the opportunity to correct the situation.
Jesus is God and to believe on Him for salvation is in no way manipulative.
So men say. The problem is that God does not show up in real life, so we have no opportunity to believe Him, for salvation or for anything else. All we really have are the things men say about God, including the claim that He showed up thousands of years ago. None of us were there, so we can’t really know firsthand whether He did or not. The best we can do is to look at the claims made by the stories men tell about God, and then compare them to the real world to see if they’re consistent with the truth as it exists outside the feelings and superstitions and speculations of men.
Under the circumstances, then, it is highly manipulative for men to tell us that our salvation depends on our willingness to believe the things they tell us, apart from real-world, non-subjective evidence supporting their claims. If I came to you and said, “Jesus is not God, and my proof is I have a gun and I’m going to shoot you in the kneecap unless you agree with me,” that’s manipulative. Threatening you is not evidence, it’s coercion. It’s no less manipulative to threaten people with eternal torment in Hell unless they agree to believe whatever you tell them about Jesus. If someone wants to make a legitimate argument, they should give us real world evidence instead of trying to bribe us with Heaven or threaten us with Hell.
What is good? Who decides it? What makes something good?
Good and bad are determined by consequences and how we feel about them. Morality in general stems from our nature as material creatures: we have physical needs and limitations, and over the long evolutionary history of biology, we and many other species have evolved the ability to respond emotionally to our environments by desiring the things that promote our well-being and fearing and/or hating those that produce harm. As intelligent and self-aware beings, humans have taken this farther than most, because we are better able to consider complex and indirect consequences of our actions, especially in social contexts. But our morality is inescapably materialistic at heart. We care about the consequences because we are not immortal or invulnerable, and material reality imposes constraints on which outcomes exist for us to choose from.
Not only has God given us reasons to believe the things we orthodox Christians believe but, most importantly, He has given us His Holy Spirit as a self-authenticating witness to our hearts. As Christians, we stand on the truths that God has made known to all men and the truth revealed to us personally by the Spirit. You might say that a Muslim or Hindu can claim similar religious experiences. This is true, but the presence of false experiences does not negate the truth of genuine ones.
So men say. The Holy Spirit is kind of a funny guy. He’s extremely genial: to paraphrase Mark Twain, He never disagrees with anyone who has a conversation with Him. No matter how different people’s religions may be from one another, the Spirit assures each one that they have the real, true, genuine experiences and understanding.
Here’s something else that’s kind of funny about the Holy Spirit. No matter how much assurance He gives to Eric that the Gospel is true, He can never tell Eric anything that an imaginary friend wouldn’t have a good shot at saying also. Thus, like a good imaginary friend, He can “reveal” to Eric that his preferred beliefs are the correct ones, but He cannot tell Eric what is written on the piece of paper in my pocket. The Holy Spirit, being God, cannot operate outside the realm of Eric’s imagination. Eric can make guesses about how things might turn out, and give the Spirit credit for those guesses, but if any of those guesses turn out to be wrong, then by very strange coincidence it will turn out that the voice Eric heard wasn’t really the Holy Spirit after all.
The reason Eric is hearing what he thinks of as “the Holy Spirit” is because he is being manipulated by the Gospel. His salvation depends on being able to declare boldly and confidently that he believes what men say about God, even though God Himself does not show up in real life to back up his beliefs. Eric can tell there’s something not quite right about that, so in his heart he imagines God speaking to him directly, as a compensation for God’s failure to show up in real life. But like all imaginary visions, Eric’s Spirit has limitations, and has to be protected by strict taboos against “testing” or otherwise making demands on Him that only a real God could fulfil. The Spirit exists solely because of Eric’s need to believe the Gospel, and thus that’s the only function He can really serve.
Eric has lots more to say, but let’s stop here for now.