R. E. Pucket was a faithful Christian for much of his life. However, as he began to expand his reading and investigate arguments against faith, he became convinced that faith was irrational. This impression was strengthened by the fact that Christians with which he interacted largely told him that he should believe for belief's sake, and that faith trumped rationality.
Pucket now spends a significant amount of time interacting with born again Christians who he feels are trying to convert him and win his soul. He rebuffs these attempts by presenting arguments that seem to stymie these Christians who in turn make vague appeals to "God's Plan" and blind faith.
In his article, "Top 50 Questions Christians Can't Answer" on Yahoo voices, Pucket lists out some of the arguments he has found that Christians seem to have no rational, logical answers for, and invites the readers to inspect their faith in light of these questions. Says Pucket:
"Don't get me wrong, they will have an answer for them. You will find, however, that their answers have no basis in verifiable fact or evidence whatsoever, and will be largely based in their blind faith forsaking all reason."
This series of articles will examine all fifty of Pucket's questions, five per article, and offer responses to these questions.
One of the important things that the Pucket list teaches is the danger of dogmatism. If a system of belief stands or falls on every minute doctrine or teaching within the system, then disarming one of these causes the whole thing to fall.Christianity has undergone inspection by hosts of intelligent and thoughtful people over its 2000-year history. Some, like Pucket, have come to the conclusion that it was untenable. Many more have explored different ways of thinking about and applying Christian ideas that do not involve abandoning the system. The very fact that Christianity is a system of thought that allows individual thinkers to explore it, rather than to blindly embrace it, at least suggests that it is not a system of intellectual tyranny.
This author suggests that many of things about Christians popularly believe may be found faulty without the entire system being destroyed. For Christianity to be untrue, it would have to be shown beyond a reasonable doubt that either humans do not require some sort of salvation from evil and suffering, or that no such salvation has been provided.
The answers provided to the questions in this series may not always be punchy rejoinders, magic bullets, or truth bombs. They may be far from convincing to a skeptic; however they do show that Christianity is at the very least internally consistent and existentially plausible.
A variety of the Christian views that Pucket attacks in these questions are held by a very specific sect of Christian believers, and by no means characterize the whole of Christian views. The questions also occasionally make broad statements which either mischaracterize Biblical teachings, or are backed up with no supporting evidence. Where these mistakes are made, the responses are largely aimed at correcting these mischaracterizations. This is not to say that the attack has no merit, but the attack would need to be re-worked to fit a proper representation of that belief.
Finally, it is worth noting that the questions are sometimes phrased in highly emotive or sarcastic forms. These articles will attempt to respond to the fundamental objection being raised, rather than the tone in which they are presented, however the questions themselves will be presented in their original form.
36 - Why are more atrocities committed in the name of God than anything else?
This question seems poorly constructed and unsupportable. If by “God” the question means all gods everywhere, it seems like it might be unfair to lump the God that teaches “turn the other cheek” with the God that commands “make blood sacrifices to end the drought.” If the question is being asked of the Christian God, then it seems patently false. If one were to lump together all of the atrocities committed in the name of money, politics, greed, pride, mental instability, selfish pursuits, and non-Christian religions, the sum would be at least as much if not more than those committed in the name of the Christian God. This claim becomes even more ridiculous if the whole of human history is taken into account, as worshipers of Yahweh were a very small minority until recent history.
The question is usually framed more accurately as “Why are more atrocities committed in the name of religion than anything else?”
The answer to this is that religion presents a very effective tool for justifying any sort of action. If one may simply assign divine authority and approval to their actions and get away with it, they have found the perfect excuse to do anything they like without interference.
Religion, like money, sex, and power, is a perfect method for manipulating people, and wherever such methods exist, there are people who are more than happy to abuse them.
This is probably why Jesus told his followers, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Only with wisdom may a canny Christian identify the shysters and power mongers who claim God-given authority, and only by innocence may they avoid being swept up into actions that shame the God with which they identify themselves.
John gives his readers a similar warning: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” The Bible anticipates that so-called “false prophets” will arise to lead naïve believers into avenues that violate the teachings of the Christ they claim to follow.
37 - The bible states that it is easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. If it is fairly difficult for the rich to go to heaven then why are there wealthy Christians?
(continued) Why wouldn't these rich Christians give up all of their wealth to make it easier for them to enter the kingdom of heaven and help out their fellow man because their God won't?
When Christ made this statement his disciples reacted this way:
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Thus, the very next verse answers the question that the previous verse raises. However, perhaps more elaboration is required.
In and of itself, money is not evil. Scripture states that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Paul, who states this in first Timothy points out that the desire to gain more wealth draws one's focus away from the pursuit of Godliness. For this problem, he recommends that people be content with whatever they have, rather than obsessing on the desire for more. In one passage he states:
...godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.
And in another passage he says:
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
As seen here, the difficulty is not in being rich, but rather in desiring riches. Christians are instructed to be content regardless of their financial situation.
The problem of wealth is that it tends to draw the wealthy person’s affections away from God and toward material gains. Of course it is easy to observe that the poor and wretched of the world also tend to be the more religious of the world.
Now asking why a rich Christian doesn’t give away all his money to the poor is a blanket question that would be impossible to answer on an individual level. Perhaps that wealthy Christian really is convicted to give up their wealth, and they simply resist the conviction. This is a sin, certainly, but all Christians sin in one way or another. This hurts their spiritual walk, and may result in some disciplinary action by God, however the misstep of any particular Christian does not mean that God condones the action, but he does forgive it.
On the other hand, it might be that God has used a person’s wealth to convict them of the meaninglessness of material gain. Having acquired so much, they are still so empty. It is only then that they realize their need of something greater than money, and so they find God. In this instance, wealth has become the instrument through which God has saved the person. Such testimonies certainly exist. Actor Stephen Baldwin, for instance, came to Christianity because of the meaninglessness he found in material pursuits. He chronicles his testimony in his book The Unusual Suspect.
Or it might be that God has blessed this particular Christian with wealth because they are able to manage it and invest it wisely, and then use that wealth to bless others. To give away all the wealth at once may be of temporary benefit to those that receive it, but it would be of far more benefit for the person to continue to invest and support others for life.
In the end, the relationship between any particular rich man and God is the business of that man and God alone. The Bible has a number of wealthy individuals who were followers of God, so this is not incompatible with Christian faith and, as Jesus has already explained, nothing is impossible with God.
38 - Building upon the previous question, if it is almost impossible for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven, then why would God create heaven as having pearly gates, streets of gold and many mansions?
(continued) It sounds like he wants us to be poor in life so that we will want to be rich in the afterlife, maybe? Is God using the sinful value of greed to attract humans to believe in him? Does that make any sense whatsoever?
If the primary evangelical tool used in scripture was to lure people after God with promises of wealth, this question might have traction. However, this is not the kind of preaching seen in scripture. Jesus commands his disciples to leave everything to follow him. No promise of wealth is given in this command, rather, it is a promise of relationship.
The concepts of pearly gates and streets of gold are almost certainly metaphorical (“many mansions” was a translational leap taken by the writers of the King James Bible. In the original Greek it reads “many rooms”). But even if these things were literal, they belong to God, not to the people he brings into heaven. The concept of going to heaven is not one of looting and sacking those things which are rightfully God’s. Indeed, what would the glorified human do with the gold once they had it?
Jesus tells the rich young man to give all his money to the poor and then he “will have treasure in heaven.” Elsewhere, Jesus tells his followers to “lay up your treasures in heaven.” So what of these heavenly treasures? Consider the following passage:
They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
Note that this passage says that Christ “created all things, and by [his] will they exist.” All treasure belongs to God, and whatever gifts a person receives from God are, at best, on loan from their Creator. Apparently, by this passage, those treasures are given right back to Christ. Any good work performed by a Christian on earth is entirely owing to the fact that Christ has redeemed that person. Consequently, any honor that Christian might thereby obtain is rightfully given back to Christ. Not because they are required to do so, but because they want to do so. They have obtained heaven due to their love of Christ, and so they truly desire to pay him the honor he is due. C.S. Lewis illustrates it this way: Say that a child wishes to purchase a gift for his father. In order to do so, he must borrow the money from his father, since – as a child – he has no other source of wealth. After buying the gift he gives it to his father. His father is no richer for having gained the gift, since it was his money that purchased it. The importance of this act was the love that it reflects between the father and the son.
God promises to give the resurrected Christian a single stone with “a new name” known only to him. This new name that God gives the believer is the only possession in heaven that can be said to truly belong to them, and it is a treasure of relationship – not of material wealth.
39 - If God is perfect then his creations should be perfect, right? Then that would mean that the earth is a perfect creation. Then why would God have to create another perfect place, heaven, and use it to entice us to believe in him?
(continued) What kind of assurance do we have that heaven would be any better than his other 'perfect' creation, earth?
The human beings seen at the beginning of the book of Genesis were innocent in that they had no “knowledge of good and evil.” They did not choose to be innocent, they were created that way. Indeed, when the choice was given, they opted for corruption instead of innocence. The human beings seen in heaven are innocent through no act of their own. Rather, they are made innocent by the work of Christ who absorbed their sin and credited them with his righteousness. These human beings have made the conscious choice to pursue a relationship with their Creator at the expense of their selfish desires. Having tasted corruption, they have pursued perfection. These humans have a comprehensive relationship with their Creator in a way that innocent Adam could never have had. However, this relationship would never have been possible without the entire story of corruption and redemption seen in scripture. Moreover, God would never have been able to actualize his nature through Jesus Christ without this entire process.
If time is seen as a series of individual events, each of which exists independent of the temporal context in which it exists, then one might argue that “this aspect of creation is imperfect, therefore creation is imperfect.” However if one sees time as God presumably does – himself being outside of time – then the entirety of time, taken as a whole, completes a story of the struggle and triumph of God’s nature that is, indeed, the perfect story. Like any other story worth telling, it begins on an average note, descends into danger and heartbreak, and resolves at the end with triumph and redemption. All of God’s attributes – love, holiness, justice, grace, patience, and wisdom – unfold in a way they never would have outside of this creation. To have character, one must have characteristics. A persons character is determined by their action, not their inaction. In acting out his entire nature on the scroll of creation, God has actualized himself, and reconciled his love and justice in the process.
40 - God allowed Jesus to be tempted as a human by Satan in the wilderness of the desert.
(continued) Again, if God and Jesus are the same entity, then what kind of sense does it make for God to allow himself to be tempted by Satan in the wilderness to see if he would give in to the temptation? In addition to that, if he were all-knowing, he would have already known the outcome and, therefore, could have avoided the whole thing all together.
As pointed out in the answer to question 30, God and Jesus are of the same essence - in that they share the same knowledge, power, and goals – but they are two different people. The experiences that Christ had on earth with his human body were unique experiences, and if God the Father had access to them, it was only because Jesus had the experience.
Now undoubtedly Christ knew that he would not cave to temptation, but this does not mean that he was not tempted. Temptation is an experience peculiar to humans, and even if a human does not follow the temptation it is a painful struggle. In experiencing the struggle, Christ – and through him, God – has the ability to sympathize with human weakness. When Christ intercedes with a pure and holy God on behalf of weak humans, he does so having himself experienced weakness:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Indeed, it would be deeply unfortunate for human beings if Jesus had not been tempted.