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Htom Sirveaux

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Member since: Wed Jan 22, 2014, 10:47 PM
Number of posts: 1,242

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Let's talk about free will.

It's possibly the most popular response to the Problem of Evil, and it's recently popped up in a couple of discussions in this forum (and no doubt in others that I haven't seen). Briefly, the idea is that the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God allows suffering and/or evil (that he could and would want to prevent, otherwise) because doing so is the price of granting humans free will. Free will is necessary for them to be moral agents. The ability to choose implies the ability to choose wrongly, and at least some humans will inevitably do so. The alternative is thought to be for God to have created robots who would always choose correctly, at the price of rendering the action of obeying God meaningless. Philosophers have debated free will for centuries: whether it exists, how it relates to scientific law and history, and so on.

I'd like to focus on the theological consequences of this doctrine. As previously stated, I'm discussing the "omnimax" God of classic theism: all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving, unchanging, simple, eternal, perfect creator. The concept of free will is commonly thought to conflict with both God's knowledge and God's power. If God knows which decision I will make before I exist to participate in said decision, then the decision has nothing to do with my choice or action. Therefore, it seems that genuine free will must limit God's knowledge to that which exists, with the results of free will choices deemed not to exist yet (this is commonly called "open theism" ). Furthermore, if my decision really is free, then it is under my control, not God's. But that means that I have some power that God does not, and God's power is accordingly limited.

But further consequences follow, and here is where things can get really problematic: the doctrine of divine simplicity means that God is not made of parts (this part is his power, that part is his omniscience, etc). God isn't divisible because divisibility implies time and space; different locations, different times. God transcends the time and space he created, so he transcends those differences. Therefore, his power, his knowledge, his very existence: all the same thing. To limit one is to limit all. God then becomes a finite, limited being who has not always existed (his existence has been limited just as his power, knowledge, etc.), and is himself in need of a creator. But the very necessity of invoking God as creator was to limit an infinite regress, and that limit has just been nullified.

And more still. Another traditional way of talking about God is to call him the necessary being: an entity that cannot fail to exist, the uncaused cause. That's how the infinite regress I just referred to was stopped. But if humans are the ultimate authors of their actions, then *they are necessary beings* (their actions are contingent on them, and the chain stops there). We just said that necessary beings cannot fail to exist, they are uncaused causes. Humans, as necessary beings, would have always existed, and not needed a creator. This may be the path to the doctrine of reincarnation and karma: every human being has always existed in one form or another, with the nature of the form dependent on previous actions, all of which each of us is ultimately and solely responsible for.

One way or another, belief in free will seems to point away from the omnimax God as creator.

Posted by Htom Sirveaux | Fri Nov 10, 2017, 07:12 PM (70 replies)

If you believe in a creator god or gods, how did they create?

The traditional Abrahamic monotheistic God is said to be infinite, meaning that there is no "room" for anything else but him. But how does the infinite contradict its own nature by limiting itself in order to produce a finite universe? An infinite divided by a finite is still an infinite. No room, no potential either inside or outside the creator to be brought to actuality (no other beings in existence, no potential within the creator without violating the divine perfection)...logically, creation seems impossible for an infinite being. And said infinite being cannot do the logically impossible without turning itself into a mixture of logical and illogical (violating the divine simplicity, another traditional attribute).
Posted by Htom Sirveaux | Tue Oct 24, 2017, 09:46 PM (41 replies)

"Progressive Values Can't Be Just Secular Values"

New polls suggest liberals have an increasingly negative view of religion, despite the fact that most Democrats—and Americans—are religious.


For a generation, the Democratic Party of which I’m a member has steadily moved away from communities of faith. Today, according to a recent Pew study, more than one-third of Democrats—including 44 percent of self-described liberal Democrats—think churches and religious organizations actually have a “negative impact” on the United States.

But the beliefs of those liberal Democrats don’t reflect the views of most American voters. The fact of the matter is this: The vast majority of Americans—including the majority of Democrats—are people of faith. According to a recent Pew study, for example, nearly 80 percent of Americans identify with a religious faith. Two-thirds of them pray every day.

That’s why if progressives are to achieve our goals, we have to open our hearts and minds to our allies in the faith community. Doing so won’t just advance our shared policy goals—it might also help heal a nation deeply divided along political lines.


Hey, did you know that liberals suck because they are so anti-religious that Senator Coons had to publicly lecture them to play nicely with religious people (even though the majority of liberals *are* religious people)? It's true. They just stubbornly refuse to open their hearts and minds, and that's why this nation is so deeply divided. It's not at all that there's an entire party of people whose political platform is often "liberals suck", and who on that basis elected a dangerous white supremacist. Nope, it's that liberals really do suck because they are such negative nellies about religion, and if we could all just come together and recognize that (preferably praying together about it), the world would be saved.

Senator Coons, as a church-going liberal and someone who has spent a good chunk of his life pondering spiritual matters, I'd like you to know that you just made things worse rather than better. Anti-religious people have no shortage of religious folks willing to lecture them about what they are doing or saying wrong, religion-wise. One more won't make them feel more positive about religion. Listening to them and taking them seriously without the condescending lectures might not either, but they'd probably feel better overall, and that's more valuable on a purely human level. But you might not have time for that amount of listening, since ignored people tend to store up quite a bit to say, and you probably have wealthy donor fundraisers to attend.

I understand, but in that case, could you get back to your job as a politician rather than play "apostle to the liberals"? I'm sure they'd appreciate that, too.

Posted by Htom Sirveaux | Sat Aug 26, 2017, 10:16 PM (37 replies)

What is your take on the "traditional" abrahamic monotheistic God?

By which I mean: a transcendent, personal, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving creator.

Posted by Htom Sirveaux | Thu Aug 24, 2017, 11:42 PM (18 replies)

Progressive People of Faith: Fred Clark, "The Slacktivist" blogger.

Fred Clark is a graduate of Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary (now called Palmer Seminary), of Eastern College (now called Eastern University) and of the fundamentalist Timothy Christian High School (still fundamentalist and still called Timothy Christian High School, but not really thrilled to have a snarky, liberal, tree-hugging, pro-choice, pro-GLBT, peacenik, commie, evolutionist as such a vocal alumnus).

A former managing editor of Prism magazine, Fred worked in the parachurch nonprofit world for a decade and then for a decade in the newspaper biz. He began blogging in 2002. In 2003 he began writing a review of the best-selling Left Behind series. Eight years later he still hasn’t finished reviewing the second book of that series and the experience has left him a broken shell of a man.


As a sample of Fred's progressiveness, here he is exposing anti-abortion politics for the cynical ploy that it is:

Back in the 1970s, white evangelicalism was mired in the disgrace of having been epically, utterly, spectacularly wrong about the Civil Rights movement. They hadn’t just picked the wrong side in a political battle. It was far worse than that. By defending injustice, they had disgraced themselves, surrendered all claims of moral competence, and become disgraced pariahs.


Failing the clearest moral test of your time and culture is only a problem so long as that moral test is what people are talking about and thinking about. So talk about something else.


And that’s what white evangelicals did in the late 1970s and into the 1980s. They didn’t change their minds about the Civil Rights movement, but they enthusiastically changed the subject. They started talking about abortion.

This is what abortion politics is for. This is what it was designed to do. This is its function and its purpose. It is — above all — a weapon for reasserting a claim to the moral high ground, and for putting the moral upstarts of the Civil Rights movement back in their proper place as moral subordinates who should have no say in determining right and wrong unless they first consult the rightful arbiters of such things, i.e., us.


There are genuine, no-question-about-it progressive people of faith out there, where settling for them being anti-choice or anti-lgbt isn't even an issue.
Posted by Htom Sirveaux | Wed Apr 12, 2017, 06:16 PM (15 replies)

"'Religious left' emerging as U.S. political force in Trump era"

By Scott Malone
Since President Donald Trump's election, monthly lectures on social justice at the 600-seat Gothic chapel of New York's Union Theological Seminary have been filled to capacity with crowds three times what they usually draw.

In January, the 181-year-old Upper Manhattan graduate school, whose architecture evokes London's Westminster Abbey, turned away about 1,000 people from a lecture on mass incarceration. In the nine years that Reverend Serene Jones has served as its president, she has never seen such crowds.

"The election of Trump has been a clarion call to progressives in the Protestant and Catholic churches in America to move out of a place of primarily professing progressive policies to really taking action," she said.

Although not as powerful as the religious right, which has been credited with helping elect Republican presidents and boasts well-known leaders such as Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson, the "religious left" is now slowly coming together as a force in U.S. politics.


This seems to be part of a broader trend of liberal organizations across the board receiving heavier support out of fear of Trump. These congregations are practicing what is almost a whole different religion from conservatives (white evangelicals gave 80% of their vote to Trump, according to exit polls), given the initiatives they are supporting.
Posted by Htom Sirveaux | Mon Mar 27, 2017, 03:05 PM (4 replies)

Non-atheists, a couple of questions?

Does the label "Religious Humanist" or "Insert your religious/spiritual path here) Humanist" resonate with you?

If your metaphysical approach shifted and you came to identify as an atheist, how do you think your political principles and stands on the issues would change, if at all?

Thanks for sharing!

Posted by Htom Sirveaux | Tue Mar 21, 2017, 10:44 PM (2 replies)

The meaning of "god/dess" to you.

if you identify as someone who believes in something that you label as "god/dess", what is that something, and why is "god/ess" an appropriate or attractive label for that?
Posted by Htom Sirveaux | Thu Feb 18, 2016, 11:09 PM (4 replies)

"What Christmas in “Christian America” tells us about ancient Israel"

Christmas in America is a national holiday woven into a secular liturgical year, with little authentic religious significance for many/most of those who celebrate it. It’s commercialized nonsense, a vehicle for reaching quarterly profit margins. Christmas means malls and some very dumb Christmas specials.


What if the ancient Israelites celebrated their rituals—festivals, sacrifices, regular times of worship—with the same lack of awareness for their deep religious significance as most American’s celebrate Christmas? What if ancient Israelites sort of just went along with the momentum of their vaguely sacred holidays adapted to cultural norms of the day?


The fact that the biblical writers protested so much against false worship probably tells us not so much how “rebellious” the Israelites were against clearly understood commands, but that the ancient Israelites were as detached from their official religion as are many/most Americans from official Christianity.

The celebration of Christmas in America today may give us a pretty good idea of what Israelite life was like, religiously speaking, during the time of Israel’s kings. The biblical stories of the past, in that respect, are more like sermons to catechize and motivate the Israelites rather than objective accounts of the past.


Posted by Htom Sirveaux | Wed Dec 30, 2015, 09:02 PM (0 replies)

"Why would an atheist respect the Calvinist God?"

Here’s the question: what’s the sense in which an atheist would respect the God of Calvinism over conceptions of the deity as omnibenevolent and a respecter of libertarian free will?

To find an answer, consider, for a moment the poor reception my book Is the Atheist My Neighbor? has received among atheists. As I’ve noted in the past, I sent out a dozen review copies to atheist bloggers who had requested a copy for review, and not one reviewed it. I’ve also been insulted by atheists through twitter and email (none of whom read the book). So why would atheists be collectively opposed to a book written by a Christian that defends atheism?

While there are probably several independent explanations for this response, in my experience a significant factor is that many atheists do not want improved relations with Christians. They prefer Christians to treat them with prejudicial dismissiveness and even arrogance. They want Christians to keep proof-texting Psalm 14:1 and Romans 1 against them and all other disbelievers.

And why would they prefer this state of heightened opposition and mutual antipathy? Because it makes it easier to dismiss Christianity in toto.


Posted by Htom Sirveaux | Sat Dec 19, 2015, 04:20 PM (23 replies)
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