Commentary and Philosophy Fiction posted February 20, 2016 Chapters:  ...24 25 -26- 27... 

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A chat between an atheist, a moderate and a fundamentalist

A chapter in the book Miscellaneous stories

Life, the universe and coffee

by CD Richards

The Conversation Contest Winner 
"The problem with your kind," he said, "is that you are like a ship without a rudder. How can humans know what is right and wrong without a moral compass to guide them? Without God, there is no absolute morality."

Ignoring the mixed metaphor, Erin contemplated for a moment before giving her reply. "No, I don't suppose I do have an 'absolute morality' that I could speak of. So how do you know what is right and wrong in your absolute world, Ian? Do you hear God's voice in your head? How exactly does it work?".

"God speaks to us through his Divine Word," replied Ian, admiring the attractive fern shape on the top of his cappuccino. "The Bible is His gift to us, so that we may know His will. I need to look no further than there to know what is right or wrong."

"So we just need to follow all that God has commanded in the Bible?" Erin peered at Ian through the steam rising from her Chai latte, and seeing his nod of agreement, she continued. "I'm going to miss them so much."

"Who are you going to miss?" enquired Max, before taking a bite of his raisin toast.

"Why, my husband Paul and my daughter Lisa," responded Erin. "I'm going to have to kill them."

"What on Earth are you talking about?" The look of bewilderment on Ian's face made his words seem superfluous.

"Paul was out all weekend spraying weeds on our property. I'm sure the Old Testament says that anyone who does any work on the Sabbath must be put to death. As for Lisa, she swore at me when I refused to let her go out with her friends until she had cleaned her room. I'm sure that is also a capital offence according to Leviticus. As for our neighbours Adam and Steve..."

"You don't understand," Max said patiently. Erin loved it when people began mansplaining to her. "Things were different in Old Testament times -- more violent. We have no right to judge an ancient culture that existed in different military, judicial and societal conditions. We are under a new covenant now, and the new covenant commands that we be at peace with all men. The blood of Jesus established the new covenant."

Now it was Erin's turn to look bewildered. "So why is it that up until a few hundred years ago, the Christian church, both Catholic and Protestant, were burning people for heresy and apostasy? Why up until this very day are Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland blowing each other up? Where is this new covenant of which you speak?"

It was hard to tell whether the steam was rising from Ian's cup, or his face. "My friend here hasn't told you the whole story. That's probably because he hasn't been to theological college as I have, and doesn't understand the politics of the time. In ancient Israel, there were laws giving death as the punishment for certain crimes such as those you've brought up. But the evidence shows us that these punishments were only rarely enforced. So God is actually merciful in that he gave these commands knowing that in most cases they wouldn't be enacted."

Erin didn't bother to remark either on God's hit-or-miss approach to punishment, or how sneaky it was of Him to show his displeasure by demanding a justice He knew probably wouldn't be carried out.

"So what's your take on it?" Was that contempt in Ian's voice? "How do you decide what's right or wrong in a world with no hard and fast rules?" he demanded.

"Well, firstly..." began Erin, placing her cup back in the saucer, "I think it is obvious that 'absolute morality' is a tenuous proposition. Look around the world, look back through the decades. Our ideas of what is right and wrong change all the time. Circumstances affect our perceptions too. What is right in one context may not be right in another. Courts of law understand this far better than churches. This isn't changed by your insistence on black-and-white-ism, Ian. Abrahamic religions to this very day can't agree whether homosexuality is an offence for which one should be beheaded, or just excommunicated, or whether it's an expression of love which should be embraced as any other. As for myself, I tend to find that the 'golden rule' (which, by the way, predates Jesus' adoption of it by quite a long way) works quite well as a guiding principle. Also, it fits in well with my Darwinian understanding of how things work. Treating other living beings as we would wish to be treated ourselves leads to the preservation and prosperity of all life. And there is nothing wrong in seeking happiness for myself, as long as my happiness doesn't impinge on the happiness of others."

Ian decided now was as good a time as any to change the subject. Swallowing his mouthful of apple Danish, he addressed Erin; "You are approaching this with your fallible human mind, which thanks to the fall is blinded by sin. You are committing idolatry by placing yourself above God. He is omnipotent and omniscient, you must obey His will."

As Erin opened her mouth to speak, a huge peal of thunder shook the windows of the cafe. An omen? She chuckled quietly to herself. "Omnipotent? Omniscient? Could you please explain those terms?"

Max took the opportunity to re-join the conversation. "Omnipotent means that He is all-powerful -- there is nothing that God cannot do (except, by definition, sin -- because that would mean going against His own will, which is impossible); and omniscience means that He knows everything -- all that has ever happened, is happening now, and will ever happen."

"That presents a bit of a paradox, doesn't it?" Erin said to no one in particular as she contemplated the raindrops splashing against the glass.

"How so?" Max licked the tip of his finger before using it to dab the crumbs from his plate.

"Well, if God is all-knowing, according to the definition you just gave, He knows what He is going to do tomorrow, and a hundred years from now, and a thousand years."


"So when tomorrow arrives, God has absolutely no choice in what He can do. He can only take one out of an infinite number of possible courses of action, because it is the action He has known for all eternity He would take. That doesn't sound like omnipotence, it sounds like He has no 'free will' at all."

"I'm just curious," responded Max. "Why do you hate God so much? What has happened in your life that has hardened your heart so towards Him?"

"The premise of your question is incorrect," Erin responded without pause. "I don't hate God at all -- any more than I hate the Easter Bunny or the Golden Unicorn, and for the same reason -- I don't believe they exist. Devoting energy to hating something that doesn't exist would just be crazy. I'm not all that fond of the people who invent Him simply to persuade others that their claims and demands need to be heeded, as a 'higher authority' which supposedly gives them the upper hand in any disputes."

"Anyone who says in his heart 'There is no God' is a fool, according to the Psalmist." As she heard the words coming from Ian's lips, Erin could picture him standing at the pulpit, his voice thundering across the pews.

"In science," began Erin, trying not to sound like the high school physics teacher that she was, "it is generally accepted that for a proposition to be considered true, it must first be falsifiable. For example -- let's take the suggestion that the moon is made of mostly rocks, with a layer of dust at many places on its surface. Could such a claim be proven wrong? Certainly it could. We could send a manned rocket to land on it, examine it and take samples to be returned to Earth for analysis. If those samples turned out to be green cheese, then we would know that our hypothesis was wrong. Without any way of testing our claim, it doesn't pay to be adamant about it. Now, you tell me -- what single piece of evidence could I produce that would convince you, beyond any doubt, that God doesn't exist? Think carefully before you answer."

After a pause of several seconds, Max lifted his arm. "Oh my, look at the time. My wife will be wondering what on Earth has become of me!"

"Yes, and the worst of the storm appears to have passed," replied Erin. "I must be on my way too."

"I will pray that God will remove the hardness of your heart, and that you will be saved from an eternity of damnation in the fires of hell," Ian said, quite sincerely, to Erin.

"And I hope that you will come to know the peace and love that Jesus can bring to your life," Max offered. "And a good evening to you too, Ian".

"Have a great evening, boys!"

The Conversation
Contest Winner

It was important to me in addressing this topic to try and avoid the temptation to make the characters "cardboard cut-outs" of the positions they represent. In other words, I didn't want the atheist to come across as being a heartless creature that doesn't care about anything other than hating God; the extremist as a hate-speech-spewing, sword wielding nut job; and the moderate as a wishy-washy "I just want everyone to agree with me" fence-sitter. I also wanted to show that even people of widely different ideologies, although they may disagree (vehemently at times) can, if they put their minds to it, have a civil discussion. That said, although I have tried not to misrepresent anyone, it no doubt contains my own biases and prejudices.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

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