Part of what makes the creation story of the Bible unique is that God created everything. He set the boundary conditions for every situation, and everything was made as he intended. That’s why Gen 1:31 says, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” Additionally, God is omniscient, so he must have known every possible permutation of future events that could have occurred following his creation of all things. We can therefore trace responsibility for everything that has ever happened back to the conditions that God originally created.
Fast forward a few dozen generations and we come to the life of Moses. The example set by the Ten Commandments and continued throughout the rest of the Old Testament is a law-based system. Deuteronomy 7:9 says, “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments,” and that tradition — the idea that all you have to do is follow the 613 specific rules laid out in the Pentateuch to be in God’s good graces — remains for the rest of the Old Testament.
|And the Lord spake unto Moses, "BEHOLD! In the future, |
people will think there are only ten of these, for no apparent reason."
Then we come to the arrival of Jesus, and suddenly obedience to the law isn’t enough. Suddenly you need faith in Jesus as God. Galatians 2:16 says, “A man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ.” Galatians 3:11-12 says, “The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith.” And perhaps most concise is John 14:6, in which Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” That didn’t sit well with a lot of people, it must be admitted. Faith in the New Testament isn’t just an addendum; it is the make or break issue. Jesus himself says in Matthew 12:31-32, “And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”
I want to go back to the idea of choosing to believe. Belief — true belief — is not a choice. Obviously you can choose what you profess to believe, but do you think you could choose to believe in Santa Claus again? No. You know it’s not true, and not because you suddenly decided to stop believing. It’s because you were convinced, and you eventually found that the Santa Claus myth was no longer plausible. It’s the same with religious faith; we can’t decide what to believe, we have to be convinced with evidence.
|I don't really see the problem. Just think this instead.|
So let’s return to the “only faith matters” idea. If murder, genocide, and slavery can be wiped clean by genuine penitence and regret for what you’ve done, reopening the door to heaven — and they can, clearly — the law is no longer relevant. In fact, Jesus himself broke the law when he refused to punish an adulteress (or her strangely absent partner-in-crime) in the gospel of John, chapter 8. The law is unequivocal: adulterers must be stoned. God said so. But Jesus violated that mandate. Furthermore, the phrase “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” implies that only the sinless can punish the sinful, and no human being can be sinless. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Couple that with Jesus’ charge in Matt 5:38, “Do not resist one who is evil,” and you have a framework for removing human law altogether. We’re no longer allowed to tell other people what’s right and wrong, and if they do wrong, we’re not allowed to stop them. We as humans have been effectively forbidden from exacting justice on our fellow human beings in any form.
Furthermore, there is nothing at all you can do — or fail to do — to hurt your chances of getting into heaven. Deathbed baptisms were eagerly performed by the Church throughout the Middle Ages, sending thousands of sinners into the company of God. And any person who lives a superficially perfect life, helping the poor and sick and hungry, but still doesn’t believe? They’re doomed.
Morality is probably the most contentious point over which believers and non-believers argue. Believers generally argue that without God, moral laws cannot be enforced because they are the arbitrary creation of the species trying to enforce them. Non-believers argue that morality can and does exist without God, whether by some form of culturally tuned sense of evolutionary altruism or by intrinsic neurological structures. Non-believers will often point out that there are hundreds of examples in the Bible of acts that most humans find repulsive now — slavery, rape, child abuse, infanticide, genocide, incest, and so on — and that Christianity’s holy book has therefore set a terrible example for moral behavior and should be disregarded.
What both sides fail to see is that both arguments are irrelevant. The fact is that Christianity cannot impart moral lessons. Let me reiterate: the problem with Christianity is not that its moral rules are wrong or outdated. The problem with Christianity is that it provides no incentive whatsoever for following its own moral rules.
|Yes, fine, whatever. Go away.|
Let’s take the hypothetical the other direction and imagine that Jesus is evil and, being evil, gives you a set of appalling instructions. Rape any woman who won’t sleep with you voluntarily. Kill anyone who disagrees with you. Hit children who disobey you. Steal what others won’t give you. Kick puppies. Let’s imagine that you, as a rational person, find those instructions horrifying and repulsive. You disobey all those laws. You treat women with kindness, you respect differences of opinion, and you scratch puppies behind the ears. You’ve behaved in a way that most modern people would find commendable, but in doing so have spit in the face of Evil Jesus and his reprehensible commandments.
|For which the puppy thanks you.|
Do you see what I’m saying? I’ve belabored the point because it needs belaboring, but it is in reality quite simple. Christianity contains a set of moral rules and laws, some set by example and some explicitly stated. But it also contains a condition that no matter whether you follow the rules or not, your faith in Jesus is all that matters. It is literally and unconditionally the ONLY criterion by which your entry to heaven will be accepted or denied by God. And since that’s the ultimate goal — not the legacy you leave on earth or the way you treat other people or the accomplishments you have in your own life, because those things are fleeting and eternity is eternal — God’s criteria are the only relevant ones. Or, to distill the last 1700 words into a mere 15:
It doesn’t matter what the rules are
because you don’t have to follow the rules.
So this is the situation in which we find ourselves. God created us, in his image, with the ability to ruin everything. We did, almost immediately. He punished us for doing what he knew we would do from the beginning. Then he sent his only son to tell us to "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect," (Matthew 5:48) knowing full well that we could not. Since we cannot be perfect, we must have faith in the grace of Jesus, and hope for the sake of our eternal souls that he will allow us into heaven despite our flaws, flaws that he as God gave us. We are created sick and commanded to be well. We are created with an irreparable flaw and told that we must repair it, or face eternal torment as penalty for the shortcomings that we have no choice but to possess. We are given a set of criteria, created by the same entity that rendered us fundamentally incapable of meeting them, and told that we must meet them nevertheless.
This may seem cruel and unfair, but then we’re given a loophole. We don’t actually have to meet them because as long as we believe in Jesus’ divinity, we'll be fine. Simple, right? Except we can’t just “choose” to believe in something we don’t actually believe in, we have to be persuaded by tangible reasons. God himself made our minds work like that. Of course, God won’t give us any tangible reason to believe because that would be too easy, so a lot of us are stuck making the only mistake that we’re really not allowed to make, and it doesn’t matter what else we do. We’re not allowed to fake believing either, because God would pick up on that.
All the while, we are given free rein to behave as horribly as we want to our fellow inhabitants of this Earth, providing we remember to beg forgiveness after we do so.
It's a hell of a system.