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Old 18th September 2018, 02:31 PM   #1
Thor 2
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The Allegory Conundrum

"Well yes but that is an allegory" we are told by the apologist when confronted with some particularly nasty piece of sacred scripture.

Edited by zooterkin:  <SNIP>
Edited for rule 12.

So these are the questions that confound me and I have yet to see or hear anything approaching an adequate answer:

- How do we determine if the account or instructions are allegorical?
Edited by zooterkin:  <SNIP>
Edited for rule 12.


- What is the allegorical message being given and to what purpose?

I have read for example that Jonah being swallowed by a whale big fish, and being vomited up after 3 days was an allegory for Jesus doing his 3 days dead ordeal. OK but what was the point of the story? What deep message that will help guide us through life is in there?
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Last edited by zooterkin; 25th September 2018 at 08:33 AM.
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Old 18th September 2018, 02:44 PM   #2
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Allegories, like parables, are meant to be open for interpretation; if people say they mean something specific, they haven't understood what an allegory is.
It's like using a Rohrschach blob as a police composite sketch.
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Old 18th September 2018, 03:20 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by Thor 2 View Post
"Well yes but that is an allegory" we are told by the apologist when confronted with some particularly nasty piece of sacred scripture.

Edited by zooterkin:  <SNIP>
Edited for rule 12.


So these are the questions that confound me and I have yet to see or hear anything approaching an adequate answer:

- How do we determine if the account or instructions are allegorical?
Edited by zooterkin:  <SNIP>
Edited for rule 12.


- What is the allegorical message being given and to what purpose?

I have read for example that Jonah being swallowed by a whale big fish, and being vomited up after 3 days was an allegory for Jesus doing his 3 days dead ordeal. OK but what was the point of the story? What deep message that will help guide us through life is in there?
1. Oh, you already know the answer to #1: it is allegorical if it says something you do not want to hear. If it says something that supports you pre-existing desires or prejudices it is to be taken literally. Easy.

2.#2 is a little harder for me to answer. Surely the allegorical messages are meant for clergy who need material for sermons, and perhaps for Jesuits who I understand enjoy debating the issues involved even when not preaching (which is why I have actually some fond feelings for the Jesuit order; they remind me of the rabbi's I've had). However why god felt the need to disguise such important information as allegorical mumbling eludes me.

3. My best guess is that the Jonah story is to teach people to not run away from their obligations to god by sea; do it over land or in a plane. Also to teach that sailors are an unreliable lot.

Last edited by zooterkin; 25th September 2018 at 08:33 AM.
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Old 18th September 2018, 03:25 PM   #4
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Hell Jesus does this in the biblical canon.

In Matthew 13:10 the disciples go to Jesus basically complaining that he speaks in riddles and Jesus basically.... replies with a gibberish parable.
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Old 18th September 2018, 05:57 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by The Great Zaganza View Post
Allegories, like parables, are meant to be open for interpretation; if people say they mean something specific, they haven't understood what an allegory is.
It's like using a Rohrschach blob as a police composite sketch.

So allegories and parables are open for interpretation into whatever you want them to be. If you do this however and interpret is as something specific then you don't understand what it is. A bit like catch 22 in a way and I think the religious would swing with it.
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Old 18th September 2018, 07:50 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Thor 2 View Post
I have read for example that Jonah being swallowed by a whale big fish, and being vomited up after 3 days was an allegory for Jesus doing his 3 days dead ordeal. OK but what was the point of the story? What deep message that will help guide us through life is in there?
Jonah was in a bad situation, one that would seem pretty hopeless. But it was temporary and he was saved because he had faith and called out to god to save him. If you find yourself in a seemingly hopeless, “dark” place, you too can call out to god and if you have faith you too will be vomited out of your troubles onto dry land.
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Old 18th September 2018, 08:15 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Thor 2 View Post
So allegories and parables are open for interpretation into whatever you want them to be. If you do this however and interpret is as something specific then you don't understand what it is. A bit like catch 22 in a way and I think the religious would swing with it.
Whatever anyone wants them to be: no one has the authority to state that one interpretation is correct and the others false.
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Old 18th September 2018, 08:18 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by The Great Zaganza View Post
Whatever anyone wants them to be: no one has the authority to state that one interpretation is correct and the others false.
The Pope does. But only for Catholics. Presumably the Patriarchs of the Orthodox churches do too. With Protestantism it's a whole lot messier.
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Old 19th September 2018, 05:12 AM   #9
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Hey, God commands a lot of stuff in that book about having people stoned for working on the Sabbath, etc...

Does he really mean it? If there are enough followers who assume that he does, believing they are following the word of God (and can we really blame them for taking the word literally and for believing that not doing so is blasphemy, also punishable by death?) then the onus is really on God to clarify things. Not doing so should frankly result in a trial for gross negligence.
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Old 19th September 2018, 05:26 AM   #10
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So.... Allegories are related to myths? Like Prometheus stealing fire from the gods, then getting his liver chewed on?

Supposed (according to the Wiki) to be an allegory for “human striving”.

I suspect it started out as a good fireside tale......
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Old 19th September 2018, 05:41 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by Bikewer View Post
I suspect it started out as a good fireside tale......
...which would of course have been impossible unless it actually happened.

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Old 19th September 2018, 01:40 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by sylvan8798 View Post
Jonah was in a bad situation, one that would seem pretty hopeless. But it was temporary and he was saved because he had faith and called out to god to save him. If you find yourself in a seemingly hopeless, “dark” place, you too can call out to god and if you have faith you too will be vomited out of your troubles onto dry land.

Yes, I suppose that makes some kind of sense although the track record of Jonah's god is not good in answering prayers. Wait ....... most peoples prayers go unanswered because their faith isn't strong enough ...... right?*

So here is another one to take a crack at.

Why didn't Jephthah's god relieve him of the obligation to sacrifice his own daughter to him, and what was the allegorical message in this whole brutal tale.

* Pat Robertson"s faith must be a a bit weak because he couldn't stop that storm.
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Old 19th September 2018, 05:04 PM   #13
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God wasn't really into human sacrifice, but he was definitely into teaching people lessons. Jephthah made a stupid vow and it provided a learning opportunity for the rest of the people not to make stupid vows that you might regret later. Particularly ones that God wasn't interested in. Unfortunately, the lesson was probably lost on the rest of humanity.

Here's one I don't get: After Daniel came out of the lion's den unscathed (another faith-in-God event), King Darius threw the conspirators against Daniel all into the lion's den. Along with their wives and children. God supposedly likes children (no real evidence of that in the old testament), so why didn't he at least save the children from the lions?
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Old 20th September 2018, 01:12 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by sylvan8798 View Post
God wasn't really into human sacrifice, but he was definitely into teaching people lessons. Jephthah made a stupid vow and it provided a learning opportunity for the rest of the people not to make stupid vows that you might regret later. Particularly ones that God wasn't interested in. Unfortunately, the lesson was probably lost on the rest of humanity.

Here's one I don't get: After Daniel came out of the lion's den unscathed (another faith-in-God event), King Darius threw the conspirators against Daniel all into the lion's den. Along with their wives and children. God supposedly likes children (no real evidence of that in the old testament), so why didn't he at least save the children from the lions?

Well I guess if the Abrahamic god has this fixation about giving messages with vague allegories, it is little wonder most folk don't get it.

God maybe likes the taste of children like us baby eating atheists.
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Old 20th September 2018, 01:22 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by Thor 2 View Post
- How do we determine if the account or instructions are allegorical?

My Rabbi (and I'm not saying agree with any of this) said that God explained the world to Israel in terms that were helpful to them at the time. Had he explained that the earth was billions of years old and man evolved from extinct species, it wouldn't have been of any use. It contradicted all evidence available to them and gave no moral direction. So he made up stories that were both easy to comprehend and that taught important moral truths.

My question was similar to yours - How do we tell the made up things that no longer should be taken as truth from the rules we still need to follow? And why wouldn't God come back and just explain all of this now?

The answer is obvious to the faithful and completely opaque to people like you and me.
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Old 21st September 2018, 02:03 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
My Rabbi (and I'm not saying agree with any of this) said that God explained the world to Israel in terms that were helpful to them at the time. Had he explained that the earth was billions of years old and man evolved from extinct species, it wouldn't have been of any use. It contradicted all evidence available to them and gave no moral direction. So he made up stories that were both easy to comprehend and that taught important moral truths.

My question was similar to yours - How do we tell the made up things that no longer should be taken as truth from the rules we still need to follow? And why wouldn't God come back and just explain all of this now?

The answer is obvious to the faithful and completely opaque to people like you and me.

I have often pondered this question. That things can seem so clear and obvious to the faithful.

Many a discussion I have had with my late brother, who was a born again zealot, and more recently with my nephew, who took his religious fervour to an even higher level, than that of his father.

When discussions get into the detail of the abundant silly stuff in scripture, and the last desperate defence arguments are dealt with, the final stance of these faithful is - "Well I just know it's true because I do and have a relationship with Jesus."
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Old 21st September 2018, 08:59 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by Thor 2 View Post
When discussions get into the detail of the abundant silly stuff in scripture, and the last desperate defence arguments are dealt with, the final stance of these faithful is - "Well I just know it's true because I do and have a relationship with Jesus."

My religion doesn't even have personal relationships with God. Jews just sort of follow rules and trust God has our best interests at heart. At the very most, we'll ask him to heal someone who is sick but even then the prayer just gives up at the end and asks God to basically look after everybody.

That lack of a "personal relationship" doesn't seem to be a big factor in faith, though. I know faithful Jews and even some who believe in the literal truth of all of the bible. Their faith doesn't seem any less enduring than your nephew's, even though it's based on a whole different foundational concept.
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Old 22nd September 2018, 02:53 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
My Rabbi (and I'm not saying agree with any of this) said that God explained the world to Israel in terms that were helpful to them at the time. Had he explained that the earth was billions of years old and man evolved from extinct species, it wouldn't have been of any use. It contradicted all evidence available to them and gave no moral direction. So he made up stories that were both easy to comprehend and that taught important moral truths.

My question was similar to yours - How do we tell the made up things that no longer should be taken as truth from the rules we still need to follow? And why wouldn't God come back and just explain all of this now?

The answer is obvious to the faithful and completely opaque to people like you and me.
This is absurd. An omniscient and all mighty god doesn't need tell false or obscure stories to tell the trutht to believers. This kind of explanation of the many falsehoods and incomprehensible things in the Bible is sheer anthropomorfism.
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Old 22nd September 2018, 03:11 AM   #19
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There are two kind of allegories, explicit and implicit. The former have a problem: what the author meant. The latter pose the problem of whether or not there is a hidden allegory.
There is no precise method. The former kind of allegories may be very explicit. Except in this case everything is based on interpretations as obscure as the supposed allegories
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Old 22nd September 2018, 02:59 PM   #20
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Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
My religion doesn't even have personal relationships with God. Jews just sort of follow rules and trust God has our best interests at heart. At the very most, we'll ask him to heal someone who is sick but even then the prayer just gives up at the end and asks God to basically look after everybody.

That lack of a "personal relationship" doesn't seem to be a big factor in faith, though. I know faithful Jews and even some who believe in the literal truth of all of the bible. Their faith doesn't seem any less enduring than your nephew's, even though it's based on a whole different foundational concept.

Interesting that. I also have heard it said that the Bible is literally a true account -usually by those knowing little of the contents. Catholics possibly more than most other Christian denominations, which is understandable given it's track record of keeping the contents of said book secret.

Dare I say it but the lack of "personal relationship" with God or Jesus, is something Catholics share with your Jewish examples. Catholics who slavishly clutch their rosaries and say their hail Mary's as instructed by the priest, and ask some saint to intercede on their behalf, instead of going the direct route.
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Old 24th September 2018, 08:49 AM   #21
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Originally Posted by sylvan8798 View Post
Jonah was in a bad situation, one that would seem pretty hopeless. But it was temporary and he was saved because he had faith and called out to god to save him. If you find yourself in a seemingly hopeless, “dark” place, you too can call out to god and if you have faith you too will be vomited out of your troubles onto dry land.
I like this one, especially since the whale was sent by God. By your explanation, God causes the troubles you have to ask to be saved form

ETA: "Sure is a nice soul you have there...be a shame if something should happen to it. I'd be willing to offer you an...insurance policy..."

Originally Posted by Thor 2 View Post
Interesting that. I also have heard it said that the Bible is literally a true account -usually by those knowing little of the contents. Catholics possibly more than most other Christian denominations, which is understandable given it's track record of keeping the contents of said book secret.

Dare I say it but the lack of "personal relationship" with God or Jesus, is something Catholics share with your Jewish examples. Catholics who slavishly clutch their rosaries and say their hail Mary's as instructed by the priest, and ask some saint to intercede on their behalf, instead of going the direct route.
Actually, many fundamentalist Protestant sects tend to be the most common literalists, especially so in the south and southeast U.S. (the "Bible Belt"). It also appears to be more a personal thing, than any official doctrine (at least for any non-trivial denomination).

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Old 24th September 2018, 01:45 PM   #22
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Originally Posted by Hellbound View Post
I like this one, especially since the whale was sent by God. By your explanation, God causes the troubles you have to ask to be saved form
Yes, quite. I've also determined that if you are IN God's favor and something BAD happens to you (your house is flooded in the hurricane, say), it's because Satan is trying to get to you. God allows Satan to try to derail your faith, as a test maybes. If you are OUT of God's favor, then God causes the hurricane to flood your house as a message, usually to get you to stop supporting or being gay. So apparently, God and Satan work together a good bit. You are left to judge for yourself which case applies to YOU and which applies to your neighbor. Also, God has a really bad aim, so babies and children often perish when they get caught in the Heaven/Hell crossfire.
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Old 24th September 2018, 02:28 PM   #23
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Originally Posted by Hellbound View Post
I like this one, especially since the whale was sent by God. By your explanation, God causes the troubles you have to ask to be saved form

ETA: "Sure is a nice soul you have there...be a shame if something should happen to it. I'd be willing to offer you an...insurance policy..."



Actually, many fundamentalist Protestant sects tend to be the most common literalists, especially so in the south and southeast U.S. (the "Bible Belt"). It also appears to be more a personal thing, than any official doctrine (at least for any non-trivial denomination).

Well I suppose these people take the easiest path and don't have to figure out the meaning behind an allegorical story. They just take it as literal truth and if it makes little sense there is always the "We can't know the ways of God" backstop.

I have questioned my fundie nephew about Abraham being willing to sacrifice his own son and his response was "Abraham was an awesome man" and that was that.
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Old 24th September 2018, 04:14 PM   #24
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Originally Posted by Thor 2 View Post
I have questioned my fundie nephew about Abraham being willing to sacrifice his own son and his response was "Abraham was an awesome man" and that was that.

That story, I have no trouble believing. People do crazy stuff like that all the time. The incredible part is that Abraham stopped. Usually, the voices just get louder until you go through with it.
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Old 24th September 2018, 07:31 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
My religion doesn't even have personal relationships with God. Jews just sort of follow rules and trust God has our best interests at heart. At the very most, we'll ask him to heal someone who is sick but even then the prayer just gives up at the end and asks God to basically look after everybody.

That lack of a "personal relationship" doesn't seem to be a big factor in faith, though. I know faithful Jews and even some who believe in the literal truth of all of the bible. Their faith doesn't seem any less enduring than your nephew's, even though it's based on a whole different foundational concept.
The "personal relationship" is a peculiarity of Protestantism, especially the modern versions (ie, other than Lutheranism and Calvinism, for example). My church had pastors who would lead services, but our relationship with God wasn't expected to be mediated through the church, as it would have been in Catholicism.
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Old 25th September 2018, 02:04 PM   #26
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Originally Posted by arthwollipot View Post
The "personal relationship" is a peculiarity of Protestantism, especially the modern versions (ie, other than Lutheranism and Calvinism, for example). My church had pastors who would lead services, but our relationship with God wasn't expected to be mediated through the church, as it would have been in Catholicism.

From my observations I would agree with you about this. To get this back on topic however, I only mentioned the "personal relationship" thing as it was a cop out by some of the faithful, to avoid the difficult task of making some sense out of scripture. That and the "we don't (can't) know the ways of God" line.

The contradiction of that last sentence is massive in scale. We have this sacred word of God given to us as guidance, but we do not have the capacity to understand it.
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Old 25th September 2018, 03:39 PM   #27
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Originally Posted by Thor 2 View Post
The contradiction of that last sentence is massive in scale. We have this sacred word of God given to us as guidance, but we do not have the capacity to understand it.

Well, let's be somewhat reasonable: My math textbook had tables for common logs. I didn't understand how they were derived but I was assured they were right and I assumed they were because it was a math book and I trusted the mathematicians who wrote it.

Once someone accepts that the Bible is written by (or by people working for) God, it's pretty easy to just follow along and assume the authors know what they're talking about.

I agree, of course, that there are HUGE differences between math and the Bible. If I cared to educate myself sufficiently, I could have derived the logs myself without reference to the textbook. I could at least check that the authors were qualified in their field. And, if nothing else, the log tables were consistent with whatever else was in the book. Still, trusting authority is a pretty natural state for human beings. Questioning authority is much more difficult.
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Old 25th September 2018, 05:50 PM   #28
arthwollipot
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Originally Posted by Thor 2 View Post
From my observations I would agree with you about this. To get this back on topic however, I only mentioned the "personal relationship" thing as it was a cop out by some of the faithful, to avoid the difficult task of making some sense out of scripture. That and the "we don't (can't) know the ways of God" line.
Yes, but the "personal relationship" is even more important than you realise. Once you have a direct line to God, you can ask him yourself what he thinks of things. Of course, since God doesn't exist, all you are doing is asking yourself and responding to your own questions in ways that you think are appropriate, and then attributing that to receiving God's answer. Hence, whatever you think is right can now get God's stamp of approval.
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Old 25th September 2018, 07:08 PM   #29
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Originally Posted by arthwollipot View Post
Yes, but the "personal relationship" is even more important than you realise. Once you have a direct line to God, you can ask him yourself what he thinks of things. Of course, since God doesn't exist, all you are doing is asking yourself and responding to your own questions in ways that you think are appropriate, and then attributing that to receiving God's answer. Hence, whatever you think is right can now get God's stamp of approval.

My good friend from law school went home from Atlanta to Orlando for the weekend, went out with a bunch of friends one night, and two days later told me he was getting married. When I asked him to try to be reasonable, he responded, "You don't understand, I prayed on it."

Anyway, they've been married for 20 years and have 3 or 4 kids so clearly whatever prayer he said worked for him.
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Old 25th September 2018, 07:09 PM   #30
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You've heard the phrase "God thinks like you"? This is why.
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Old 25th September 2018, 08:06 PM   #31
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And it's been demonstrated experimentally.

1. Stick people in an fMRI machine and ask what they think of something. One part of the brain lights up on your screen.

2. Ask them what somebody else thinks of the same subject. Another part of the brain lights up on your screen.

3. Ask the religious what God thinks of the same subject. What lights up on your screen? The same part as in #1. They literally think they're God.
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Old 25th September 2018, 08:47 PM   #32
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^If God wanted you to use MRI machines, he would have mentioned it in the bible.
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Old 25th September 2018, 09:26 PM   #33
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Originally Posted by sylvan8798 View Post
^If God wanted you to use MRI machines, he would have mentioned it in the bible.
Well, he mentioned Miriam a lot, which is kind of close in hebrew to MRI. None of it's at all helpful but viewed from just the right angle .. it is still not helpful.
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Old 26th September 2018, 08:49 AM   #34
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Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
Well, he mentioned Miriam a lot, which is kind of close in hebrew to MRI. None of it's at all helpful but viewed from just the right angle .. it is still not helpful.
If God didn't mention it, and it is undermining God, then it is the tool of Satan. Everything is easy if you just yell "Jesus!" or "Satan!" at appropriate intervals.
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Old 26th September 2018, 09:34 AM   #35
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Originally Posted by sylvan8798 View Post
If God didn't mention it, and it is undermining God, then it is the tool of Satan. Everything is easy if you just yell "Jesus!" or "Satan!" at appropriate intervals.
If everything can't be black and white, then make it gold or red?

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Old 26th September 2018, 02:22 PM   #36
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Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
Well, let's be somewhat reasonable: My math textbook had tables for common logs. I didn't understand how they were derived but I was assured they were right and I assumed they were because it was a math book and I trusted the mathematicians who wrote it.
Well yes, looking at your analogy, we do have mathematicians who can work these things out for us. (Logarithms not so hard, I can do this myself.)

We also have biblical scholars who can tell us the meaning of this or that story in the Bible. Unlike the mathematicians however it would be good if they could agree sometimes about the meanings.

Interesting answer from "Catholic Answers" about the Abraham story:

Quote:
Full Question
Why did God test Abraham and ask him to sacrifice his son?

Answer
In asking Abraham to sacrifice his son, God was not testing him for his own information*but for that of Abraham. Up until this point Abraham did not know that he had such faith within himself. In making such a difficult request, God actually drew the best out of Abraham. This is why he gives each of us the crosses we have.
Can you get your head around this one?

To get around the obvious rebuttal, that God would not need to test Abraham to determine the level of his faith, (because being omniscient he would know this already), the writer says that God is reenforcing Abraham's belief in his own faith. Oh boy!
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Old 26th September 2018, 02:37 PM   #37
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Now looking at another story us atheists like to pick on - Elisha, little children, and the bears.

Here is one explanation given by a biblical scholar:

https://answersingenesis.org/bible-q...and-the-bears/

It goes on for pages and if you have the patience to read it there is no discernible answer contained therein.

If you would like the Catholic Take:

https://www.catholic.com/qa/whats-up...-and-the-bears

Likewise it goes on forever and little understanding is gleaned from it. There is some mention that the children were not really children as if this makes it ok.

Then at the end it is suggested that some see the story as an allegory:

Quote:
Another Jewish tradition from the Talmud views the story as an allegory.*This strand believes that the verses mean that the youth were cut off from Israel for their crimes against their countrymen.*They were essentially abandoned to the wilderness, similar to early American colonial*expulsions from towns and settlements.

A story about bears tearing children to pieces is an allegory for this?
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Old 26th September 2018, 03:06 PM   #38
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^The children were not really "children"? Oh, okay, that makes it fine. Must be true of the ones that were thrown in with the lions too. God had no concern about children in the OT. They were getting whacked all the time. Why are believers so reluctant to face that? Seriously?
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Old 27th September 2018, 01:31 PM   #39
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Originally Posted by sylvan8798 View Post
^The children were not really "children"? Oh, okay, that makes it fine. Must be true of the ones that were thrown in with the lions too. God had no concern about children in the OT. They were getting whacked all the time. Why are believers so reluctant to face that? Seriously?

From my observations different believers have different ways of dealing with these apparent atrocities. Some, like one posters grandmother, just believes that everyone, including children, are unworthy and deserving of nothing, (because of the original sin thing), so God is justified in doing as he will with them. Others are so profoundly ignorant of the contents of the Bible that it is never an issue for them.* And others, as I mentioned previously, just fall back on the "we don't know the ways of God" copout, and all religious content in the brain is, contained in a special place with a logic barrier at the entrance.

* I read a survey that showed atheists in general had a better knowledge of sacred scriptures than the faithful.
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Old 27th September 2018, 03:02 PM   #40
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The three part, but single, God of Christianity is a concept that has Christian authorities jumping through hoops.

From Catholic Answers:

Quote:
The Father, Son, and Spirit are each distinct, uncreated spirits, and it's important to emphasize*distinct*rather than*separate.*They each wholly possess the*same*divine nature, united in the Holy Trinity. So we have one God, because they wholly possess the same divine nature, and yet they are three distinct, divine persons. Of course, only the Son became man, so he also has a human soul and body.

Got that? Notice the "uncreated" part? That is consistent with the Catholic belief that Jesus always existed. Some other flavours of Christianity are at odds with this idea as are some parts of the Bible. Jesus not given a mention in the OT and seems to play a subservient role in the NT perhaps at odds with the idea?

Then we have this from revelation:

Quote:
1:1*The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants*things which must shortly come to pass; and he*sent*and signified it*by his angel unto his servant John:
So Jesus, who is part of God, is given this information via an angel and a dude called John.

And also this:

Quote:
4:5*And*out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.
Seven "Spirits of God" now.
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