Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Question from a Student

Here's a thought: Who is the more virtuous person?

1. The person who follows a religious creed to avoid eternal damnation, but does not strive to live virtuously, instead taking advantage of the "forgiveness of sins" clauses that are in major religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism).

2. The atheist or agnostic who works to live a virtuous life merely for the sake of being virtuous, with no thought to any reward or any sort of afterlife.

If there was a god, and these two people were standing before you, which one would you let into the proverbial pearly gates? 


One theory is that since God standard is perfection, and no one reaches that standard, only those who, through faith, appropriate God's substitutionary sacrifice in Christ are saved, and everyone else is lost.

But there are other theories of heaven and hell. One is that heaven is actually a big bore to anyone except those with a good character. A religious faith that is just a fire insurance policy which allows you to stop worrying about going to hell while remaining indifferent to the development of one's character is a pretty worthless kind of faith. If a loving God runs the universe, then the only way one is ever going to be happy forever in this kind of a universe is to become a completely loving person oneself. You can do some of that on your own power, but that only goes so far, so at some point you are going to have to reach out to that loving God and ask them to turn you into the loving person you are trying, but not quite succeeding, in being now.  

37 comments:

GREV said...

One problem among many with the question is that for the Muslim, forgivenss of sins is not the core issue but submission to God so that pride is defeated.

More later if one gets around to it.

GREV said...

2nd problem among many -- Faith without works is dead. So no attempt to live virtuously is illustrative of the amazingly wrong conception many have of the life of faith. As a minister of the gospel I know why it is there, but it still amazes me how it is the operative way that many people phrase this question.

Shackleman said...

Two questions. First, who is more virtuous? The other, does God exist?

If the answer to the latter is "yes", then the answer to the former is utterly moot.

Doctor Logic said...

I agree with Shackleman. The god of the Abrahamic religions makes a mockery of virtue.

Virtue and goodness are functions of personal values. The idea of putting value somewhere else simply makes our feelings and motivations absurd.

BenYachov said...

Catholics believe if the Atheist is a non-believer by negation and his good behavior is a result of him following the light and extra-ordinary Grace God gives him then he will be saved.

If the Christian is merely stumbling because of weakness but is truly repentant there is hope for him. OTOH if he is shamelessly indulging in the sin of presumption and being lukewarm Scripture is clear God will spew him from His mouth as it where.

It's not hard.

Bob Prokop said...

The Apostle James answered this question definitively in his letter:

So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But some one will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe - and shudder. ... You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

I especially love that last line. The is the ONLY place in the entire Bible that the phrase "by faith alone" appears, and it is preceded by "not", thus negating the entire edifice of the false doctrine of "Salvation by Faith Alone".

toddes said...

@Doctor Logic,

"Virtue and goodness are functions of personal values."

Then they are worthless. What I consider virtuous and good and what you may consider virtuous and good may be diametrically opposed. Unless there is a transcendent representive of what is truly virtuous and good then both of us are just bluster and bluff with nothing on which to found our values.

Darren said...

"If there was a god, and these two people were standing before you, which one would you let into the proverbial pearly gates?"

NEITHER

Shackleman said...

DL: "I agree with Shackleman. The god of the Abrahamic religions makes a mockery of virtue.

Virtue and goodness are functions of personal values. The idea of putting value somewhere else simply makes our feelings and motivations absurd.,"


You have it exactly backward. The term "virtue" is meaningless precisely if it is *merely* a function of personal preference or value.

The student's question, given materialism, would be purely relative and therefore unanswerable, and therefore meaningless.

Shackleman said...

toddes: Then they are worthless. What I consider virtuous and good and what you may consider virtuous and good may be diametrically opposed. Unless there is a transcendent representive of what is truly virtuous and good then both of us are just bluster and bluff with nothing on which to found our values

This is exactly right.

Walter said...

For most evangelical Christians the only real sin is unbelief. No crime will damn the true believer; no good deed will ever save the doubter.

You have to believe the right creeds if you want the password to the pearly gates.

GREV said...

Those following this thread might find this interesting --

http://www.christianpost.com/article/20101217/author-most-evangelicals-believe-good-people-are-heaven-bound/

GREV said...

Bob:

You looking to take a sidetrack here?

"thus negating the entire edifice of the false doctrine of "Salvation by Faith Alone".

GREV said...

To follow on that -- Calvin it appear did teach a Justification by works that was subordinate to the justification by faith.

If you speak of the false Fundamentalist edifice of once saved always saved then I am in agreement but let us define things first.

The two are quite different. Calvin and the edifice of American fundamentalism that is.

Bob Prokop said...

I love a good sidetrack!

GREV said...

Okay Bob:

Then define your terms for me sir.

What are we talking about?

American Fundamentalism and its false edifice of once saved always saved.

Or are you saying that Reformed theology teaches the above, which I would dispute but understand it can and often comes across in the minds of people like that.

Bob Prokop said...

Oh, it's far worse than that! As Victor knows from our long friendship, I am an unreformed Papist - a loyal member of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and have never held much truck with Reformation Theology, considering it to be (in general) simply heresy.

Most of my original posting was actually on subject. I think James is clearly stating that a "good" unbeliever is in better standing with his Creator than a believer who is all talk and no action.

As for my sidetrack, although I am the furthest thing from a fundamentalist, I generally hold to the idea that if something is clearly and unequivacably stated in the New Testament (and very, very few things are), we should cheerfully accept it. I believe that this passage in James is one of those times. It doesn't get any clearer than "man is justified by works and not by faith alone". It blows the doctrine of Salvation by Faith Alone right out of the water, with no hope of ever getting it back afloat, while simultaneously torpedoing the Protestant disdain for "works".

Shackleman said...

Mr Prokop,

If you please:

"But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in[h] Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,[i] through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law."


-Romans 3 21-31

Shackleman said...

As you can see, we Protestants do not disdain work. In fact we uphold the laws and lift good works as high as we can, but not HIGHER than faith in Christ.

We just recognize that even on our BEST days we fall short of the glory of God and our salvation must therefore come not by our own doing and deeds, but by and through Christ alone.

Shackleman said...

I should also say that there's a beautifully poetic irony in any Catholic quoting scripture to a Lutheran to bolster his positions.

Bob Prokop said...

Ah, I've been "confronted" with this passage from Romans before. It's apples and oranges - an accident of the word "works" being used in two radically different senses. In Romans, the word is used to mean compliance with Jewish Law. In James, it signifies "good deeds". Completely different meaning. Too bad we don't use two different words in English translations to indicate this.

Shackleman said...

Why pick on a single word? Read ALL of Romans (or at least all of Romans 3) and you'll see the clear context.

Oh, and have you thanked Luther lately for your ability to read Romans James in the first place?

{wry, warm, smile}

Shackleman said...

Romans and James

(of course)

BenYachov said...

@Bob Prokop

Amen Brother!!!!!

One God & One True Church!

Shackleman said...

What a horrible pity this is. Did not God create me as he created you? Am I not his child, the same as you?

And yet you cheer as if on the sideline of a winning team. As if there is an "us" and a "them".

Bob Prokop said...

Not me, brother. On most days, I happen to tend towards universalism.

Oh, and by the way, if Luther had gotten his druthers, we wouldn't be reading James at all. You forget that he wanted to exclude several books from the New Testament canon because they didn't support his theology, among them being Hebrews, Jude, James, and revelation.

BenYachov said...

>What a horrible pity this is. Did not God create me as he created you? Am I not his child, the same as you?

Yeh....So?

>And yet you cheer as if on the sideline of a winning team. As if there is an "us" and a "them".

Me against my Brother, Me & My Brother against my Cousin, Me & My Cousin against the neighbors, Me & the neighbors against the Stranger.etc

Old Arab proverb....

Even in the Catholic Church it's Thomists vs Scotist, Charismatics vs Traditionalist etc....

It's all in good fun. Till somebody gets an eye poked out.

Cheers & God Bless Protestant Brother.

Nick said...

People don't usually say this, but I also think part of it could be our world has been Christianized in the sense that even if you're not a Christian, you have a background of Christian morality in you.

So if the atheist or agnostic lives this life, it could be because he has been influenced by the system he argues against. His way of living would be completely nonsensical to someone in first century Rome before Christianity came to power.

Walter said...

People don't usually say this, but I also think part of it could be our world has been Christianized in the sense that even if you're not a Christian, you have a background of Christian morality in you.

How would this apply to people living in parts of the world that are not culturally Christian at all--like Japan, for instance? Are they borrowing their morality from the Christian worldview?

Nick said...

Oh I agree that not every area has been Christianized that much, but Japan has had some Christian influence there as well, even though their great teachers taught self-denial as well.

That there are common moral beliefs should not be surprising. Moral knowledge is part of common knowledge and not religious knowledge.

Bob Prokop said...

Since this is a C.S. Lewis-themed website, it might be appropriate, in light of the last posting, to point people toward Lewis's "The Abolition of Man", in which he says a great deal about universally accepted moral truths.

GREV said...

Bob:

I well know that Luther wanted some Books of Scripture removed.

Citing that means little except to show in that case he was wrong; so what?

More importantly he did not get his way and Luther more importantly is not infalliable. So, do not make much of this.

GREV said...

And as to Reformed Theology being simply dismissed as heresy.

I think readding this might be in order and add a different perspective --

SAET


Wright, Justification and the Arian Controversy

Posted:
27 Nov 2010 02:43 PM PST

Bob Prokop said...

Grev,
Oh, I make a great deal of "this". It means that Luther is TOTALLY DISCREDITED as a theologian. What would you think of me, were I to lobby for the exclusion of, say, Romans from the canon, because others chose to interpret it differently from me?

GREV said...

So a pig-headed person (Luther and by extension, all the rest of us) is discredited as a theologian?

Secondary question, you continue to harp on Luther it seems and I continue to refer to Reformed Theology. How narrow is your focus?

GREV said...

And Bob, for holding a wrong view of Romans and wanting to exclude it from the Canon, would only qualify you as wrong. Not discredited.

One would have to know what your views were before offering an opinion about a person being discredited.

GREV said...

Well it would seem that pasting Luther with the label of discedited -- totally that is -- puts us back in the rather rough and tumble debates of the first days and years of the Reformation.

The man was pig headed and made some grievous errors but totally discredited is a bit of a leap.