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> Ask a Theist Anything, An Experiment
Guest_TheAwesomeKid_*
post Jan 21 2013, 03:46 AM
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Dear All,

I'd like to try an experiment similar to something monica did a while ago. In thinking about how religion is often spoken about on this forum, it seems (from my point of view) that there are lots of misconceptions as to what is (necessarily or contingently) entailed by religious thought (in particular, Christianity). Obviously no one here can speak for ALL of theism (or ALL of Christianity; or ALL of Reformed Christianity, etc. etc.) but I was hoping this would be a cool opportunity for atheists to ask questions that theists can answer (from the vantage point of their own traditions). As such, in theory, we theists get to present the best case for our beliefs, and the non-theists get to hear answers to (and judge the legitimacy of) questions that they might have of theism.

This thread might just be an awful idea, and it's fine if you all think that. But if not, I figured I'd offer some ground rules: I think it's fine (and probably necessary) for people to ask challenging questions. By that I don't just mean questions that are difficult (though those are good), but also questions that are fundamentally coming from a place of 'opposition' to theism. So don't feel like you've got to be 'neutral.' Nevertheless, I think that a general level of respectful discourse is a necessary thing for such a conversation to be useful. As such, it'd be great if we could keep the harshness/hostility/meanness out. Obviously, since I don't have mod powers, I can't actually control that, but the spirit of the thread is such. Anyways, if any of you all feel this might be useful, please do ask away! I (and hopefully some other theists, too!) will be willing to answer any questions that I can!

Best,
Tak

This post has been edited by TheAwesomeKid: Jan 21 2013, 03:02 PM
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Guest_Research Monkey_*
post Jan 21 2013, 05:48 AM
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Would you rather believe in 100 duck-sized gods or one god-sized duck?

In all seriousness, I'll have to think about this one, as I'm sure I have something I'd like your perspective on.
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Guest_Sean Lev_*
post Mar 15 2013, 08:59 PM
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Although I am a theist(ELCA Christian), I'm curious about how other theists view lgbtq rights. I know the ELCA is considered controversial for allowing gay and lesbian pastors to marry and does not require celibacy.
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Guest_TheAwesomeKid_*
post Mar 17 2013, 10:55 AM
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QUOTE (Sean Lev @ Mar 15 2013, 04:59 PM) *
Although I am a theist(ELCA Christian), I'm curious about how other theists view lgbtq rights. I know the ELCA is considered controversial for allowing gay and lesbian pastors to marry and does not require celibacy.


As you rightly acknowledge, different theists respond to these sorts of questions differently. I think it's important to tease out three different issues here:

1. Does a church allow for (practicing) gay and lesbian pastors?
2. Does a church allow for homosexual marriage?
3. Does a church require celibacy for their pastors (gay or straight)?

The reason I split this up into three issues is because I think the use of the term "lgbtq rights" can often be too vague to have meaningful content.

There are some churches which don't allow for women pastors according to the guidelines given in the New Testament (think particularly of 1 Tim. 2). Obviously in these churches, then, lesbian pastors would not be allowed for -- not because of their sexuality, but because women pastors are not allowed for. Other churches, of course, don't take 1 Tim. 2 (and other verses) as applicable in this way, and so leave open the possibility of women pastors...but these churches may or may not allow for practicing gay/lesbian pastors.

Because many churches take Paul's teachings in Romans to mean that practicing homosexuality is sinful, these churches would not allow for practicing gay or lesbian pastors. Now some of these churches would allow for a pastor who is gay/lesbian but doesn't practice and acknowledges practicing as a sin, just as they might allow for a pastor who acknowledges his/her own tendencies towards pride, but does not give in to those tendencies because he/she takes pride to be sinful (or any other sin, for that matter).

Of course, there are other churches who (again) don't take Paul's teachings to apply, for a host of reasons (if you'd like me to explain those, I can, I think), and so, will not particularly care if their pastor is a practicing homosexual.

It is important, however, to understand that most churches, even those which do allow for practicing gay and lesbian pastors, will NOT put this issue (if pushed) under "lgbtq rights." This is because most Christians do not believe that pastoring a church is in any meaningful sense a right. Rather, most take it to be a privilege reserved for a particular sort of people (namely those given to the proper kind, disposition and ability) that comes with its own unique set of responsibilities. This is wholly different from a right.

Now it's a very different question to ask whether a church allows for gay marriage. If a church does, and it allowed for a gay pastorate there's just no reason (in my mind) that it wouldn't allow for that gay pastor to be married. Some Christians take gay marriage to be wrong based off of (again) Pauline teachings, whereas others don't take those teachings as applicable.

Next, although national conversation on marriage typically puts this under the category of things understood as "rights" many Christians would also balk at this language. Marriage, instead, is understood by many Christians as a responsibility and in some sense a privilege, rather than any kind of right. I can talk about marriage (I think!?) in another post if people are interested, but it seems that in some ways that topic is pretty talked to death much of the time.

Finally, it's another very different question to ask whether a church requires celibacy for its pastors. As I understand it, for most churches this is not a standard, especially because of passages in 1 Tim. and Titus which imply it's fine (or even encouraged!) for elders to have families (and which don't separate the office of pastor from elder). However, some Christians take Paul's message in 1 Cor. 7 to mean that if one wants to enter the ministry one should be as Paul was and remain celibate and never marry. Of course, as I understand it, even the Catholic church allows for married men to become priests (although it is almost certainly more difficult for them to carry out the duties of the office), it simply doesn't allow for priests to become married men.

SeanLev, I hope this answers some of your questions in meaningful/useful ways. Please don't hesitate to ask if I've mistakenly glossed over a topic or conflated some issue with another one!
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Guest_AK_WDB_*
post Mar 17 2013, 01:14 PM
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QUOTE (TheAwesomeKid @ Mar 17 2013, 01:55 AM) *
Of course, as I understand it, even the Catholic church allows for married men to become priests (although it is almost certainly more difficult for them to carry out the duties of the office), it simply doesn't allow for priests to become married men.

I think this is only true under very special circumstances - for instance, if the person had already been a priest in an Anglican church. At the very least it requires a special dispensation.
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Guest_TheAwesomeKid_*
post Mar 18 2013, 05:19 PM
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QUOTE (AK_WDB @ Mar 17 2013, 09:14 AM) *
QUOTE (TheAwesomeKid @ Mar 17 2013, 01:55 AM) *
Of course, as I understand it, even the Catholic church allows for married men to become priests (although it is almost certainly more difficult for them to carry out the duties of the office), it simply doesn't allow for priests to become married men.

I think this is only true under very special circumstances - for instance, if the person had already been a priest in an Anglican church. At the very least it requires a special dispensation.


Ah, yes, it turns out I was mistaken -- you're right. It's only under the special circumstance that a person was a priest in another church (including Anglican, Episcopalian, and Lutheran churches).
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Guest_Research Monkey_*
post Mar 18 2013, 11:31 PM
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QUOTE (Sean Lev @ Mar 15 2013, 01:59 PM) *
Although I am a theist(ELCA Christian), I'm curious about how other theists view lgbtq rights. I know the ELCA is considered controversial for allowing gay and lesbian pastors to marry and does not require celibacy.


I think your question is certainly valid and merits the good discussion we've had thus far, but I also think even asking that question ignores the dependence of dogma on the social order of the time, overstates the fluidity of dogma for the majority of sects and institutions, and risks an anachronistic imposition of a modern understanding of sexuality on those eras in which dogma was developed. The conclusion to take away from this depends more or less on your religion. Only the Abrahamic religions view homosexuality as relevant to their religious teaching rather than just an aspect of culture. More specifically, either you believe the Bible (or the passages of the Qu'ran that reference the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the passages regarding homosexuality in the hadith) explicitly forbids homosexuality because God said so, or you believe that the prohibition of homosexuality stems from a prohibition on sodomy that was more closely related to social mores (with varying roots in culture, public health, etc.) like the bans on shellfish and tattoos.

Neither of these necessitates a political opinion one way or another per se (i.e. you could believe the former but believe that insufficient to legislate prohibitions on homosexual marriage, or believe the latter and still argue it would be socially optimal to prohibit homosexual activity), but the modern outlook of most churches is shaped by the choice between those two perspectives. Furthermore, those choices will generally reveal a great deal generally about the beliefs of an individual vis a vis the derivation of morality as being either God ----> human nature ----> society ----> morality (or a very liberal interpretation of Christianity) or God ----> morality ----> society (or a very far-reaching interpretation of Christianity).

This post has been edited by Research Monkey: Mar 18 2013, 11:33 PM
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Guest_wutherering_*
post Jul 2 2013, 01:10 AM
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Kay, so I may be pretty late to this thread, but here goes:
1. How did you pick your denomination of Christianity?
2. Do you believe that other denominations are legitimate?
3. Do you think that religious institutions are essential to you connecting with God?
4. Do you think that priests/ministers/nuns/monks are sacred (I guess, I am not sure what I am saying here)?
5. If so, If one of your personal spiritual leaders did something that was clearly not in line with your denomination's ideas, how would you deal with it?
6. Do you think that people should be forgiven, if they genuinely repent for their sins, in any circumstance? What form do you think this forgiveness should take?
7. Also, if you happen to have been part of a Protestant denomination from a young age, what kinds of catechism-y stuff did you take part in, and how often did you go to church?
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madcap
post Jul 2 2013, 02:49 AM
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QUOTE (wutherering @ Jul 1 2013, 08:10 PM) *
If one of your personal spiritual leaders did something that was clearly not in line with your denomination's ideas, how would you deal with it?


This is a crucial question.

TAK, props to you for starting this thread. smile.gif
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Guest_TheAwesomeKid_*
post Jul 3 2013, 03:41 AM
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QUOTE (wutherering @ Jul 1 2013, 08:10 PM) *
Kay, so I may be pretty late to this thread, but here goes:
1. How did you pick your denomination of Christianity?
2. Do you believe that other denominations are legitimate?
3. Do you think that religious institutions are essential to you connecting with God?
4. Do you think that priests/ministers/nuns/monks are sacred (I guess, I am not sure what I am saying here)?
5. If so, If one of your personal spiritual leaders did something that was clearly not in line with your denomination's ideas, how would you deal with it?
6. Do you think that people should be forgiven, if they genuinely repent for their sins, in any circumstance? What form do you think this forgiveness should take?
7. Also, if you happen to have been part of a Protestant denomination from a young age, what kinds of catechism-y stuff did you take part in, and how often did you go to church?


So I'm going to split this up into the personal v. the theological. The split is somewhat, but not fully arbitrary; hopefully the divisions make sense, but if not, I'm happy to explain.

Personal
1. So I don't know that 'pick' is the right word to use, but essentially I came to a vaguely-Reformed Christianity by reading some older Reformed theologians like Jonathan Edwards, and some modern pastors like Mark Dever, and finding that I had strong sympathies with their ways of interpreting the Bible. As such, I found myself aligning more with their theological positions, and now I describe myself as vaguely-Reformed because I find that I agree with them on many important theological points. This has coincided with my 'discovery' (in recent years) of Aquinas, Calvin, and Augustine, especially, who all have strengthened my Reformed Convictions, though of course, Aquinas and Augustine were not formally Reformed, and Aquinas isn't even Reformed "in Spirit" in my opinion.

5. I'm not formally a member of any denomination, so this question is a bit odd for me. But, appreciating the heart of it, my answer is: I would probably try not to overreact and discount this leader's teaching validity, because he has built up credibility up until this point. That said, I would want to know whether he was repentant and how he had resolved to seek restoration before I sat under his leadership going forward.

7. I've been going to church weekly (sometimes 2x a week) since I was a baby. We didn't do catechism. Since starting University, I've participated in a weekly bible study and a weekly fellowship meeting, in addition to going to church (nearly) every Sunday. Since graduating a few weeks ago I've been going to church twice a week.

Theological
2. It depends what one means by 'other denominations' and what one means by 'legitimate.' Within Christianity there are different 'levels' of disagreement. For example, there are disagreements about the "very important" things, such as the nature of God and the essence of salvation. If two Christians disagree on God's nature, it's going to be hard for them to agree that they worship the same Being. There are "important" issues upon which people disagree. For example, Baptists believe that Baptism ought to be only for Believers, whereas Presbyterians believe that Infant Baptism is not only legitimate, but actually sanctioned in scripture. But (for the most part), Baptists and Presbyterians still call each other "Brother" when it comes to faith. But there are even less important issues too. For example, some denominations have different styles of worship and liturgies. But I think that these are less important the theological points. So depending on the level of differences salient between my own beliefs and those of people in other denominations, I might have different reactions towards their beliefs and practices.

3. There is a recurring theme here of "it depends what you mean by..." The formal answer to this question is 'no.' Biblically, we find saints who are not part of any institution. For example, in the Old Testament Melchizedek is a follower of Yahweh though he is not under the Abrahamic covenant (for he is not a son of Abraham). Similarly, Christians believe that if God chose to reveal himself to some person in the world who had never been connected to any institution, he could, and similarly, that that person could worship God aside from the institution (if he were, for example, in some unchurched area of the world). But this is, of course, highly rare, and as such, most Reformed Christians will maintain that the Church is vastly the primary vehicle by which God the Holy Spirit works in and through the world (particularly in and through believers) today.

4. I confess to not being clear on what is meant by 'sacred.' Reformed Christians hold that no one is holy except God. (Catholics disagree on this point re: Mary, mother of Jesus). But ministers are worthy of respect, insofar as they've been chosen and ordained by God to be leaders of his church in the world today. They are not infallible, of course, but this doesn't contradict the point of respect.

6. Of sins qua sins, only God can forgive, and he does forgive when a sinner is truly repentant. Now a person can forgive offenses against himself or herself. I believe that vis a vis The Lord's Prayer, the Christian is always called to forgive transgressions against himself. Regarding what form forgiveness should take, I think this question is incredibly complex. I won't be able to give a clear picture. But I don't think forgiveness entails forgetting. I don't think it even entails reconciliation. For example, I think that if a man has abused his wife, his wife should forgive him, but is not mandated to seek reconciliation to him. But forgiveness, insofar as it entails surrendering a legitimate anger one has against an offender, I think is required for all Christians in all circumstances.
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Guest_Research Monkey_*
post Jul 4 2013, 09:47 AM
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Anyone who values human life must find the foolish ignorance of this family horrifying and insulting...right? Is there any real defense in the theological realm for these people who are, in the eyes of our secular society, horrifyingly negligent criminals who killed their essentially helpless daughter?
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Guest_AK_WDB_*
post Jul 4 2013, 06:12 PM
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QUOTE (Research Monkey @ Jul 4 2013, 12:47 AM) *
Anyone who values human life must find the foolish ignorance of this family horrifying and insulting...right? Is there any real defense in the theological realm for these people who are, in the eyes of our secular society, horrifyingly negligent criminals who killed their essentially helpless daughter?

Perhaps we can all agree that parents have a moral responsibility to protect their children - of any age - from death to the best of their ability.

However, I think it is not quite clear where to draw the line on the amount of time and money that parents should be legally required to invest to protect their children's life. For example, should you be forced to sell your house if it would save your kid from cancer?
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Guest_Research Monkey_*
post Jul 4 2013, 06:31 PM
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QUOTE (AK_WDB @ Jul 4 2013, 11:12 AM) *
For example, should you be forced to sell your house if it would save your kid from cancer?


Let's not make this a healthcare debate smile.gif
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Guest_the_crazy_honors_*
post Jul 4 2013, 08:25 PM
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QUOTE (Research Monkey @ Jul 4 2013, 04:47 AM) *
Anyone who values human life must find the foolish ignorance of this family horrifying and insulting...right? Is there any real defense in the theological realm for these people who are, in the eyes of our secular society, horrifyingly negligent criminals who killed their essentially helpless daughter?

This happens every once in a while, and it's always sad for me, as are instances of Leviticus-based homophobia and prejudice against non-Christians, to wonder if this is how the world sees Christians in general. The Westboro Baptist Church publicity a few months ago, for example, upset me because, like most Christians, I believe love and charity are among the very most important aspects of our faith.

As for the article itself, in the absence of TAK's eloquence and intelligence, I'll offer a more moderate view of faith and medicine. My family and I accept and make full use of Western medicine as the primary way to improve health. Throughout that process - particularly when trouble reminds us to - we often pray for things such as comfort for the patient, peace of mind for the family, and wisdom for the doctors, to supplement medicine rather than stand idly by. In other words, we do not use prayer or medicine alone, but a combination of the two. I think this is a pretty fair representation of the approach taken by many if not most Christians (and probably people of other faiths).

This post has been edited by the_crazy_honors: Jul 4 2013, 08:28 PM
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Guest_wutherering_*
post Jul 4 2013, 09:33 PM
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QUOTE (Research Monkey @ Jul 4 2013, 02:47 AM) *
Anyone who values human life must find the foolish ignorance of this family horrifying and insulting...right? Is there any real defense in the theological realm for these people who are, in the eyes of our secular society, horrifyingly negligent criminals who killed their essentially helpless daughter?

It is unfortunate that when things like this happen, that it obscures the message of the religion. Like child abuse and the catholic church. Or, for a more personal example, my devoutly catholic great-grandfather, who was a police chief in a medium-sized German town. He found out, when he stumbled upon their bodies, that the monks in a nearby monastery had been impregnating the nuns and then leaving the children to die of exposure. And then the church attempted to tell him that he was in the wrong, somehow. He then stopped being catholic.
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Guest_Research Monkey_*
post Jul 4 2013, 10:06 PM
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QUOTE (the_crazy_honors @ Jul 4 2013, 01:25 PM) *
This happens every once in a while, and it's always sad for me, as are instances of Leviticus-based homophobia and prejudice against non-Christians, to wonder if this is how the world sees Christians in general.


Do you mean to a non-Christian overserver, or really the World? Because the world is, for all intents and purposes, dominated by Christians. The perspective of the developed world is Christian at its core. I know Fox likes to talk as though their religion is under siege somehow, but Christianity rules here and everywhere.

QUOTE (the_crazy_honors @ Jul 4 2013, 01:25 PM) *
The Westboro Baptist Church publicity a few months ago, for example, upset me because, like most Christians, I believe love and charity are among the very most important aspects of our faith.


The WBC are a bunch of lunatics who make money through suing people they provoke. They're much easier to dismiss than, say, superstar athletes. I think you're absolutely right: love and charity are Jesus' teachings in a nutshell, but oddly enough I've never seen an NFL quarterback tweet Matthew 19:24 after thanking God for their successes. It's the people who are most prominently preaching their faith and most dramatically failing to live up to the example of Jesus that should reflect poorly on Christianity, not trolls like the WBC.

QUOTE (the_crazy_honors @ Jul 4 2013, 01:25 PM) *
As for the article itself, in the absence of TAK's eloquence and intelligence, I'll offer a more moderate view of faith and medicine. My family and I accept and make full use of Western medicine as the primary way to improve health. Throughout that process - particularly when trouble reminds us to - we often pray for things such as comfort for the patient, peace of mind for the family, and wisdom for the doctors, to supplement medicine rather than stand idly by. In other words, we do not use prayer or medicine alone, but a combination of the two. I think this is a pretty fair representation of the approach taken by many if not most Christians (and probably people of other faiths).


This sounds very sensible.

QUOTE (wutherering @ Jul 4 2013, 02:33 PM) *
It is unfortunate that when things like this happen, that it obscures the message of the religion. Like child abuse and the catholic church. Or, for a more personal example, my devoutly catholic great-grandfather, who was a police chief in a medium-sized German town. He found out, when he stumbled upon their bodies, that the monks in a nearby monastery had been impregnating the nuns and then leaving the children to die of exposure. And then the church attempted to tell him that he was in the wrong, somehow. He then stopped being catholic.


I'm more worried about the message than how it becomes obscured in the face of preventable tragedy. What was so wrong with the message in the first place that allowed this to happen?
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Guest_the_crazy_honors_*
post Jul 5 2013, 05:35 AM
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QUOTE (Research Monkey @ Jul 4 2013, 05:06 PM) *
QUOTE (the_crazy_honors @ Jul 4 2013, 01:25 PM) *
This happens every once in a while, and it's always sad for me, as are instances of Leviticus-based homophobia and prejudice against non-Christians, to wonder if this is how the world sees Christians in general.


Do you mean to a non-Christian overserver, or really the World? Because the world is, for all intents and purposes, dominated by Christians. The perspective of the developed world is Christian at its core. I know Fox likes to talk as though their religion is under siege somehow, but Christianity rules here and everywhere.


Sorry, you got me there - I mean to non-Christians, particularly non-religious people (because I believe that many religions have many things in common). I'm in the habit of referring to secular things like work, ambition, popularity, and material goods as worldly things, so I sometimes confuse the two.
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Guest_Widget!_*
post Jul 5 2013, 08:33 PM
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QUOTE (Research Monkey @ Jul 4 2013, 03:06 PM) *
QUOTE (the_crazy_honors @ Jul 4 2013, 01:25 PM) *
The Westboro Baptist Church publicity a few months ago, for example, upset me because, like most Christians, I believe love and charity are among the very most important aspects of our faith.


The WBC are a bunch of lunatics who make money through suing people they provoke. They're much easier to dismiss than, say, superstar athletes. I think you're absolutely right: love and charity are Jesus' teachings in a nutshell, but oddly enough I've never seen an NFL quarterback tweet Matthew 19:24 after thanking God for their successes. It's the people who are most prominently preaching their faith and most dramatically failing to live up to the example of Jesus that should reflect poorly on Christianity, not trolls like the WBC.


So, televangelists.
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Guest_the_crazy_honors_*
post Jul 5 2013, 09:05 PM
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QUOTE (Research Monkey @ Jul 4 2013, 04:47 AM) *
Anyone who values human life must find the foolish ignorance of this family horrifying and insulting...right? Is there any real defense in the theological realm for these people who are, in the eyes of our secular society, horrifyingly negligent criminals who killed their essentially helpless daughter?

Just noticed this, and while I'm no theologian, my answer is simple: Scripture says not to put the Lord to the test, or to demand that he prove himself or demonstrate his power for your own gain. The way I see it, Western medicine can be looked at as an extension of God healing people if you believe that he has blessed scientists with knowledge of how to treat the condition and families like this one with access to medical care. To ignore a gift much of the world lacks is not to ask God to heal the child, but to ask him to heal her the way her parents wanted (through a miracle rather than through insulin), which isn't a choice humans have the right to make.
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madcap
post Jul 6 2013, 12:58 AM
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QUOTE (Research Monkey @ Jul 4 2013, 04:47 AM) *
Anyone who values human life must find the foolish ignorance of this family horrifying and insulting...right? Is there any real defense in the theological realm for these people who are, in the eyes of our secular society, horrifyingly negligent criminals who killed their essentially helpless daughter?


When somebody drives into a lake because Google Maps tells them to, you don't blame Google Maps.

Religion is a moral compass. It provides guidance for believers to follow with common sense. The Neumanns lacked that common sense, so I think we should blame them only and not Christianity at all (edit: in this particular situation).

This post has been edited by madcap: Jul 6 2013, 01:16 AM
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