Is God still speaking?

Coming back from lunch at the Lutheran Theological Seminary’s refectory (a great lunch spot I just discovered, and no tax!), I had a second religious encounter. Walking back to work, I passed the University Church, a Protestant Christian church with pronounced Left-wing beliefs (there’s a gay pride flag outside, as well as a Black Lives Matter banner), located only a block from my office. On one side of the church hung this banner with a quote from Gracie Allen (yes, the comedian), with the addition, “God is still speaking.”

I was intrigued by the quote, and thought it meant this: “There’s precious little evidence for God these days [i.e., the comma], but be assured—he’s still around [no period yet].” But that’s an admission that there’s not much evidence for God, which isn’t palatable for the religious. So I called a friend of mine, who used to be religious but is now a nonbeliever, and before I could even give him the quote, he told me what it was. (He still goes to a similar liberal church for social reasons and to be part of a group that does indeed effect substantive and positive social change).

So I asked my pal, “What do these quotes mean?”

He explained that this is a reaction to those fundamentalists and Biblical literalists who think that all morality is already in the Bible, can be derived from the Bible, and is unchanging. In other words, it’s a rebuke to those who say, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” The lack of a period, and the “God is still speaking” part means that God is still, through the church, helping us find a better way to live.

I welcome a religious view that morality is changing, but I think that’s shortsighted. If God didn’t get it right in the Bible, why not? Why didn’t he tell us from the outset that it’s wrong to kill gays, wrong to enslave people, wrong to commit genocide? What’s the purpose of God’s continued speech?

Well, we all know the answer to that one: liberal religion is simply a way to filter a secular morality through a religious strainer. Morality evolves, and it’s not because religion evolves, for religion is always playing catch-up. And so we have churches like this one opposing bigotry and racism, but pretending to rely on religious and Biblical justifications to do that. I admire their mission and values, but why not cut out the middleman? Why not just admit that your view of what’s right doesn’t come from God, but that you’re simply putting it in the mouth of God, perhaps as a way to inspire people to do what they see as God’s bidding?

Indeed, my friend told me that even though he’s not religious, he sees interfaith activism as a powerful way to change society for the better. And it may well be. I just find it sad that you have to accept fairy tales to make society better. And indeed, you don’t really have to.  In many ways the largely atheist countries of Scandinavia and northern Europe have societies more moral than ours, yet they’re largely composed of atheists. As atheists often say, “You don’t need God to be good.” I’ll add that “You don’t need a religious society for that society to be good.”

Thus endeth my Wednesday postprandial sermon.

56 Comments

  1. Posted November 22, 2017 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    I’ve never responded to your religious posts, but I’ll take a stab. This is also my denomination, so I’m pretty familiar with the phrase. About your questions of why God didn’t tell us to not kill gays, etc.: I thought he had with the ten commandments. But basically, I otherwise agree with your opinions about society and religion. The data seem pretty clear on it.

    • Posted November 22, 2017 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      If God said not to kill gays in the Ten Commandments, and I presume you mean in the dictum “Thou shalt not kill,” why on Earth did he command the Jews to commit genocide on many tribes, killing men, women, children, and beasts?

      It’s ok to kill Canaanites but not gays?

      • Posted November 22, 2017 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

        Honestly, I’ve never understood why. I always assumed there was a combination of reasons: early societies and those who wrote the Bible and what it is they were trying to convey. I have to say that I’m having, these past few years, growing doubts about the whole thing. I have always wondered why you and other atheists are so determined that it is the religion itself that is so destructive. I’ve always believed it was how people used religion for their own purposes of greed and hate. But I’m beginning to understand why, a bit, lately. Ironically, this is because of william Bradford and that entire history of our church in New England, and their perception that the earth was theirs to abuse and its people were theirs to slaughter. And all this because of their religion. The violence was not because of their “primitive” times.

        • GBJames
          Posted November 22, 2017 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

          Atheists are determined on this matter because religion institutionalizes belief in things for which there is no evidence. When you are traveling that road, whatever guidance the faith provides is at best random. You might come up with a “nice” version but faith provides no real mechanism to rule out bad interpretations. As a result… People like Roy Moore are the beneficiaries of religion. The rest of us pay the price.

          • mirandaga
            Posted November 22, 2017 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

            “religion institutionalizes belief in things for which there is no evidence”

            To paraphrase what you posted on an earlier thread, if one has any understanding of probability, one might understand that the chances of religious claims being true increase as the number of independent reports increases. Who needs evidence when we’ve got independent reports?

            • GBJames
              Posted November 22, 2017 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

              Reports of what? Reports like “I believe in God”? There is no evidence for the existence of gods. There is a great deal of evidence of predatory sexual behavior.

              Sorry, but one of these things is not like the other.

              • mirandaga
                Posted November 22, 2017 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

                “There is a great deal of evidence of predatory sexual behavior.”

                So now you’re saying this “great deal of evidence of predatory sexual behavior” should be taken into account as evidence against any individual accused of sexual misconduct? Seems like more of a stretch than my comparison.

              • GBJames
                Posted November 22, 2017 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

                What I’m saying is that your response (“To paraphrase what you posted…”) is based on a false comparison.

                Seriously. If you can’t recognize the difference between the probability of gods existing and the probability of sexual predation then I don’t really think we can have a serious conversation.

                But perhaps you can clarify things by telling us exactly what you would require to day that you “know” that Roy Moore is probably a “kiddy-diddler”. Once that is on the table we may be able to understand each other.

              • mirandaga
                Posted November 23, 2017 at 1:19 am | Permalink

                I already “know” that Moore is “probably a kiddy-diddler,” but the “probably” is the operative word here. Had Ken used “probable kiddy-diddler” rather than “known kiddy-diddler,” we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Ken generally chooses his words carefully and he has since clarified that “probable” was indeed what he meant, so I don’t see that we have much disagreement here.

              • GBJames
                Posted November 23, 2017 at 10:01 am | Permalink

                You’ve been protesting quite vociferously that “all we have is allegations”. You’re finally willing to agree that Moore “probably” is a kiddie-diddler. Can you put a measure on the level of probability? “Highly probable”? “Barely probable”?

                Are we disputing epistemological nit-pickery? I thought the subject was about how best to represent the character of Roy Moore.

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted November 24, 2017 at 10:31 am | Permalink

                mirandaga,

                I try to choose my words carefully; it’s my ideas about which I tend to be profligate. 🙂

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted November 22, 2017 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

              I had understood GBJ in the other thread to be making an essentially Bayesian argument. The testimony of nine independent, well-corroborated witnesses makes for strong evidence, leading to a strong Bayesian posterior probability, of Roy Moore being a jailbait creeper.

              Of course, religious claims are subject to the same type of Bayesian analysis. (Indeed, Richard Carrier has conducted such Bayesian analyses of religious claims, ad nauseam.) But the prior probabilities on Roy Moore being a creeper, while small, are exponentially larger than are those for events that violate the known laws of physics — and the evidence regarding such claims is rarely as compelling, consistent, or well-corroborated as the testimony of the nine witnesses against Roy Moore.

              Put more simply, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

              • mirandaga
                Posted November 23, 2017 at 1:22 am | Permalink

                A good reply. However, I’d question the assertion that the kind of claims we’re talking about are “independent.” When a second person comes forward after (and to some degree because) a first person has made a claim and then a third and fourth and so on, such claims are not strictly independent; they’re related. And when we’re talking about political figure being accused, the persons making the charges are probably not “independent” in another sense—i.e., they’re probably either all Democrats or all Republicans.

                As for extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence, claims about the existence of gods have been extraordinary for a relatively short time in human history—roughly 300 years. Before that they were quite ordinary.

              • Randall Schenck
                Posted November 23, 2017 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

                Late comment here but I believe most all of the women who have come forward about Moore are republicans and have voted so for years. The relationship of one to the other is that one coming out can give others fortitude to do the same. Remember that most of these women did not just come out – the journalist went to these people to get their story and the permission from them to put it out. Also Roy Moore has consistently been hanging himself. Things like – always asked mom before I took them out, which he did not always do.

      • YF
        Posted November 22, 2017 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

        Not in the 10 Commandments, but…

        “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”

        King James Bible, Leviticus 20:13

      • Posted November 23, 2017 at 11:58 am | Permalink

        I have it on the authority of several Hebrew readers (including an Orthodox Jew) that the “commandment” actually reads “do not murder”, which makes it an ethico-legal tautology of sorts. (For “murder” is just “legally or morally unjustified killing.”)

  2. GBJames
    Posted November 22, 2017 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think I could eat lunch in a Lutheran refectory. It would remind me too much of being confirmed all those years ago. Might not be able to keep my lunch down.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted November 22, 2017 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      Great menu though & no goddiness
      Pics of Cafe Sola grub: https://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/lstc-refectory-chicago-2

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 22, 2017 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      It’d give me a squiiicky feeling too.

      I’d have a nagging fear that some priest-like figure would pop out of the woodwork and… what? (At that point my lurking imagination goes all fuzzy. Subject me to unspecified but disconcerting things, presumably. Like forcing me to sit and listen to Leviticus for two hours, maybe. Or commit Christian rock).

      cr

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted November 23, 2017 at 2:10 am | Permalink

      There’s a Buddhist Centre in a (UK) city near me that has a vegetarian cafe with some interesting menu choices.

      However I have chosen not to eat there as the Buddhist Centre (whether you count Buddhism as a religion or not) is very firmly orientated around their key priest(?) and strikes me as being ‘cultish’. Perhaps other Buddhist groups are less ‘religious-y’?

  3. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 22, 2017 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Say goodnight, Goddie.

  4. Historian
    Posted November 22, 2017 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Of course you don’t need a religious society for that society to be good. However, in the United States, fundamentalist religion is a prime threat to Enlightenment values and is an influential part of the Republican base. If fundamentalism can be combated by persuading its members to join more liberal churches, I’m all for it. As I’ve argued before, the danger of fundamentalist religion is when it enters the public square and attempts to impose its values on others, which through its cult leader, Donald Trump, is going full steam. I am not particularly disturbed that some people need to believe in a supernatural being, but keep their beliefs to themselves. In American society atheists and agnostics will not be able to achieve and sustain their right to be equal members without the aid of liberal religious allies.

    I’m fond of medical analogies. Liberal religionists (non-fundamentalists) are like the flu vaccine. They are a weakened form of the religion virus. It arrests the virulent form of the virus, thus keeping the body politic healthy. Maybe some time in the future the vaccine won’t be necessary. But, now it is vital.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 22, 2017 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

      Well put.

      With respect, PCC is somewhat of a fundamentalist, in that he sees the presence of the ‘god’ element in religion as invalidating any good that religion might be able to do. (Apologies in advance if I’m mis-stating his position).

      I see PCC’s friend as a realist in that he’s working with what he’s got. I absolutely agree that it would be preferable that all societies (including the US of course) were as secular or agnostic as Scandinavia. But at present they’re not.

      Given that the US seems to be stuck with religion for the foreseeable future (albeit slowly declining – maybe), it seems to be a good strategy and probably more productive in the medium term, to try and influence those religions in the direction of tolerance and enlightenment.

      cr

      • GBJames
        Posted November 22, 2017 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

        Isn’t everyone a realist in that sense? Who works with what they don’t got?

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted November 23, 2017 at 2:11 am | Permalink

          Well, there’s a spectrum – from purists who won’t touch the situation because (in their view) it’s hopelessly compromised; through people who will ‘make the best of a bad situation’, to complete pragmatists who will lend a hand and not even care what company they’re keeping.

          cr

          • GBJames
            Posted November 23, 2017 at 10:04 am | Permalink

            Maybe the difference hasn’t to do with “realism” as much as “work-ism”. Some people work with what they got while other people don’t work with what they got.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted November 23, 2017 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

              I’d go along with that.

              cr

      • Posted November 22, 2017 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

        Yes, you are obviously misstating my position. I clearly said that my friend’s church does good things. In the net, it’s a good institution, as it doesn’t proselytize and is largely full of agnostics. I just said it was a shame that it took fairy tales to hold them together.

        How you conclude from what I said that belief in God negates the good that the church does defies my understanding. Seriously.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted November 23, 2017 at 2:34 am | Permalink

          Yes, I didn’t phrase that very well, did I? Actually, I phrased it quite misleadingly.

          Please accept my apologies for the bother.

          cr

        • Posted November 23, 2017 at 4:18 am | Permalink

          My thoughts exactly. In fact I’d venture to guess that a majority of the 60% of Swedes and the 70% of Danes, Finns and Norwegians who still belong to the Lutheran Church, think this way.

          Not being a church member, I certainly do.

  5. josh
    Posted November 22, 2017 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Someone can’t tell their jots from their tittles.

  6. Ken Pidcock
    Posted November 22, 2017 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    That’s my tradition, and I miss it. I’d still be Christian except that it’s immoral to claim knowledge of supernatural events.

  7. Randall Schenck
    Posted November 22, 2017 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    I am curious about the tax free Lutheran eatery. I really do not see how they get away with it but I know they all do. Maybe they should ID you and check your believe before giving it to you tax free. Tax Free to atheists…blasphemy. Hell, if they ran a bowling alley that would be tax free too.

    • Posted November 22, 2017 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

      Fellow Iowan here — registered non-profits don’t charge sales tax.

      My mother-in-law lives in a posh old folks home and the restaurant there is one of the finest in town — there’s no sales tax (and no tipping either!).

      And the best place to buy computers here is Goodwill Reboot, where they do a nice job of reconditioning and de-crapifying good machines, and sell them cheap — again, no tax.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted November 22, 2017 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I know but the idea that not only do all the religions get by tax free, all the businesses they operate also get by tax free. The term non profit is interpreted very liberally. A very few tax free semi-government agencies operate without any taxes from the public and they are free from taxes as well, but for good reason. I am aware that very few people are aware of this and could care less so I will just leave it at that.

  8. Posted November 22, 2017 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    If God is still speaking, his message is different for different people. He is telling the folks down at Westboro Baptist a whole different story than he is telling the folks at University Church. It isn’t God speaking, it is the voice in your own head.

  9. Posted November 22, 2017 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Which version of god did all the speaking?
    Since concepts of god changed over time and due to contact with different cultures, which one of these gods definitively spoke for the first and last time? The books of the bible were written and edited over hundreds of years. Look at any given concept in the bible to see how it changed over time. Then tell me that your version of god and religion was fully delineated in the bible from god having spoken. I will not agree with you.

    • Posted November 22, 2017 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

      The following references a Nov. 21, 2017 Slate article by William Saletan titled “There Is No Such Thing as the Bible” about the new Bible Museum in Washington D,C.: l

      “http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2017/11/the_messy_scripture_on_display_at_the_museum_of_the_bible.html”

  10. Liz
    Posted November 22, 2017 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Postprandial. I learned something new today. Nice.

  11. Posted November 22, 2017 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    For the church it’s an advertisement. More than money, religion needs membership. Members make belief ostensibly real. Members help subdue doubt and allay the need for proof.

    “Liberal religion is simply a way to filter a secular morality”. History reveals that this statement is the case. Almost everything is getting better and it’s because of science and the enlightened values of philosophy, art, music, and literature. Religion is no longer in control and is just along for a great ride. It will have to learn how to adapt or it will fade away.

  12. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted November 22, 2017 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    The UCC also has a statement of faith that superficially looks like the Nicene Creed but on closer examination avoids any discussion of the nature of God or Jesus but simply states what they have done.
    The UCC seems to think God is like Blinds addressing Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz: She had to find out for herself. The classic Catholic is of course more like the wizard.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted November 23, 2017 at 1:04 am | Permalink

      Glinda, not “Blinds”. Cell phone auto-correct.

  13. loren russell
    Posted November 22, 2017 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    For this church at least, it also means, “but don’t write it down” even though his chatter used to be “write this down and certify that it’s Gospel…”

    It probably means that Jesus really did expect to come back “before another generation” but got stuck in traffic or something?

    • Posted November 22, 2017 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

      We don’t really know what Jesus thought because he failed to write anything down before he died, or at least, if he did, it is now lost.

      However, it is certain that his early followers expected him to be back very soon. This is a clear expectation in Paul’s early writings (i.e. the ones that aren’t forgeries) and in the gospels to an extent. It’s why Paul tells slaves to accept their lot because there is no point in rebelling or anything given that Jesus is coming back really soon. Paul expects still to be alive when Jesus comes back (see, for example 1 Thessalonians 4:17).

      As time went on, Christian writers had to start giving excuses for Jesus’ no show. For example, in 2 Peter it is said that, to God, a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day, which basically redefines “soon” to be any time period you like.

      Some of them even deny they ever said Jesus would be coming soon. 2 Thessalonians explicitly denies that Paul ever said that Jesus’ second coming was “at hand” even though 1 Thessalonians blatantly exists. This is one reason why most scholars think 2 Thessalonians must be a forgery.

      So yes, Jesus was coming back early, but he’s not stuck in traffic. He met Mohammed and now prefers a pint in the Cock and Bull to ending the World.

      • Posted November 23, 2017 at 4:33 am | Permalink

        He met Mohammed and now prefers a pint in the Cock and Bull to ending the World.

        +1

  14. Posted November 22, 2017 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Good find on the Refectory – it gets 4.5 out of 5 on Yelp, and the food pix look great!!

  15. Posted November 22, 2017 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Here in atheist northern Europe most people (as in a bit more than half) are still technically Lutheran Protestants.

    Not many believe in God of course, but they pay the church dues because it’s a reliable social security organisation even during right-wing governments.

    I don’t. I can’t get over the fact that to be a Christian I ought to mumble my way through a confession of faith declaring I believe some dead dude will come back and save us all.

    Basing one’s morality on a blatant lie trumps all practical considerations about community cohesion and that sort of stuff.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted November 23, 2017 at 6:47 am | Permalink

      You have to drink his blood and eat his flesh too in some versions.

  16. Posted November 22, 2017 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    The first time I saw that slogan, there was a crease in the banner, and it appeared to say “God is still spealing”. It makes about as much sense to me either way.

  17. Filippo
    Posted November 22, 2017 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    “Thus endeth my Wednesday postprandial sermon.”

    “My God, man! Can’t you see that this patient is suffering from post-prandial upper-abdominal distention?!?”

    Dr. Leonard McCoy in “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.”

    • Posted November 23, 2017 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      Thus showing that jargon can *both* obsfucate *and* be useful all at once!

  18. Posted November 22, 2017 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    Maybe they should have asked “Do you hear voices when no one is there?” and “Be sure to answer those calls as it may be God talking to you.”

    On Wed, Nov 22, 2017 at 1:31 PM, Why Evolution Is True wrote:

    > whyevolutionistrue posted: “Coming back from lunch at the Lutheran > Theological Seminary’s refectory (a great lunch spot I just discovered, and > no tax!), I had a second religious encounter. Walking back to work, I > passed the University Church, a Protestant Christian church with prono” >

  19. Posted November 23, 2017 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    I wonder (sadly sometimes) how many hundreds of years will have to pass before society is comfortable shifting away from religion as a means to authenticate morality, wisdom, social change, and personal opinions about life and death. Also, I’m unabashedly jealous of those future Earth-dwellers who will get the opportunity to live in such a society.

  20. Zetopan
    Posted November 26, 2017 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    “liberal religion is simply a way to filter a secular morality through a religious strainer”

    I think that a more apt analogy than using a “filter to strain” (which sounds rather passive) would be using a meat grinder (e.g. creating hamburger meat) to force secular morality at high pressure through religion shaped holes. And then they pretend that the result was always from their original idea to start with.

  21. Zetopan
    Posted November 26, 2017 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    “I’m unabashedly jealous of those future Earth-dwellers who will get the opportunity to live in such a society.”

    With the current ongoing crises caused by religious fanatics within the USA (having nearly complete control of the White House) and elsewhere in the world, such a desirable future might not actually have any chance to exist.


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