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God's Power Of Persuasion


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One point has been sticking in my mind from Brother Roger’s list of features of progressive vs. conservative Christianity. It’s the distinction between progressives believing in a persuasive God and conservatives believing in a coercive God.


As a heretic, I face a number of intellectual challenges. One is that I need to make sense of how the orthodox church could be so wrong about so many things, about theology, about the reality of how little it helps the needy despite Matthew 25: 31-46, about the problems of an agenda that is anti-abortion, anti-evolution and anti-homosexual. For the orthodox, it’s easy to say they’re not wrong. Beyond any detailed arguments to that effect, how could their omnipotent God allow His church to go so off track? How could so many Christians in agreement be wrong? How indeed?


My bias is to start talking about the cult-like mentality of conservative conformity, but where is God in that, coercive or persuasive? Here is a God who confronted Paul on the road to Damascus, Paul’s testimony about this seeming quite believable to me. If that was all about God’s power, wouldn’t God indeed be able to maintain His church as being just what He would have it be? What if much of it was about Paul being prepared for such an experience, even the complete turnaround that it was, maybe with misgivings about the zealotry with which he was pursuing followers of Jesus, maybe because of the devotion he had already toward God, just needing a new idea of who God was. If God could do this with all of us, persuasively or coercively, wouldn’t He have us all seeing the same God?


Someone can say that it’s some impenetrable mystery that God doesn’t give everyone faith like this, that God has some good reason to choose when and where to be persuasive or coercive. Maybe God looks at the imperfections of the many religions around the world, even many religions within Christianity, and still supports these many faiths, knowing that some faith is better than none. I can’t make sense of such ideas. To me what makes sense is that God is not in charge of people’s beliefs, not coercively, not persuasively. It is just like the argument about God being omnipotent. How could this world be the best that an omnipotent God would do? Just to make 144,000 or some other magic number of followers? It doesn’t make sense. How could the world’s religions be the product of any very powerful God? Is the truth so strange that no one can get it right even with such a God’s help? It also doesn’t make sense.


My favorite definition of God is that God is the one who answers when I pray, “God help me!” I have experience that helps me believe that this God is about power, love, and goodness, but the ideas that He must be perfect in these things don’t come from anything real. When I went back to praying in my thirties, it was as a last resort. With time, it became my first resort to pray to God for direction and about whatever emotions came up for me. God has become very real to me this way, and while Jesus Christ is my Lord and my Savior, it is also true that I am devoted to God, whoever and whatever God is. I wonder if I could look back and see the spiritual truth of everything that happened in my life if I would see God intervening countless times to get me to my current faith or if there were no interventions at all. If there were, what loving parent would forego being coercive on occasion, insisting on only being persuasive? If there were none, then that would confirm for me that “cooperative” would be a better word for how God works than either coercive or persuasive.


I’m interested in how others see this.

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A long time ago now, I commented on what was basically the same question. I suggested that the whole "problem" of God's intervention in natural affairs is based upon a conceptual mistake: namely, that of conceiving of God as essentially outside ourselves (not to be confused with the correct assertion that God is infinitely beyond ourselves). I wonder how the notion that we are not ultimately separate from God -- that God is the true subject and object, initiator and recipient, of everything that occurs -- would change the thrust of the question?

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Keep in mind that if God is persuasive, then it's not God's fault that the Church has become as divided and messed up as it is, as we humans are able to resist God's leadings and do our own thing instead. God woos but we can be unrequitive lovers.

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A couple of things occur - First and foremost, free will. That seems key.


Second, the question of evil/enemy. I honestly don't know what I believe/think about this one, but it seems to me (my conservative friends REALLY don't like this arguement <_< ) that if the devil is attacking us, what better place than in our religion???? If the devil wants to move us further from God, if CS Lewis has a picture of evil, then what would be more effective and insidious than rot in the church, slightly off translation of the bible, and a focus on gay marriage and abortion rather than more global christian traits???? The more I think about this, the more likely I am to believe in evil.



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  If the devil wants to move us further from God, if CS Lewis has a picture of evil, then what would be more effective and insidious than rot in the church, slightly off translation of the bible, and a focus on gay marriage and abortion rather than more global christian traits????  The more I think about this, the more likely I am to believe in evil.




I believe you've caught "scratch" by the neck, and, based upon your free will choices, have the ability to look at it and study it at your leisure. But do not be too slothful in your study.


Elsewhere here the phenomenon has been described as "annoying Christians". This has gotten so bad inside of my head that when I read news articles about the culture wars, I cringe when the word "Christian(s)" is used in a generic sense when describing the conservative/evangelical brand. I have to restrain myself from screaming at the news medium I'm accessing " there are other, better kinds of people in the faith !". In another informative post here someone observed that if you choose to eat with the devil, you'd better have a very long spoon.


A Canadian general who has lived many years in Uganda, including the times leading up to the genocide there, wrote a book recently called "Shaking Hands With the Devil". You may remember that churches were involved in the horrors there. The hesitancy of world authorities to take steps to deal with those events, like the events in Sierra Leone and in the Balkans until after the fact trials, shows that temporal power defers to supernatural power when it is evidently operating. I was always taught that if you choose to dance with the devil, he changes you, you don't change him.


Little things in the course of your life can tip you off that he is near to you. Ever since I heard the feature about the Canadian general on NPR, some of my customers have insisted upon shaking hands with me at the end of our short transactions. It doesn't scare me and I've been shaking hands with lots of people for over sixty year, so I still do. But still, it all makes me wonder.


Is the devil a mind reader? Does he listen to NPR also? What I do know is that he wants to alter my behaviors in and perceptions of the world towards fear and loathing. I actively choose EACH DAY not to do that for that would bring him one step closer to destroying all of the good things in the world that we, with God's assistance, have created. I choose to be a believer each day that I am allowed to walk around this earth and breath its air.


As I described on another thread my approach to it all these days, I choose to believe that the devil probably has the second best quantum computer in the future, and he can use it to look back on peoples' live in the times we live in and then set out to screw them up in a vast number and variety of ways. East European Jews had a term for him "Malchimoovis".


God's up there in the future also with a better quantum computer, and while He/She cannot prevent what the Malchimoovis programs and executes on his device (Time and space do not allow it. It's known as causality.), God has the ability to show us things that can save us if we have the presence of will and mind to see them and follow that way, after the bruisings, safely into the future.


If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's probably THE duck.





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Fred, I've written elsewhere of how Jesus is in the needy, starting with Matthew 25, and how I witnessed in my own profession and volunteer work how I became a conduit for God's love which went to help some other aspect of God in others, how I could learn from that about the godliness of giving love from myself and receiving love to help me.


I have also wondered if we're all God's finger puppets. I don't mind if we are, unlike many people.


That still leaves me puzzled, though. If God is that involved with us, even more than is implied by "coercive" or "persuasive", can't He do better with us? What is the resistance?


BrotherRog, I have also tried to let God off the hook, saying sometimes that God is limited by the material He has to work with, but I wonder if the limitations are greater than that, too great for "persuasive" to be the best word.


Cynthia, one can say that either the liberal church or the traditional church is of the devil to explain whichever one is farther from God, in one's view, but what would keep God from persuading the wayward side (even if the waywardness came from standing still)? My most consistent prayer is to follow His will, not mine. My liberalism has become even more intense with that. I'm sure many conservatives genuinely want this too, to follow God, not pride or idols. Maybe God's will is taking us in different directions for a good reason, not anything demonic. Maybe all the political strife I hate is good for us. I long for the explanation to be simpler, though, that it's just not that easy to follow God, that our communication from God is nowhere near effective enough to be "persuasive", but takes more from us than many might think.


flow, why do you think God allows the devil? My mind isn't closed to the idea of a devil, but the absence of God would seem to play a similar role to me. Of course that would be different from what Fred was describing. Between natural suffering and what our culture has put into our minds, I'm not sure what the point would be for any malevolent spirit, especially one with whatever a quantum computer is. Fear and anger can be gifts, you know. Fear can be prudence. Anger can be determination. There's a lot more fear and anger around than that, but such is nature. Nature can be too plentiful sometimes, too stingy at others.

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flow, why do you think God allows the devil? My mind isn't closed to the idea of a devil, but the absence of God would seem to play a similar role to me.



Think of it this way, and please, this is just my metaphysical attempt to blend knowledge about science and religion into something that makes sense to me.


Complex systemic entities exist all around us, in fact our realities could be defined as the entirety of what we can observe and eventually understand. This includes cells, human beings, cities, social groups, animals, plants, weather systems, planetary systems, galaxies, etc., etc,


These and much, much more are what make up our definition of nature. They have commonalities, or patterns that are shared over time. They deepen their inner complexity and continue through time to an extent. They begin by hidden processes we do not fully understand, but that is coming. They have physical boundaries. They have periods of growth and flowering. Then comes a period of waning and diminishment. Then the entity ceases to exist, and because of the principles of conservation of energy and the transformation of material substances, the new is mysteriously created again to begin new cycles of existence.


In a human sense these observations of the activities of nature by some seers gave birth, forinstance, to the notions of reincarnation among those of the Bhuddist belief. And of course we Christians have beliefs centered around birth, death and rebirth. There are both positive and negative natural forces that impinge upon the entities throughout their journeys through time. In a primitive sense we could identify them generally as light and darkness. The former encourages growth and flowering, the latter retards growth, slowing it down and eventually causing the end of the entities' histories in time.


We don't know much about light and darkness yet other than to say that light usually is emitted from the insides of entities, and that all entities are immersed in darkness wherever they are in the universe that we have knowledge of. Somehow the darkness smothers light. Light is the exception and darkness is the rule ( the ratio is about 5% to 95%) But somehow the forces are kept in dynamic balance throughout time.


The Dead Sea Scrolls illuminate an ancient argument among the wise concerning the continual war between the sons of darkness and the sons of light. I suppose that you could generally associate God with the sons (I prefer children) of light and the devil with the children of darkness.

As an example The Star Wars stories are incarnations of this most basic of patterns. It takes both basic elements to make up our realities, and we cannot escape either. We can only observe and surmise through the ages what this is all for and about.


flow.... :unsure:

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Well I would say that my mind is pretty non-open as far as an actual physical devil. Evil in the world, I would say there is that, but in many cases it is the absent of good or the perversion of good in some way. I have actually heard spouse abusers talk as if they were acting for good. It is quite a curious thing, I think their minds are really telling them that these things are as they see them. One of the things that I have heard about and really see in the kids I work with with serious behavior issues, is that everything is someone else's fault. They don't see the problems in their own behaviors. I think this is technically termed "external locus of control"-- meaning basically that everything is outside your own control.


Now take this to an international level and see what happens. Look at George Bush's actions in Iraq. I think he is not acting as an agent of evil, he really sees things the way he does and isn't just talking. He really feels by invading a country and killing cilivians that in some way good things come out fo this. I really think a lot of evil in the world happens this way. It isn't done by bad guys, but by people with intentions that are good but that are warped in some way. I won't rule out an altogether bad guy in the bunch (ie like Sadaam).



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Do you know how we wind up with five digits at the end of each limb?


It's not that five centers of growth develop independently in each limb bud. Instead there is a chemical signal that is structured so that four areas of cells die between what will become our digits. I used this once on the internet to illustrate "addition by subtraction", but the dialogue deteriorated into whether this process really illustrates that saying instead of pausing for a moment to think about how common this process is of using death or destruction to do somethinng good. It's always hard to know. Was it a waste of time when something falls apart? Was it a learning experience?


I've never gotten around to studying the Hindu god Shiva, the destroyer and restorer of worlds, to see how much there might be true about this tradition. Whatever there is, I do understand the necessity for what might appear tragic to exist. Death is programmed into us. Our species is stronger as all species with sexual reproduction are stronger because our individuals get out of the way and die eventually once we've reproduced. It lets us be much more adaptable than if no one died. Beyond the biology a certain amount of suffering does build character, as Paul wrote about. Not everything painful is evil.


Yet the amount of suffering in our society seems much more than could have a good purpose, even though I guess it's less than before modern technology and medicine. I could see a malevolent spirit contributing to this, but if one looks at suffering scientifically, it hasn't been necessary to go beyond natural suffering and man's inhumanity to man to explain the excess. Why in the world would an omnipotent God have any reason to tolerate more than those two things? And maybe a powerful but less than omnipotent God would prefer not to tolerate even that much.


My impression is that there is no reason for the devil, that there's plenty of evil coming from us to account for evil in the world. I even heard a joke once that a special prayer finally made God disintegrate the devil one day, and nothing hapenned. Both the devil and God had been fooled into thinking the devil and his minions actually were doing something when in fact they had just been conditioned into showing up at the right place at a bad time.


I don't think the betterment of our world is about how much of God's power is coercive or persuasive. Whatever the mix is it hasn't ended poverty or war. It seems to me God needs our help if this world is to be better than it is. Maybe there are other worlds where the message of God became creature was better received. Maybe we're underacheivers. However it is, the traditional theology makes no sense to me. Neither does moving only a short distance away from it.

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God's up there in the future also with a better quantum computer [...]

Man, that would suck if God got a virus....

[/quote ]



The last time I checked the literature, scientific opinion was that viruses are not officially life forms, either in real life or in cyberpace. They can certainlly mess up life and/or computing activities though.


And besides, when one is talking about quantum computing, uncertainty and paradox reign supreme. This all goes back to the historical demonstrative example of Schrodinger's cat. A closed box is presented for observation. One is to determine whether the cat inside the box is alive or dead through direct observation.


In the quantum world reality is always determined by what is observed in the moment. If you open the box and find that the cat is dead, you really cannot be entirely sure if it was dead before you opened the box, or if your act of opening the box and observing it was the cause of death. Or even if it was EVER alive before the experiment began. Time is infinitely divisible and exact timing of an event can never really be determined with total accuracy.


There are the quick and there are the dead.


So I guess my conclusion is that even God's quantum computer must navigate these uncertainties and pitfalls in it's neverending signalling to us from the future; and, even if a virus of some sort affected it, is the virus really there at all if God refuses to observe and acknowledge it?


flow.... ;)

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