Friday, February 17, 2012
We've all heard the saying before. "Any topic is fair game at a party, with the exception of politics and religion".
I'm sure that anyone who has witnessed either of these topics being discussed in a diverse group, can understand why the saying exists. In certain settings, there are very few topics that can start a fight more quickly.
So why are these topics so touchy? If two people disagree on their favorite food, a fight is unlikely to occur. The same is true with your favorite television show. But what is it about religion that gets people's blood boiling?
Not long ago, I wrote an article that heavily spoke about God. I tried to get it published on streetarticles.com only to quickly have it rejected by the site. They told me that they don't accept articles about religion. Not long after that, I went to Yahoo in order to check my E-mail. One of the headline news articles on their site read "Bill Maher Takes Heat Over Tim Tebow Tweet". The title seemed interesting, so I clicked on it. The article contained a youtube link entitled "Bill Maher vs. Bill O'Reilly on Religion". I watched the video, and what I saw was another one of those heated arguments. By the time I had finished watching the clip, I found that my heart was also racing with emotion. Just as the topic had stirred the hearts and minds of the two men in the clip, my heart was stirred also. That experience is the inspiration for this article.
Though religion is a forbidden topic in many places and forums, I, for one, think it is a topic that's worth talking about. But I want to do more than that with this article. This article is designed to get down to the heart of the matter and answer those stirring questions once-and-for-all. In the youtube clip, both men raised some good points and had some good questions. Maher wanted to know why it is that Christians aren't killing neighbors who work on the Sabbath. After all, it's in the Bible, God said to do it, so why aren't Christian's doing it? What's with the hypocrisy? O'Reilly said that because he's a Christian, he believes in the New Testament. Maher then wanted to know why one half of the Bible is embraced while the other half is, according to him, discarded by Christians. After all, isn't the whole book from God?
I'm not one of those people who simply believes that truth is a matter of opinion. These are good questions, and I believe they deserve sound answers. This article will attempt to explore these questions, and get down to the bottom of this whole divisive religion issue.
So let's start with the general focus of this article. Why is religion such a divisive issue? In order to answer this question, we first have to take a moment and think about what religion is, and what it attempts to do.
For most people, religion tries to answer one of the most, if not the single most, important question that anyone could ask. "What is the meaning of life?" If you take a good look at this question, it begins to give us an idea of why religion can be such a divisive issue. After all, once a person knows the meaning of life, it should greatly affect how they spend their life. The topic, and question, is almost, by definition, foundational to life. And people don't typically like to have their foundations shaken, or messed with. But if we're going to get down to the bottom of religion, seeking an answer to this question is a good place to start.
What is the Meaning of Life?
It's a question that has been asked by many throughout all of recorded human history, "What is the meaning of life?" Many people have regarded this question as a mystery. Others simply claim that no one knows, or that it can't be known. This section will not only give a serious exploration of this question, but it will ultimately come up with an actual answer.
First of all, because this question is most often regarded as a mystery by countless people, let's approach an answer based on this perspective. This type of approach is most commonly seen in a court of law. We will come to a conclusion based solely on facts and logic.
Because the question "What is the meaning of life?", is such a heavy question. It's often common for people to interject bias, or personal belief when attempting to come up with an answer. This is almost inherent in every individual. For this reason, it's important to stick to facts and logic. So in the same way that a judge or lawyer would explain what is expected from a jury when making decisions based on facts and logic, I will do the same here. This is a very useful tool to use whenever the jury may be tempted to interject bias based on personal beliefs.
Because facts are often obvious, and easy to prove and agree on, lets give more attention on how to apply logic. Consider this scenario. You are having a little car trouble, so you take your car into the shop in order to get it fixed. As you stand by, you watch a man wearing uniform overalls with a name tag, work on your car. Logic would allow you to conclude that the man is a mechanic.
This is the type of simple logic that is often used in court cases when looking at evidence. The facts are that you are at a car shop, the man working on your car is wearing a uniform with a name tag, and you drive away with a fixed car. Logic allows you to look at all of these facts and conclude that the man must be a mechanic. This same kind of logic will be used during our search for an answer to our important question.
Before coming to an answer to this important question, I want to reiterate the importance of a person not interjecting preconceived bias, or personal belief when searching for the answer to this question. This is most difficult for people who already have well-defined, deep-rooted views about life, death, religion and ethics. If you're religious, you probably already have a strong view about this topic. Therefore, it may be extremely difficult to "turn that off", and simply think objectively, looking solely at the facts and applying raw logic. The same thing is equally true for the atheist, or for a person who may be anti-religious. Not interjecting preconceived bias is almost impossible to avoid, but it is possible if a person is willing to let facts and logic prevail rather than pre-programmed thinking. Because of how powerful, and deep-rooted a person's beliefs can be, it may help if you consciously try to only allow logic and facts to drive this process, and do your best to turn off your well-established belief system for the remainder of this article.
So First, in our quest to figure out the meaning of life, lets look at a couple of facts. One fact is more of an observation. It's the observation that as you go through life, you realize that people are born, they live, and then they die. We all have a date of birth, and we are all aging. Most of us know of a person who has had a baby, and we also probably know of someone who has died. If you go to a cemetery, you will see that most headstones have two dates, a birth date and a death date.
Fact number two. The world has a lot of people in it. Today it's estimated that the population of planet earth is around 7 billion people. With these two facts, "we're born, we live, we die", and "the world has a lot of people in it", we are able to create an image of what I like to call "the static television".
Before the FCC demanded that all television broadcasters switch to digital signals, you may remember the old analog televisions. When no signal was going to the television, you'd get the static screen of black and white dots dancing on the television screen. With digital television it's the familiar blue screen. But the analog television, with the screen showing noise and static when there is no signal, can be viewed as a representation of what happens in this world. The area of the screen represents the entire face of the planet. And every little dot that appears represents a person. The little dots appear and disappear, representing a person's birth and then their death. Throughout all of human history this has been going on. We're born, we live, we die. Every person has their little amount of time on this earth before they are gone, just like a dot on the static television screen.
So imagine the countless number of people that are both living in the world today, and that have also lived before us. They all had a chance to contribute something to the knowledge of mankind. When their knowledge and discoveries were important, it was recorded and passed on to the next generation.
I say all of that in order to make this one simple point. We have a greater advantage than anyone else in all of human history when it comes to solving such mysteries as "What is the meaning of life?" This is because we are not only able to look at current observations and ideas from people who are living today, we can also look at ideas that were proposed in the past. The question that we are trying to answer has been asked by many people for a very long time. If anyone had an answer, it certainly is important enough to have been written down and passed on to the next generation. In the same way that Einstein's principles were recorded and passed on because of their importance, so would be the case for the answer to our important question.
So the next question we have to look at is whether or not there is anyone who has answered this question in the past. If someone had answered it, we would likely know about it. Their name would be a household name like Einstein. The question "What is the meaning of life?" is important enough to have triggered that response if someone had come up with an answer. They would have been an uncommonly bright spot on the static television screen -- maybe even the brightest. So who's the most well-known person in all of human history? The answer to this question is an easy one. It's Jesus Christ.
Now before anyone starts to interject bias based on personal belief, lets look at the facts in order to back this up. As was mentioned before, we all have a birth date. That date, as well as any date in history, is referenced to the birth of Jesus Christ. This is a fact. This article is being written on December 16th, 2011. This date, along with any other date that takes place after Jesus Christ's birth, is referenced as AD. So the date is December 16th, 2011 AD. AD stands for "anno domini", which means 'in the year of the Lord'. BC stands for "Before Christ". This time reference system is global and is used by everyone on the planet. This fact that the birth of Jesus Christ is a time reference for all dates that are written, suggests that Jesus Christ is the most well-known person in all of human history. To suggest anything else, goes against common logic and is probably suggested due to a bias, or personal belief.
So because the birth of Jesus Christ is the most well-known birth of all time, we should now ask the question "why was his birth so significant?" What contribution did he make that is so important that it causes us to reference all time to his birth? In order to investigate this, we have to continue to look at history.
It's a fact that the most complete account of the life of Jesus is recorded in the Bible. The Bible tells us that Jesus performed many miracles that were witnessed by tons of people. It says that on the day that Jesus was crucified, many people rose from the dead. These previously-dead people walked around a city and were witnessed by many. The Bible also claims that Jesus himself came back from the dead three days after his death, and then ascended from this earth. It's a fact that this is what the Bible says. It's also a fact that the body of Jesus has never been found. Though this is true, we also have to remember that there are many people who have died, and we can't find their bodies. So even though this is a fact, it gives mild support to the resurrection of Jesus. What's much more compelling is the account of countless miracles that were consistently witnessed by tons of people of that day. All of these fantastic facts gives a logical explanation for why the birth of Jesus is considered such a big deal. So we know that his birth was a big deal because we reference all of time to his birth. And the Bible gives a very strong explanation as to why his birth was a big deal.
Not everyone believes that the Bible is true. But it's a fact that Jesus believed that it is. The New Testament of the Bible gives an account of the life of Jesus, and it tells us that Jesus believed that the Old Testament is completely true.
So if the most significant man that ever lived believes that the Bible is true, what does the Bible say about the meaning of life? In the Old Testament, there's the book of Ecclesiastes. This book was written by King Solomon, a man who was given supernatural wisdom by God. In this book, Solomon sought the answer to our important question, "What is the meaning of Life?". At the end of the book, after tons of deep thought and pondering, he gives an answer. He says, "After all of this, there is only one thing to say. Have reverence for God and obey his commandments, because this is all that man was created for." Also, Jesus himself says the same thing. More than once, he talks about obeying God.
So there's the answer to our question. The meaning of life can be summed up in two words, "obey God". So why do people still consider the meaning of life to be a mystery? All that's left to counter logic is preconceived bias, and personal belief.
Two Types of Readers
At this point, you are one of two types of readers. Either you already believed the Bible to be true, prior to reading the previous section of this article, or you didn't believe the Bible to be true prior to reading it. But no matter which type of reader you are, if you still want to get to the bottom of this whole religion issue, we can't deny facts.
When Jesus lived on this earth, a little over 2000 years ago, he had the same effect on this world then that he continues to have today. His fame hasn't deminished, and he continues to be a polarizing figure. The people of his day had strong opinions of him, whether they were good or bad. However, the miracles that he performed couldn't be overlooked by anyone at that time. It's easier for people to try to overlook those miracles today, but this is only possible when you don't think about the fact that we reference all of time to his birth. We may not be able to witness the actual miracles that he performed long ago, but we witness that he has altered the world. It is this alteration that gives support to the notion that he actually did perform those miracles.
Is it likely that Jesus could have altered the world the way that he did without performing miracles? Not realistically. Once again, we have to apply unbiased logic.
Today, we live in the information age. If anyone has any chance of obtaining world-wide fame, they have the greatest chance of doing so in our technological era than any other time. With television and the internet, many people have obtained world-wide fame. But no one has obtained it to the degree that Jesus Christ has. No one has become so famous that we have all chosen to reference time to their birth, other than Jesus. When Jesus was around, electricity hadn't even been discovered, let alone great inventions like the television and the internet. His claims and teachings alone wouldn't have been enough to cause a universal time reference. After all, many people have lived throughout history spouting claims, and promoting teachings. The miracles of Jesus set him apart. Calming a raging sea with only his words, and feeding 5000 people with a few loaves and a couple of fish, is likely to warrant this type of fame.
As was mentioned before, we know that Jesus believed that the Bible is true. He believed all of it -- even the things that may seem off-the-wall to a lot of people today. He believed that God created the world in six days and that the flood actually took place, just as the Bible describes. He believed that Jonah was swallowed by a big fish and that God parted the Red Sea. He believed that all of these things took place literally. He didn't view them as allegories or metaphors.
So this answers one of the questions that Bill Maher asked. If Maher would have been able to ask Jesus whether or not he believes that the flood actually happened, Jesus would have said "yes". Therefore, it's no wonder that Christians, which are people who follow Christ, also believe it. Maybe some claim not to, due to it's unpopularity in certain climates. But if you want to follow Jesus, you have to believe what he believes.
Scientific Facts and Research
It's no secret that many people in the scientific community believe that the earth is much older than what the Bible implies. Radiocarbon dating suggests that the earth is billions of years old. However, when looking at scientific data, and trying to keep an unbiased view, it's important to look at more than just one component of scientific research.
It is believed by many scientists that certain cosmic events have been taking place linearly over time. For instance, some believe that dust accumulates on the moon's surface at a constant rate, and also that the sun is shrinking at a constant rate. Before astronauts first landed on the moon, some scientists believed that the astronauts were going to sink into several feet of dust, due to the age of our solar system. However, we now know that there are only a few inches of dust on the surface of the moon. Also, if our solar system is as old as radiocarbon dating suggests, then the sun would have been touching the surface of the earth millions of years ago. This, again, is due to the notion that the sun is supposed to be burning down at a constant linear rate. So which is it? Is radiocarbon dating right, or the notion of linear change in our solar system?
Here's a little experiment. Go to a scientist who is an atheist and ask him/her to show you scientific evidence that supports his/her view to be an athiest. Then go to a Christian scientist and ask him/her to do the same thing. They will both give you evidence that makes sense and that sounds compelling. In both cases, the scientific data will support their view.
This same type of thing also happens in court cases. Prosecutors bring forth their experts in order to support their case, and defense attorneys bring forth experts to support their case. I'm sure that I could bring forth mountains of studies, experiments, and scenarios that support the biblical view of creation. An athiest could do the same. So in the end, how much is all of it really worth, from a purely objective, unbiased point of view?
Faith: Fundamental or Fairy Tales?
The most basic, raw definition of faith is this. "Belief without proof". So when someone says that they believe the Bible based on faith, or that their religious beliefs are based on faith, at first glance, it's easy to view this person as having some sort of "fairytale" belief. After all, our court-of-law, facts and logic approach to understanding and solving mysteries seems to leave no room for such concepts as faith. Therefore, faith seems to be something that is better suited for fairy tales and children's stories like Peter Pan. However, if you take a serious look at the concept of faith, we quickly learn that even this concept can't be categorized so simplistically.
There's one word, in our basic definition of faith, that causes any thorough exploration of the concept of faith to not be seen so simplistically. That word is "proof". It may not be obvious at first glance, but with enough thought and examination, it becomes apparent that "proof", and its importance, is relative.
Let me give an example. Suppose someone told you to prove your own age. How would you go about doing it? The first thing you might do is pull out your driver's license and show it to the person. Your driver's license has your birthdate on it. So this proves your age, right? Not necessarily. After all, your driver's license is just a piece of plastic with a date stamped on it. So what about your birth certificate? Surely this is a document that could prove your age. But once again, your birth certificate is just a piece of paper with a date written on it along with some signatures (which are really just some squiggly lines). So you could go to your parents, or someone who was there to witness your birth. They are a witness and were present during the actual event of your birth. Their testimony is certain proof of your birthdate and the validity of your driver's license and birth certificate, right? Well, only if you choose to believe them. You see, no matter what you do, all "proof" requires a simple choice to believe at some point. That choice to believe, is a choice that is based on an element of faith. This will always be the case. At some point, every belief is based on a choice to believe. Proof is relative. For some people, the driver's license may be enough proof in order for them to believe. More skepticial people may require a birth certificate. Some people won't even be satisfied with a witness because any witness can lie. At some point, a person must simply choose to believe. Evidence, and so-called "proof", may assist in convincing a person, but ultimately every belief is based on faith.
So what is the situation of every person on the planet? Here's another way to look at it. Suppose you're eating at a new restaurant. You've been eating your meal for about ten minutes before a man bursts through the entrance door of the restaurant. The man is panting heavily, is sweating as if he had just run a marathon, and is obviously very distraught. He quickly yells out, "Stop eating the food! This restaurant has an evil chef who has poisoned every meal. The poison enters your system quickly and in less than twenty minutes, you'll all be dead. You'll all be dead unless you drink this!"
The man pulls a flask from inside his coat. "This is the antidote! Drink it, and you'll be fine. It will save you."
At that time, the chef bursts through the kitchen door. "Don't believe this man!", yells the chef. "He's an evil man! What he is holding is poison! There's nothing wrong with the food that I've served, but if you drink this man's potion, you're going to kill yourself!"
It is at this point that every person in the restaurant has a decision to make. Either they will believe the stranger, or they will believe the chef. A monumental choice is required by everyone, and is completely unavoidable. Every person must choose, and every choice is based on faith.
The evil chef story is very dramatic, but it gets the point across. The concept of religion poses a life-altering, unavoidable choice for everyone. Perhaps this is why all of those fights break out.
Faith is practiced by everyone. However, not everyone recognizes that they practice faith. For instance, most people would agree that Isaac Newton and Abraham Lincoln existed. Libraries are filled with books that talk about them. We sometimes even have pictures, or drawings of these men. We live in a world that was shaped by the choices that they made. But our choice to believe that they existed is ultimately based on faith. Just as is the case with the "proof of age" experiment, we have documents and pages of evidence. However, proof is relative. So when a person chooses to believe that the Bible is true, and they choose to believe what it says about Jesus and base their life on that truth, it's really no different than what nearly everyone does every day with other figures throughout history. We all practice faith. To view it as a fairytale concept would be to jump to a conclusion without completely thinking things through. After all, there's just as much evidence about Jesus as there is about Christopher Columbus. And it takes faith to believe the truth about both. The only difference is that there's more time between now and the time of Jesus, than there is between now and the time of Columbus. The only difference is a duration of time -- nothing else.
Modern Day Hypocrisy
In the youtube video that I mentioned earlier, Bill Maher asked why Christians aren't killing people for not observing the Sabbath. God says to do it, so why aren't Christians doing it?
In order to answer this question, we have to look at history once again. But before we do, there's another concept that must be explored. Ironically, it's a concept that was explored in the article that I tried to have published on streetarticles.com. It's the same article that I mentioned at the beginning of this article. It's the one that was rejected by streetarticles.com because it's based on a religious topic. I have decided to place that article inside of this article as the following section. The article has been copied verbatim. Nothing has been changed.
The Limitations of God
Earlier today, I was walking by a store in a plaza when I overheard a small portion of a conversation. A man, a woman, and a little girl were walking together when I heard the man say, "... But if he's able to do anything, why can't he do it?". The woman responded by saying, "Because God doesn't exist."
Not only did the woman respond with these words, she said them with a duh-don't-you-know-that-only-idiots-believe-in-God, valley-girl-sounding, mocking tone.
The man's skepticism and the woman's irreverent words and tone, made me feel a strong sense of irritation, or even anger. It all happened so fast, and less than twenty seconds after the fact, I wanted to barge into their conversation. But the opportunity had passed, and I wasn't so brazen. It wasn't long before I had a lot to say, and no one to say it to. So I decided to write this article.
First, I want to confess that the title of this article is a bit silly. Anyone who knows anything about God knows that God has no limitations. It's a good title only in the sense that it clearly describes the topic of this article. Although God has no limitations, some people tend to think that the concept of a limitless God is a concept with holes. This article will not only challenge such a claim, but it will give a more accurate picture of what God is, and what he is not.
I can only imagine that the conversation that inspired this article started with a question that sounds something like this. Someone probably asked, "Is it possible for God to create a rock that is so large that even he can't move it?"
It's a clever question, isn't it? After all, if God can make such a rock, then according to the definition of the rock, he wouldn't be able to move it. So there would be something that God is incapable of. On the other hand, if he can't make such a rock, then his inability to make the rock, is a limitation. The question forces God to be limited. So what happened? Did a human outsmart God by proving God to be limited?
In order to explore this question, we first have to recognize that it is based on two assumptions. First, it assumes that human comprehension is unlimited. Secondly, it assumes that God and humans, both think on the same level.
I believe that one of the most difficult concepts for human's to coprehend, is the limitation of human comprehension. Consider this. A woman takes her sick, young daughter to the doctor's office. The doctor says that the little girl has a very dangerous infection, but that the infection can be cleared up with a single shot of medicine. The little girl watches as the doctor approaches her with a terrifying needle. To her surprise, her mother doesn't try to stop the doctor from hurting her. Instead, the mother insists that the doctor stick her with the needle. The little girl could conclude that her mother has become evil. After all, her mother is insisting that the scary doctor stick her with a needle. If the girl is too young to grasp the concept of medicine, this is how the scenario may seem to her.
Also, think of the man who gets up early in the morning to go jogging with his dog. Imagine how this must look from the dog's perspective. His master has a machine that travels at great speeds. It's a machine that will take them anywhere they want to go, with no effort. They sit in comfort as the dog sticks his head out of the window. All his master does during the journey is sit next to him and steer the contraption with a steering wheel. So why do they get up early in the morning to run a distance that the car could easily travel? The car could get them there in less time without causing either of them to exert any effort to get there? Is his master crazy? Or is it just that a dog can't comprehend the concept of exercise?
There are limits to human comprehension. In the same way that a good daughter will trust her mother, or a good dog will trust his master, a wise human will trust God.
The second assumption that humans sometimes make -- the assumption that God thinks on the same level as humans -- is similar to the concept that was just explored. If you tell someone that "God's thoughts are greater than our thoughts", most people will quickly agree with this statement. After all, it makes perfect sense. Because God created us, he certainly must be smarter than us. But the minute a person doesn't understand how God could allow something to happen, they immediately villify him. This is usually much easier than remembering that his thoughts are greater than ours and that we can't understand everything that he does, or allows.
Please understand that I'm not implying that every difficult situation has a reason behind it that is too difficult for us to understand as human beings. After all, if you're a Christian, God said that he allows our faith to be tested in the same way that gold is tested. In order to see if a piece of metal that looks like gold, is actally gold, it is tested in order to see if it has the properties of gold. God says that our faith is tested in a similar way. And that when such tests happen, we shouldn't act as if something strange or unusual is happening. So bad times may not typically translate into a concept that is beyond human comprehension.
Giving an example to illustrate God's thoughts being greater than ours, would be difficult to do since we'd both have to actually be able to think on God's level in order to see it. The incident with Job in the Old Testament doesn't qualify as an example. Job didn't know why he was going through his difficult circumstances, but it isn't as if the reason for Job's trials was greater than what Job could understand. After all, when we read about it, we understand why God allowed Job to go through such trials. The book of Job just shows that God's perspective is different than Job's. It doesn't try to show us a concept that human's can't understand.
So what is God? At the very least, he is our creator. Because no one is greater than their creator, God is, by default, greater than us.
What is God not? God is not bound by human understanding. So it's a mistake to try to limit his capability to our limited level of human intellect.
So let's go back to that clever question. "Can God make a rock that is so big that even he can't move it?" The answer is "yes". Because God is limitless, he's able to satisfy all aspects of this question, and still be limitless. Although, the way he would satisfy this question is probably beyond human comprehension.
The Limitations of Dogs
You get a new dog. The dog is cute and cuddly, and you want it to live with you in your house. While inside the house, the dog takes a crap on the floor. You show the dog what he did and give him a few swats while telling him that he's a bad dog. You then take him outside. While outside, the dog runs through your backyard and finds a dead skunk at the edge of your property. The skunk is half rotten. The dog sniffs the skunk and starts rolling around in it. You open your back door. The dog sees you and is delighted. He immediately starts running towards you with glee and excitement. On his way to you, he runs carelessly through a big mud puddle, splashing all along the way. By the time he gets to you, he's an awful, filthy, mess. However, this doesn't stop him from trying to jump on you, and give you a big, sloppy, dog kiss. Immediately, you grab the dog by his collar and hold him back. You're wearing new clothes and you just had new carpet installed the day before, so there's no way you're letting the dog back inside.
It's a month later, and a lot has changed. The dog's accident on your floor has been cleaned up, and you have since washed him up. You've managed to potty train him, and you've gotten rid of the dead skunk in the back yard.
One day, your dog comes across a stray dog. The stray dog is dirty, mangy, and stinky, and it follows your dog home. You spot your dog with the stray. Immediately, you have compassion for the stray and decide to give him a home. After the stray has been cleaned up and is vet certified, you let him inside your house. It isn't long before the stray takes a crap on the floor. Your original dog watches as you punish the stray before taking the stray outside.
The Limitations of Humans
Consider a brief, loose paraphrase/synopsis of the Bible. The Old Testament starts with the book of Genesis and the incident of creation. According to the book, God created mankind, and mankind sinned against God. God can't tolerate sin, but he still wanted to be friends with mankind. A man named Abraham was alive during the time of the book of Genesis. Abraham was a sinner like everyone else, but he, like Noah, also tried to obey God, despite his shortcomings. God made a promise to Abraham. He promised to give Abraham many descedents and that the savior of the world would be born as one of his descendents. Abraham's descendents are the people of Israel, and God has chosen them to be "his people". God gave specific laws to his chosen people, the Israelites. They were laws that the people were supposed to follow in order to obey him. These laws included the Old Testament sacrafices, which they were supposed to perform whenever they sinned against God. This is also where the concept of priests came from. Priests served God and the people as an intermediate, and they performed all kinds of sacrifices according to the Old Testament law. It is in this law that God spoke of the Sabbath, and that his people were not to work on the Sabbath. And it is this Old Testament law that told the Israelites to kill those who worked on the Sabbath.
In the youtube video, Bill O'Reilly mentioned that as a Christian he follows the New Testament. The book of Hebrews, in the New Testament, explains that the Old Testament law, including sacrificial laws for people's sins, was a picture -- a part of prophesy, that Jesus was to perform on the cross. The New Testament part of the Bible shows how Jesus became the sacrifice that the Old Testament talks about. The book of Hebrews goes into a lot of detail explaining this. Jesus also talks about how he came to fulfill, and satisfy, the requirements of the law of the Old Testament that was given to the people of Israel, God's chosen people. He also explains the true meaning behind the laws that were given.
Ultimately, Jesus explains that he is the only way for mankind to become friends with God. Because of Israel's repeated, long-lasting sin against God, God made salvation open to anyone, not just Jews (Israelites). He did this by means of a new covenant that he made with all of mankind. So anyone can become friends with God by simply believing that Jesus is the Son of God, and that only he can forgive sins. They must believe that it is through him, the sacrifice that he made on the cross, and their own faith that this sacrifice saves them, that they are able to be friends with God. They must choose to make Jesus Christ Lord of their life, and therefore obey him. Obeying the law doesn't save people, it's faith in Jesus that does. A vague picture of this is shown in the Old Testament (Numbers 21:4-9).
The Bible ends by notifying all of humanity that they must choose to believe in Christ in order to avoid judgement. It speaks of judgement day and tells how the world will end. It also teaches that if anyone doesn't believe in Christ, they will spend eternity in Hell. Obviously, this ruffles the feathers of those who don't believe what the Bible teaches to be true. It's the ultimate spark that ingnites the fire of discontent. It's enough to make people yell, argue, and get very nasty.
So why aren't Christians killing people who work on the Sabbath? Bill Maher is right. This notion is shown in the Old Testament. So why aren't Christians doing it?
Let's first face the big elephant in the room. It's a good chance that for many readers, the previous section, "The Limitations of Humans", sounds like a lot of crazy nonsense. It probably looks like some whacked-out nonsense that doesn't make any real sense at all. First of all, what's with this whole concept of sin? Since God can do anything, why doesn't he just do away with the concept of sin and make it so that everyone will go to Heaven by default? What's with the Old Testament law, the New Testament covenant, or the necessity of a savior? If God exists, then surely he understands which people have good intentions and which people have bad intentions. So if a person is basically good -- they hold doors open for people, they say "please" and "thank you", and they don't cheat on their taxes -- surely a person like that would never end up in Hell (if Hell even actually exists). And if Hell exists, it should be for people like Hitler, or mass murderers like Dahmer or Bundy. It just makes sense. It's a sentiment that sounds fair. Any rational human being can see that, right? Why would a person go to Hell or Heaven because they have one religious belief over another. That doesn't make any sense, and it doesn't sound fair. It sounds ludicrous.
The three previous sections can be used to show us a lot about perspective. It's obvious that a dog's perspective is much different than a human's. We don't expect a dog to understand why it's not okay for him to deficate on our new carpet. We also don't expect him to understand why it's nasty for him to roll around in a dead skunk. These are concepts that humans have no problem grasping, but we can't expect the same thing from a dog. We can, however, train a dog to obey rules and commands. The dog may not understand why he can't deficate on carpet, but we don't require him to understand. We know that it's beyond him. We just want him to let us know when he needs to go outside so that he won't crap on the floor. It's a system that works for dogs and mankind. It allows us to coexist as friends and live in the same house.
Thinking about the differences between dogs and humans allows us to appreciate a difference between the thoughts of humans and the thoughts of God. This is a notion that isn't given a lot of thought, or attention, by most people. On the surface, most people easily accept the following logic. "Nothing is greater than its creator. So if God does exist, and he is our creator, then his thoughts are greater than ours." However, few people actually allow this logic to impact their way of thinking. They still try to limit God's thoughts by viewing him as if he's just another human being trying to run the universe. It's a line of thinking that is prevalent, but logically very inaccurate.
Maher's question still remains. "Why aren't Christians killing people who work on the Sabbath?" We are still looking for an adequate answer to this question. I appeal for patience from the reader. The answer is coming, but one last topic has to be viewed first.
The Perspective of God
Based on our most recent path of logic, this is one of those topics that any human being is not qualified to accurately explore. After all, logic shows us that God's thoughts are beyond ours because he is greater than us. He works with concepts that are beyond our human comprehension. So how would it ever be possible for us to accurately understand his perspective?
If you read the Bible from cover to cover, and you take the time to notice it, one thing becomes apparent. It's largely written from a perspective that isn't human. It's written from a historical perspective of authority that simply tells what has happened throughout the course of time. On occasion we read of people's experiences, like when a prophet is talking about a vision that he had. But even then, the experience includes a supernatural encounter with God, or with one of his angels. One of many examples is in the Book of Daniel when Daniel's talking about a vision that he had of the future. During the vision, an angel talks to him -- giving explanations of what is happening. Some of the New Testament consists of letters that were written by people who physically encountered Jesus. They're letters that are similar to the types of letters that we write today -- like when you write a letter to your mother. And like the common letter, these letters sometimes talk about events that are happening at the time. However, they always reiterate what Jesus taught them, as they write to the recipient of the letter. But the common tone of the entire Bible, is from a perspective of authority that isn't human. It's written as a historical account from a diety perspective. It's not a perspective that's always written in the first person, but it is a diety perspective.
Take the very first verse as an example, "In the beginning, when God created the universe,". The entire Bible is written from this type of perspective. So, though God's thoughts are greater than ours, the Bible gives us the greatest insight into his perspective. People can still try to debate whether or not the Bible is the word of God. But once again, we know that Jesus, the most significant birth of all time, believed it to be so.
When examining the Bible, it doesn't take long to notice its overwhelming mention of sin. In fact, most of the Old Testament consists of the Israelites sinning against God, and God greatly hating it.
Sin isn't a natural concept for humans to be concerned with on our own. Unless it's murder, theft, or some kind of assault, most humans aren't too concerned about sin. Unless we are a victim in some way, none of us tend to loathe it -- not to the degree that God does. Even adultery, or infidelity, is usually only hated when we, or someone we love, is a victim. Otherwise, it's commonly viewed as entertainment, a tasty gossip topic, or maybe even a secret lifestyle. Only God seems to have a severe, intense hatred of sin to the most extreme degree. It's not a common, natural trait for humans.
The Old Testament shows God as the greatest victim due to people's sin. Over and over again it mentions how grieved he is that his creation, particularly his chosen people, continue to sin against him over and over again. Many books and verses speak of his anger concerning the issue, and how much he hates it. It shows the agonizing perspective of a diety.
Correlations can be drawn between the three perspectives that we have examined. Consider the dog's perspective. He doesn't tend to be bothered by physical filth. Mud, dirt, and roadkill don't bother him. In fact, I'm sure that a dog can't even begin to understand why humans are so bothered by physical filth. If a dog had his way, he'd crap on the carpet all day long and think nothing of it. But this kind of behavior is intolerable to humans. I can only guess that a similar correlation can be drawn when it comes to viewing the dynamic between sin, humans and God. In the same way that dogs aren't grossed-out by roadkill, humans are fairly tolerable of sin. And just as humans won't tolerate carpet defication, God doesn't tolerate sin in his presence.
Once again, let's consider the dog's perspective. Once he's been house trained, the dog understands that deficating on carpet is not allowed. When he sees the stray dog get punished for doing it, the original dog may not be surprised. He's been taught the rules of the house, and understands the consequences of disobedience. Though he doesn't understand the concepts behind the rules, he's able to follow the rules. There's a similar connection that can be drawn when it comes to a Christian, and his/her relationship with Christ. Christians may not understand why God has provided salvation the way that he has, but they've come to understand what is needed in order to be friends with God. The stray dog must also be house-trained if he wants to live in the house and be a pet to the owner. Carpet defication won't be tolerated by the owner. If the stray dog doesn't choose to be house-trained, he won't be able to live in the house.
Original Dog: The owner's a really great guy. He wants us to live with him in his nice home. He gives nice belly rubs and I get to eat Kibbles 'n Bits out of a little bowl on the floor. He even gave me a bone to chew on. There's only one thing that's kind of weird. We're not allowed to crap on the floor. We have to let him know by scratching the door. He then lets us outside, and we have to take a dump outdoors.
Stray Dog: Why can't I crap on the floor? That doesn't make any sense. If nature calls, and I have to let something out, why should I have to go outside in the cold? This owner is pretty lame. Doesn't he understand that dogs have to take a dump from time to time and that we don't like sitting out in the cold? Maybe he's just mean and likes laughing at us as we squat outside. If he was a loving owner, he'd simply allow crap on the floor. What's his deal anyway? The owner is mean, cruel and stupid!
The Bible is not a malleable book. The book won't change. Only a person's view about it can change. The Bible does give an answer to Maher's question of why Christians don't kill people who work on the Sabbath. However, the answer may, or may not, be palatable to the reader.
The earlier section, "The Limitations of Humans", offers information that is necessary in order to answer Maher's question. However it's apparent to most that that particular section will be accepted in one extreme or another by any reader. Either a person is a Christian, and will have no problem accepting it, or their not, in which case, they'll probably view it as unfair, or rediculous. This is not only expected based on the fact that people don't like to have their foundations tampered with, but the Bible also says that this will happen. It actually says that those who don't believe will view the Gospel as rediculous. So how can Maher's question be answered for those who don't believe? If understanding the Gospel is essential when it comes to answering the question, yet every non-believer will view the Gospel as foolish, how can an adequate answer be given for the non-believer? Because the answer will be based on what the Gospel says, won't it be pointless to try to give a reasonable answer to non-believers when the answer is based on the Gospel? How could it work? The foundation of any conversation would be based on a fundamental that neither side can agree on -- whether or not the Bible is ludicrous.
The difference between the Christian's beliefs and the non-Christian's beliefs are very extreme. One believes that Jesus is the only way to Heaven, which is what the Bible teaches. The other believes that the Bible is rediculous and unfair. The two beliefs are polar opposites. They're like the two dogs. One has been house trained, the other has not.
When I was a kid, our father had a simple rule. We were not allowed to climb on top of the pool table. If he ever caught any of us climbing on top of the pool table, we were quickly punished. So we all knew that this was clearly something that we weren't supposed to do. Now suppose the pool table was directly beneath the attic, and that there was a hatch in the ceiling that led to the attic. Now suppose that one day I'm at home, all alone, and an intruder tries to break into the house. I get really scared, and I need to find a place to hide. So I climb on top of the pool table in order to open the hatch and climb into the attic. Would my father be upset for me doing so? Or is it that I understand my father and the purpose of his rules? So it is with Jesus and God. On more than one occasion, the religious leaders of Jesus' day tried to reprimand the disciples of Jesus for not obeying some legalistic aspect of the Old Testament law. But Jesus knew that the leaders were misunderstanding the purpose of the law by distorting it's purpose and placing wrong emphasis on certain aspects. He made it clear that the religious leaders were wrong about the purpose of God's law, and its importance.
On more than one occasion, Jesus reprimands the religious leaders for disobeying God. They were distorting the purpose of the law. One incident that takes place, is ironically about the Sabbath. The following is a direct quote from the Bible.
"Not long afterward Jesus was walking through some wheat fields on a Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, so they began to pick heads of wheat and eat the grain. When the Pharisees saw this they said to Jesus, 'Look, it is against our Law for your disciples to do this on the Sabbath!'
Jesus answered, 'Have you never read what David did that time when he and his men were hungry? He went into the house of God, and he and his men ate the bread offered to God, even though it was against the Law for them to eat it -- only the priests were allowed to eat that bread. Or have you not read in the Law of Moses that every Sabbath the priests in the Temple actually break the Sabbath law, yet they are not guilty? I tell you that there is something here greater than the Temple. The scripture says, 'It is kindness that I want, not animal sacrifices.' If you really knew what this means, you would not condemn people who are not guilty; for the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.'
Jesus left that place and went to a synagogue, where there was a man who had a paralyzed hand. Some people were there who wanted to accuse Jesus of doing wrong, so they asked him, 'Is it against our law to heal on the Sabbath?'
Jesus answered, 'What if one of you has a sheep and it falls into a deep hole on the Sabbath? Will he not take hold of it and lift it out? And a man is worth much more than sheep! So then, our Law does allow us to help someone on the Sabbath.' Then he said to the man with the paralyzed hand, 'Stretch out your hand.'
He stretched it out, and it became well again, just like the other one. Then the Pharisees left and made plans to kill Jesus."
-Matthew 12:1-14 (From "The Good News Bible: Today's English Version")
Christians are not hypocritical for not killing people who work on the Sabbath. The law that Maher is talking about was part of the old covenant that God made with the people of Israel. The Isrealites didn't keep that covenant, and God made a new covenant with mankind which is through faith in Jesus Christ. It is through this new covenant that people are able to become friends with God. The old covenant is no longer in effect. Jesus explains that mankind is put right with God through faith, and that the Old Testament commandments can be summed up in two commandments -- to love the Lord with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This is the meaning and purpose of the Old Testament law.
As I've said before, the Bible teaches that his word will look like nonsense to those who haven't chosen to be Christians -- to those who aren't "his". For this reason, an explanation that will fully satisfy Maher, may, or may not be attainable. According to the Bible, these things will make sense to those who are "his". The Bible gives an analogy of Jesus being like a shepherd, and that his sheep recognize his voice and follow him. He has made himself available to all of mankind, but what he does and how he does it, will only begin to make sense to those who choose to accept him as their savior. In the same way that a house-trained dog has a more thorough understanding than the one that isn't, the concept is similar between Christians and non-Christians. It's not a perfect analogy, but there are similarities.
Religion is a divisive topic. The Bible gives insight, and Jesus said that he causes division and conflict. However, even without this, we may be able to see why it's such a touchy subject. People don't like to have their foundations tampered with. Legitimate disagreement almost can't help but become personal. The subject's too foundational.
Despite all of this, I believe that religion is still a subject that is definitely worth talking about. Because of how foundational it is, this makes it even more important than most topics. And even though it may be difficult for a person to be completely unbiased when examining foundational issues. Truth and logic still hold. Any person who is serious about seeking truth has to consider Jesus Christ in the framework of their thinking. He's too bright of a spot on the static television screen. He's had too great of an impact to be ignored by anyone who legitimately, and thoroughly, ponders truth.
I hope this article is helpful to whomever reads it. However, there are still many topics that could be examined in more depth. If a person wants to gain as complete of an understanding as is humanly possible about God, all they have to do is read a Bible. It has been translated into many languages. The King James Version is probably the most well-known by those who speak English, but now there are translations that are in modern English and are easier to read. They're as fluent as this article. All a person has to do is read the Bible with a determination to understand the truth about God.
Source Material for this Article
Old Testament law about the Sabbath
God's thoughts are greater than a human's
God speaks of Jesus
Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12
Jesus believes the Bible
The parable of the wedding feast (The Jews rejected Jesus. Salvation now open to everyone)
Salvation for Jews and Gentiles
Old Testament to New Testament covenant
Hebrews chapters 9 and 10
Summary of the Law (The two commandments)
Jesus causes division
Matthew 10:34-38 Luke 12:49-53
The Gospel seems foolish to non-Christians
1st Corinthians 1:18-31
Truth is revealed to the unlearned
Jesus is a Shepherd to Christians
Christians are Children of God
1st John 3:1-10
1st John 5:5
God watches people, and notices those who follow him.
2nd Chronicles 16:9
Judgement day and the end of the world
Matthew chapters 24 and 25