Smells Like Teen Marketing

I was reading the comics in the newspaper today (not as much fun as it was when I was a kid, to be sure, but still a pleasant diversion in the morning), and one of the comic strips caught my eye.The first panel showed a young man skateboarding talking about how exciting something was (“It’s totally awesome, dude!”), and the third panel showed the punchline: the kid on the skateboard was part of a commercial intended to get kids interested in investing in the stock market. The last panel switched to a view of two of the strip’s main teenage characters who were watching the commercial as one says to the other, “I hate the way they all pander to our generation.” (For those who would like to see the comic strip, click here: Lucky Cow, 8/30/2007.)

I thought it was an amusing commentary on blatantly manipulative marketing tactics, but more than that, the first panel reminded me of something I used to see all the time during my daily commute in North Texas. It was a huge billboard that showed a skateboarder, very similar to that which the cartoonists had depicted and—also similarly a blatant attempt at pandering to a market: “Look! This is cool! Check it out, teens!” The difference here was that the billboard was advertising a local church.

Please don’t get me wrong—I see nothing wrong with trying to ensure that a church addresses every segment of its worshippers and making sure that all generations are able to see the relevance of God’s word in their lives. But like the teenage protagonist in our comic strip, I, too, am tired of seeing churches pander to teens and young adults.

“Hey, teens – our church is radical! Look, there’s a guy on a skateboard! You teens like skateboarding, right? And hey, look! A picture of a guy playing an electric guitar! All you young people like ‘rocking out’ like our middle-aged marketing execs said you did, right? Awesome, dude!”

Please! Such condescending appeals risk two dangerous consequences. First, they risk having causing exactly the opposite of the effect intended. Teenagers are smarter and more savvy than many give them credit for, and they often (but not always!) know when institutions are trying to manipulate their sensibilities, and they will draw the logical conclusions about such institutions.

But further still, such an approach risks demeaning the God to whom we are trying to point their generation. It paints Him as someone desperate to get teens into the church, willing to do whatever it takes to seem popular to them.

In his August 24, 2002 World magazine article, “Stupid Church Tricks,” writer Gene Edward Veith notes that “[s]tatus-conscious teenagers know that those who are so desperate to be liked that they will do anything to curry favor are impossible to respect.” He is right, and appeals like this make God hard for teens to respect.

Give our youth more credit! Many articles in recent days have pointed out how young people across the globe and in many faiths are looking for a serious religion, even to the consternation of their more religiously liberal parents. Look up the Wall Street Journal’s March 2, 2007 article, “Religion’s Generation Gap.” Read USA Today’s July 9, 2007 article, “Children get holier than thou; There can be a great divide with parents when young adults form deeper religious bonds.”

Or read in the news about how some young people are being drawn into the strict religion of Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists. Is it just because they find a release there for some sort of pent up anti-society sentiment? Or is it because they find there—false though it may be—a religion that demands their respect, rather than pandering to them?

I note that in Bernhard Lewis’ insightful book The Crisis of Islam, he mentions that one of the key architects of modern Muslim fundamentalism, Egyptian born Sayyid Qutb, used to point out routinely the differences between religion in the West and religion in the East. Lewis explains that Mr. Qutb would tell his Muslim readers about religion in America, and explain that “to attract clientele, churches advertise shamelessly and offer what most Americans seek—’a good time’ or ‘fun’ (he cited the English words in his Arabic text).” Reading that sentence in Lewis’ book, the image of the giant skateboarder from the church billboard rolled into view before my minds’ eye, and I thought to myself that this “scene from a half-pipe” would have provided ol’ Sayyid with plenty of ammunition.

It should be no surprise some teens are finding the lukewarm “faith” of their parents unattractive and the groveling, desperate-for-your-attention advertising of modern day “Christian” churches less than appealing, compared to the seriousness and respect demanded by the “God” of Islam.

How sad, because the true God of the Bible and His Son, Jesus Christ, do not pander to anyone. God demands loyalty and faithfulness and sets standards which He expects those who wish to follow Him to strive to meet. He says, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2). Yet He is also a remarkably personal God, who is relevant to our daily lives and who cares deeply and passionately about the trials we go through and the experiences we have—at whatever age we have them (cf. 1 Peter 5:7).

We should strive to present the true religion of the Bible to our teens and our youth: a religion they can respect—and a religion that respects them too much to pander to them.

If you would like more information on the true religion of God the Father and Jesus Christ—a religion beyond the pandering billboards—check out our free booklet: Restoring Original Christianity. It will help you become closer to the God of the Bible—a God you can respect.

16 thoughts on “Smells Like Teen Marketing

  1. Alex

    Interesting that you bring up a subject like this… Jenelle and I were discussing societies perception of religion and what they want out of religion, just last night…

    It seems to me that I remember hearing some research in the last year or two that concluded – that the religious groups that grew the fastest were those that had stricter and more demanding requirements on their adherents. Islam was one the few religions/denominations mentioned.

    I wish I could find the statistics…

    I would have to say that the desire for structure stems from a need for meaning and purpose. – Most do not know the purpose for their existence.

  2. mike

    Strict Adherancy?!!?
    and How much more rebellious do you need to be following God going against everything this world’s systems stands for that is evil? That should be a real “anti-societal(Babel)” reaction…

    The Laws … Not really strict at all as long as we let God live in us….

    Whats really awesome about God and Christ is that the very law that binds reality to death when broken…

    (“Sin is transgression of the Law… and the wages of sin is death”)

    … is the very law that when followed actually loves its adherents, God having made Wisdom a foundation before the world (Proverbs 8:22-23) saw fit to let the earth be governed by the law and set above ” the sky” and “the earth” beneath to bear witness of the Covenants made. (Gen7:23, 9:11-17, Deut. 4:26 ; 30:19,… ) being the Lord of Heaven and Earth. So not living by the law is death…

    But, it can only be followed if we live by the Spirit; and through the Spirit, recieve strength and “Comfort.”

    The most tragic event is that mankind searches with its own means every way to try to accomplish the very gift Christ gives for free, making us free from the very chain that binds us to sin and death, but if we RECEIVE Him, and “take Him in” to us We may live.

    (“The servant of the LORD is the LORD’s freeman”)

    The very law isnt one of fear, but one of Life….

    (“for we have not recieved the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you have recieved the spirit of sonship, wherby we cry, Abba, Father”)

    and gives eternal life, free from sin’s (“sting”) and living by the Spirit frees us to live by the law of liberty. so it is no longer I that do it, but God living in me, helping me, carrying me, directing me, by just following Him as He said to follow…

    “Give up everything and follow Me..” Christ says simply…
    If you want to follow me …follow me
    “He that puts his hand to the plow and turns back…isnt fit for the kingdom”

    …in other words…. spoken by a little green guy
    “Do or do not there is no try” -Yoda for you star wars buffs out there…

    He then promises a Spirit one that runs contrary to us…but when every we find in ourselves that selfsame contradiction against the Very Power(Law) of God “sin revived and I died”, Paul speaking rather figuratively here, to Emphasize the need of “putting to death the old man” and “dying daily” in order the let God’s spirit live in us…

    a Spirit of repentance…

    (..not just daily but….for all you math nuts out there I’d like to look at it as an indefinate double integral our life denoted “L” with respect to the change in the HolySpirit with respect to time (dHS/dt) in which the limits of the Holy Spirit approach positive infinity(as we seek Him) and the limits of Time approaching negative infinity…DYING instantaneously)

    So really it is us that stand in the way of God working in us…”Rejoice for I have overcome the world”

    Now, if you TRUELY Believe that… the only thing we have to do is overcome ourselves…our arrogant tendancies and non-love by not sharing the law, i.e. helping others around us. By not choosing to follow we basically kill our true nature Christ is revealing in those to whom He called. By not warning them of anything and everything from Sounding the Trumpets of God, wet floor to a banana peel,”Ponder the path of your feet” and “love your neighbor as yourself” so ponder the path of your neighbors feet also..In this day of pre-emptive strikes we ought to be pre-emptive Care giving… wouldnt you like to be warned of a pit soon to be falling into? So you see just “How God first loved us” this is the Gospel as well…

    “And God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son..”

    Once we understand that love then we can love eachother likewise…How is this “strict” how is this “rigourous”

    “My yoke is easy, my burden is light”
    “Woe to him that strives with his Maker, let him strive with the potsherds of the earth”

    When we fail to “let God reign in our mortal members” we must kill ourselves our intents in our hearts i.e. “die daily”
    So only by “Loving eachother as I (He) have (has) loved you (us)” so we can only know How to love one another and God; and not strive, if we understand just “How He first loved us”

    So much as Showing us Eternal life and liberty (not striving) with the “law of sin in our members” and with God by “living by every Word”… “in the Spirit” and going against the entire foundation of wisdom the earth was concocted on. So much that…

    (“Death is swallowed up in victory”)
    (“O Death, Where is thy sting? O grave where is thy victory?”)
    (“The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law”) I corinthians 15:55-58

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  4. Dear Mr. Smith,

    Greetings again! How much do you know about the long-running debate (in evangelical Christianity) between those who favor hymns with simple, mostly Psalms-based worship of God generally (a la Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16-17) and those who favor highly personal expressions of their emotions toward Jesus Christ? I’ve been learning a fair amount about this tension over the years. I recently learned that the latter emphasis (in modern times) goes all the way back to Charles Wesley (founder of Methodism) and has gone through devious routes to reach the “Contemporary Christian Music” of today.

    The fact that this debate is still running says much about what the younger generation thinks of as “relevant” religion. Too many people of all ages still confuse the soul with its emotions and the body with its desires with the spirit and its attitudes, and don’t understand how the three should interrelate. There are a lot of well-meaning kids and adults out there who think just about any kind of music is acceptable in worship to God, and their concepts of God reflect this way of thinking. Music which focuses on the meaning of the words — and not just any words, but above all those of the Psalms (which are called by the technical terms Paul uses in the Septuagint) — like as not is considered “boring” by such people even when it is well-done. (Unhappily, not all of our own Psalms-based hymnody is well-done, so we are not immune from the temptation to think that way even when we want to be.)

    So please pardon me if I’m a tad skeptical about the demand for more rigor in religion, or at least about its premises and conclusions. A lot of people want to get back to solid religious roots, yes. But I’d guess that about half of them, at best, haven’t a clue as to what those roots really are or should be, even in musical worship. I think this is a symptom of parallel tensions on larger religious issues. I’ve noticed (as I know you have too) that most people, if they want to get back to religious roots, would rather be “traditional” than right.

  5. americansauce04

    Wow, wallacegsmith, I’m flabbergasted at this article. Honestly. Flabbergasted. I found the title of your article browsing around the WordPress main page and decided to see what you had to say, in light of all the turmoil and controversy surrounding religion these days. Wow, you basically pointed out to me all the flaws and ill-grievances religion tries to bring us to succumb to, in the ever present, ever irrational, appeal to authority “God wants you to…” or, as you put it, ‘God demands loyalty and faithfulness and sets standards which He expects those who wish to follow Him to strive to meet’. Now, I’ll refrain from simply criticizing generalities related to your article, and point out what I believe to be at the heart of the whole religion problem in general (I’m an atheistic agnostic, yes, but in general I’m simply a hard atheist when it comes to all so-called ‘modern’ religions: the Abrahamic religions, Zoroastrianism, Taoism, Buddhism, etc. etc.) How can it be that God (the Christian god is often assumed here, how convenient), who is on the one hand pre-supposed to be all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing, and so forth, is in need of the loyalty and faithfulness of those he supposedly created? If he were indeed all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, would he not want that his creations, being the products of such an amazing and essentially perfect being, pursue perfection themselves, rather than simply being allegiant to something they cannot see or apparently understand, for reasons they cannot make clear? (the because ‘He’ said so argument, more or less). Essentially, I cannot understand how so many people, having access to so much knowledge about our universe, still feel the need to fall back on Iron Age fable stories and skewed ‘historical’ narratives of the father figure of God, in order to feel ‘comforted’ or to ‘have meaning in their lives’. First of all, what meaning do you claim to know to have? You haven’t spoken to this supposed God, and even if he/she/it does exist, it could be entirely possible that God’s creation of the universe is simply an elaborate evolutionary game of chess; the creator sets up the play pieces, allows the game to progress based upon laws that the entire game has been built upon, then what happens is left to choice and decision amongst the players: thus, it could very well be (assuming some sort of intelligent designer, that is) that this ‘god’ has no intrinsic ‘plan’, but rather wants to allow choice and freewill as well as evolution to determine the course of life. Again, I have no personal belief in such fragments of illogic and absurdity, but to entertain possibilities on common Christian/Muslim/Judaic assumptions, yields results that would leave any logical person reeling from God, even if he existed. What sort of all-powerful, all-knowing God would require himself to be incarnated through his son, have to kill himself and his son in order to admonish the ‘sins’ of the people, rather than simply forgiving them outright without having to undertake such elaborate means to accomplish the feat? It would appear that God as laid out is not very powerful or all-knowing indeed; that or he is the fabrication of human minds, which do not understand the full beauty and complexity of the universe as it stands, given the evolution of our minds in a frame of time and space which is very limited in its scope of speeds, sizes and timeframes. Anyway, what I really wanted to point out, given that your article addressed the issue of marketing religion to teens, is that the problem is not limited to teens, it is abundant in religion in all degrees. Advertising supposed self-evident, unwavering truths (‘contemporary religion’ if you will) under various ‘modern’, ‘updated’, or even ‘hip’ varieties, makes it obvious that the product being sold is most unequivocably a wavering, constantly maneuvering construct, not to mention the fact that many other religions say the same things of their brand of illogic. It is obvious that not all religions can be right at the same time, yet it’s fascinating how every religion seems to agree on the fact that all the other religions are getting it wrong: that their god is the right god, and none other. Thus, it would only make logical sense that all these gods are false, since the existence of the others negates them from the absoluteness they so desperately seek to attain. However, I will concede that it is possible (theoretically), that what all these religions try to describe is the same phenomena (assuming it existed), however each is unable to describe or even see such phenomena to be able to gain a common language and system of categorisation to describe this ‘heavenly’ realm. Of course, science is a universally acknowledged, accepted format through which inquiry, intellectual discovery, and understanding of the cosmos is held to be of utmost importance. Things must be continuously held to scrutiny and the possibility of disprovement in order to hold weight, which only makes logical sense. This is not to say that science can say with certainty that there isn’t some unbelievably complex, intellectually immense (hard to imagine that is, I’m not implying an intelligent being here lol) construct tying the universe together, yet it is striving all the time to be able to prove or disprove facts and ideas which will likely one day bring us much closer to true understanding of what might be around us and among us. Anyway, I thought I’d comment on what I felt are the deep-rooted issues which underly such illogic and lack of truth and truth-finding in religion and religious discourse, at least in all the popular religions of today.

  6. Ah, you could have really pandered to my teenage generation and titled your post “Smells Like Teen Spiritualism”. Ahhh, I hear the grunge music so well…

  7. Greetings, americansauce04!

    Wow, I’m flabbergasted at the level of your flabbergastation. 🙂

    Seriously, while I think that most of your comment is a bit off topic compared to what this post is about and I don’t want to encourage the comments to go down that road (again, at least not this post), at the same time I would like to respond to some of the things you said.

    You’ve spoken in a straightforward manner and did not seem to “hold back,” and while I will hold back a bit, myself, I hope you will appreciate my own straightforward comments, in return.

    Your comment is chock full of completely illogical statements, visible from even the most basic “Philosophy 101” class elements I took in getting my mathematics degree. To paraphrase a “point” you made: “All religions disagree with each other, therefore all religions must be wrong.” How logical is that? The assumptions you would have to add to make this even a validly structured (though not necessarily correct) argument would be a stretch, to say the least! It makes as much sense as saying, “The ten people in the room disagreed, therefore all ten people are wrong.” Or for that matter, “Americansauce04 and I are in a room and we both disagree, therefore we are both wrong.” That’s just silly. And maybe it isn’t the argument you meant to communicate, but it is, indeed, the argument you gave.

    I’m glad that you seek to be logical — the God of the Bible invites us to reason with Him, and reason is a wonderful tool. But your ideas (at least as presented) aren’t reason or logic. They are assumptions and observations couched in the language of reason and logic. It’s what I have come to call “philosophomoric” — it sounds philosophical, but is more sophomoric. Saying, “Thus, it would only make logical sense…” at the beginning of your “conclusion” is a bad idea when the rest of the sentence doesn’t follow in anyway from the argument you have built. It isn’t philosophy. It’s just borrowing the vocabulary of logic for purposes of looking well-dressed.

    Your views of God seem to come from horrible assumptions. For instance, who said God “needs our loyalty and faithfulness”? Wasn’t *my* blog. Your inner filter has “translated” my words for you to fit your assumptions. I said that God demands such. Huge difference. If you’re a father, do you *need* your children (your “creations”) to obey you? No. Do you want them to? I hope so. And if you are going to say, “No — I make no rules whatsoever, and *completely* allow them to do as they will without any intervention, whatsoever. Any father who thinks this way is no father; he is simply a genetic material donor. (Note: I am not trying to convince you of God’s purpose behind His demands, or of the rationality of the “pack of demands” that I believe in. I am simply trying to help you see that your idea of “logical” is in need of a visit to the shop for a tune up.)

    As another example, you mention that it would seem logical to you that God would want his creations to “pursue perfection” but that He wouldn’t tell them how to do so. Huh? Give me the structured syllogism that produces that little bit of “rationality”! Would you ask your child to achieve a difficult task (say, as you did, “perfection”), without giving that child some guidelines? Some assistance? Some instruction? Again, you seriously need to examine your assumptions.

    The incarnation of Christ and the manner in which His death and resurrection solves the problem of sin is a deep and wonderful topic of discussion. But your display here has left me in doubt that now is the time for you to be able to have such a discussion. In your case, I hope that the oft quoted “proverb” is true: “When the pupil is ready, the teacher appears.” Nothing in what you have written shows in any way that the you are ready.

    I do agree with you about the benefits of science, except that science being a human endeavor is ultimately a slave to its assumptions and to its unfounded, human-originated biases. This isn’t necessarily a knock on science — it is a fact of the human condition. Science has made great strides when it has shed certain assumptions, and it has made some missteps when it has shed certain other assumptions. I’m sure it has more great strides and missteps ahead, and I look forward to benefiting from the journey.

    Your irrational generalizations aside, I do agree with you, as well, that most religions out there are completely irrational. Some others may be valid within their own framework of assumptions, but their assumptions — once identified — seem false based on personal experience.

    And I agree that the pandering of churches is not limited to the teen and youth audience. Though I must say that you err in logic, again, when you assume that the poor packaging makes it “obvious” that the object inside the package is “unequivocably (sic)” worthless (or illogical). While I would say that for many of these churches and religions, the quality of the contents is, indeed, reflected in the wrapping (and that it is the lack of quality contect that motivates the choice of wrapping in some cases), it is irrational for you to make the argument in the direction you do. Words like “unequivocally” do tend to impress readers, yes, but the weight they convey means that we should use them carefully and with consideration. We should actually make sure they *apply* and not simply use them as “argument dressing” — especially if the underlying argument is unworthy of their use.

    I know I have been picky in what I have said above, and that some of my comments have had a “take you out to the woodshed” tone. But I mean well! And, frankly, I *personally* have made (and continue to make) many of the same logical blunders such as you have here. Perhaps you do have some sound arguments but simply haven’t conveyed them well. But since you have made “logic” and “rationality” the cornerstone of your sometimes harsh-toned comments, it seemed necessary to point your errors out in this way.

    I am thankful to have had my mind opened by God, due to no “deserving quality” of my own, to a faith that is imminently rational and which can withstand (and *has* withstood) the most serious of philosophical attacks–and even the “philosophomoric” attacks, too.

    God commands us to “Prove all things, hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21, KJV). Those who hold onto their religion — or their lack of it — without truly proving for themselves that they have “that which is good” do themselves a disservice. If this is your point, americansauce04, then perhaps we can find something to agree on.

    I hope you will continue to check this blog out — though after this visit to the woodshed, I’ll understand if this is your last visit. If you do come back, I will do my best to continue to be as flabbergasting as I can be. 🙂

    Best regards,
    Wallace Smith

  8. Howdy, Mr. Keesee —

    Hey, you picked up on my title! Actually, I like your version better. I based I on some great suggestions I got from someone else (that I wish I had thought of!), and your version makes the connection that much more strongly. However, I did not want the title to seem like it was meant as an insult to teens, since I was aiming at the marketing ideas and motivation, not the target audience.

    I know you aren’t a pagan, but would you say that the title brought you a sense of nirvana?

    Warm regards,
    Wallace Smith

  9. Hi Mr. Spock, I mean, Mr. Smith, 🙂

    Logically, I had to leave a little mystery in my comment, so I had to leave the nirvana joke out, too… As tempting as it was with the whole religious tone and all. But I understand what you were getting at.

    I also see your Texas roots are showing in wanting to spell my last name like Mr. Jim from Big Sandy… I’ll let it slide. 🙂

    [EDIT: Sorry about that! I just fixed it. 🙂 That’s what I get for writing in a hurry… Live long and prosper. — WGS]

    As for the last couple of comments with Mr. americansauce04, I wanted to throw few extra cents in… make it a nickel. I’ve been concerned in the past about the whole “wool covering our eyes” bit in the Church, or in any church for that matter, that occurs when people blindly accept their faith’s teachings due to comfort, repetition, tradition or whatever. I’ve been watching ‘Mind Control’ with Derren Brown lately, so the topic of hypnosis and trance-like behaviour (oops, I knew the English accent would rub off on me) is very fresh in my mind. People in this state very willingly hand over the controls to their brains to some authority figure. So I can see what our atheistic friend is getting at to some degree… Too much “opiate for the masses” in his mind. However, I do wonder, for us 2nd and 3rd generation-Christians, what kind of marketing would get those of us who are asleep to really wake up from this state and dig deeper into our beliefs? To know that we know what we know, you know? I only ask because I’ve been there before, myself, parroting back the company line, or church’s in this case, realizing that I wasn’t actually saying it from my own understanding. This shallow understanding can many times lead people to disillusionment after seeing hypocrisy or perhaps being led astray to yet another belief that’s more tantalizing. I know for me, a certain philosophy class had riled me up enough to start going back and questioning the very basics: Is there a God? Is the Bible truly inspired? Why this church and not others? However, once the foundation of knowledge was built up solidly, all the “stuff” that I had learned over the prior years fit nicely in place on top of it, and it made it much easier to build on top of that later.

  10. Howdy, again, Mr. *KEESEE* —

    I agree. One of the things on my mind is reaching those who sort of take things for granted and haven’t evaluated things for a while, whether because they have grown up in it or just because there has been nothing to challenge them.

    Judges 2:10 speaks of the time after the death of Joshua and says, “When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the LORD nor the work which He had done for Israel.” While it is not an exact parallel, the sentiment in this verse speaks to our current situation to a certain extent, I believe.

    And, for the record, concerning those who are trying to reach youth using the methods I address in the post, I do not fault them for their intentions. But I do think that those methods are a mistake, and reflect a growing “McChurch” attitude out there (“I’m lovin’ it!”). I don’t think I have the full answer, but some ideas are bad enough that even slow folks like me know them when I see them. I strongly believe that the method I address in the post is among such ideas.

    Have a great Sabbath!
    Wallace Smith

  11. Read USA Today’s July 9, 2007 article, “Children get holier than thou; There can be a great divide with parents when young adults form deeper religious bonds.”

    Ask anyone led toward the Church of God during their teens — they know all about this. I do, because it happened to me. My parents didn’t know what to make of it, especially when I didn’t want to keep Xmas anymore.

    Dad hardly ever went to church — and I well remember the night the stick shift BROKE in his hand on his pickup truck, as he drove me home from a mall in December. It was a mix of anger and frustration. I still feel a bit of guilt about that, because it/he left me feeling selfish.

  12. americansauce04

    Hi again, Mr. Smith. Thanks for your comments on my admittedly long-winded and possibly a tad poorly worded response. I had just moved from another blogging site, and decided to look around for an interesting post to read and possibly comment on, and as religious topics are always interesting for me to read, and find what it is people believe and why, I decided to read this post.

    I’d like to leave a few relatively short (I’ll try to keep it brief and concise as I can) comments and rebuttals more or less to some of the responses you gave, of which several were admittedly quite correct for you to have pointed out (yes, the argument about religions being mutually inconsistent was written sloppily, I’m glad you pointed it out, as I intend to sharpen my own writing skills and whittle down my long-winded tendencies lol).

    Anyway, first off, you pointed out the problems with my argument on the essential clashing of religious ideas amongst the popular religions, which I admit was written in a way that didn’t quite get across the point and argument I was trying to make. I simply wanted to say that if one is to look at each religion, and, going on the assumptions each religion makes, look comparatively at these religions, the arbitrary nature of their precepts or founding reasoning would seem to make no case for their belief system to hold water.

    In essence, if Islam says that Allah is the one true god, and that the prophet Muhammad is the Messiah and interpreter of what it means to be a good Muslim and that Christianity or Judaism or whatever else are the wrong ideas…and that the main reason is because some book written by men thousands of years ago tells us that these things are true; yet there are really no valuable statements on why these others are any less true or any less viable, and Christianity and Judaism and other similar religions make similar claims, it would appear that the choice is arbitrary, that there is generally not much of a reason or basis to believe in any of them (at least any organized popular religion)- at least based upon what they subjectively provide those people who follow them and what basis they claim to be able to make such judgments of the world with.

    I was in that case not trying to create a sort of Barbara-form logic argument, only trying to get a point across through general logic and possibly some loaded wording that I’ll try to cut out in the future (I wish the traditional religious folk would also do this, but it’s come unto naught thus far).

    As for your criticism about my views on the Christian god, I take any arguments on this gladly, as I desperately want to know what people’s view on their god (or spiritual vision or idea of what might unite the universe, their philosophy, etc.) is, and what motivates them or affirms them of this belief. You say that God (and again, we’re specifically talking about the Christian version of a father-like, supposedly human-like, ‘intelligent designer’ or ‘primary mover’) does not require one or need one to be faithful or loyal to him, yet ‘demands’ one to do so. Really, would it appear that god would care either way about whether you are faithful, if in fact he doesn’t need you to believe in him, yet demands you to do so? For example, if I tell a good friend of mine that I demand him to believe in my particular philosophy, yet I also mention that I have no need for him to do so, his reaction would be one of obvious confusion, and very likely, subsequent brushing off of my philosophical pushiness.

    One other thing about the assumptions underlying your statements is (and this often bothers me to no end, it’s nothing personal I assure you :P) that, you try to make an analogy of God and a human father, which in this case I feel it is not useful to do so. A father demands his children to obey him (especially when they are young and haven’t fully developed their faculties to be able to handle themselves), because he wants them to be safe, to learn from him, and to have a model to follow. Yet God, who decides to tell you and me what to do because it is the ‘Word of God’, simply threatens you and me with an ultimatum of eternal hellfire and damnation, with no clear reasoning as to why, and what basis his ‘word’ is founded on. If you ask me, God is one abysmal and hellish father-figure, who cannot provide clear reasons for one to follow his word or to even believe in him, even if he were to exist.

    Anyway, would you find it fit to damn your child to eternal pain and suffering for not listening to you? I think not. And, since Christians tout the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving god figure, it would seem facetious that God would take such drastic measures simply because his own creations decided not to listen to him, also knowing that he doesn’t need us to believe in him, as you yourself stated. So, it would appear that God wants to scare us into listening to him, otherwise he’d have to get up off the heavenly couch and spend his precious time damning us to Hell for eternity. What an awesome father! I love him already….

    I’d like to finish my commenting on your series of comments, which again, I very much appreciate, but I have a limited internet connection at the moment, and haven’t the time to do so. I’ll get back to it tomorrow, and again, I appreciate your straightforward comments, and honesty, though I think our viewpoints differ quite a lot in some major areas. I look forward to keeping up with your blog here.

    Regards,
    AmericanSauce04

  13. Thanks for writing, again, AmericanSauce04! Thanks, also, for being gracious, and I do hope that I did not offend in how I presented the problems I saw in your statements. And I hope I didn’t come across as if I were immune to those kinds of mistakes myself, which is hardly the case!

    Also, I apologize for the delay in allowing your comment through moderation. September 1 was a busy Sabbath for me, and I am only now getting back to the internet (though, I really owe my family some time today, so this may be my last “log in” for a while!).

    In response to what you have written, let me make just a few comments, and I will try (and likely fail!) to be briefer than I was last time…

    I would differ with what you say (assuming I have understood you correctly) about different religions not giving you any means of judging them profitably against one another or of judging them against objective standards.

    *Real* Biblical religion & “real” Christianity (rare in the world: “Christianity” is one of the most abused words in the world — Matthew 24:4-5) does *not* say, “Just believe the Bible because the Bible says believe.” In the Bible, God challenges the reader to put things to the test and to prove He is who He says He is and that the Bible is what it says it is. In this sense, a healthy skepticism is a benefit (though not an addiction to disbelief, which many have — those who approach God and the Bible 100% determined *not* to believe it will find what they seek, because they can find nothing else.)

    As for your comment on “loaded wording”: “I wish the traditional religious folk would also do this, but it’s come unto naught thus far” — nice one. 🙂

    You say this: “Really, would it appear that god would care either way about whether you are faithful, if in fact he doesn’t need you to believe in him, yet demands you to do so? For example, if I tell a good friend of mine that I demand him to believe in my particular philosophy, yet I also mention that I have no need for him to do so, his reaction would be one of obvious confusion, and very likely, subsequent brushing off of my philosophical pushiness.”

    First, the “friend of mine” is a poor analogy, and not just because I don’t like it. 🙂

    It places you and the Creator on the same level as peers, which makes for a poor analogy. “friend#1:friend#2::God:humans” may seem workable in some contexts, but written as “peer#1:peer#2::God:humans” shows it to be very faulty. If you are trying to demonstrate the irrationality of God having a right to demand something of us, you can’t construct an analogy where He is pictured as a peer — it is virtually assuming what you are trying to prove.

    Rather, I would stick with the analogy of a father and children, which I brought up last time and which you give no good reason to abandon as invalid. In fact, the Bible claims God is a Father, so you can’t assume He shouldn’t so be pictured to make your point — it would again be (at least almost) assuming that which you desire to demonstrate.

    I demand obedience from my children in a number of things. Whether they obey me or not will not bring me harm — I do not “depend” on their obedience in any way for my continued existence. Yet, I *love* them, and I wish them to obey for *their* sakes, that life might go well with them. Just this morning, I scolded my littlest boy for punching his brother, for example. In that choice I see the seed for future mistakes with bigger consequences. Is it irrational that I, a father who loves his children and who has enough experience to know better, should seek to mold my children’s lives for their own good based on my own accumulated wisdom? Is it irrational that if I see my child running into the street without looking for coming cars, that I would tell him that he should not do it and that the cost of such actions can be severe, even if he is not old enough to understand my reasoning? Of course not. Nor is it irrational to believe in a merciful God who does the same. Whether my children live or die, I live (ceteris paribus), yet I love them and want the absolute best for them.

    At its heart, this is the motivation behind God’s demand for obedience and respect. See Deuteronomy 5:29. That is God’s concern — not a need on his part, but a loving desire. To believe that a creator (divine creator or not) would want the best for his creation and want his creation to be able to successfully fulfill its purpose is a rather rational position to hold. In fact, it seems quite irrational to assume otherwise.

    To look again at your discomfort with the “father:children::God:humans” analogy, here’s what you state:

    “One other thing about the assumptions underlying your statements is (and this often bothers me to no end, it’s nothing personal I assure you :P) that, you try to make an analogy of God and a human father, which in this case I feel it is not useful to do so.”

    Ah — be careful here! I state that an analogy based on a father and child relationship is the best one to understand God’s actions and choices, and you say that it is a bad analogy and go on to say (essentially) “He can’t be like a father, because of all these things which don’t make sense” — yet you have jettisoned the very analogy which helps them to make sense! In fact, the analogy as you have framed it in your *own* words renders rational many of the “irrationalities” you try to point out. You said: “A father demands his children to obey him (especially when they are young and haven’t fully developed their faculties to be able to handle themselves), because he wants them to be safe, to learn from him, and to have a model to follow.” — I couldn’t have described God’s role any better myself!

    I’m not saying that one can’t attack the validity of the analogy, but most of the items you cite as “evidence” of its invalidity are exactly those which the analogy addresses well. You seem unwilling to let the analogy teach you anything. E.g., What is the difference between the “Word of God” to us and the “Word of Dad” to a child? And just because you don’t understand God’s “clear reasons” doesn’t mean He does not provide them. In fact, the Bible is chock full of such “clear reasons,” though, perhaps, you have never read them (including, by the way, reasons beyond “I’m God, so do it” — though those are certainly in there, too).

    Now, you may not agree with those clear reasons, but neither does a child always agree with his father’s clear reasons, or even *understand* them. My children have disagreed with my reasons *plenty* of times. Some of the reasons begin to make sense to them as they mature, others are still a mystery to them. But their lack of understanding of the reasons (and yours) do not negate the truth of the reasons, nor negate the child’s need, ultimately, to simply trust me.

    (There is a point to be considered, by the way: if He is our Creator, is He obligated to give us reasons? I ignore this question for now, because — whether out of obligation or mercy — He *does* give us reasons in the Bible, so it need not be considered at this point.)

    Even for the sake of argument, it does not make sense to assume the existence of a being powerful enough and intelligent enough to craft space and time and the laws of physics and mathematics and *then* to assume when it comes to human behavior He isn’t smart enough to know what’s good for us — that all His commands are arbitrary, as you continually state without justification. It’s irrational to feel such a pairing of assumptions is necessary (I would say it is irrational to pair the two ideas at all, but I will ignore that for the moment). It is especially irrational in light of the fact that (1) the God I believe explicitly says that His laws and commands are for our own good, and (2) many of those laws include commands that all people of common sense agree *are* for our own good, as individuals and as a society (e.g., do not murder). Now, if you are only arguing about *some* of God’s commands, then we can talk about that, but — given the evidence — the possibility of the God I worship behaving and commanding as He does “for our own good” and not at all arbitrarily can’t be dismissed as easily as you have tried to do so.

    By the way, the Bible does *not* teach that those who ultimately refuse to follow God will experience “eternal pain and suffering” — that is a pagan teaching that infested Christianity early on (though, admittedly, it is quite popular!). Rather, the Bible teaches that those who — with full knowledge of the goodness of God and awareness of the truth — refuse to obey will be destroyed. There is no “eternal soul” to live on in agony. Man is mortal, and if he refuses the gift of eternal life, then he will suffer the fate all mortal things suffer: death. Ignorance will not earn such a fate — only hard-hearted refusal, after acknowledging the truth. It is one thing for someone in this confused world to not believe in God — God has room in His plan for such people, and it is *not* a room in some medieval torture chamber! It is entirely another thing to believe in that God and in His Son and to *still* persist in refusing your acknowledged Creator.

    (I just felt that you should know where I stand — and where the Bible *really* stands — on an “eternally torturous” punishment so that you are aware that such comments don’t apply to the God I worship.)

    Thanks, again, for the comment! I really wasn’t intending this post to become a “Does God exist?” discussion, and perhaps we should move it out of the blog and into private e-mails if you would like to continue it further. Yet, I do have to say that I have enjoyed it, and I really do appreciate your contribution. And I appreciate, as well, your patience with my longwinded comments!

    Thanks, also, for your kind words about my blog, and I’m glad that you are looking forward to following it. I hope I can make it worth your while!

    Take care,
    Wallace Smith

  14. Dear Mr. Smith,

    These remarks will hopefully be as beneficial to AmericanSauce04 as to you or anyone else in this thread.

    God says through Isaiah that as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than our ways and His thoughts higher than our thoughts. Now that is certainly analogous to the dynamics of a father-young child relationship, which illustrate the distance in ability to understand. But it also reflects the simple reality of our Universe, and of the relationship of the Supreme Intelligence behind it to our own intelligence. (There is actually a mathematical and linguistic proof of this very thing, in one of the back issues of the Creation Research Society Quarterly, available to the public online.) How can we, as finite and temporal creatures, hope to understand everything about the infinite and the eternal? And why should we expect to understand everything before we believe and obey the One who is both?

    You see, I know all too well where the skeptic’s viewpoint comes from. I once came from the same place. People like us (disproportionately, we are NT’s on the Myers-Briggs temperament scale) worship knowledge. We want to “know”, not to believe — overlooking the fact that there is no such thing as metaphysical neutrality, that everyone (including the skeptic) starts from axioms or faith propositions in constructing his knowledge base. But we hide from ourselves a basic truth about ourselves because of this. More than any other kind of human, we really do believe in our heart of hearts that we can be “like God, knowing good and evil”, and woe be to anyone who tells us otherwise.

    It seems to be one of the hardest things for human beings to do — especially our sort — to tell the difference between argument from authority and argument with authority. John 8:17 tells us all something about that, but let me stay on point. God, like a loving and moral parent, argues not from authority, but with authority. The difference is, He is not right because He is in authority; He is in authority because He is right. Now sometimes His children, like human children vis-a-vis their human fathers, have to accept and trust this fact without knowing all the reasons right away — this is what biblical faith is all about. But there is a difference between that acceptance and what is wrong with so much in religion, politics and even science and academia in this present evil world. It is the same thing that is so wrong in many dysfunctional families: argument from authority, which is a logical fallacy and one of the most destructive (“do this simply because I say so”). And atheists are at least as guilty of this fault as anyone. It is a part of the human condition, and only surrender to the true God (as opposed to some stupid idol) can cure it.

    Mr. Smith: Given the leadership style in our own era of the Church of God, I believe we have been more vulnerable to argument from authority than our predecessors and successors. We are parallel not only to the Maccabees, but to the scribes and Pharisees, who were especially tempted by this problem (John 8:17 etc. again, with the many rabbinic sources). It is the Saduccees etc. who were directly parallel to the Laodicean Era. Argument from their own authority in God’s name, by and large, was not their problem; systematic compromise with the world was, with all the materialism and spiritual lukewarmness that this always brings. So in 20/20 hindsight, I believe there is much validity to the remarks above about how our 2nd-3rd generation people have been affected by our particular strengths and weaknesses.

    שלום
    יוחנן רכב

  15. Howdy, Mr. Wheeler —

    Thanks for the comment! As we have discussed before, I still greatly prefer Mr. Ogwyn’s parsing of the OT church eras to yours and have seen no reason to change, yet. Regardless, it is a discussion for another time and place. 🙂

    As for the “mathematical and linguistic proof” you mention, I read that article in the CRS Quarterly (you may have been the one to kindly point it out, I can’t recall — if so, thanks!). I’m afraid that the impression I was left with was that it was guilty of overreaching. I couldn’t give you the specifics at the moment, but if I recall there were some assumptions used that I saw no logical reason to grant. While I certainly believe in the conclusion (the existence of a Supreme Intelligence), I don’t think the argument worked for me. However, it could have been that I read it too quickly, and I would like to read it again some day when I have time. Maybe in the Millennium. 🙂

    Thanks, again!
    Wallace Smith

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