An Atheist Can Understand: Grace

Defining Grace ala Wiktionary

After commenting on a friend’s wall post on Facebook where he asked asking whether this Gospel Coalition post or the topic of grace struck a chord in my experience I was left to ponder the word “grace” and explore what meaning it can reflect on an eternally stagnate source of morality and being.

The over all meaning of grace seems to be a perception of an unexpected redemption of dignity by some measure.  Someone stepping on a skate only to roll along and keep walking.  A leader granting amnesty.  An ex-friend’s concern for your well-being.  Doubly graceful is a school bully nearly slipping on a kid’s skateboard only to take it in stride handing the skateboard back without issue.

Anyone who knows anything about Christianity knows that Jesus’ version of God forgives any who approaches and repents in earnest regardless of previous transgression.  Propping up the perception of grace here is the concept that you, me, and rest of humanity doesn’t deserve a fraction of the clemency being offered by this deal.  Quite the opposite, God is fully justified to judge every one of us to eternal pain and/or oblivion.  Deserving absolute loss but being granted fully dignity; if grace has an ideal this would be it.  Wouldn’t it?

What kept coming to mind while writing the previous paragraph was a scene in the movie Gladiator.  After Commodus (the bad guy) discovers the plot to overthrow the city from his sister’s son he has this dialogue with her:

Commodus: [to Falco (his second)] Lucius (the son) will stay with me now. And if his mother so much as looks at me in a manner that displeases me, he will die. If she decides to be noble and takes her own life, he will die.
[to Lucilla (his sister/Lucius’ mother)]
Commodus: And as for you, you will love me as I loved you. You will provide me with an heir of pure blood, so that Commodus and his progeny will rule for a thousand years. Am I not merciful?
[Lucilla turns her head]
Commodus: AM I NOT MERCIFUL?!

Is it a fair comparison?  I think this is as fair a comparison as any.  Normally I try to keep a welcoming table for any detractors, but I don’t see any other way to roll this topic out.  How graceful would the parable of the prodigal son sound if the father had a torture room awaiting the son if he didn’t worship the father upon return.  Replace the son with everyone, the father with God, and the return with all death ever.  Grace?  That rings more like extortion and self-deprecation in my ears.  What am I missing here Christians?

Recap of Discussion Part 1 of ?: Proof Convinces or Confirms?

Now that things have spiraled into a muddled jumble of comments over at the Can We Prove the Existence of God I figured it was a good time to stop adding to the mess, recap on things that I read, and source out some of the things that were said. Zilch hit the nail on the head with his post at the very end of the mess, the interactions maintained an admirable level of civility despite the obvious disagreement from one side to itself and the other. While my perspective is that the communication only amounted to treading water, I didn’t pick up anything new, I do feel encouraged to go home and get some of my toys to show people.

Starting with the article itself I still maintain the same opinion as my original post: The title and premise draws you in by using the ‘confirm’ definition of prove then conceeds that you can’t confirm the existence of God but you can sometimes ‘convince’ certain people.  There seems to be common ground cast here where believers and non-believers can explore new territory and sow new interactions but where James admits his explanation of disagreement is a short answer, it’s scripture and therefore final.  He basically references the ‘sick’, as Jesus calls those of questionable character, to reassures his readers through contrast: ‘Don’t worry doubters are still denying this truth which I just admitted was unprovable.’  The article unites us in our quest for information and understanding then divides us into the righteous and unrighteous.

I can’t say that I can blame James, in addition to sticking to convictions he probably has some desire to maintain his appeal.  It’s just disappointing to me because he acknowledges the common ground in his ‘Proof and Persuasion’ section.  Where he talks about axioms of mathematical proofs dependent on their system is the establishment of an existence to experience not similarly dependent on a system through which, and with which, everyone interacts. Existence exists objectively.  I admit that I picked this axiom up from from Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, but why I reject her execution is a blog for another day.  I dare anyone to make a definition of a non-objective universe… such a premise negates itself as subjective.  The universe and all the manifestations of energy that it consists of exists as it has even when the first scribes of Sumeria wrote that the beginning was a void of deep water which became a hemisphere universe with a pantheon of deities in the waters above and below to explain everything happening around and to mortals witnessing events on earth.  Reread Genesis 1 if that didn’t sound familiar, the other links in that sentence are bread crumbs for anyone who want to find and explore the stories of ancient pre-Israeli divinities relating to that story.  Sources are like jokes; Set up the story and give the punch line as best as you can.  Whether or not they get it is out of your hands and explaining too much usually ruins the whole point.  While sources are easily found with the names of those ancient deities, I’m always willing to answer questions.

By comparison an assumed axiom of a omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient being allows for a subjective universe. Virgins can give birth, fathers can reproduce without intercourse, animals and shrubs can talk, saviors can manifest on toast, and pretty much anything else is possible and justifiable when the universe is a sandbox for a divine imagination.  In the cosmological argument and the intelligent design argument for the existence of God it’s proposed that God exists before time.  Before time being the paradox of that conclusion.  There’s a reason why it isn’t uncommon for cognitive dissonance to come up when the secular interact with the faithful.

That about raps it up for the content of the article, actually.  I’ve already started working on a response to the implications and some of the comments of the moral claims so stay tuned for more.