Responding to Christianity's Critics

For Ruwayda, Whenever I Find Her II

edit: Ms. Ruwayda has been kind enough to also provide her response to this article in the comments section below.

It seems that there has been a response to one of my previous posts coming from Ruwayda herself. I would encourage anyone with the time, to read it because it is well-written and touches upon some of the most important difficulties that Muslims have with the Christian doctrine. I will state once more before I proceed to prove it, that the doctrine of God taking upon himself the punishment of the sins of the world is perfectly logical and a display of the highest mercy and love. Furthermore, that she has once more misunderstood Christianity and that her very argument, as much as she would like to hope otherwise, actually works in favour of the Christian position when it is examined properly. Anyway, enough of this preamble, let us dip right into the matter.

I don’t find it sentimental for god to kill himself, or even loving, but unnecessary and strange. A god that claims to be all-knowing, all-hearing, all-seeing, should not have to scoop to such a low state by becoming a human being. Some Christians claim that by god becoming man, he has put himself in our shoes, and finally understood what it means to be human, but why did he put himself in the shoes of a man and not a woman? Better yet, was he an incompetent god because how else can we explain his need to be human in order to understand human beings. — Ruwayda Mustafah (The Wonderful)

I’m always astounded by the claims supposedly made by Christians and non-Christians alike concerning the teachings of Christianity. Not to say that I don’t believe what you have written above—I know quite well that there are those who, in their ignorance, believe this to be the case—but that is certainly not what Christianity teaches. In choosing to enter his creation and being born a man, God did not learn about how it is to live the life of a human—no, he gained no knowledge that he did not eternally possess. Hence it was not to experience life as his creations do. Rather he did so because he is infinitely holy, just and loving. When discussing the subject of the incarnation, the interplay between the aforementioned three qualities is to be particularly of note seeing as they provide the only framework from which the matter of God becoming man can be understood (though I suppose that the concept of sin should also be mentioned but now we’re just muddying the waters).

Now, Ruwayda, before I move on with my point, I must say that what strikes me as odd is your assumption that an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent (though you of course, being a Muslim, do not believe this to be a quality possessed by God) could not pay the debt of sin for the world in the manner in which Christianity teaches, if he so chose to. Yet this is more of a rhetorical question given the fact that I’m quite aware of the answer to why you think in the manner in which you do. It lies in the fact that being a Muslim, you have an imperfect, faulty and even problematic understanding of sin (and thus conversely, of forgiveness as well). If these words are bold, you must understand that I have written on the matter before and I would more than love it if you could possibly show me how I might have so grossly misunderstood Islam—if I indeed have. I cannot at all see how this could be the case but given your quickness to assert the logical failings of the Christian’s understanding of salvation I would hope that you would not cease to enlighten me as to the illogical nature of my belief.

And so, to return to a proper defense of my argument: Let the reader note that while the above purports to be a response to my previous post entitled “For Ruwayda, Whenever I Find Her” the author makes no attempt to refute the point I had made concerning God’s purpose in being born a man. While I had expounded to her the Christian logic, in her response she resorts to a strawman without so much as touching the point which I had made. She asks why it was that God had need to experience life as a human in order to understand how humans live when neither I nor the Christian doctrine have ever made such a claim. In fact, I remember telling her quite frankly what it was that Christians believed:

The bible describes sin as a debt whose method of payment and price is death (Romans 6:23, Hebrews 9:22) and God, since he is infinitely holy and just, requires that sin be punished; that all debts be paid.[…] According to the word of God, the debt accrued due to sin is infinite. Simply a moments thought will suffice for one to understand why this is so. Every time an individual sins, they do so primarily against God (Psalm 51:4, Acts 5:1-16) and how could the punishment for sinning against a being of infinite worth be anything less than infinite in return? The Bible also says that everyone has sinned (Romans 3:23) hence that bars anyone else from stepping in and paying another’s debt to God. Yet aside from being just, God is also infinitely loving, and while it would be perfectly fair for him to condemn the entire world to hell, that would not be an expression of love. This is why he, being the only individual who could possibly lead a perfectly sinless life and satisfy a debt of infinite value, chose to pay the price for mankind (John 3:16). —For Ruwayda, Whenever I Find Her

Instead of focusing on the above, she centers her response around a demonstrable strawman and in so doing asks questions that are completely irrelevant to the discussion. But to the question as to why God chose to be born a man rather than a woman, it is to accomplish the complete reversal of Adam’s failure. As the Bible says:

But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.17For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. — Romans 5:15 – 17 NIV

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. — 1 Corinthians 15:22 NIV

The above is a more than an adequate response to the author’s query.

The nature of a debt in reality is conflicting with this pretentious definition. It is dishonest to re-define the definition of ‘debt’ in order to defend the biblical concept of salvation. — Ruwayda Mustafah

I’m perplexed as to what exactly is pretentious about the definition which I gave or what exactly the author means by my having “re-defined” the definition of ‘debt’. Interestingly enough, she herself goes on to give a definition of debt that is in no way contradictory to the one which I had given. As I had said earlier, even her own definition consists of an extrinsic property that is wholly contingent to the human being. The author has said nothing so far that has been able to refute a single statement I have made yet surprisingly, she implies that I have been deceiving in my statements.

In the context of sin, only the sinner shall pay the due of his sin. An innocent person paying for the sin of the sinner is injustice. In fact, biblical passages confirm this view, which further reinforces the inconsistencies found within the bible:

Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin. (Deuteronomy 24:16 (New International Version)

This brings us to the obvious question of, why was it acceptable for each person to bare the consequences of their own sin in the past, yet not acceptable according to the new testament? It makes little sense for an innocent person to be put to death for sins they did not commit. —  (The Wonderful) Ruwayda Mustafah

The above betrays a certain misunderstanding with what it is that the Bible actually teaches. It is easy to cite a verse from the bible but without having placed it into the proper context, one has really said nothing at all. As her citation of Deut. 24:16 goes, it is in response to the concept of vicarious punishment that existed in every law code of the Ancient Near East (ANE). Examples would be:

If a man struck the pregnant daughter of another so that she miscarried and died, his own daughter must be put to death. A seducer must deliver his wife to the seduced girl’s father for prostitution. In another class are penalties which involve the substitution of a dependent for the offerer — the Hittite laws compelling a slayer to deliver so many persons to the kinsmen of the slain, or prescribing that a man who has pushed another into a fire must give over his son… — (A Song of Power and the Power of Song, 295)

Therefore, the passage does not expound a universal ruling but rather a provision with the intent of countering the practices of those of the surrounding nations. Furthermore, it is untrue that the consequence of sin was only felt by the one individual according to the bible and primarily the Old Testament (supposedly in contradiction to the New Testament) seeing as the very book in which she cites from contains the following admonition:

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me. — Deuteronomy 5:9

Yet the above is not in contradiction to her citation but rather the two refer and operate under different contexts. While individual responsibility for sin is affirmed throughout the bible, the concept of—for the lack of a better word—collective guilt is not foreign to the bible either. Both concepts are affirmed within the bible, in life and even in her very own Qur’an (and if the author disagrees with me I would be more than willing to show her where this is the case) but this in itself is a subject for a later post (it’s currently saved as a draft).

The animal sacrifices in the bible were perpetuated by the sinner, in other words, sinners made animal sacrifices with the intention of repentance, and not an innocent person dying for the sins of humanity. There is a difference which needs to be taken into consideration. Unfortunately the Anonymous Blogger fails in explaining and illustrating his illogical point through the scripture because it’s neither logical nor reasonable for a third part to pay the debt of sin. In addition, he opts for an example to drive his point home:

[…] This is a perfectly fine example, but is completely irrelevant to the god of Christianity dying for the sins of humanity. While the example given seems to be reasonable, however the sacrifices made are limited, and not comparable. Imagine your father giving you £350 to pay off your rent, and god voluntarily choosing to die for your sins. The difference is, you can repay your father for the amount given, and your father is not put through a drama-ordeal of suffering, and degradation. The example given relates to a finite incident, whereas the context of god dying for the sins of humanity is infinite. — Ruwayda Mustafah

I must say that there is a certain dishonesty in the above and a convulsion in basic logic that needs to be more aptly inspected and placed into proper context. Let us take this step by step. The reader will note that the author seeks to distinguish the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross from the animal sacrifices perpetrated by the Jews and in so doing implicitly advocates the correctness of the one versus the other and yet she then goes on to say that “it is unreasonable for a third party to pay the debt of sin” of the other. In both cases (the sacrifice of Christ and the animal sacrifices) it is in fact the third party that is paying with their life, the debt of the other. She claims that there is a difference yet she makes no effort to logically refute my point and in fact ends up simultaneously affirming it and refuting what she would later go on to say herself.

The author then goes on to attack my analogy of renting the apartment yet pretends that I had not qualified it with certain other statements. I would really encourage the reader to read my post and her subsequent reply to it and ask themselves whether she was at all being honest with her audience. Here is what I had written:

To better illustrate this point, think of renting an apartment. Now imagine that through various circumstances you have spent your savings to the point that you are not able to pay any of your bills, much less the cost of renting your apartment. Given your great debt, it is impossible for you to pay your own debt and neither is it fair for the government (while it would be within their power) to just pretend that you did not owe them anything, for that would not be a display of justice. While you would not be able to pay the debt, It would be possible for someone else (such as a parent or brother) to step in and pay the debt for you so that justice would be served (and mercy bestowed on you) and you would not be left in the miserable situation that you had placed yourself in; in full view of your loving parent and/or relative.

While the above analogy does convey the overall message of the gospel, it is not perfect in its transmission. According to the word of God, the debt accrued due to sin is infinite. Simply a moments thought will suffice for one to understand why this is so. Every time an individual sins, they do so primarily against God (Psalm 51:4, Acts 5:1-16) and how could the punishment for sinning against a being of infinite worth be anything less than infinite in return? The Bible also says that everyone has sinned (Romans 3:23) hence that bars anyone else from stepping in and paying another’s debt to God. Yet aside from being just, God is also infinitely loving, and while it would be perfectly fair for him to condemn the entire world to hell, that would not be an expression of love. This is why he, being the only individual who could possibly lead a perfectly sinless life and satisfy a debt of infinite value, chose to pay the price for mankind (John 3:16).

Ms. Ruwayda claims that the analogy does not work because the debt in the case of the apartment is limited while the debt in the matter of sin is infinite (as if I had not addressed this point before without finding it a realistic problem). Yet the analogy was never specific to the amount of debt owed but rather it was used to show and prove that, contrary to what the author has been claiming, it is perfectly reasonable for one to pay another’s debt in certain circumstances. The reader will note that Ms. Ruwayda never actually addresses this subject but instead chooses to display to her audience only part of my argument and then try to find fault with it in a manner that she would not at all be able to if she had presented my entire argument to her readers. I must say once again (and this incident only confirms this) that my analogy is above reproach and is sufficient to prove what it was meant to prove. Ruwayda takes issue with the fact that the amounts vary (infinite vs limited) yet the argument does not at all seek to make an infinite value equal a finite value (but rather it only seeks to show the possibility of a third party paying the debt of another—and it did) and it shows, to myself at least, bad faith in requiring any potential example of mine to give an actually infinite amount to mirror the infinite worth of God seeing as there is no actual object that we can call infinite in any respect here on earth. In short, in asking what she has, she would systematically disable me to prove my point at all.

I have not claimed that the love of God is not great[er], but equally in his infinite wisdom, god would not present human beings such an incompetent path to salvation, and brutal torture of his son (and himself according to Trinitarians). — Ruwayda Mustafah

Those are some rather bold words yet given the fact that the author has yet to refute a single statement of mine, I personally find the above hard to believe. That said, I have spoken at length concerning the inadequacies of the Islamic concept of forgiveness and as such I would be more than happy to read her thoughts on the matter considering that her posts are always well-written.

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One response

  1. Once again, I appreciate the anonymous Blogger, who has taken considerate time in replying to one of my articles, and comments that I made on his website. I appreciate the time he has contributed in helping me understand his scripture. While I do not share the same doctrine, concept of God, and perception of ‘salvation’. I do believe both Christians and Muslims have some firm ground on which they can build better relations, and initiate understanding between one another. I would like to make it clear that under no circumstances have I attempted to dishonestly misconstrue a false interpretation of the Biblical texts, nor have I attempted to misrepresent the Christian scripture in order to accredit my own faith.

    In addition, the anonymous blogger has claimed not once, twice, but continuously throughout his new post that I have not refuted him — as if this exchange of words was a mere battle or game to ‘refute’ one another, that was not my intention to begin with, as I readily accepted that Christians would have a different interpretation, and understanding of the same scripture available to both them, and myself. With that said, I have found only a few of the comments to be relevant on the topic which we were previously discussing — the concept of human-god-salvation.

    Anonymous Blogger (AB) claims that god died for the sins of humanity (contrary to what many Christians have claimed — god wanting to become man in order to fully experience and understand his creation — which he dismisses as unbiblical) because ‘he is infinitely holy, just and loving’. In his infinite holiness, justice and loving ‘character’ — it makes little sense for him to die for the sins of humanity. As I previously explained, which I will reiterate once more

    His holiness has nothing to do with him having to die for the sins of humanity. No one has claimed that the Christian god is not holy. In fact, a holy god would not belittle himself, and die for the sins of his own creation, when he can easily forgive them since he is all powerful, and is not bound by any morals that human beings must operate under. Just imagine, the same god that refers to human being as maggots (filthy worms) becomes a maggot (a filthy worm). The god of the bible uses this metaphor to illustrate the worth of human beings (of course, human beings are not literally like maggots), and in light of this, it makes little sense for god to belittle himself, and become a filthy worm. ‘how much less man, who is but a maggot— a son of man, who is only a worm!’ Job 25:6 (New International Version) On the other hand, we find that in Islam God (Allah) elevates the status of human beings (men and women), and portrays their make-up to be superior to everything else — ‘We have certainly created man in the best of stature’ (Holy Qur`an 95:4).
    Christians claim that because god is just, he is bound by his own justice which seems paradoxical. Does god, by way of necessity have to punish every sinner because the wage of sin is ’death’. Perhaps, I find this concept perplexing, and incomprehensive to myself because in Islam the wage of sin is not necessarily death because god is the most-forgiving, and therefore as Muslims we don’t have this paradoxical concept of a full-loving god that kills himself for humanity because an infinitely just god that will not punish someone who is innocent.

    AB: …the author makes no attempt to refute the point I had made concerning God’s purpose in being born a man.

    This is a Christian doctrine, not an Islamic one. If Christians believe that by necessity, despite the wages for sin not being death in the Old testament was necessary for god to forgive humanity, this is not something that I have to refute/address because it makes little sense. The anonymous Blogger claims that I have perpetuated straw man arguments, which from my perspective I have not. I have not misrepresented the Christian doctrine, but merely illustrated (or, attempted to illustrate) the erroneous doctrine which Christians believe in from my perspective.

    In addition, AB claims that he has not fully understood my previous response, and thereby claims I have (A) perpetuated straw man arguments (B) not been able to refute his statements. I have once again, further explained what I previously meant, in hope that this will not become an-ongoing discussion on a topic that we both have very different understand/ and perspective on.

    The explanation given through an analogy of a fathering/or family lending money to their son/daughter fails because (A) the money given can be returned whereas Jesus had to die which is not something irreversible (B) the money given is finite, whereas the sacrifice of Jesus/god was infinite. Therefore, this analogy given by AB does not make sense. Furthermore, this ‘debt analogy’ fails because a debt is a sum of something that can be returned, whereas the sacrifice of Jesus/god is the total opposite of that.
    The animal sacrifices in the bible are not debt repaid by a third party because the third party does not voluntarily choose to become the repayment of an given debt. Animals have no ‘free will’ or intellectual capacity to comprehend, and therefore are in no way comparable to Jesus/god voluntarily choosing to kill/sacrifice himself for humanity. This, once again, brings me to the question of why was it sufficient for a long period of time to have animal sacrifices for forgiveness, and then annulled by god? It makes little sense.

    October 30, 2010 at 5:10 PM

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