Saint Paul and Max: A Good Mix For Penance?

Max researched some Saint Paul in the New Testament and found some instances in which the apostle advises his communities to have nothing to do with sinners.

As far as I can tell, Paul and the other early believers were dealing with people who had converted to Christ, and after that, relapsed into behaviors that could be objectively judged as sinful.

Conversion to Christ was supposed to turn people around in life. The problem for Saint Paul, especially in dealing with Corinth and Thessalonika (around 50-65AD) is that the Second Coming was clearly not happening anytime soon. And some believers seemed to revert to old behaviors. Jesus did not come to the rescue. And people had to figure it out for themselves. Maybe they started to remember important things about what the Lord said about forgiveness.

In the first century, there was Matthew’s recounting how Jesus advised forgiveness seventy times seven times (80AD), plus the witness of John’s post-Resurrection narratives on pardoning sins (90AD). So the early Christians eventually came to terms with wrongdoing in their midst. Remember that confession came along much later–like six centuries. Thirteen if you only count the bigwigs in Rome.

There are reasons why non-Christians so easily blunder about when it comes to the Bible and Christian faith and practice. If I were to start blogging on Buddhism or Islam or even atheism, my friends would be well-advised to stop me.

So Max: here’s a sandbox to set up shop for a few days. Sometime tomorrow, I’ll delete your recent posts. Not because I find them troubling. In fact, they are really more embarrassing for you than for me. I’m doing you a favor, as it were.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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57 Responses to Saint Paul and Max: A Good Mix For Penance?

  1. Atheist Max says:

    “And some believers seemed to revert to old behaviors.”

    So Paul saw what people see today – sinners – and he told people to shun them.
    I don’t see how you are making a different point than mine.
    Paul taught shunning.
    Since the Canon includes Paul’s letters recommending shunning, it follows that this is considered since the earliest days, the inspired word of God and proper.

    “Your posts… are really more embarrassing for you than for me. I’m doing you a favor…”

    I have absolutely no fear of embarrassing myself. It rarely happens.
    I’ve see FAR more embarrassing things on this website posted by believers.

    As a website of self regarded ‘experts’ regarding Christianity, (at least compared to my 44 years in it) I am finding it astonishing how slim are the answers are to my questions.

    If Paul taught shunning – and you apparently think that shunning is wrong – why do you consider Paul an Authority on proper Christian behavior? I simply do not get it.

    And if Paul is not an Authority on proper behavior, why are his Epistles values as if they are relevant? Pat Robertson isn’t an authority on Christian behavior either – should his ideas go into a ‘bible’?

    Where are the checks and balances in Christianity? Not Paul? Not Jesus?
    What on earth is this about?

  2. Todd says:

    Paul taught shunning? Not quite. He advised it in particular circumstances. But not with all sinners.

    That’s not a problem for most Christians or for me in that I can distinguish between different circumstances. And I can go with Jesus’ message of mercy and forgiveness. That, despite Jesus occasionally getting testy with people who were plotting against him.

    You asked where the checks and balances in Christianity are? It’s called discernment. It leads to wisdom, a quality distinct from being knowledgeable, clever, or smart. A rational human being discerns–it’s part of being an adult. By knowing Jesus, one does absorb a certain mindset congruent with him.

    For example: a Christian has a sibling who is a drug addict. Been to rehab several times. Each time returning with the intent to reform. Each time falling off the wagon. Would the Christian be “unforgiving” by refusing to loan her or his niece’s college money? Some might call that prudent. I would take in an addict to sleep in my extra bed, drive the person to rehab, attend NA if asked. I wouldn’t loan money, car, or valuable stuff. Normal ordinary discernment.

    The reason why I’m a skeptic on your age, Max, is that you seem to be frozen in a child’s understanding of Christianity. I say that as an observation, not as an insult. You can’t succeed as a Christian by being clever. I would say that to anybody.

    • Atheist Max says:

      “Normal ordinary discernment.”

      Exactly. And that is why nobody needs Jesus, Allah or anybody else.
      The Christians of Westboro Baptist Church and Pat Robertson have NO INTEREST in admitting their Christianity is only their own interpretations. They insist they are only following Jesus Christ!
      If you are going to use “Normal ordinary discernment” anyway – Jesus is completely irrelevant. Normal, ordinary discernment leads us far away from superstitions and away from shunning and away from hatred.

      Paul insists on shunning all sinners. That is why Christians do it. They are taught to do it – as I was taught to shun Jews by my Catholic aunts and uncles.

      It is there in black and white. Paul did not merely recommend shunning sinners – he insisted on it as a matter of fact in the NAME OF THE LORD – it is completely documented.

      To follow Paul is to throw out “Normal ordinary discernment” – as when Christians find permission to judge others harshly.

      All this came up as an issue because Chris said:
      “Where did Jesus teach that contraception was wrong”

      The fact is, Christianity – the Religion – is based on Paul and Jesus and a hundred other things. These message are spectacularly contradictory and Normal Ordinary discernment is required.

      The checks and balances are NOT in the religion. They are in the person – the individual who decides which cafeteria choices they like and which ones they don’t!

      Don’t pretend that Jesus inspires those choices. It is a total flip of the coin – utterly dependent on whatever mood you’re in.

      • Todd says:

        Max, Paul does not insist on shunning all sinners. Only certain persistent individuals in certain cases. You can repeat your prejudices as much as you want to, but you can’t turn opinion or wishful thinking into facts.

        Yes, I agree your aunts and uncles were silly.

        I don’t require Jesus for everyday moral guidance. But I do rely on him as a savior and friend.

        The thing is that you have greatly different expectations of God than most Christians.

      • Atheist Max says:

        By excluding my access to your evidence, you are just cheating. Not making your case.
        Furthermore, you are denying me the right to use the evidence readily available to support my case.

        How convenient for you.
        Then you think it is fair to tell me I’m “Prejudiced”. What a circle.

        Paul is Christianity. Not Jesus.
        If Jesus was all you had it would be no different from flipping coins all day:
        “Love your neighbor”/ “Hate your neighbor”
        “Pray only in public”/”Pray only in private”
        “Honor your parents”/ “Hate your parents”
        “Love your enemies”/”Kill your enemies”

        It is all completely supported by Jesus Christ.
        You can’t do anything wrong with Jesus because everything is RIGHT!

        Chris asked:
        “where does Jesus teach that contraception is wrong?”

        I answer that by saying exactly where Jesus teaches that. And I go further to point out that it is supported by Paul.

        You deny me my use of the Bible to point this out.
        And you deny me access to your evidence that I am wrong!

        You are playing a game of “Heads I win, tails you lose”
        This is not how things get resolved.

  3. Todd says:

    Max, you haven’t used evidence. You’ve offered an interpretation.

    But getting back to your initial query, no: Jesus had nothing to say about contraception as far as the Gospels are concerned. I don’t deny your use of the Bible; I just point out that you misuse it for your own ends.

    I have no case to make here, Max. I present church documents on these threads and leave it open to discussion within the bounds of Catholicism. Atheists are welcome to read and comment, of course, as long as they keep the discussion in bounds.

    • Atheist Max says:


      you said, “you haven’t used evidence”

      You explicitly forbade me to refer directly to the words of Jesus and Paul or anyone else in the Bible.
      What else am I to do? You literally deny me the right to share the words of Jesus and Paul or any of the prophets.
      Meanwhile, your interpretation of that scripture is completely dismissed by every Muslim, Buddhist and even many Christians. Only the Atheist has no right to quote the bible?

      Furthermore, you claim you have evidence that my interpretations are completely incorrect. Fine.
      Please at least share that evidence.

    • Atheist Max says:


      “Max, you haven’t used evidence. You’ve offered an interpretation.”

      Interpretation is all you have offered as well.
      Where is your evidence that your interpretation is correct and mine is incorrect? Where is any evidence that anything in Christianity stands as conclusive?

      Paul promoted shunning of idolators – this could mean anybody.
      He promoted shunning drunkards and gluttonous people. Again, most of humanity fits this description.
      Paul promoted shunning of anyone who does not follow the teachings (a bundle of contradictory messages) which adds up to everyone. He is saying to even shun those who refuse to shun.

      The question Chris asked, “where did Jesus ever preach against contraception?”

      The correct answer is:
      Jesus is a foil – not the authority.

      Christianity is a vast committee is no different from a town hall meeting with rotating chairmen. It plays a parlor trick on anyone who asks such questions. It is a philosophical salad of wild guesses put together by Paul, Jesus, whoever wrote the gospels, scribes, Polycarp, Augustine, Clement and…a bunch of others who did not know where the sun went at night.

      Meanwhile, Paul confirms whatever Jesus denies and vice versa – and if you still don’t find what you want, choose a Christian sect which lines up to your morality, choose from a cafeteria menu of options and choose how much ‘worship’ you want do – and claim Jesus is the reason for all those choices you made! It is ridiculous.

      It is impossible to do Christianity “correctly” (despite your insinuation) because there is no agreement on who has the authority to claim the correct versions.

      Unless, of course you are ready to show me your evidence that your interpretation is singularly correct.

      Otherwise you are playing a game of heads I win, tails you lose.

      Even Atheism is completely defended by Jesus and the Epistles. So whatever method you use to prove you are doing Christianity correctly, I’d be fascinated how you don’t also validate the version which says Atheists go to Heaven for completely ignoring Jesus.

  4. Todd says:

    Hi Max,

    You are repeating yourself again at the cost of lengthening your comments here. You are free to do this, but you should know your tactic tends to shut down discussion and leads to others dismissing you.

    If you had been reading carefully, you would know that I’ve learned that Christianity has always been and continues to be a work in progress where the details are concerned. Regarding how sinners are treated …

    1. Saint Paul was addressing the first generation of Christians, those awaiting the final end, and indeed advocated for harshness in some specific circumstances, usually at the end of his letters. But not always.

    2. The Gospels were written in the second and third generation of Christianity, and Jesus’ teachings have moved to the fore: sinners within communities are to be forgiven, a minimum of 490 literal times, and the apostles (and their successors) have the authority and power to do it.

    3. Sinners outside the community are to be converted to Christ.

    As a person who was raised Catholic, you know how it works for me and others. Forgiveness of sin happens sacramentally, and is also a religious practice in a believer’s daily life. Some people are better at it than others. That’s how human beings are: imperfect. With or without atheism.

    Talk to you tomorrow.

    • Atheist Max says:

      “Sinners outside the community are to be converted to Christ.”
      I no longer understand this – What’s the point if you are still a sinner anyway?
      It seems a person is much better off never hearing the argument for Jesus and his threat of Hell.

      As the joke goes:
      “Do people who never heard of Jesus Christ still go to heaven?”
      – Yes.
      “Then why did you tell me?”

      You said,
      “Saint Paul was addressing the first generation of Christians..”

      Paul’s harshness is not only sweeping and incoherent, but is directly in opposition to the injunction that everyone should forgive each other (not clear that this is a good idea either). And this practice of shunning and judging makes up the majority of what comprises Christianity – just as you judge me harshly for not understanding ‘proper’ teachings.
      Jesus repeatedly judges harshly and tells others to judge harshly as well.

      Where is your evidence that what I am saying is the wrong interpretation?

      • Todd says:

        I would contend Paul’s harshness is isolated and particular, and hardly sweeping. Insisting that a few quotes summarize a whole person’s written output is a caricature. Paul also has passages of great tenderness (1 Cor 12:31ff, and 2 Cor 2:5-11 for example, and I’m quite sure I could find several more). His letters are addressed to specific Christian communities, not Christendom as a whole.

        I observe that you do not understand Jewish or Christian scriptures. Your approach is to discredit. Your approach is to proof-text: to find support for your particular opinion and ignore the entirety of the message. That doesn’t make you “judged” as a bad fellow. I’m just saying you’re not getting it. Your approach is the same as Dick Martin’s, but with the opposite intention, of course.

        If you were to do a study, say, of Mark’s Gospel, to count and compare the number of times Jesus is harsh compared to when he is merciful, and then break that down further in terms of whom he is addressing, and you found, say, 80% condemnation and 20% mercy, then you would have something.

        I’ve never done such a study, because I’m convinced by repeated reading of the Gospels that Jesus is harsh toward religious authorities and hypocrites (sinners, granted) and merciful to common folk (adulterers, tax officials, and such). It sets the bar high for religious believers, which I would support, certainly.

  5. Atheist Max says:


    “I observe that you do not understand Jewish or Christian scriptures.”

    If so, it isn’t my fault.
    I have been trying to re- connect and re-establish an understanding with these scriptures ever since the shock that they appear to be meaningless since Sandy Hook.

    In my shock of God’s utter absence – I suddenly saw nothing in these scriptures which I could claim as true. That moment was a second shock! These scriptures are in tatters. And ‘connections’ I saw as a Christian now appear to be forced together with invisible super glue.

    You said, “I’m convinced by repeated reading of the Gospels that Jesus is harsh toward religious authorities and hypocrites (sinners, granted) and merciful to common folk (adulterers, tax officials, and such).”

    But to what end? What makes Jesus correct to create such a false dichotomy? The Torah describes a God who was merciless to all who did not obey God – the religious leaders were only following the Torah Commands.
    But suddenly God apparently changed his mind when he sent Jesus? Jesus flips the rules on everyone so the religious leaders are now all wrong – and the lowly followers who had been enslaved, raped and tortured at God’s command were instead seen as victims of a criminal set of instructions.

    What does this say about God’s instructions? – isn’t Jesus condemning God himself?!

    For example:
    God made the rules about not having graven images in the Temple. God also commanded animal sacrifices.

    So it was typical for Jews coming to the Temple from far away to buy their animals for sacrifice on the Temple grounds but they could not use money from Rome as it had graven images. Because of God’s Law the graven money had to be exchanged for money which was not graven (temple money had no image) and this is why there were money changers at the Temple. Because of God!

    1. God demanded animal sacrifice and Jews coming from the diaspora on Sabbath could not realistically carry animals for sacrifice – so they purchased them at the Temple.
    2. God demanded no graven images in the Temple so the Roman money had to be exchanged for Temple money!

    Jesus (the character in this story) was very upset about this – his enormous rage is directed at the money changers. Why?
    Jesus hated the diaspora and was an absolutist – he wanted Jews to stay in Jerusalem and for the diaspora to return immediately to prepare for the coming of God’s kingdom on earth.
    – and in the meantime, to bring their own animals from their own farms.

    Jesus hated the diaspora because he claimed the End of the World was at hand and Jews needed to return to God’s capital and prepare for the coming of the Kingdom on Earth: An end to all suffering, and to all death – and Jesus was to be the leader.

    Jesus’ hatred and fury about the money changers added up to a political call to arms from the perspective of the Romans – he was calling on his 12 disciples to prepare for leading the 12 tribes of Israel in a great battle (“buy a sword” – Jesus) to create a kingdom on earth with Jerusalem as its home. Rome preferred the diaspora because it decentralized Jewish power.

    Your claim is that Jesus was not just a moral teacher, but that he was a God.
    And that last part is simply unbelievable given these ‘scriptures’.

    I am not allowed to ask about them. When I have pointed out scriptures to explicitly ask about them I am told they will never make sense to me unless I first believe Jesus was a God.

    I assure you, once belief goes out the window – these stories look very, very different. David Koresh, Jim Jones and countless other ‘gods’ come to mind.

    • Todd says:

      Max, I wish you would shorten your comments, especially if you are asking questions. It doesn’t necessarily help the once-a-day conversation to be flooded with queries as you often practice.

      That said, I’m less interested in assigning fault for faulty religious formation. Many non-Christians find truth in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, so your claim you find “nothing” seems to be a severe exaggeration.

      “What makes Jesus correct to create such a false dichotomy?”


      “But suddenly God apparently changed his mind when he sent Jesus?”

      Not really. The change was more in the believers, and less in God. It is easy to detect universalism in many of the later prophets.

      ” … the lowly followers who had been enslaved, raped and tortured at God’s command were instead seen as victims of a criminal set of instructions.”

      I don’t believe God commanded it. I think people sinned.

      “What does this say about God’s instructions?”

      Distrust instructions.

      “(I)sn’t Jesus condemning God himself?!”


      “Jesus (the character in this story) was very upset about this – his enormous rage is directed at the money changers.”

      “Enormous” is another caricature.


      They were cheaters.

      “Jesus hated the diaspora and was an absolutist … ”


      “Your claim is that Jesus was not just a moral teacher, but that he was a God.”

      Jesus is the Son of God.

      “And that last part is simply unbelievable given these ‘scriptures’.”

      Given your interpretation, perhaps so. But I don’t ascribe to your interpretation.

      “I am told they will never make sense to me unless I first believe Jesus was a God.”

      I don’t agree with that. That’s pelagianism. Faith comes about in an individual as God’s graceful response to a seeker.

      “I assure you, once belief goes out the window – these stories look very, very different. David Koresh, Jim Jones and countless other ‘gods’ come to mind.”

      I have no doubt they do for you. But a few billion Christians see things very differently, and many of them have suffered far more deeply than you have as a media-witness to terrible acts of violence. Many Christians have suffered in person, or witness loved ones who have.

      I certainly feel sympathy for your inner anguish. But I also note it is largely directed at others online. Without regard for their thoughts, opinions, or feelings about either Christianity or about other disasters in the world today. That remains one of the reasons why I think you are an adolescent masquerading as an older guy. Your approach to atheism, religion, and online behavior just don’t add up for me. But you are still welcome to ask questions, preferably one at a time.

      • Atheist Max says:


        “Without regard for their thoughts, opinions, or feelings about either Christianity or about other disasters in the world today.”

        I have pointed out repeatedly that I care deeply about people. Don’t you?

        “Infidels are those who declare: “God is the Christ, the son of Mary.” (Sura 5:17)
        “Make war on the infidels who dwell around you. (Sura 9:123)
        “When you meet the enemy in the battlefield, strike off their heads. (Sura 47:4)
        “Mohammed is Allah’s apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to infidels. (Sura 48:29)
        “Prophet, make war on the infidel.” (Sura 66:9)

        Which Religion is true? Does it matter to you?
        Clearly, if Allah is real, Christianity is not real. If Christianity is true, Allah is wrong.
        They cannot both be true.

        It is my strong suspicion that none of these religions are true. If so, which one?
        Which version of Christianity is true?

        If we cannot determine such things on a Catholic blog with people who study Christianity – where else can such a determination be made?

      • Todd says:

        Hi Max,

        I prefer to exchange with real-life people, not pontificate from a safe distance. You, I notice, have intruded on discussions to bring your personal feelings and ideas to the fore.

        As for the question about which religion or sub-division is “true,” that is not determined by human beings as much as it is by God. I put less stock in “true” than I do “mercy.” People who care for others beyond the realm of proving one’s own creed at the expense of all others. Christianity and Judaism are, at root, faiths which involve living the truth in some explicit way in the world. Honestly, trying to prove myself at the expense of Islam hold no interest for me.

      • Atheist Max says:


        “I put less stock in “true” than I do “mercy.”

        Then what do you do with someone who mercifully decides to send innocents directly to Heaven in the name of Allah? If you don’t put ‘truth’ before ‘mercy’ you are defending the actions of a suicide bomber who truly believes he is doing the good work of Allah.

      • Todd says:

        “Then what do you do with someone who mercifully decides to send innocents directly to Heaven in the name of Allah?”

        Imprison them for mass murder. Term them liars and political opportunists.

      • Atheist Max says:


        “Imprison them for mass murder. Term them liars and political opportunists.”

        1. What happened to mercy? The suicide bomber is only doing the merciful thing.
        2. What makes them liars if ‘Faith’ was their method? ‘Faith’ is your method, too.

      • Todd says:

        Now you’re just being a silly adolescent, Max. Put reason to work, at least, and formulate some real questions. And get some sleep.

    • Atheist Max says:


      “fatal arrogance”?

      You don’t follow Allah. You don’t believe in Allah. You don’t care what Allah preaches because it is a side story in your life. You are immune to Islam and you do not fear the threats of Islamic Hell – much worse than the Christian Hell.

      You lose no sleep over living your life without Allah.

      Does this Atheism you have toward Allah make you “fatally arrogant”?

  6. charlesincenca says:

    Dunno, could be, Max, give you that. I concern myself with how close can I remain disciplined to Jesus Christ (dichotomy) that you, not I, perceive Him to be. If this IS Allah’s cosmos, do I have a choice to accept or reject Allah’s judgment and outcome? Get real, Max, we’re not seers. Nor despite Darwin, chemistry, God particles and whatever else comes down the turnpike, if humanity relents to agnosticism or Islam, then we are truly lost.

    • Atheist Max says:


      “we’re not seers”

      You are correct about that.
      I’m only concerned about what is true. I have learned to be comfortable with not knowing.

      “If humanity relents to agnosticism or Islam, then we are truly lost”

      Agnosticism is nothing to fear. An agnostic, such as myself, has no book commanding immoral deeds in the name of a utopian ending. We may not always behave any better than believers, but at least we have no instructions to behave cruelly to anyone if we feel the need to practice a belief.

      Islam (like Christianity) is defended and motivated by Faith alone. Sure, It claims evidence of Allah in the Karbala – but you don’t call that sufficient evidence, do you?
      You claim the Cross and the resurrection – but they don’t call that sufficient evidence at all, do they?

      When I had faith in Jesus I was willing to do anything I perceived him to be wanting of me (no checks and balances on that ledger). Good thing I never went fundamentalist.

      Since becoming an Agnostic non-believer, I’ve wondered why – if religion is 100% good why is it so dangerous to the world if we follow it 100% accurately?

      Faith is quite a problem. If you are a wise person you have mulled over the implications.

      One more thing, Atheism isn’t lazy. And it isn’t arrogant.
      Every Atheist I know hit a moment of deep examination, struggled deeply to want to know Jesus better; to understand their religion – they read books and argued over countless scriptural points before realizing there was no way to put Humpty Dumpty together again.

      By seeking to get closer to Jesus …. we lost him.
      Bart Ehrman, Seth Andrews, Dan Barker, Darrel Ray and countless others whose book I have read have similar stories of God falling through their fingers.

  7. charlesincenca says:

    I don’t recognize your other cited experts, Max, but you lose in my book when you fall back on Bart Ehrmann. for tonight, this:
    “Atheism isn’t lazy. And it isn’t arrogant.
    Every Atheist I know hit a moment of deep examination, struggled deeply to want to know Jesus better; to understand their religion – they read books and argued over countless scriptural points before realizing there was no way to put Humpty Dumpty together again.”…Rorschahked me to 1 Cor.13. I’ll stick with the latter, thanks. And there are a helluva lot more atheists out there who are as lazy as any recalcitrant cradle Catholic I’ve encounter over 45 years, I not being of their number.

    • Atheist Max says:

      “I’ll stick with the latter, thanks.”
      Well, that is certainly your right.

      “And there are a helluva lot more atheists out there who are as lazy…”
      I only objected to the generalization as per the link you sent me. “Atheists” are not lazy any more than other people. But most of us are former believers and our moment of truth was not a lazy one. One does not overturn 50 years of serious religion without deep introspection and reconsiderations of the most rigorous kind.

  8. charlesincenca says:

    Max, don’t you recognize you conflated your personal story in order to auger your claim in the preceding sentence? Sure, atheists aren’t any more or less lazy than other folk. But any observant “religionist” see regular pewsitters give up on “God” for such deep, introspective reasons such as some slight perceived as offense given by “Father,” or some altercation in the parking lot before or after Mass, petty politics and territoriality, et cetera.
    If “Atheism/Agnosticism” is your new credo, fine. But your fixation with divergence from “Believers” playing itself out over and over again here at Todd’s joint is, well, just not sensible.

    • Atheist Max says:

      It is a peculiar feature of religion – (is it not?) – that discussion of its fundamentals are so plainly resisted by believers.

      No other area of life functions like this.
      For example:
      Car mechanics can discuss absolutely any claim about about any car engine ever made freely and without ever making personal attacks.
      Doctors can discuss the latest insights on cancer without necessarily labeling a questioner as ‘being fixated’.
      Artists can discuss the virtues and flaws of certain paint brushes without ever devolving into accusations that those who use certain brushes are ‘petty’.

      Religion is operating in a realm where there is simply no evidence of any kind for any of its claims. And your emotional resistance to discussing the merits of these claims is entirely understandable. If religion was harmless, I might let it go. As a former believer I can tell you all the pain stems from the resistance to discussion.

      “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.” (1 Corinthians 5:11)

      “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting” (2 John 1:10)

      “Avoid Them” (Romans 16:17)
      “For whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.” (2 John 1:11)
      “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault.” – JESUS (Matthew 18:15)

      The salient Christian preachments above are cold-hearted injunctions to be
      outwardly cruel to other people who have done you no harm.

      • Todd says:

        First, you have misdiagnosed peculiarity. It is part of human nature. Not unique to believers alone.

        Second, you have once again taken Scripture citations out of context. They don’t make much sense.

        Third, regarding Matthew 18:15, there is nothing wrong with telling someone where she or he is screwing up. Even an atheist must acknowledge that driving 45mph in a school zone, creates a danger to the public good. A traffic or peace officer is wholly correct to correct this fault.

      • Atheist Max says:

        “there is nothing wrong with telling someone where she or he is screwing up…”

        Of course I have no problem judging the behavior of others. We do it all the time – we would die without honing the ability to judge others for our own safety.

        But Christianity does not acknowledge that we are the judges. It tells us something untrue; that all the judging is God’s business. We are to ‘turn the other cheek’ and to ‘judge not’.

        Then it turns around and tells us to judge harshly – using not God’s guidance, but our own.

        I see Jesus as the flip of a coin, an intrusive third party who takes credit for our good judgements but never our bad ones – yet he supports all of them.

        A Christian who judges harshly against his gay son will find great support in St. Paul. And Jesus.
        A Christian who refuses to judge against his son will also find support.

        Talking about ‘context’ feels like a parlor trick. Because it does not change the substance of what I said.

        Jesus and St. Paul are invoked in Mass. We hear preachers making sermons in favor of tolerance and love. They quote scripture and do readings.
        The context of “Love thy neighbor” is irrelevant if there are other churches just as validly espousing the virtues of “Tell him his fault”.

        The ‘sinner’ is just a foil – playing role in a parlor trick.

        How am I wrong?

      • Todd says:

        How are you wrong? Basically you approach the conversation as an opportunity to score points rather than to listen, and to repeat your side of old arguments others have already addressed in other places. In a way, you seem desperate to reinforce your own decisions rather than to engage and consider the beliefs of others. Or you seem to be playing, as Charles hints in his frustration at attempting a dialogue with you.

      • Atheist Max says:

        I think am being fair.
        I am simply asking for an explanation about Paul which makes sense.

        St. Paul is rather vicious in his commands to be harshly judgmental.

        You at first denied these tracts are relevant. You said it was because these were instructions only for early Christians. When I pointed out that these tracts are still referred to as relevant by modern Christians and are indeed the basis for much cruelty to gays and others, you suggested such cruelty is a misusing the scripture.

        It is a phenomenon of religion that questions such as mine invite defensive answers. But you seem to dismiss the fact that Paul’s tracts are doing needless damage to society.

        I am completely open to any reply which explains this paradox:

        Paul commands harsh judgement of others. And this is supposed to be useful to humanity….HOW?

      • Todd says:

        People interpret Scriptures badly: this is true. But people are imperfect, and they do a lot of harm misinterpreting stuff, even atheists.

        I have heard from no Christian on this site who has assented to your view on these passages. It seems to me that only atheists are on the attack through these passages, which you have taken out of context. So my criticism is extended to you, and where these Scriptures are concerned, only you. That seems fair enough to me.

      • Atheist Max says:

        “People interpret Scriptures badly”

        But what makes one interpretation correct and another interpretation incorrect?
        And why can’t Christians agree on the method?

        You are claiming there is a right way to read these texts and a wrong way.

        I’m only asking by what criteria do you determine “Avoid them” (Romans 16:17) to be a loving message?
        I am assuming you agree that it must be a loving message or you would not find it appealing enough to endorse it.

      • Todd says:

        Good morning, Max. Good questions.

        “But what makes one interpretation correct and another interpretation incorrect?”

        What makes yours incorrect quite often is context.

        “And why can’t Christians agree on the method?”

        Because Christians are human beings too, and imperfect.

        “I’m only asking by what criteria do you determine “Avoid them” (Romans 16:17) to be a loving message?”

        I don’t know the particular circumstances of “them” so I can’t say I endorse it, or even consider it loving. Paul does give his reason, so it may well have been a prudent message instead of a loving one. I also notice it is given in the context of naming names of people for all of chapter 16. I might conclude Paul knows full well of whom he is speaking though he’s not mentioning specific persons. But there seems to be a history there, not a one-time offense.

        Granted, an atheist might not be interested in making such distinctions. Nor a teenager, really. Romans 16:17 isn’t really the core of Christianity, however.

      • Atheist Max says:


        Does the Bible contain the authoritative word of God ? Or not?

        If yes, which parts are authoritative?

  9. charlesincenca says:

    I am at a loss to understand how you could determine this: “And your emotional resistance to discussing the merits of these claims is entirely understandable.”
    That aside, it is patently paradoxical that you conclude that “religionists” resist complete and thorough fundamental aspects of these dogmatic issues with which you contend incessantly on a nominally Roman Catholic forum. I’ve taken a few Philosophy of Religion courses back in my ancient undergrad years to be able to distinguish between matters of religion and those of faith. Sometime the twain meets, sometimes it doesn’t. But if you need so much to engage with deep thinkers, well write a thesis or two on any of the doctors of the Church. Put yourself out there on panels with Dawkins and Maher et al. Make an appointment with your ex-pastor and lay out your case to him. This repartee has become farcical for my money and participation, and therefore makes no sense to further participate. I wish you well in all your endeavors, Max.

  10. Atheist Max says:

    Is it possible for someone to be Christian without believing anything in the Bible?

    If not, exactly how much of the Bible must they believe?
    And who decides?

    • Todd says:

      Good questions.

      The most important aspect in Christianity is the relationship with Jesus Christ. Without that relationship one cannot be a Christian. A sympathizer, an ally, perhaps.

      That said, Christian tradition links the Word of God with the Word Incarnate. So a Christian must, I think, be prepared to engage the Bible seriously and not peripherally. Certainly not take the actual words and elevate them to either idolatry or, in your case, an anti-idolatry.

      Does a Christian have to believe in the literality of non-literal aspects? No.

      Who decides? Like it or not, the individual person. Unless the Christian community has serious cause for excommunication. And of course, God is the ultimate judge of the success or failure of any individual’s approach to the Word, the Bible, the Son, and the Church. But that judgment doesn’t occur in this life, obviously.

  11. Todd says:

    The first step? Get to know the person. Don’t focus on knowing about the person. Like any other friendship, I suppose.

    • Atheist Max says:

      Get to know? As in, Jesus the person?
      I feel only that I am reaching out to something in my imagination. Can you be more specific so that my imagination doesn’t run away with itself?

      I like to ask people questions when I get to know them, like; where are you from? What are your favorite things to do? What is important to you?

      When I think of Jesus I see only a blank regarding those types of questions. Is there a better question to ask? Would you suggest a strategy?

      • Todd says:

        Pray. And listen to your heart.

        The kinds of questions you listed, especially: what is important to you–Jesus loves those kinds of questions.

      • Atheist Max says:

        “Pray. And listen to your heart.”

        I did this all my life.
        One day my heart actually said, ‘How can Jesus have time for my prayer while he is not saving these children at this very moment instead.’
        It was the straw that broke my faith – God disappeared – my life has not been the same since.

        Please help me understand how YOU see this.
        I can’t blame myself for anything here. I did nothing wrong. I went from Theist to Atheist in the blink of that moment.

        I could do nothing to stop it. I did nothing make it to happen. The wave came up and washed Jesus away.

        If Jesus exists and he wants a relationship why am I doing all the work?
        What sort of friend (or even a decent stranger) would accept absolutely no responsibility?
        It makes no sense.

        Can I be blamed for a breakup when my partner of 50 years (Jesus) disintegrates meaninglessly in a cloud of immoral nonchalance and nonsense?

      • Todd says:

        “I went from Theist to Atheist in the blink of that moment.”

        Actually it sounds like you divorced God. At whom are you still angry? Why weren’t you there to save those children? Who were the immoral actors in all that? A lone gunman? A society that glorifies violence and mistreats the mentally ill? People acted heroically that day to save children when they could. And they acted selflessly to comfort the mourners in the aftermath. May I ask: did you do any of that? Again, this sounds like your argument with God.

      • Atheist Max says:

        How did this turn into a conversation about me?

        I’m not angry. I’m not the one with power. I’m not god. I can’t do anything to intercede on an attack on innocent children. If God exists he just watched the executions.
        How do I ask god to intercede to protect the children, if he is already watching the executions by himself?

        How does God intercede because of my prayer request – but not the children’s?

        I raised my own children, donated hundreds of hours of my time reading to children in elementary schools for years before Sandy Hook happened. Why are you putting me on the defensive?

        I’m not angry at God. I told you – he just vanished.
        Can I be blamed for it?

        When I look in my gas tank and see that it is empty, I don’t get angry at Gasoline!
        I simply notice the tank is empty and I might be angry I didn’t get gas earlier – but i can’t be angry at the Gas itself.

        that is why I don’t understand this stuff about being angry. I don’t think you are understanding something. I’m NOT angry at God. If I’m angry a little bit it is only because I thought God exists and that he cares and he intercedes.

      • Todd says:

        “How did this turn into a conversation about me?”

        These conversations are almost always about you, my friend. Eight comments out of the first 25 at RNS on that other calamity last month. Eight uses of the pronoun “I” in your post I answered. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, mind you.

      • Atheist Max says:

        Again. You have no answers.
        You’ve turned this into a conversation about why the Atheist is wrong.

        There is nothing left to do but blame the Atheist for the disappearance of God.
        Very unfair to do.
        Not unfair of God, mind you – his absence is entirely understandable.

        Rather it is unfair of clergy to blame Atheists and to judge Atheists, or anyone for that matter.

        The unfairness of Paul is exactly what spoils my mood about him.

      • Todd says:

        “You’ve turned this into a conversation about why the Atheist is wrong.”

        Well, I think you are wrong. No different than you thinking I’m wrong.

        “There is nothing left to do but blame the Atheist for the disappearance of God.”

        I don’t think God disappeared.

        “Rather it is unfair of clergy to blame Atheists and to judge Atheists, or anyone for that matter.”

        I’m not blaming or judging anyone. I’m criticizing behaviors–that’s all.

        “The unfairness of Paul is exactly what spoils my mood about him.”

        He’s not one of my favorite saints either. I prefer the mystics.

  12. Atheist Max says:


    “I’m not blaming or judging anyone. I’m criticizing behaviors–that’s all.”

    I don’t think you are hearing yourself.
    If a person is not what is being judged, why can’t their behaviors go to Hell while the person goes to Heaven?

    • Todd says:

      I suppose if a person separates herself or himself from such behaviors, that is exactly what happens.

      • Atheist Max says:

        But you are saying a person is already separate from their behaviors – regardless of what they do. The guilt never touches the person?

        Please explain.

      • Todd says:

        Easy. I am not in a place to make judgments on a person. If I do, I might be inclined to be wrong. So I might criticize behaviors–like prooftexting Scripture. Ultimately, God is in the position of judging guilt: the people who have not separated themselves from harmful behaviors.

        I suppose that works for atheists, as individuals who put themselves in the position of judging others have replaced God with themselves.

      • Atheist Max says:


        “atheists…put themselves in the position of judging others have replaced God with themselves.”

        No. It is a parlor trick.
        If people are to be responsible for their actions they must be judged for their actions.

        But in your scenario, people are not personally responsible for anything they do.
        You are pretending a person who willfully kills someone can be separated from his responsibility and not be personally judged for it.

        Furthermore, you insert an unknowable, unquantifiable unspecific 3rd party – a god – to play as arbitrator (and possible hidden perpetrator) and there is absolutely no way to know how that party has influenced the individuals in any given situation.

        Did god want the person to do evil for some other purpose? Did god intend for a person to die by a hit and run driver? Did god let the devil do something for some greater purpose unknown to us to further god’s wishes?

        When you insist on this mysterious, grand puppet master pulling unknown strings
        – you rob a person of responsibility for their behavior.
        Ironically, you are claiming the Atheist is being irresponsible – acting as a god of his own simply for trying to navigate the situation rationally, without accommodations for an unknowable, hidden hand whose entire purpose is to forgive everything anyway!

        I don’t know if you have really thought about these things. I’m surprised.

  13. charlesincenca says:

    Let me briefly be Jersey Joe Walcott here, if I may. Max, it’s clear you’ve shifted your strategy to “rope a dope” by baiting Todd to “show me the way.” Todd, you’re dancing like a butterfly and then stinging like a bee by using Max’s “low blows” (proof texting). This is becoming a phantom bout. Go to your corners, and come out swinging for real, gentlemen.

    • Atheist Max says:

      “Proof texting” is a low blow?

      So is there no such thing as a salient excerpt? No relevant tracts of wisdom from the Bible? It is all just super evil ‘proof texting.’

      “Proof Texting” is when we show Jesus to be a jerk.
      “Salient excerpts” are for when we show Jesus is loving, brilliant and compassionate.

      I want to see an honest definition of “Proof Texting.”
      I think it is another fatuous theological invention of someone saying “don’t look at the man behind the curtain!”

      “The master shall cut him to pieces” – Jesus (Luke 12)
      JESUS describes what he intends to do to his own enemies, whoever they may be.

      “If a man’s wife goes astray….The Lord shall abort your baby” (Numbers 5:1-27)

      God – Burn your daughter alive.
      “And the daughter…if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire.” (Leviticus 21:9)

      Why exactly are you apologizing for these disgraceful insinuations and instructions by a God who clearly cares nothing for human beings?

  14. Todd says:

    No, Max, I pretty much think you’ve missed my point. Let’s continue this discussion on a later open thread.

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