Sunday, May 30, 2010

Approaching Belief Naturally (Part II)

Some time ago, I wrote this essay outlining the rational basis for a belief in God. And while the late notorious atheist Antony Flew (whose recent death came just days before my precious wife’s) found similar reasons adequate to change his mind about God’s existence, I have more recently reconsidered the basis for my belief. It is not, in the end, those “reasons for belief” that give rise to my theism. Nor is it the testimony of the Bible. My approach to belief, as I explained in the earlier post in this series, is along the path of Natural Theology. As I whittle away at my own lifelong assumptions, shedding presuppositionalist and, for the moment, my own a priori thinking, I have arrived at a somewhat surprising basis for my personal belief.


I am a believer in God, first and foremost, because I choose to be.


I have not abandoned those reasons for belief. I still value the rational approach of the Thomists (the Natural Theology espoused by Thomas Aquinas), but I recognize that my belief does not begin there. Nor can it logically stem from the Presuppositional approach favored by many Christians (who claim that belief must begin with the presupposition of divine revelation contained in the Scriptures), a view which I completely reject. My belief in God must, at its inception, be a matter of choice. I believe in God because I wish to.


Belief does not end with a choice. Those who choose to believe can (and likely will, in my view) find ample confirmation of that choice, a stream of rational and experiential evidences more than suffice to validate belief. And though my faith is bolstered and reinforced by observation, reasoned consideration, spiritual experience, etc., my faith begins with this simple admission: I believe in God because I choose to believe in God.


Each of us faces this choice. In this most important of existential questions, every human being has the same set of options: God, or no God. Some will claim the convenient “middle ground” of agnosticism. But the agnostic merely acknowledges that we cannot know, a fact with which thinking theists and atheists alike will all agree. And that is why we are confronted with a choice. We cannot, at the outset, know. We all choose. The agnostic chooses to live his life as if there is no God, or as if there is. No one can evade this choosing. We all line up on one side or the other, and we do so as a matter of choice.


And this choice will color all subsequent observations and experiences, predisposing the theist to see evidence for God’s existence everywhere he looks, while predisposing the atheist to see none.


So my theism, at its outset, is a preference. I prefer to believe that this cosmos has ultimate meaning. I prefer to think that my existence is intended, that it has purpose and profound significance. I prefer to believe that human life is something more than a very brief flash in the pan of accidental cosmic existence. I prefer to think that there will be a meaningful consummation of human history. I prefer to believe in one to whom I owe my very existence, even with the personal accountability implicit in such a choice. I prefer to live my days in a constant search for that ultimate reality, for transcendent truth, as opposed to shrugging off the possibility and abandoning such a search. (My search, by the way, has been more than sufficiently rewarded!)


All of which leads to this question: why would anyone choose not to believe these things?


96 comments:

Steve said...

Cliff, this is astounding. I came to more or less the precise conclusion about my own theism over the last 24 hours or so. One of my favorite shows is The X-Files. I initially was drawn to the faith metaphors in that show, in particular to the now iconic catchphrase, "I want to believe". Later I became uncomfortable with that expression, as my faith became more rational. But in the postmodern devastation of my attempts at rationality, and with the ever present option of atheism or agnosticism, I came to the realization that I believe not because there are proofs or compelling evidences but because at bottom, I want to believe. I choose it.

This is no blind choice: it is a result of my staring hard at, and indeed, trying on all the options. Despite all the self-congratulatory grandstanding on either side of the a/theism debate, there is likely to be no conclusive answer to any of this given our finitude. So I will certainly not condemn anyone for not being of the same mind. But this strikes me very much like something I once came to deny, the words of Puddleglum in The Silver Chair:

"All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things - trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a playworld which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia.

Aspasia said...

I think most people WANT to believe in everything you just laid out because it is the fairytale where everything has a place and a purpose and it is all tidily wrapped up. What person wouldn't WANT to believe that? Of course that would be most peoples' preference. Unfortunately, when I put all of the evidence for theism (particularly Christianity) vs. atheism on two scales, atheism wins. While doing all of my reading and examination of theism I was clinging to what I "wanted" to be true, but in the end it crumbled. I think everyone wants there to be a purpose and an afterlife, which is why I think that if that were indeed the defensible position, the majority of scientists would be devout Christians and nonbelievers would not be the fastest growing group in our society. I don't think these people are involved in some conspiracy where they don't acknowledge the evidence for theism just because they don't like that alternative. No, the scientific evidence (the best tool we have for understanding our world) does not support many of the things in the Bible. Once you remove the Bible from the equation, the supposed word of god, then where is Christianity? You are back to the potential for a creator yes, but not a Christian creator, so who is to say that this creator even gives a damn about us. I am not apt to believe something just because it is my preference, because it makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. This is why I choose not to believe these things.

Brick said...

A few thoughts for Aspasia ...
Even as a believer, I don't have everything tidily wrapped up. Steve puts it well--"there is likely to be no conclusive answer to any of this given our finitude." That acknowledgment is a good place to start.
I suggest you continue your search; e.g., there is more evidence that Christ arose from the dead than than Caesar ever lived. Begin with the 500+ eyewitnesses.
One doesn't have to put his/her brain on the shelf to believe (you don't go thru a day w/o manifesting faith in something--even that the green traffic light you approach w/o hesitation assures you that opposing traffic will stop for you). But what you and unbelieving scientists or ragpickers or whatever do have to give up is: their rights to themselves. Jesus Christ demands absolute lordship over our lives. Man's pride and arrogance keeps him from this step of faith--the step that gives up our rights to ourselves.
But he is not a tyrannical God; if you investigate, you'll see he is loving, patient, and merciful beyond our human comprehension.

Cliff Martin said...

Steve,

I suppose, given the parallel nature of our paths, we should not be surprised, not even by the timing of our thinking. Still, I find your response nothing less than delightful. I had forgotten about Puddleglum’s musings in the Underworld! It reads remarkably like a conversation I had earlier today with some friends in Portland.

Aspasia,

When you set atheism against Christianity on those scales, take care that you do not weigh a caricature of your own defining (even if it happens to align with the beliefs of a majority of Christians). I would suggest that the Christianity you found wanting bears little resemblance to my own faith, and that of a growing number of believers. Thank you for your comment.

Brick,

Thank you for commenting.

Tom said...

Cliff,

You are spot on that belief in a God is a choice. Similarly, because the God notion is so prevalent, atheism is also a choice. Your choice to believe in a supernatural comes down entirely to faith, which is entirely opinion. So, your opinion of how you see the supernatural realm working is likely different from others. They can choose any superstition, too, but I bet you can easily reject their gods.

If atheism is a choice, then you can argue that it is an opinion, too. The game for the atheist is ascribing meaning in a material universe. The game for the theist is figuring out the intents of the supernatural realm and how that realm interfaces with the natural world as well as what that means to/for us and how we can interact with the supernatural forces in beneficial ways, and then explaining that interpretation to others.

For me, the concept of God and this "ultimate meaning" to which you are referring is like the homunculus argument -- meaning exists by and through someone who understands and directs it, but what does it mean for a supernatural force to have feelings and how does it interface with the material? While we don't know why something should feel warm vs look green vs smell like a rose to us -- it's just spiking neurons -- I choose not to believe that there is a supernatural mechanism translating these series of spikes as one aura over another. I'm fine with that mystery and I enjoy pursuing its discovery through my work even though I don't expect to find it, but I see that as "ultimate reality".

Cliff Martin said...

Hi Tom,

Thanks for your thoughts. They are always valuable to me. Some responses:

“Your choice ... comes down entirely to faith, which is entirely opinion.”

You put it a bit blandly. It may be an opinion (I would call it a preference) for a space of time . But if I come to a fork in the road, and choose to go left instead of right (perhaps because it is prettier, or seems more promising), I will likely discover soon enough if I made a good choice. Subsequent signs along the road may affirm the choice ... or not.

“... but I bet you can easily reject their gods.”

Then you would loose your bet. I cannot, nor do I, easily dismiss another’s perception of God. I start with the assumption that the God I think exists will make sense, and that the data I find along the way will fit into a rational whole with that God. Some mythologies, past and present, do not satisfy those criteria. I easily reject them. But it would be the height of arrogance to readily dismiss the thoughts of any serious God-seeker.

I’m not sure I am tracking with you on that last paragraph ... though I want to. Suffice it to say that the God I perceive is no Wizard of Oz, as though my view of reality demands a behind the scenes manipulator. I suspect that God is purposeful. I suspect that all we see in nature is intentional. I suspect that as we pursue the Maker, there is hope that we will better understand his intentions. And that as we better understand them, our lives will more fully conform to them. And that as our lives more fully conform to the intentions of the Creator, our lives will be better for it. And if we choose to deny that these things might be true, and live our lives as though they are not, we close the door on that bit of discovery.

It isn’t that I consider this the only possible meaning, and that it therefore necessitates a supernatural being. I just think it is a far superior meaning when compared to the best meaning any materialist could conjure up. And so I prefer to believe it. I choose it. I base my life upon the pursuit of its fullness.

Tom said...

By "easily rejecting" a god, I don't mean one has to sound arrogant or condescending about it. (Though sometimes it might be hard not to! ;-))

My kindergartner actually stumbled into the homunculus argument the other day. We were talking about my work in neuroscience and she mentioned the few people in my lab. I told her there were actually hundreds of thousands of people studying the brain and showed her pictures of stadiums to let her get a clue about how many people that was. Then I said, "For all we know about the brain, we really don't know what makes us see red, feel hungry, enjoy our sisters.... We have cells that sense red things, and cells that sense pain, and we know they send signals to the brain, and the brain tells us with other cells that we are seeing red or that something hurts, but we really don't know how the brain knows and how it tells us so we know."

She thought for a bit and said, "There could be a doll inside the brain and it would know!"

I asked her, "But what about the doll? How does it know? Does it have a brain? And if it has a brain, does it have another doll brain inside it?"

You could see her light up when she realized the error in her argument. This thing that we take for granted, the soul of us, must be completely self-contained. The classical mind-body problem.

The argument for a God sidesteps the analysis. You can say that there is one God, but at the same time you talk about evil existing. So there are at least two supernatural forces out there and there is this game at play where God must use us to destroy evil. This means conjuring up how God and the devil interact with each other and how they use us in their game. It means a seeming waste of life (tooth and claw) and waste of matter and energy (universes of lifeless planets) and a waste of time (billions of evolutionary years) when God is omnipresent and it therefore doesn't matter anyway. There is the God of the old testament who set up or at least reinforced a sacrificial system that he could later abolish with himself as human. Yet God is the law/justice. He is love. Without Him it would be meaningless and nonexistent.

From my materialist view, pain, the perception of red, love, and our ability to predict responses from others when we act a certain way, communicate, and empathize with each other are all entirely natural phenomena. As such, they also require a material substrate. They must. How it works is one of the grandest mysteries, but assuming supernatural forces are at play introduces the homunculus. For one, it relegates senses and emotions to another realm. I can praise God for smelling a rose and curse the devil for putrid poop and then praise God again for smelling the poop to warn me not to step in it. (I am saying that meaning exists at a perceptual level as well as higher cognitive levels). For another, when the spirit is without a material source, what can that possibly mean? What can it mean for God to love, for the devil to covet his position? What will be God's goal when evil is destroyed? What does it mean for God to want to create?

Sorry to ramble.

Cliff Martin said...

Don't apologize. I like your ramblings. You make me think! And you help me to think more critically, to assume less. That is what I want to do.

I may have more response ... but it will have to wait. I can barely keep my eyes open tonight.

Roderick_E said...

Presuppositionalism is based on Romans 1:20 which says: "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,"

We believe in a "god" not because we "choose" to, but because we're hardwired that way. It then comes down to WHICH god, if any is the REAL God?

In Acts 17, even Paul dealt first with the Athenians innate belief in God. He didn't use the Bible to get them to believe, he simply declared to them the One and Only God, whom they saw as the "unknown god".

More: thekingdomcome.com/epistemology_example

Tom said...

@Roderick_E

Your site, http://thekingdomcome.com/epistemology_example, uses the presupposition that we are all inclined to believe in a deity. I'm the exception you call "fools -- who aren't merely unwise people but actually people with mental problems."

I think you realize the error in presuppositionalism in your example describing the Clarkian approach. When somebody starts with the belief that there isn't a God, there is no means of coercion using the standard presuppositional arguments. To avoid that dead end, you discount nonbelievers as fools with mental problems. Pathetic.

Roderick_E said...

Actually, I'm not the one who calls people who say there is "no god" fools; the Bible calls them that.

The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. - Ps 14:1/53:1

The presupposition that humans have an innate awareness of deity is not just a "Christian" thing.

I'm sorry this so offends you and you think it is "pathetic".

Tom said...

I'm sorry this so offends you and you think it is "pathetic".

So now I'm not only foolish, with a mental problem, but corrupt, vile, and incapable of doing good. And you expect that I'm not supposed be offended because this is Truth because it's Biblical? Your defense seems to use sola scriptura.

I presuppose the Bible is written by men who are incapable of diplomacy and who use such discounting language of their opinions to try and coerce others into sharing their opinions. Given our conflicting presuppositions, I don't see this conversation going anywhere.

Ciao.

Roderick_E said...

Exactly, as stated in my article, there is NO STARTING POINT with someone who denies any sort of deity. Tom proves that. Ultimately, people like Tom see themselves as hairless apes who are on this planet by mere chance. The sad part is, they obey the rules and laws of other hairless apes simply because they are too weak to overcome the stronger hairless apes. Now THAT is "pathetic".

MORE: /thekingdomcome.com/hairless_ape

Tom said...

There is no starting point because you presuppose your opinion to be the only one. That's why there is no conversation.

Who said anything about "overcoming" you stronger, hairless apes?

Why are the hairless apes incapable of living in harmony like our haired cousins, the bonobos? And on that point, what is their purpose? Why do you suppose God placed them on this planet?

Tom said...

Oh, and you forgot to say that the sad part is that I will be tormented in hell for my sacrilege. Or do you relish that thought?

Cliff Martin said...

Tom, my fellow hairless ape,

I apologize. Sometimes I don't know whether to monitor comments on the blog, and this current discussion is an example of why I consider doing so. Sadly, it is more often believers who deserve censorship.

Roderick_E,

You really should get out more. A little personal interaction with a few of those weak, pathetic fools you call hairless apes might open your eyes to the nuances in this debate. I would also recommend that you study up on the current understandings of evolutionary cognitive and social development before you make the kind of assumptions you do here and on your website.

Roderick_E said...

I certainly don't relish that you may ultimately end up in hell. Rather, even while you sling these snide remarks and make it look like I'm personally against you, when actually I am simply following what the Bible says about atheists; I pray to God that your heart is ultimately opened. But either way, God is glorified by those who acknowledge Him and by those who deny Him, in that even in denial, an atheist unwittingly testifies to their irrational premises and conclusion, thus glorifying the Truth of God.

Tom, it's nothing personal.

Jason said...

Begin with the 500+ eyewitnesses. </quote?

Or one person who made up a story about 500+ eyewitnesses.

Jason said...

Quote Fail.

Cliff Martin said...

Jason,

You must be speaking some alien language. Here, we use very simple HTML tags to create italicized text for quotes. But we knew what you meant!

As for the 500+ witnesses, I would side with you that we cannot use that, alone, as evidence. One would need to establish that the document (Paul's first letter to the Corinthians) was 1) actually written mid-first century, and that it was 2) widely distributed, and that 3) it did include these words. If these three things can be demonstrated, then we do have something of interest. Paul was willing to stake the validity of the Christian faith upon these witnesses. He acknowledges that, 20 or 30 years later, many of those 500 would be dead. One could further surmise that, of the ones remaining, several were now scattered across the empire, hard to find. But it is not beyond reason that, say, 200 or so could still be located in the Judean country side.

Paul is issuing what amounts to a challenge: "If you don't believe that Jesus rose, you can still find scores, maybe hundreds of eyewitnesses."

Such a statement, if issued today about a disputed event in the 1980s, would be powerful. The claim could be either substantiated, or rather easily dismissed if no witnesses could be found.

But all of this this presumes the premises above.

Jason said...

As far as the list of 3 things you mentioned, I am indeed skeptical that they are all true. I find it very difficult that any of that could be validated either, given how late our actual surviving sources are. All evidence presented will most likely be of the form, "well early church father said such and such" which of course will always be hundreds of years later.

The are all sorts of various supernatural claims and histories made by every religion invented so far. Any adherent to the TRUE(tm) religion knows for sure all those documents supporting such are all embellished, exaggerated, or outright fabricated. So we can at least agree that people can write things that never happened and yet say, 1500 years later, 1.2 billion (in this case Muslims) can think they actually happened.

Be let me take an aside to grant those three premises. I'm still not convinced. Paul didn't even name them. How would any body be able to read this and go check his claim?

Such a statement, if issued today about a disputed event in the 1980s, would be powerful.

I disagree. For one, eyewitness testimony is one of the least reliable forms of evidence. For further information I suggest any good introduction to psychology which will describe how our memories actually work. Second, once again, there are people TODAY who think they witnessed this such and such or that supernatural feat, and I am not buying any intro to Hindu textbooks to get ready for my conversion.

If there was a god who had a message that was so important he was going to set me on fire forever if I didn't accept it, I think he would provide a bit more physical evidence then that which resides in people's imagination.

For instance, he could put up a youtube video.

Or heck, just actually be physically present everywhere and tell us all implicitly in everyone's respected language.

But relying on old, miscopyed, highly edited, contradictory, unconfirmable written accounts...hm, not so much. Not sure this god would really be all that powerful, especially since his method of communication is indistinguishable from allah's, ie, suspiciously human looking.

BTW, I was a conservative evangelical christian for 20+ years. That's not evidence in my favor:) any more then a 20+ year atheist converted to faith. I'm only mentioning it for those tempted to send a link trying to some apologetic site with "all" the answers. I've seen them.

Tom said...

Cliff,

Thanks for the support, but I knew I had it. I'm cognizant of where this conversation with Roderick is/was going. If you want to purge it, or direct us elsewhere if we continue, that is understandable. That being said,...

Roderick,
an atheist unwittingly testifies to their irrational premises and conclusion, thus glorifying the Truth of God. Tom, it's nothing personal.

Hmmm, glad your calling me irrational is nothing personal, otherwise I'd be hurt. If you really want to have a conversation and meaningful debate, I will gladly take the challenge of how I'm testifying to irrationality. Challenge me. It seems your bet is that you are right and I am wrong, and in which case, God will be glorified for torturing any silly creation that dares to question his existence and authority. I value the freedom to choose not to worship such an ogre. (I expect at times you do too). Where am I being irrational in this decision?

Mike said...

“But the agnostic merely acknowledges that we cannot know, a fact with which thinking theists and atheists alike will all agree. And that is why we are confronted with a choice.”

My “choice” is to believe. A few years ago my choice was not to believe. My wife had said I wanted to believe. I didn’t think so. I just thought I didn’t believe because atheism made more sense (as some have said on this blog). Since I’ve stepped out in faith and made some choices based on belief that God wanted me to do some things and change some things in my life, I now believe even more that there is something to this belief in God. Like you said Cliff, “my faith is bolstered and reinforced by observation, reasoned consideration, spiritual experience, etc.”

I’d guess some atheists chose not to believe because then they don’t have to think about the consequences of their actions. I’m not necessarily saying that about Tom and others here because I really don’t know what’s in their heads and hearts. From what I’ve read from Tom, the reason for his choice seems to be logic, common sense, intelligence, etc. If I remember correctly, Tom was a Christian who had lost his faith. I regained my faith after being an atheist for many years. What is my point here? Good question. If someone knows my point, let me in on it. (Just trying a little levity but I’m not sure it’s working.) Anyway, atheists become believers and vice versa. It’s enough to make you think that there is no point to anything. But I would suggest to the atheist to humbly take a risk and pray to God that if he is out there, please help him to know who he is and what the truth about him is. I admit even doing that takes a leap of faith.

Jason said...

This conversation is quite old but I wish to respond anyway.

But I would suggest to the atheist to humbly take a risk and pray to God that if he is out there, please help him to know who he is and what the truth about him is.

Over the several year process of my painful decoversion I prayed, then pleaded, then begged God to reveal himself again to me and make sense of everything I was learning. He didn't answer or he doesn't exist.

My unbelief in the Christian myth has nothing to do with worrying about the consequences of my actions. I don't pray to or fear Allah, Vishnu, Zeus or Yahweh for the exact same reason; they are all equally non-existent.

Jason said...

Aahh, still can't get my quotes right. The second paragraph is a quote from Mike.

Cliff Martin said...

Jason,

It is unfair, and perhaps naive, when Christians suggest that skeptics would believe if only they prayed, and asked God to reveal himself. Your example demonstrates that. You asked God to show himself to you at a time when you wanted to believe, and God did not show up.

That is a common experience for believers and non-believers alike. I understand your disappointment because your experience has been my own. If I ask God to show himself to me, to satisfy my intellectual need for tangible evidence ... he seldom does. Or more like, he never does!

But this is true to form. Jesus made it clear that God is not into signs to prove his existence to quell the intellectually curious (Mark 8:12, Luke 11:29). But he did offer an amazing promise which my personal experience does bear out. In John 14:21, he promised to show himself to the man or woman who obeys his teachings, out of loving submission to his authority. This is where I meet up with his presence. This is where his reality becomes palpable in my life. By contrast, in those times of my stubborn self-centered resistance to God and to Jesus ... those are the times when he seems most distant. My experience is that he turns a deaf ear to me when I seek merely to verify his existence. But his reality and nearness almost always accompanies my obedience.

Rich G. said...

Jason: (and Mike, too)

But I would suggest to the atheist to humbly take a risk and pray to God that if he is out there, please help him to know who he is and what the truth about him is.

I saw this when it was first posted, and thought it sounded a bit like what I call "the Mormon Test". They say about their book:

"At the end of the Book of Mormon, in the 10th chapter of Moroni, verses 3-5 we read:

Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
"

In either case, this is a very subjective test. If you get no answer, all you have is no answer, not a disproof. If you get an answer, how are you to be sure the answer is true? You cannot go up to an angel (should one appear) and demand incontrovertible photo ID. Who would issue it?

The often frustrating thing is that God refuses to give definitive and objective proof, but asks us to believe.

Oh, now I am reminded of Douglas Adams' "proof denies faith..." line in the Hitchhiker's Guide.

Rich G.

Cliff Martin said...

Rich,

Agreed! These kind of "tests" carry the undertone suggestion that if you fail to confirm God's existence, or Mormon doctrine, etc., that the fault must surely be in your failure to demonstrate sincerity. That, placed alongside the powerful need for acceptance and the grip of group-think, makes them very useful for herding the flock, but not very useful for the outside truth seeker.

Mike said...

You guys make good points. What happens if you don’t seem to get a satisfying answer or if you don’t seem to get any answer at all if you humbly go to God with my suggestion? That’s where there is more of a choice to have faith or not have faith. My suggestion was not any kind of “test” though seeking “merely to verify his existence.” It was just a suggestion because, from my experience, I’ve had a satisfying answer. I’m not suggesting “that if you fail to confirm God's existence, or Mormon doctrine, etc., that the fault must surely be in your failure to demonstrate sincerity.” Some people may take it that way – that I’m implying that, but I’m not. I probably should have been more circumspect and considered that it may have come off that way!

Of course there are times when I struggle with my faith also. Everything is not roses. But I do see that you have made good points about this. Some people may take my suggestion, get no answer, and then they are convinced there is no God. But then again some may take my suggestion and then feel like they’ve gotten a satisfying answer and believe. So it could go either way.

Cliff, perhaps I’m being unfair and na├»ve like you said. I’m just not sure that there is *never* a time to make my suggestion. Perhaps it’s not here on your blog. Do you think it’s out of place on this particular blog? That’s how I’m taking it. I could be wrong. Just asking.

Jason, I lost my faith for around 20 years, so I’ve been there - believing there was no God. I didn’t know the answer to life, the universe, and everything. One thing I was certain about though was that Christianity was not the answer. Just letting you know. Not that that would make a difference to anyone either! : )

Cliff Martin said...

Mike,

I think I owe you an apology. You know, I didn’t even go back to see who made the suggestion, I was just going off of Jason’s reaction. I did not remember it was you. So I trust you know I intended nothing personal. I have deep respect for you as a person, and as a truth/faith seeker.

Suggestions like the one you made are valid in some circumstances. If a person actually wants to believe, a good starting point is to do just as you said. I have said similar things in appropriate contexts. I often quote the Psalm ... “Taste and see.”

Nothing is “out of place” on this blog! I don’t moderate comments, as you know. However, in this specific context, I am “trying” a different approach to faith, one that does not depend upon special revelation (such as the Bible, or personal spiritual experiences). Hence, your suggestion may have been a bit in contrast to the general theme of the original post.

But, please ... feel free to post any comment you’d like. You are always welcome here!!

Brick said...

Mike, the issue is not whether Christianity is "the answer." The question--stated by Pontius Pilate--is what would you do with this man, Jesus. The man who met every criteria to be called the Son of God. Not only did he live a sinless life, working miracles throughout his time on earth, but he conquered death and according to Scripture, sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven.
He endured the most heinous punishment, dying in the place of sinful man--you and me--and thus paying the price for our sins.
So, Mike, the issue is Jesus. Either you accept the testimony of God's Word, the Bible, and that of the 500+ witnesses to his resurrection or you, in essence, become your own god.
I encourage you. It appears you are a seeker. God will honor your search but nothing--absolutely nothing we do is w/o faith. Nothing is certain, not even the next breath you take. But there is a plethora of reliable evidence that Jesus is who he claimed to be: "I and my Father are one ... no one comes to the Father but thru me."

Cliff Martin said...

Brick,

I may come out in nearly the same place you do with my faith ... but I get there by another path, and a different logic. Your line of reasoning contains some broad assumptions, assumptions we cannot ask a skeptic or agnostic like Tom or Jason to make. And, in fact, they do not work for me either.

You sound like me ... 15 years ago. I used to say the same things! But upon deeper investigation, I found those historical evidences about Jesus were overblown among the community of believers where they are sold with ease. For me, Josh Mcdowell style apologetics simply fails to persuade ... even me. It makes great preaching-to-the-choir material. But in the marketplace of unbelief, or faltering belief, it fails. And so I have abandoned it.

But I have not abandoned faith. The remarkable power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to positively transform lives, refine culture, and alter the course of history keep me coming back again and again. I suppose this falls in the category of Christianity being “the answer”.

In this series of posts, I am recounting my own “re-approach” to belief, in which I start out by observing nature, drawing upon probabilities from creation itself, and moving forward with a marked reliance upon hope, and choosing belief in God in this hope. Thus, this post and the one following (Tennyson’s poetry).

So far in my journey, I am led to conclusions similar to yours. But, for me at least, the ground under my faith is more solid, more secure than it was before.

Mike said...

Cliff, no apology is necessary. Like I said, you made some good points. I’m thinking that there must be some atheists out there who have *never* made an attempt to reach out to God and hence my suggestion. Sure, there are some that have made the attempt and feel they have come away “empty handed”. Even so, when it comes down to it, we believe by faith and if there seemed to be no answer from God, that doesn’t mean you should automatically say that shows or proves God does not exist. If somehow God’s existence was proven, then you would only believe because of the proof. I agree that God does not work that way.

I’d guess there are also some atheists who may have gotten some kind of answer they don’t like, or who may have been challenged by God to change something in their life but instead they’ve chosen to believe they’ve gotten no answer. (I’m not saying that about Jason in case anyone thinks I am; I don’t know Jason and I hope I wouldn’t judge him even if I did). And even if they sincerely feel they didn’t get an answer, there is always the choice to take a leap and believe by faith. And then there is the choice to not believe! I think that is a wondrous thing about us. We have choices.

I believe that it is impossible in this life to prove or disprove the existence of God. My experience may have just been my imagination or something. I know that. I choose to have faith and believe in God and to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

Brick, I’m a Christian.

Rich G. said...

Mike:

Have you read C.S.Lewis' Surprised by Joy? He describes how he was dragged 'screaming and kicking' into belief, first to God, then to Jesus. By his own admission, he was an unwilling convert who desperately wanted to cling to his atheism, but found God waiting in ambush, it seemed, in everything he read and everywhere he turned. I think we could all use some of his experiences as examples, not only of how to live, but also in how we share God with people, especially those with serious questions.

Mike said...

Rich, yes, I’ve read Surprised. I’m thinking about what you said about using “his experiences as examples…of how to live…how we share God with people…with serious questions” but I guess I’m not sure exactly what you mean by that. Sorry to be dense. I do share my own conversion experience with others. I’m not sure what effect that has but I plant the seeds anyway. Like Dawkins said in The God Delusion, (I’m paraphrasing here) if you’ve had some kind of spiritual experience or encounter or whatever, don’t expect it to mean anything to somebody else.

If you can elaborate on what you mean by using some of Lewis’ experiences I would appreciate it.

Rich G. said...

Mike:

"If you can elaborate on what you mean by using some of Lewis’ experiences I would appreciate it."

Sure. Lewis wrote about the worldviews of so many well-known authors, and how he kept bumping into Christians - how the most intellectually stimulating and logical of them seemed to be all Christians. None were 'preaching' in their writings - they all were stimulating poets, novelists and the like, and yet there was something in their writings that he couldn't shake: an influence from another world. He wasn't brought to god through preaching, nor by anyone deliberately trying to 'win him over'. God got hold of him by godly people just being the best at what they were, and just living as if the joy of heaven was in them.

Mike said...

Rich, I see what you’re saying. Yes, that sounds like a great way to share our faith instead of Bible thumping!

Funny thing – toward the end of my 20 years as a devout atheist and anti-Christian, I kept running into intelligent Christians. All of a sudden Christians somehow were in my life. And they weren’t the stereotypical ones that used to turn me off. They were real and genuine. They were interesting and smart. I guess a similar thing happened to me that had happened to Lewis. I couldn’t figure out why so many Christians were suddenly in my life. I guess God was working with me but that’s a matter of opinion and faith!

Hey, thanks for sharing this, Rich. Good stuff!

Rich G. said...

Mike:

Just came across this in Touchstone magazine:

"The biblical revelation is far from boring. It's the most exciting, engaging story imaginable, which is why it is aped all over the place in epic, drama, poetry, and song.
Preachers who would rage against boredom can start by learning to listen to the literary power of the text. This means, for one thing, learning to form a moral imagination that can be fired up by the Scriptures. For the sake of your congregation, limit your television and stop surfing the Internet for hours on end. Read some good fiction and some poetry, and listen to stories being told—and thereby shape an imagination that recognizes literary structure, beauty, and coherence.
"

(Article titled "Preaching like the Devil" by Russel D. Moore, Southern Baptist School of Theology)

Even though the author's primary audience is the pastorate, I think his advice is good for all Christians. We so often get so narrow in our reading (writing, music, art, etc.) that we become shallow and boring. And intellectually unattractive.

Franky Schaeffer addressed some of this in his book "Addicted to Mediocrity: Contemporary Christians and the Arts". So much of modern "Christian" music, art, fiction, poetry and the like is so self-consciously "Christian" that it has ceased to be actually good music, art, fiction, poetry and the like.

Rich G.

Mike said...

Thanks, Rich. Interesting to say the least. You’ve got me thinking here.

Jason said...

Brick doesn't just sound like me from 15 years ago, I actively wonder if someone is punking me and cutting and pasting things I wrote 15 years ago. All they would need to do is change a few names. Alas, there is not a plethora of reliable evidence that Jesus is who he claimed to be (or that the real Jesus actually made most of these claims) which is quite evident if you read a bit outside the circle of Lee Strobel.

Christians get a bit huffy sometimes when non-believers ask that there God actually, you know, act in a manner that is distinguishable from him not existing outside a broad market share of imaginations. Perhaps by, say, talking to us in real time. I just love the example they pose as well about someone standing before the queen of English demanding she demonstrate her power, when all we were asking was the this God be as visible as the queen in the first place (I dont' care if he demonstrates his power, him existing would be good enough). But either way, I'll bite, I'll tell you why it came to this, me having to go to god directly to ask for some sort of confirmation. I believed everything in the Bible, from the first verse unto the last. I believed it implicitly, I believed it on what I realized was often simple faith, and I believed it had been extensively confirmed in science, archeology, historical documentation, etc . . . The former is obviously simple faith, and the latter was in part a result of having my information heavily filtered by people who were my teachers. But I digress. I believed and trusted and depended on Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection to grant me forgiveness, righteousness, and an everlasting life worshiping Him. I believed it all. And then I made a mistake. I made the mistake of actually learning about the physical world and reality I find myself in. I learned that the earth was actually quite old and that we indeed did share common ancestry with all animals and fungus and plants and pretty much everything since the development of sexual reproduction before which ancestry has no real definition. It was quite a shock but certainly not enough to get me to stop believing, and indeed I began participating on this very forum and others in the blogroll defending how a conservative believer could accept evolution (in other words, accept reality). I know a great deal of the readership here accepts evolution and continues to believe, I understand that because I did it for quite some time as well, though truthfully now on the other side I can't really line up my previous mythological beliefs with the hard reality of actual ancestry. Good luck with that. But then I learned more. I learned that much of the first half of the old testament was an edited version of many different authors strung together, often times telling the same stories with conflicting details, often times in ways that clearly demonstrate neither are true. I learned that archeology, far from confirming the exodus and the conquest and the united kingdom had long since demonstrated the impossibility of much of this written history, something I was not surprised to learn in the least because I could already see within the text itself the mutual exclusiveness of a great deal of it that rendered it impossible. And what's worse, I started seeing the polemics, the motives of at least some of the authors in the stories they strung. And frankly, I wasn't to sad to see a lot of that history dissolve. I no longer had to defend in my mind how my god could have written such blatant sexism, blatant racism, blatant violence and genocide, its clear now no god wrote these things, men wrote them, and put it on the lips of their god, as the authors of the rest of the bible will do as well as the authors and arbitrators and prophets of every religion on earth.

Jason said...

But then I have gotten ahead of myself. I was at this time part of a church plant in a very active mode of evangelism and I continued on with this all the while realizing I had, at every new avenue explored, less reason to believe it. But I still did, I still believed in Jesus, still trusted in Jesus, and as doubts grew I tried to stop it. It was then, it was here where I turned to god to restrengthen my faith, because I had no where else to turn to, everything else of evidential value caused more doubts than confirmation. God didn't answer or more likely doesn't exist and so I read more. I read about first century Palestine, about the many stories of divine men and their magic and the virgin births and deaths and resurrections, the literary elements and mythological elements exchanged and borrowed from tradition to tradition. The ever shifting religious movements and their adherents and documents and circumstances and I saw no reason why my particular religious myth was clearly historical (though clearly attached to and old testament which is every so clearly not historical) and all of their were exactly what they seemed to be, a lot of myth and imagination. And yet those prophets and holy men and messiahs had their followers as well, simply having followers doesn't validate your claims (or often more the claims made about you after your death). We have a myriad of cult leaders today of all religious stripes including pseudo-christian who have convinced followers of that they are somehow magic or divine; that is happening TODAY, so it only seems natural it happened even more in the completely scientifically ignorant centuries preceding and following the life of one particular apocalyptic prophet. Considering there is no magic today, no answered prayers, no healing, no fire from the sky to burn offerings, no parting sees, no nothing that confirms anything of any religions that claim a supernatural base; since we have none of that then I have no evidence whatsoever that any god exists much less one named Yahweh who is also somehow at the same time incarnated into a man named Jesus, a clearly borrowed concept from myths preceding his time. With all of that, it didn't matter any more how much I wanted to believe, nor could I just choose to believe. Its not a lack of evidence its an abundance of evidence on the contrary. And yet, the god you hypothesize is personal and communicates so I do that last thing I can and ask this god to reveal himself in whatever manner he sees fit just as long as it intersects reality enough to be separable from my own imagination or the imagination of others. Nothing happened.

Cliff Martin said...

Jason,

Thank you sharing your pilgrimage into unbelief. I respect you, and I do not doubt the sincerity of your words.

You probably know that I share most (if not all) of your premises, but I do not share your conclusion. Nor do I believe that coming to grips with reality (which all Christians ought to do, but most will not for fear) necessitates an abandonment of faith.

If I find the time, I would like to do a full post in which I would acknowledge all the issues you mention, and explain why I remain a committed believer in the Creator and follower of Jesus.

Rich G. said...

Jason:

Whew... That was a long post. There are only point I would take issue with now:

"in the completely scientifically ignorant centuries"

To me this is an arrogant statement about our current state, dismissing those earlier people as ignorant and gullible savages. Even though we have had remarkable technological and scientific advances over theirs, that does not mean they were stupid. People of all ages have known that people can't fly, or walk on water, or come back from the dead, that virgin births are outside the realm of sexual experience. People in those past centuries were not simply gullible children waiting for the next fantastic story to come down the pike. Their stories seem to us to be fairy tales, and, I suspect most were, but we make a vast mistake in thinking that they viewed them as scientific truths. Was Aesop writing about talking foxes and prideful ravens? No, he was telling a story to illustrate a moral truth, of human experience, to his audience. The German folk tales collected by the Brothers Grimm, likewise were morality tales, whether Iron John, The Glass Mountain, or Rumpelstiltskin, they all told tales about some aspect of human nature. I think we not only do a disservice to the earlier generations, but we miss their point entirely by thinking our scientific explanations are in any way superior to their 'superstitions'.

I approach the Scriptures in a similar way. Many of the earlier stories are very clearly human, and offered tales that not only instructed but inspired the hearers to expand their horizons. For example, Deuteronomy may be viewed as a retroreflective commentary on the meaning of the preceding three books. Ecclesiastes may be an antidote to an overly-optimistic acceptance of some Psalms. And those Prophets - they spent most of their words saying "The 'law' is more about your attitude than your strict obedience. Don't you get it?"

As for the NT, there must have been something remarkable to transform a cowering minority with an unbelievable tale into a courageous group willing to be publicly humiliated for spreading it.

Rich G.

Tom said...

As for the NT, there must have been something remarkable to transform a cowering minority with an unbelievable tale into a courageous group willing to be publicly humiliated for spreading it.

Same thing can be said for suicide bombers.

Rich G. said...

Tom:

"Same thing can be said for suicide bombers."

I don't think there is much similarity. In one case, it was those who may have hatched their story who were willing to face humiliation, violence and possible death [risking only their own necks] to defend their story, while in the second (suicide bombers) the story writer is generations removed from those who are taught to give their lives in order to take a lot of unbelievers with them.

Cliff Martin said...

Tom,

I've got to side with Rich on this one. The two are hardly comparable.

With the promise of all the pleasures imaginable with a harem of young virgins, talking sex-starved young men into doing anything seems unremarkable.

A band of commoners, recently experiencing the death of their leader and with that, all hope for an immediate positive change in their fortunes dashed, now carrying forth a message which (arguably) alters the course of history more than any other ... now that is surely something to take note of.

Jason said...

Answer in two comments.

To me this is an arrogant statement about our current state, dismissing those earlier people as ignorant and gullible savages. Even though we have had remarkable technological and scientific advances over theirs, that does not mean they were stupid.

I did not say they were stupid. I said they were ignorant. I would have been just as ignorant as them about the cosmos and DNA if I had lived then. Nor am I particularly intelligent today, almost all of my understanding of the world as seen through the lens of the scientific method has been because of the work of others. I do not look down on my intelligence but I am ignorant of almost everything there is to know about the world including Chinese history and the street names of Omaha, Nebraska; ignorance is not a negative term unless one is being willfully so.

People of all ages have known that people can't fly, or walk on water, or come back from the dead, that virgin births are outside the realm of sexual experience. People in those past centuries were not simply gullible children waiting for the next fantastic story to come down the pike.

First of all, though I agree that supernatural elements were added to bolster heros in order to make them stand out because normal men and woman couldn't' achieve such feats, people DID believe it did take place in not only the Christian story but for all those other competing messiahs and/or mythology of gods and demigods. People at one time DID worship Zeus and thought he was answering prayers in supernatural ways he wasn't as much then as he is now. Certain groups believed you could be transformed into animals, and others thought they could heal with their hands or through certain rituals or prayers to any number of animistic spirits or gods. But I wasn't trying to isolate that group out as the only group fooled by supernatural explanations. There are a great many people today, indeed, even perhaps the majority, who are still fooled, people who think prayer is actually healing people when praying to any number of gods or goddess in each of our respective religions, people who think homeopathy work, or magnetic bracelets, or the “secret” that the power of positive thinking to actually influence change, or UFO visits (and/or even abductions). There are Hindu gurus today who have convinced their followers they are the latest incarnation of this god or that, and at least one pseudo-christian who has convinced his followers he is the return of the Messiah. My point wasn't that people accepting magic explanations for natural things was confined to the past, my point was that it would be (and was) more likely in an even more scientific ignorant past for a reason I will explain shortly. But I pause to qualify my (and was) in that it is undeniable we have the largest body (percentage wise that is) of people today who recognize the natural nature of our world then in any previous time and the main source of this I assert is the influence of the scientific revolution.

Jason said...

Make that three or four.

Now, why might being in a time where precious few examined the world in a scientific manner and/or a time body of knowledge obtained by science was absent would people be more likely to accept supernatural explanations. It seems obvious but to just throw out a few 1) they didn't understand statistics, which is almost entirely the reason we have people fooled by homeopathy today or people who imagine they are always thinking about someone right before they called 2) who else to assign plagues and lightning to 3) as previous mentioned all the elements of any new mythology including the christian one was already circled and accepted by many on the basis of their beliefs in all the gods running around controlling everything they didn't understand and 4) clearly much of their mythology rested on a mistaken understanding of the world. Many from the last point I found alarming in my own christian tradition before I decoverted. For instance, the virgin birth. No problem accepting it before I starting wondering about the details. Sure, DNA is not a killer, could be poofed in no problem. But then I I started wondering about that instantly created Y chromosome, did it have the left over remains of viral infections that the rest of us only human males have? Did it have any of the markers evidencing our DNA ancient past embedded in it? If not, was he really human? Okay, even that didn't pursade me to change my beliefs, but then I learned what the people at the time did believe about babies. They didn't know anything about chromosomes or sperm or sex cells in general. A baby was grown by the woman, what did the man provide? He provided the life giving spirit. That's right, the spirit, and apparently you either received man's spirit or one from the gods (in all the other competing virgin birth myths) or in my tradition the “Holy Spirit”. Still, this doesn't make the story impossible (I can think of few mythologies at all that I could confidently say were impossible) but it does reveal why such a story would be accepted by (and had been already) the scientifically ignorant culture of the time given their understanding of childbirth.

Jason said...

Here's another one. The “Physical” resurrection of Jesus. That is so important for us conservative believers, that we insist Jesus body really came back to life and it wasn't just a spiritual resurrection. But then what does that even mean, since after 40 days this physical body was transported into the spiritual realm. Is his “physical” body still have atoms? Held together by the strong nuclear force? Is he still breathing oxygen? If his body has been transformed to something else in a spiritual realm why does it even mean to assert it was a physical resurrection? Okay, well that doesn't make it impossible though it did indeed bother me a bit when I was still a believer. But then I reread the story and consider their understanding of the cosmos. Where was Jesus for them? Well, at the right hand of God, in heaven. And where was that? In the sky. The cosmology of all the ancient near east considered the divine realm above our present sky, and Christians were just as much a part of that culture. Jesus ascended into the sky and was hidden by a cloud, and the sky is exactly where he will return. We ourselves write into this story that he was then teleported to heaven but the original didn't say as much and as Gordon Glover once revealed to me, the idea that heaven wasn't physically above our sky didn't enter the Christian conscious until medieval theologians transported it from there to the spiritual realm. So let's return now to the consciousness of those who would compose such an event whether in the OT (Elijah) or competing religious cultures (quite a few of those Greek and Roman myths) to our own Jesus, and consider the thoughts of those who would have heard such a thing Of course Jesus is alive in his body again, right up there, in heaven, just beyond what we can make out no doubt. I don't think they were to concerned with whether Jesus could breath up there or if the strong nuclear force had the same attributes since they had absolutely no concept of any such things. For them they were to die and then be resurrected again to live in physical bodies on a new earth, a point that causes confusion today since our collective understanding now has us spending eternity in some spiritual heaven instead of a physical new earth (as NT Wright always mentioned he had to correct).

Jason said...

I don't believe science makes the supernatural impossible, not in general nor in events as outlined in the Bible. Personally, I do think they anytime somewhat claiming magic today has actually allowed such claims to be under the scrutiny of science it has always failed to live up to their claims. I don't see any magic today so would need extra convincing to think it happened in the past and looking back at a time when it was even more readily perceived to take place with stories that are sometimes near identical I found it much more likely that all those claims of divinity and magic were simply claims and poor statistical skills, not that one rather late coming myth was actually historical.

As for the NT, there must have been something remarkable to transform a cowering minority with an unbelievable tale into a courageous group willing to be publicly humiliated for spreading it.
I consider the early events taking place among Jesus followers as outlined in the NT to be just as legendary as Jesus life itself. It wasn't written until nearly decades later when surely all those men were dead (probably from something as mundane as tuberculous or influenza; life expectancy wasn't to much back then). The very stories within the NT themselves show discrepancies that demonstrate at least half of them were in part legendary and I no longer see any reason to give the other half the benefit of the doubt. Extra biblical early Christian writers spun a great many tails about what that small band of followers did or said, most of which you probably would agree with me are legendary, and yet you would arbitrarily accept those of the NT since they garnered more consensus tens if not hundred of years later and therefor were copied better and eventually codified into a canon.

Who knows what happened in those early days. Every religion today is an offshoot, of what once a more dominant religion, including Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity (and Protestantism). And we have are own offshoots such as Mormonism that are growing faster then any other branch of Christianity who very well could become a dominant wing of the christian faith in the future. The Mormons were persecuted in their early days in a much greater documented history, jailed, and had their leaders killed by a mob, and yet they thrive today. Does this reality give you strong evidence in their claims that Jesus and Satan are brothers?

Mike said...

Wow, Jason reminds me of me 15 years ago! I’m not meaning that in any smart-alecky way. I’m saying this with sincerity.

Jason said...

quote fail. I don't know why I can't get quotes to work on this blog. Okay, so my first paragraph is a quote from Rich. So is the first sentence of the second to last paragraph in the last comment. Pretty confusing the way it is now.

Now, a quote from Mike, "Wow, Jason reminds me of me 15 years ago! I’m not meaning that in any smart-alecky way. I’m saying this with sincerity."

If such is the case I would be interested in what made you come back to the faith. Maybe there is hope for me yet:)

Jason said...

Got to sign off. All join again tomorrow.

Rich G. said...

Jason:

"quote fail. I don't know why I can't get quotes to work on this blog."

Try using the HTML tags. I use [Quote][left angle bracket]i[right angle bracket] your quoted text [left angle bracket]/i[right angle bracket][quote]. Works every time for me.

Rich G.

Mike said...

Jason said, “If such is the case I would be interested in what made you come back to the faith. Maybe there is hope for me yet:)”

Jason, I’ll have more time to respond over the weekend. And I will.

Jason said...

Alright, let me try it

[Quote]this is a test[quote]

Cliff Martin said...

You got it! Except that I think Rich mean quote marks as in "'s

So instead of ...

[Quote]this is a test[quote]
... you would have

"this is a test"

Jason said...

Hmm, that didn't work. When you said [quote] did you mean the actual ". I can get bold and italics to work but usually using the quote keyword with a backslash on the second occurrence intends the text and quotes it in to work. That is the normal html that works on most blogs.

Anyway, I'm happy to discuss this with you all. I hope my comments aren't coming off as rude or disrespectful. I am not trying to be. I was in your place (well, except Mike who is the opposite direction) less then a year ago. I am certainly not judging you or looking down on you. I just see things a lot differently now.

Cliff Martin said...

Jason,

The quote marks are optional anyway. Some times they are omitted, and italicized text implies quotes.

On the other hand, your comments were probably not as confusing as you think. Those of us active in the thread recognize a quoted passage.

Jason said...

BTW, (and you all probably figured this out) the third paragraph of my first of four responses was also a quote from Rich.

Cliff Martin said...

Jason,

Your comments are courteous and thoughtful; and very welcome here!

You can experiment with the HTML tags and use the Preview option below the comment entry box. It will show you text just as it will appear in the comment thread.

Rich G. said...

Jason:

I have found that this blog host allows very limited HTML tags. So I simply use italics and manual quotation marks so the quoted texts are visually different from my own responses. And the Bold isn't very.

Mike said...

Jason said, “If such is the case I would be interested in what made you come back to the faith.”

I’ll try to be brief.

I was raised Catholic and basically was typical (for a Catholic) I guess. I believed in God and Jesus and hoped I was good enough to get to heaven. When I was fifteen, I became friends with a guy who said Jesus paid for my sins and, if I accepted him as Lord and Savior, then I was going to heaven. You know the deal here. So anyway, I accepted him.

Jump to my mid twenties. Due to “intelligence” and probably a smattering of not wanted to give up some areas of my life, I became an atheist. And I meant it. I really didn’t believe in God anymore let alone Jesus (as God anyway; I thought he could have been a real historic person).

I’m trying to just hit the highlights here. There is way more to this. Anyway, during those years I was convinced that Christianity was not the way. And I was very vocal to other Christians about it. You can use your imagination how I conducted myself with some of them. Anyway, in my early forties, something came over me like a nudging that was saying, “You may think you know what you’re talking about, but Jesus IS the way, the truth and the life.” I didn’t hear a voice saying this. It was just something gently “pulling” me to believe this. This is all in a 24 hour period. This “feeling” started one afternoon and continued into the night. I went to bed and wondered if I’d feel this way in the morning.

I awoke and I was still feeling this nudging. I recommitted to Jesus right then. This may not sound spectacular or anything but that is what happened to me. Not that it will convince you or anybody. But you asked what happened to me. There is more to my journey since that day but that’s when I came back.

Cliff Martin said...

Thank you for sharing this, Mike.

Jason said...

Not sure how many posts this response will take.

Mike,

Thank you for sharing your experience. Allow me to push a bit and ask for a bit more detail. Before that though I want to make a few comments about your decoversion. I’ll take them out of order. You say

“probably a smattering of not wanted to give up some areas of my life”

Wow! Such a creature exists! Believers assign this to decoverts as a constant rationalization for why we might no longer believe though I have never spoken to anyone who this was actually a major factor. But it appears to be for you and I’ll accept your explanation. I myself did not decovert in my twenties and my behavior has changed little since my years as a believing Christian and I am still more “Christian” than most Christians. The only substantive difference is the lack of purely Christian practices including prayer and evangelism which I used to do in excess.

Due to “intelligence”

I am not sure why you put “intelligence” in quotes, you might need to flesh that out a bit. I don’t consider my previous Christian understanding of the world as dumb nor do I consider myself particularly bright today. I recognized early on in my Christian days there were very intelligent (and dumb) people who were both believers and non-believers as well as many intelligent people in each of the various religions of the world. My brother is more intelligent than me in just about any way it can be measured from standardized tests to understanding the instructions for putting up window blinds. He also has a PhD in mathematics, yet he continues to believe. I don’t think unbelief correlates with intelligence. But I do think it correlates with access to information. I do think for the group who actually evaluate a clear presentation of evidence for the historicity of the Bible, a larger percentage of them become unbelievers then those who don’t. I’m not interested in comparing IQ tests with believers and non-believers, but if they wish to make a claim that evolution did not take place or that the exodus did, then I wish them to present evidence or counter the evidence I might show them.

Jason said...

As for your reconversion, unfortunately I can’t say anything substantive about your own experience of hearing a divine pull. It very well may be true and yet it does me little good. I doubt a divine being would act in such a manner as to the leave the rest of us out in the cold but perhaps that is his MO. However, I must admit after studying some psychology I am not particularly impressed by such a story, it appears quite ordinary for humans to imagine quite a variety of things without any actual physical stimuli. It fuels almost every major religion today whose adherents would very likely give a similar testimony as you, just with a different god, (or perhaps alien or crystal or something other)

But now to press a bit for more detail. You said earlier that I sounded much like you in the past. So, were you also convinced by a looking at the actual text that the Pentateuch is in reality an edited version of several different histories by different authors as evidenced by easily recognized and consistent differences in language, terminology, and themes across the doublets which when separated have a better continuity to the text then as it stands today? Were you convinced that if such events as the exodus or conquest took place, though inconsistently described by the various authors who penned it, that this amazingly large (3 to 6 million) people needed divine intervention to erase any evidence that they existed at all (an army that needed not to run from Egypt since they could easily sack it themselves). Were you convinced that Matthew and Luke do use Mark as a source and diverge on the details of their stories between the two as soon as they have nothing comparable to copy from Mark? Were you convinced that a great many people centuries before Jesus and several after also followed people who they thought were gods, or had no fathers, or had been resurrected? I suppose you could believe some of the things (such as the unhistorical nature of most of the OT) and still believe in Jesus, maybe you need to clarify that. But if you do think the bible is at least mostly historical yet were once like me who was convinced by the evidence then that is what I really want to know, explain to me the process where you began to realize all this evidence is just an illusion. I’m not asking you to actually defend say, the history of the Exodus, I certainly would not type out the evidence for the documentary hypothesis, I would just type out the name of a book. But I would be interested in what materials you read that changed your understanding about these things. No promise I will actually read them but I would like to know that they are out there. Now, if you agreed with me on many of the things I just outlined simply because you were skeptical and someone asserted such but had not actually been convinced by the evidence yourself, well, I must assert that our experiences are very different.

Jason said...

Our minds are tricky things that can experience and image a great deal that doesn’t actually come from a supernatural source. When I read the Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan I had a hard time at first because I didn’t understand that people who claimed alien abduction actually believed it. I thought it was always some kind of a hoax or just crazy people. But no, that in between state sometimes called sleep paralysis is often misinterpreted and in this dream state people fill in the details of whatever legendary creatures they subscribe to, whether they be hindu gods, aliens, or demons: which was my deal. When I was in college I had this condition nearly once a week and I actually believed I was experiencing demons. I was really scared. Sometime in my early twenties, while still a firm believer in demons, I started reading the science about our sleeping patterns and consciousness, including the common occurrence of sleep paralysis and when I realized the details fit my experience exactly it was incredibly freeing. I didn’t have to be afraid anymore, I knew I was just dreaming. This is just an example of course of the unreliability of our experiences, you obviously were very awake for most of your own experience.

We can imagine a great deal but I am much more interested in what can be observed and examined by more then just the individual experiencing it. Fossils, texts, ancient city sites (or lack there of), evidence that can be observed, evaluated, documented and reaffirmed by others. Not to say we won’t be misled by such physical evidence but in general I think it “lies” much less, and can always be reexamined to see if it still holds up to our understanding given a fresh perspective, more minds, or more evidence. One day I might also have an experience such as yours, some sort of divine pull or voice or feeling and it very well might be from an actually existing God named Yahweh. I might believe the experience is real, but whatever I come to believe it will have to also incorporate the facts about the world I know through actual evidence. So if this divine voice claims Jesus is the way but goes further to assert the historicity of the exodus then I will have to press the voice for an explanation for all the contrary evidence. No voice or feeling gets a free pass to make assertions that counter actual physical evidence. It just won’t evaporate and I can no longer ignore it.

Cliff Martin said...

Jason,

Like you, I doubt the accuracy of the Exodus story, particularly the apparent exaggeration of the size of the nation that left Egypt and wandered 40 years in the Negev. Like you, I have been exposed the higher criticism, and do not doubt the validity of some of its findings (however, see below). Like you, I see that Matthew and Luke borrowed from Mark, and that the three synoptic writers diverge significantly in the telling of several stories. (I could expand this list to include every detail of your account.)

Unlike you, acknowledging that the Bible is a human book, and not an error-free magical book, has not led me to abandon belief in a Creator, nor to abandon my view that Jesus is the best candidate in our history as one sent from God to reveal God. I can think of several possible reasons why you would react as you did, while I continue my pursuit of God. But that would be a long discussion.

I will, however, take exception to the apparent high regard in which you hold Wellhausen’s documentary hypothesis. When I studied literary criticism (decades ago!), particularly Wellhausian O.T. textual criticism and the documentary hypothesis, it always seemed overreaching to me. I have little doubt that, using similar tools, one could conclude that the various posts on this blog have multiple authors. My literary style changes over the years, as does my vocabulary, and my mood!

C.S. Lewis (whose training was in literary criticism) has noted that the use of such tools had, in his day, waned in almost all areas except skeptical views of the Bible. He writes,

“There used to be English scholars who were prepared to cut up Henry VI between half a dozen authors and assign his share to each. We don't do that now... Everywhere, except in theology, there has been a vigorous growth of skepticism about skepticism itself.” (from The Seeing Eye)

Why do you suppose this is?

Jason said...

”I will, however, take exception to the apparent high regard in which you hold Wellhausen’s documentary hypothesis.”

When it comes to evolution, I separate out HOW it happened with that it DID happen. That it DID, namely common descent, is extremely well supported. HOW it happened, whether by natural selection, Behe type front loading, or something else may still be up for grabs and argued among scientists. I treat DH somewhat similar in there is a HOW and DID. In this case, the DID it happen would be that it was separate sources (or at least separate authors), the HOW would include exactly which text was from which source, and even more speculative, when was it written, by what sort of people, and even what they hoped to gain. I don't treat any one version, such as Wellhausen's to be necessarily more accurate, but that there are multiple versions, especially the P version, I find quite well evidenced.

”particularly Wellhausian O.T. textual criticism and the documentary hypothesis, it always seemed overreaching to me. ”

I find some of the conclusions overreaching as well.

”I have little doubt that, using similar tools, one could conclude that the various posts on this blog have multiple authors. My literary style changes over the years, as does my vocabulary, and my mood! ”

They wouldn't and I think you might misunderstand what the evidence is then. It isn't simply that different portions have different terminology or style, or names for God or contradictions, it is the pattern we find all these in. It is that the different terminology for each running story coincides consistency with the other markers. I'll return to this in a moment.

Jason said...

”C.S. Lewis (whose training was in literary criticism) has noted that the use of such tools had, in his day, waned in almost all areas except skeptical views of the Bible. He writes,

“There used to be English scholars who were prepared to cut up Henry VI between half a dozen authors and assign his share to each. We don't do that now... Everywhere, except in theology, there has been a vigorous growth of skepticism about skepticism itself.” (from The Seeing Eye)


I'm underwelmed by C.S. Lewis comment, trained in literary criticism or not. For of all, its not true, there are plenty of other documents that are recognized as compilations, including the Epic of Gilgamesh. Second of all, the old, “no one believes that anymore” is as good as “'evolution is a theory in crisis” type spin. If Lewis had another explanation for the evidence than I would like to hear it, because I found it that evidence convincing. The most accessible introduction I found was “The bible with Sources Revealed” by Richard Friedman. His earlier book, “Who wrote the Bible” is the actual introduction but he spends more time outlining who he thinks the authors were (or at least where and when they lived) which I would file under the HOW it happened and find very speculative. To really be convinced though you need to slog through the actual Pentateuch and decide if any of it actually lines up. Friedman begins with about 24 pages outlining what the evidence is. His last point is that all the evidence converges on the same answer. I am going to quote one portion though if you're really interested you should read the whole intro and then the Pentateuch. I hope I don't get in trouble for this. This comes from page 27 and 28.

”“Above all, the strongest evidence establishing the Documentary Hypothesis is that several different lines of evidence converge. There are more than thirty cases of doublets: stories or laws that are repeated in the Torah, sometimes identically, more often with some differences of detail. The existence of so many overlapping texts is noteworthy itself. But their mere existence is not the strongest argument. One could respond, after all, that this is just a matter of style or narrative strategy. Similarly, there are hundreds of apparent contradictions in the text, but one could respond that we can take them one by one and find some explanation for each contradiction. And similarly there is the matter of the texts that consistently call the deity God while other texts consistently call God by the name YHWH, to which one could respond that this is simply like calling someone sometimes by his name and sometimes by his title. The powerful argument is not any one of these matters. It is that all these matters converge. When we separate the doublets this also results in the resolution of nearly all the contradictions. And when we separate the doublets, the name of God divides consistently in all but three out of more then two thousand occurrences. And when we separate the doublets, the terminology of each source remains consistent within that source. (I listed twenty-four examples of such terms, which are consistent through nearly four hundred occurrences, above, in the Terminology section.) And when we separate the sources, this produces continuous narratives that flow with only a rare break. And when we separate the sources this fits with the linguistic evidence, where the Hebrew of each source fits consistently with what we know of the Hebrew in each period. And so on for each of the six categories that precede this section. The name of God and the doublets were the starting-points of the investigation into the formation of the Bible. But they were not, and are not, major arguments or evidence in themselves. The most compelling argument for the hypothesis is that this hypothesis best accounts for the fat that all this evidence of so many kinds comes together so consistently To this day, no one known to me who challenged the hypothesis has ever addressed this fact.”

Cliff Martin said...

Jason,

I don't think Lewis meant to deny a variety of distinct sources in the Pentateuch, and neither would I. His overall point was that the substance of the text (despite multiple contradictions in the minutia) maintains an essential unity throughout, and that should be our focus, not the various hypothetical dissections. From the time I was first exposed to Wellhausen, I have assumed that the Pentateuch was likely compiled from a variety of source material ... but it could well have been, e.g., simply different scribes who shadowed Moses, and co-authored the text with him.

The evidence you cite is indeed compelling; I do not deny that. I have always considered it likely. But the dating of the various sources is far less evidentially based. It involves considerable conjecture.

But bottom line ... it just doesn't matter to me (nor to Lewis) much. Even if Wellhausen's dating (early to mid first millennium B.C.) is spot on, it would not pose a significant challenge to my faith.

I'm still wondering why this was so critical to you, and powerful enough to compel you to abandon faith?

Jason said...

Oh, why can't I just write a short response. What do I always end up with more then two pages. Perhaps secretly I am trying to break this blog record for longest comment section. Have I succeeded? Alright let's begin.

”The evidence you cite is indeed compelling; I do not deny that. I have always considered it likely. But the dating of the various sources is far less evidentially based. It involves considerable conjecture.”

I agree with you that there is a lot of conjecture behind the dating and authorship and there continues to be a lot of debate about it to this very day. I do think the evidence is strong enough though to suggest most of it was written long after the events it supposedly narrates. But that doesn't matter, as you said. I don't care who wrote it or when, I don't know who wrote Chronicles or Kings or when they wrote it and yet I used to take it as the divine word of God just as much as Exodus.

I'm still wondering why this was so critical to you, and powerful enough to compel you to abandon faith?

Simply accepting multiple documents and late date authorship did not make me abandon my faith. Even before I began to have serious doubts about Christianity, I found it very unlikely Moses actually wrote those books and yet it didn't matter to me at all. Nor did it matter to me that Luke and Matthew copied Mark, I knew that since college. I didn't care, Luke even says he had sources.

Its the details that some of these insights draw out. But before I list a few, I want to emphasize that even after be challenged by the following, I still kept my faith in Jesus. Even when I thought most of the OT was non-historical, even then I still believed and called on the name of the Lord, though my confidence was eroding. It's impossible to give an exact time line of my decoversion since there was no hard starting point or ending point. I had doubts like everyone else my whole life then waxed and wanned though the years. But to put an artificial boundary on some major turning points in that journey I'll say this. I accepted common descent was a reality in December of 2006, and probably by the summer of 2009 I was pretty much a non-believer, though I still attended church for probably three or so more months. It took about three and a half years and no one thing was the lynchpin, no one moment or fact or argument that instantly drove me from faith. Over that time I just became increasingly weary about the truthfulness of especially the historic nature of my faith, and began slowly to realize my religion was very much like all the others, just with more market share in Western Civilization today.

But it is true that the realization of multiple sources was a dominant factor in that journey, revealing the all to human history behind the text and raising many questions about it validity. If my memory serves me correctly, this would have been about April of 2008. I'll name a few direct threats to my beliefs at the time but also wish to mention that it also just led to more searching, more questioning, more confidence to really ask hard questions of later books in the bible, all of which ultimately led to the unraveling of the whole picture. Here are just a couple of problems I saw.

Jason said...

Many of the stories appear clearly to be a compilation of two of the sources and when you unravel them you see that the various authors told conflicting details. Are these major conflicts? Hm, some are, some aren't. But they were clearly mutual exclusive and couldn't both be true. Keep in mind that at the time I was first reading it I didn't accept that there were any historical errors in the Bible so this caused quite a stir. Some of the conflicting details though raised some serious questions. At the parting of the Red Sea with have both J and P material. What happens there is quite different. In J God blows a strong wind and the water simply subsides. In P the water parts as two standing walls, the more familiar imagery. How or why the Egyptians find themselves in the river is different in the two versions, and then we read about God closing up the walls and we read about him reversing the wind to bring the water back, completing both stories. There both there, its very strange not to have noticed though I will assert that when I was kid I never understood the addition of the comments about God causing these winds. The reason it is hard to see is because English translators do there best to smooth it over and make it more cohesive as a single event. You need a translator who is consistent with a one to one translation of certain terminology to expose the different authors. I don't have any material in front of me so the details are foggy. I know that the J source is somewhat cut up with single stranded sentences inside P paragraphs, perhaps others won't be convinced we could know with such accuracy which sentence belongs to which. I certainly wouldn't have been convinced starting with this event alone, I had to have been already convinced through much clearer examples that we had a compilation to begin with to then see it happening in events such as the Red Sea.

So here's the deal, those two stories are different, and one of them did not take place. It doesn't mean that neither took place, but when you combine this new factoid with all the other reasons to doubt this story, it just adds that much more to the picture. But in this case we're not dealing with a conflicting detail such as who was Joseph sold to. We're talking about a major supernatural event. And if I start to doubt the supernatural events of the Old Testament, what exactly do I have that is distinguishable from simple story and myth.

Jason said...

Mount Sinai (or Horab, depends on the source) has three separate accounts woven together, and when we unwind them it explains I lot of the strange detail in this events, such as who actually sees God, or hears him, or how Moses interacts with him. I probably don't need explain why doubting the validity of this events produces major doubts in me.

But here was the real clincher. Here was the real reason I sat in church the next day and begged God to make himself known to me again. It was the polemics. The oftentimes embarrassingly straight forward and explicit polemics of the P source. And at this point it was to late to let my defense mechanism set in and doubt the whole validity of the documentary hypothesis because the P source was the source that was so clearly identifiable as a separate version. Its language, vocabulary, rules, themes and addition of Aaron (always Moses and Aaron instead of just Moses) is very consistent and found only inside P. P polemics. They had one thing they wanted and they we're going to write a history where it came off the lips of Yahweh himself and quite often. Only descendents of Aaron can be priests, and for just about anything you did, from sin, to eating meat, to just about any ceremony, you best be bringing them your donations and offerings. The rebellion of Korah (oh, and Dathan and Abiram) ends with such an explicit statement. This odd story, that appears to have two introductions, two different protestors challenging Moses authority and most telling for two completely different reasons, two different locations the challenge and test take place, and two different ways that people die, makes perfect sense once you separate out P from J and see what we have are two totally different rebellions interwoven together. Why? Why would someone do that? This is the major criticism against such a notion and I have to admit it would give me a great deal of pause if that fact that someone did weren't so patently obvious. (once again, having a foundation that the whole thing is a compilation firmly established already). P's version (which is the rebellion of Korah, where Korah and is followers claim they are just as holy and should have just as much access to Yahwah as Aaron, and then have a test where they burn incense but themselves get burned by Holy Fire). It concludes with this:

Numbers 16:39-40 And Eleazar the priest took the brazen censers, which they that were burnt had offered; and they beat them out for a covering of the altar, .  to be a memorial unto the children of Israel, to the end that no stranger, that is not of the seed of Aaron, come near to burn incense before Yahweh; that he be not as Korah, and as his company: as Yahweh spake unto him by Moses.

Jason said...

This isn't the first time or the last time P will be specific about who can do what at the temple and he is very consistent, only priests from the faimily of Aaron, not other Levites. Other sources, including Deuteronomy tell a different tale, where all levites are considered priests. Later books of the Bible will have mention of other priests who are levites, something conservative scholars usually admit but simply pass it off as Isreal being rebellious. P is clear that only Priests are allowed to sacrifice, and only at the temple in Jerusalem. P never has any one else make sacrifices in his version, and there is exactly no sacrifice mentioned at all until the tent of the meeting is created and these commandments are explicitly given to Aaron and his seed. But J has whole sorts of people making sacrifices including Abel, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Samuel, etc. And D not only considers all Levites Priests (D always refers to the “Levite Priests “while P always explicitly separates out the group by referring to the “Priests and the Levites”) but D allows for sacrificing at many different locations, which is outlined in later books which for a vast number of other different reasons is believed to have been edited together by the very guy who wrote Deuteronomy.

Aaaahhh, I told myself I wasn't going to type this all out. And here I am. I won't go further, there is no way you would be convinced by reading my scattered thoughts and if you're really interested, you should read “Who Wrote the Bible” and decide for yourself. It wasn't my point to convince you, but only to answer your question as to why it would make me abandon my faith. And in this case it was to explain that I saw that the P source had a very polemic agenda that was all to clearly and transparently human.

Still, I didn't lose my faith entirely. I just filed this away and plugged ahead. I never really was comfortable with it or found a good rationalization, but it wasn't enough to over throw my faith in Jesus. I finally accepted the polemics after deciding the Bible had errors and was often clearly the work of humans, but could still accept it was God's means of communicating to us; I read Enns and Sparks and tried to rebuild my confidence. But more was coming, specifically a much closer look at the New Testament itself. There wasn't one thing that made me abandon my faith, it was all the things added together. It took a great deal because I had believed for so long, my whole life really. Now, from this side, I see it all as clearly the product of men. If now believe if I had started from a non-belief, having grown up in a secular family, and then knowing what I know now, I would never understand why anyone every believed it. But oh did I ever.

Rich G. said...

Jason:

It looks like you are trying to win ground that was already conceded. I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess you were active in what would be called a fundamentalist-evangelical church, rather than Catholic, Anglican or Lutheran tradition. I've found the former to hold a much more rigid (hence brittle) view of the inspiration of scripture, while the latter are more accepting of the human element, and don't need all that much supernatural intervention to keep their faith alive.

Rich G.

Jason said...

Rich,

I wasn't trying to win ground per say, only answer Cliff's question about why source theory helped lead to my decoversion.

With the likely unnecessary qualification that any description of my long religious experience will be an oversimplification, you are broadly correct that I spent most of my time in the conservative wing of the evangelical tradition. I agree with you that if I had originally come from an Anglican or more liberal Lutheran branch that I would have been more predisposed to absorb my new understanding of the OT without as much doubt. I might have been less motivated to continue on and explore other portions of the bible or faith. Maybe so, maybe not. As I was becoming increasingly more liberal, I considered whether I just might end up in a different tradition. I knew long ago that the more mainline seminaries taught things such as JEPD for quite some time, even my christian college did, though I had little contact with the bible department. If I had remained in Christianity, it would have had to be within a community that saw the bible at lot different then I did in my youth. After my family stopped attending our conservative bible church, I visited a Methodist church just to give it at least one shot, but by that time I had pretty much lost confidence in the entire christian story.

Cliff Martin said...

Jason,

I read all your posts (thank you, btw!) and was preparing a comment/response in my mind when I read Rich's response, which says exactly what I was thinking, but better, and more succinctly.

Whether Mr. Wellhausen was 100%, 50% (which I think most likely) or 0% correct matters little to my faith; but then I suppose I've never held the Bible in the extremely high regard many fundamentalists do. If one has a belief approaching Bibliolatry, the revelations of textual criticism will no doubt be destructively jarring to faith.

Rich's use of "brittle" is so apropos.

Tom said...

Jason,

It sounds like you have a very positive perspective on your apostasy. You demonstrate that it is not really the easy way out. You don't sound too angry or confused by the ordeal, nor demeaning with any critiques. I think that's all fruitful. That's the type of perspective I have tried to maintain, too.

I, too, came from a conservative fundamentalist religion, raised in Seventh-day Adventism, and attended Adventist schools through college. It was when I started traveling, and especially when I read a book on evolution that things began to crumble for me. I then ventured, like you, into some of the literary criticism and Biblical historicity. It's quite helpful to understand the context of the scriptures to try and paint a picture of how religions manifest themselves. You put biology and the cultural/literary contexts together, and if you are like me, you see an absent deity and a list of human interests and foibles. Cliff and Rich would chalk this up to having been raised in a fundamentalist religion, but I don't think so. Sure God is multidimensional, but the theology surrounding him is a square peg for this round hole of the material world.

Cliff Martin said...

Tom,

First, let me state my agreement with you in your assessment of Jason's apostasy (as well as your own). You both lack the anger and stridency that often accompanies the choice to step out of faith. You are approachable, and easy to converse with. I hope that the same can be said of me.

"Cliff and Rich would chalk this up to having been raised in a fundamentalist religion, but I don't think so."

... and you may be correct: we are probably guilty of over-simplification, at least. But it is curious that Rich and I (who are informed about biology and literary criticism and historicity issues) have a faith (and a moderate to conservative theology in many respects) that is not threatened by these matters; and yet for the two of you, these same issues demolished your faith. I'm not trying to blame fundamentalism. I am trying to understand why, when confronted with the same data, you apostatized (out of seeming necessity), and I did not.

I do know this: as a general rule, fundamentalism does force false dilemmas upon young people trained in Biblical literalism and inerrancy who encounter the sort of data Jason has outlined here. And those false dilemmas are often disastrous to faith.

Mike said...

Concerning where I said that one of the reasons for my deconversion was probably a smattering of not wanting to give up some areas of my life, Jason said, “But it appears to be (true) for you and I’ll accept your explanation.” Yes, please do. I would think there would be some other people too for whom this is true. So I would say such a creature exists. That wasn’t the only reason I deconverted or the biggest reason. In fact I didn’t even really think about this until I looked back. Which brings me to another of my reasons for deconverting:

“intelligence”

To me the whole Christian thing didn’t make sense. You made some good points about why there were plenty of reasons why Christianity was really no different than many other beliefs. So I know what you mean. The reason I put it in quotes was because sometimes we think we know more than we do. I believe that will be true for all of us for all of our lives.

Mike said...

Jason, said, “As for your reconversion, unfortunately I can’t say anything substantive about your own experience of hearing a divine pull. It very well may be true and yet it does me little good…”

Yes, all of what you said is true. Believe me, I know that. I didn’t write what I wrote to try to convince you of anything. I wrote it because you asked my why I reconverted. For all I know, what happened to me was all in my mind and imagination. I realize that. After this life perhaps God will say something like, “Hey, you know that experience was your imagination; I didn’t pull you or urge you in any kind of supernatural way. But you still came back to me and that’s cool.” For me, the experience changed my life and I started living my life like I believed there was this God and Jesus and I stepped out in faith and made a lot of changes and continue to do so. And I don’t regret it.

Mike said...

Jason said, “But now to press a bit for more detail. You said earlier that I sounded much like you in the past. So, were you also convinced by…”

No, I can’t say all of those things. I didn’t know all of that about you. I just meant you reminded me of me by the way you (fervently it seemed) didn’t believe in God, Jesus, or Christianity any more as you once did. That’s all.

Tanner Lovelace said...

Cliff, thanks so much for your post. I've been searching for what I believe for a while now and your post pretty much nails it for me. Like Tom, I too was raised Seventh-day Adventist (3rd generation) and went to Adventist schools through college. (I'd actually be interested in knowing where Tom went since I wonder if we overlapped any.) My big question recently has been evolution vs creation. I think the evidence for evolution is just way too overwhelming. In addition, I don't believe God would give me the intelligence I have and then not have me use it! So, I must believe that evolution is correct. For a Seventh-day Adventist, that's a huge leap. However, unlike Tom, I cannot make the leap to unbelief because like you I believe my belief is a choice. So, given it is a choice, I find your natural theology very appealing. So, once again, thanks so much for posting it.

(And, Tom, if you're still following the discussion, my apologies for using you as a comparison in my comment. No disrespect is intended! Your choice is absolutely your own and it is not my place to second guess you.)

Tom said...

Hi Tanner.

I'm following this thread in that I get emails from this post when somebody posts to it....

I went to Mile High Academy in Denver, graduated in 1985, then attended Pacific Union College through 1989.

I will say in my spiritual journey, I sincerely wanted to believe and evolution really was the nail in the coffin. That was 15 years ago, and aside from a few books and a close friend who I could freely discuss these issues with, I really felt alone in these pursuits. Since then, the internet has burgeoned and there are several blogs for ex-adventists such as wishingdoesntmakeitso.blogspot.com and ginandtonic4thesoul.blogspot.com. Cliff's blogroll has several useful resources for evolutionary creationists. Point is, you are not alone and there are people in whichever direction you go.

While I entered atheism ~15 years ago, dealing with the vacuum left by theistic belief is something that I still deal with. Part of the discussion here (and the impetus for most bloggers) is that discussions aid the growth process, either toward or away from theistic belief for each participant.

The thing that I've recently learned is that evolution is not directly a problem for theistic belief. That is, whether the world is young or old, whether Adam and Eve were literal, etc., is not core theology. What is core Christian theology is that we have sinned and that Christ died to atone for those sins and offer eternal life. Now, what evolution helps facilitate is a demand for answers to basic theological questions: 1) What is sin? In the context of other animals' existence and behavior, how are our behavior and mental capabilities different to require supernatural assistance to rescue us from oblivion while simultaneously enabling our spirit to live eternally? 2) In the cosmic battle with evil, why the sacrificial system? Why the proliferation of sacrificial sheep and goats to culminate in the death of God-made-man? 3) What about justice for those that did not choose Jesus for redemption? 4) How does life exist outside of its material frame? Along the way toward answering these questions, its easy to ask about theodicy, the meaning of life, the mind-body problem, etc.

I choose atheism because of my inability to construct a theology that makes sense -- that is logical to the way the world seems to operate, fair for all, and desirable. This is an endless debate, but it is worth discussion.

If you click on my profile, you can navigate to my long-dead blog where Cliff and I met. I recommend the original postings, which may echo some of your ideas/experiences. I hope to get a new blog going someday....

Cliff Martin said...

Tanner,

Thank you for stopping by. Let’s stay in touch. Like you, I seek to own a faith that is reality-based, genuine, and rational. Navigating the world of ideas and all the hard data available to us today can be challenging, if not perilous to faith. But I firmly believe that truth is truth, wherever we find it, whether in the laboratory or from sources of divine revelation. Most, if not all, of the evolutionary creationists I know started out believing in the same young earth creationism you were taught in SDA churches. We have worked through most of the apparent theological conundrums, and strive to maintain Christian faith; however, what constitutes “Christian faith” becomes a little more fluid than many believers will find comfortable. This process has led me to develop a more natural approach to theology from ground up.

I consider Tom a good friend. Whether we will ever end up on the same side of the theistic question is more than I can tell. But I have found him to be helpful in identifying inconsistencies in my thinking, a service for which I am thankful. I know many SDA people, and former SDA people. I recently met one young lady who is evolutionary and still in the SDA church ... so you are not alone!

Cliff Martin said...

Tom,

I like your four questions. I understand your “inability to construct a theology that makes sense -- that is logical to the way the world seems to operate, fair for all, and desirable.” If I shared the theological assumptions implicit in your questions, I too would be at a loss to construct a meaningful and reasonable theology and faith.

Evolutionary science has adjusted my thinking about sin (and probably will continue to so). I am less obsessed with how sin affects the “next life” and more concerned with how it effects this one. I personally find that it is real, and that my on-going relationship with God is of great value to me, in this respect, here and now! I am more inclined to think the entire sacrificial system was of human origin, and that the death of Christ is full of powerful significance and many possible meanings, none of which are related to the O.T. sacrificial system. I am fully prepared to be totally surprised by eternal justice outcomes, being certain only of this: it will be totally fair, and entirely satisfying. Even though I’ve give it a lot of thought since the passing of my lover and best friend, I’m less troubled by questions of how life might exist outside of its material frame than I am inquisitive about how life exists at all! or for that matter, how it is that anything exists! And problems of evil, suffering, and meaning are not problems only for theists. Any well-ordered world-view must grapple with these questions ... and I find the theistic answers decidedly more satisfying.

Rich G. said...

Tom:

I'd like to take a [tentative] stab at possible answers to your four questions.

"1) What is sin? In the context of other animals' existence and behavior, how are our behavior and mental capabilities different to require supernatural assistance to rescue us from oblivion while simultaneously enabling our spirit to live eternally? "

I borrow rather heavily from Charles Finney for this one, as he develops it in his Systematic Theology. To paraphrase, "sin" is a deliberate, intellectual choice to treat the other human being (as well as creation itself) as something less, strictly for personal benefit, without regard for the consequences. As far as we can tell, only mankind has the capacity to make these kind of reasoned, moral choices.

"2) In the cosmic battle with evil, why the sacrificial system? Why the proliferation of sacrificial sheep and goats to culminate in the death of God-made-man? "

I share Cliff's view of the sacrificial system being man-made. And I see hints that this is so all the way back in Genesis 4. The common evangelical explanation of Cain & Abel is that Cain's sacrifice was unacceptable because it wasn't a blood offering. But the Hebrew term for his offering (minchah) is the same one used for acceptable offerings described in Leviticus. And according to the story, God doesn't call him on his offering, but his attitude. I think the writer of Hebrews also saw this when he wrote "It is impossible for the blood of sheep and goats to take away sin". It seems to me that the whole OT sacrificial system was designed to wean [albeit, in stages] the ancient peoples off of depending on sacrifices for their piety.

"3) What about justice for those that did not choose Jesus for redemption? "

I go to Romans 2:12-16 for this one. Apparently, those who do by their good-hearted nature what God really wants, even if they don't know it, will be judged acceptably, while those who should have known better (even "believers") may not fare so well. But it is not given to any of us to make that final pronouncement on a person. All we can do is go on and live the best we know how - not simply "avoiding sin", but actually contributing to the betterment of those around us.

"4) How does life exist outside of its material frame?"

Good question. If "life" is strictly a process within this material system, there would have to be a different definition for other dimensional realities. I'm not sure we really know what constitutes "life" anyway.

Tom said...

Hi Rich.

Thanks for attempting to answer my questions. I wasn't really expecting them to be answered or explored here, and they should be the subjects of other posts. That being said,

I borrow rather heavily from Charles Finney for this one, as he develops it in his Systematic Theology. To paraphrase, "sin" is a deliberate, intellectual choice to treat the other human being (as well as creation itself) as something less, strictly for personal benefit, without regard for the consequences. As far as we can tell, only mankind has the capacity to make these kind of reasoned, moral choices.

Sounds like normal evolution and the bulk of animal behavior to me. Does sin require reasoning? Are you equating or correlating morality with sin?

Anyway, regardless, as a cornerstone of Christian theology, doesn't it strike you as peculiar that sin is so ill defined? Anyway, let's save it for another thread.

Like a Child said...

Cliff- Loved this post...I think right now, I'm choosing to live the Christian life more so than believing which is the hard part for me. I started to read through the comments but I just wont have time, as much as I'd like to.

Your very last statement questioning why anyone would choose not to is a powerful one...and one that makes me hate my exposure to Calvinism because it makes me feel that God is unreal, b/c a God that would choose to completely cloud up people's mind seems insane.

You know, the one thing I've learned is that there really isn't that much that separates me from an agnostic or an atheist (and I'm not really sure where I lie on this spectrum most of the time anyways). I don't know the answer to your question, but my first approach to someone that chooses not to is to display LOVE. It is the essence of Christianity. Lets model love. I have immense compassion for the plight of atheists nowadays. They get so much condemnation. Maybe we are just increasing the divide by displaying so much hate (even if they hate us, we aren't supposed to reciprocate hate).

Like a Child said...

I wanted to clarify that I couldn't read all the 90 comments on this post. I will be reading more of your posts in the coming weeks!

Cliff Martin said...

Welcome, Like a Child. I appreciated reading your blog cover to cover. I hope you find value in reading here (though I would never expect you to read this entire blog!).

For my other readers, Like a Child, a scientist-turned-stay-at-home-mom writes honestly and candidly of her own faith journey, and her struggle with doubt. I recommend her blog to you.

Mike said...

Like a Child said, “…display LOVE. It is the essence of Christianity. Lets model love.”

I couldn’t agree more. This may sound cheesy or corny or whatever but if everyone (Christian, Atheist, whoever) displayed more love the world would be a better place.

Like a Child said...

I just "re-discovered" this post and realized I had already posted a comment. I really do need to give myself a break! Anyways, this sentence called out to me "The agnostic chooses to live his life as if there is no God, or as if there is." You are so correct there! You really should write a book someday. Your prose is so much more readable then most of these apologetic books I've been reading.

Peter said...

Yes! 'Like a Child' just sent me your link! This is very much in line with some of my own wanderings. Especially this - "I am a believer in God, first and foremost, because I choose to be." Thanks for sharing...
Peter

Cliff Martin said...

Peter,

Nice to encounter someone who thinks so much like I do! Thanks for dropping by. I enjoyed perusing your blog; you are a prolific writer!

It's nice that you are so close. Are you originally from Oregon? Maybe we could meet for coffee sometime.