Oh, Just Perfect

I had a very interesting (read: frustrating) exchange with a theist this evening.  To say he was intellectually dishonest would be a gross understatement.

The theist in question made this basic claim:

God created humans perfect and gave them ability to follow laws.  Humans were without flaw till they sinned.

My answer to him was that his statement was self-contradictory and therefore nonsense.  My guess is I don’t actually need to explain this to most of my non-believing visitors.  But for any Christians who might read it, let’s talk it through anyhow.  I’ll include some further exchanges with said theist, because it got rather nonsensical from there.

As this theist is specifically a fundamentalist, literalist, creationist (Young Earther, I’d bet, but I don’t know that for a fact) Christian, it’s clear that he is referring to the creation of Adam & Eve in a literal Eden.

So, per the biblical account, Adam & Eve are created – perfect and flawless, Elohim’s ideal, in-his-image beings.

Perfect.  Flawless.

Then Satan comes in, the Tempter, the Adversary, and tempts Eve into disobeying god.  *Crunch*  The apple (pomegranate?) is eaten and man falls, becoming mortals bound for death.  God’s angry, then there are fig leaves, angel, flaming sword, and so on.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

According to Christian theology, Adam and Eve were perfect until they sinned.

Perfect.

So I asked the question:  How does a perfect being sin?

If Adam and Eve were perfect beings, with the ability to obey laws (a clarification specific to this conversation with this theist) then how can they, being perfect, make a decision that is imperfect?  If they are perfect, then their ability to reason, consider, and decide will be perfect, and being perfect, they will not make an imperfect choice.  Their reasoning, and therefore their choice, will be flawless.

Well, they had the freedom to choose, and they made the wrong choice.

How can they make a wrong choice?  They’re perfect, therefore every choice they make must be perfect.

No, then they would be robots without a brain.

Which was, of course, his way of asserting the “free will” portion of the theology.

Keep in mind that this singular event is central to all of Christian theology.  Without this “fall,” the entirety of Christian theology will be void.  This fall is what makes human beings “dead in their sin.”  It’s why, according to fundamentalist evangelical theology, humans are born disconnected from god, and can only restore this union with god by being “born again.”

But rather than get into an entire separate conversation on free will, I’d rather stick with the current topic.  So I asked:  Does that mean God is a robot without a brain?

The primary disconnect is that somehow the application of freedom to choose will somehow override a being’s innate perfection.  Either way one looks at it, that’s ridiculous.  On the one hand, perfection will result in perfect outcomes, even in the face of temptation.  If a perfect being is faced with the devil/snake insisting that god told them something that wasn’t true (you will surely die) that perfect being will make a perfect evaluation of the claim against what he knows about god, and come to a perfect conclusion (not to sin, and therefore, not to eat the apple.)  All freely chosen, of course.

In the same vein, let’s look at the other perfect being in the equation, God.  If it is possible for a perfect being to make an imperfect decision, for the purpose of preserving free will, what assurance does anyone have that god, despite all his supposed perfection, won’t eventually make an imperfect decision?  After all, if the hallmark of free will is the ability to make wrong choices despite personal perfection, then god himself would not be immune to this potential outcome, being himself free willed and perfect.

The bottom line is: you can’t have it both ways.  Either Adam & Eve were perfect, in which case the entire story of the fall of man falls apart, since perfect beings beget perfect choices, or Adam & Eve were not perfect, in which case they were created flawed, and therefore not at fault for making the imperfect choice they were designed to make.

Regardless of which way you view it, the story cannot pass logical muster on any level, and therefore deserves to be rejected out of hand.

Doing the Lord’s Work

If I haven’t made it clear elsewhere, let me do so now.  I don’t blog just because I’ve nothing better to do.  Even though I don’t post that often, I do so because I believe that religion is, on the whole, harmful to human society – a drag on the evolution of humanity away from the selfishness, immaturity, chaos, and violence of the past.

I like to think that we are on the cusp of a breakthrough, of an advance over the next two or three generations that will catapult humanity into the next age of reality – one of Reason and Rational Understanding.  The next age will be one where humanity can deal with their problems and conflicts at face value, without the added filter of unseen, out of date, irrational spiritual fervor to obscure a reasonable view of any situation.

I despair that I won’t be there to see us grow past the need, but I hope to at least see the beginning of the end, so to speak.

As is often the case, the movement to growth, change, and betterment will be very much in the hands of our youth.  Breaking free from religious indoctrination in record numbers, they are finding their way to reason and are sharing their freedom with others.

Often these young people find themselves struggling with families that don’t understand them, wanting to be truthful about what they think and believe, but coerced and threatened into silence and a sort of self-denial.  They just want to be honest, but their honesty threatens the comfortable cocoon religion offers to their families and friends, and the reaction is often severe.

One young man who is standing in the gap for these young people is David G. McAfee.  David has written two books: Disproving Christianity (and Other Writings) and, more importantly to my mind: Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist.  The latter is a detailed guide for young people to help them communicate their thoughts and beliefs to parents and others who might not understand and who might openly oppose their honesty and commitment to reasonable thinking and non-religious living.

David has a policy of sending out free copies of his books in .pdf format to young people who can’t afford to buy them but really need some support.  I’ve bought both, plus paid him for a small number of additional copies to support this policy.  I encourage any reader committed to Reason to at the very least follow him on Facebook and his blog, learn a little about his background and motivations, and encourage him as he provides young people the support they need to end the dominance of religious thinking in our world.

Presuppositionalism: The Cancer of Apologetics – Part I – General Epistemology

If, like me, you spend any time at all viewing religious debate on various YouTube channels, either as an atheist seeking to broaden one’s knowledge of apologetic arguments, or as a Christian either seeking to better counter the arguments of atheists or explore one’s own doubts, you have certainly run across the en vogue apologetic tactic, as I prefer to call it, of PRESUPPOSITIONALISM, otherwise known as the Transcendental Argument.

Though not originating with him, its primary modern proponent is Sye Ten Bruggencate (hereafter STB), who is so bold as to call his website Proof That God Exists.  Go ahead and play around with the site for a moment.  When you tire of pigeonholing and artificial manipulation of arguments, come on back here and we’ll discuss in depth this apologetic argument and its proponents’ methodologies.

To be perfectly straight with you, attempting to carry on a reasonable dialogue with a presuppositionalist is usually fruitless.  However, it’s far from pointless as it serves to expose the tactics and fallacies employed by the presuppositionalist to derail dialogue and deflect criticism of their position.  From this the reasonable observer can then evaluate the content of the conversation outside the emotional environment created by such dialogues and debates, and thereby decide for themselves the validity of those arguments.  In the same vein, a live debate with a presuppositionalist should be seen as a means to and end and not an end in and of itself.  Their typical debating style is not one of rational exchange but rather combative and desultory outburst, and the proponent of reason must be diligent to retain their own dialogue thread in the face of these tactics so that the rhetoric can be later combed through for actual premises and arguments that can then be evaluated.

My approach to this criticism of presuppositionalism will be as follows:

  1. General Epistemology
  2. Tenets of Presuppositionalism
  3. Evaluation of Presuppositional Tenets
  4. Rhetorical Tactics of Presuppositional Proponents
  5. Advice for Future Dialogue

PART I – General Epistemology

Now everyone relax.  I’m not going to provide the final answer to how we know anything at all.  However, in order to have a productive conversation with presuppositionalists regarding the existence of any god, veracity of any religious text, and so on, we have to have an agreeable epistemology we work from.  The main reason for that is that a favorite tactic among presups (as I’ll call them from now on, as I’m sick to death of typing that overlong word) is to attack their opponent’s epistemology without agreeing to apply a reasonable standard to their own arguments.  If I’m fortunate enough to have some presups read and attempt to critique this series, all argument starts here.  It also ends here if they are unwilling to agree to a common sense standard of knowledge that applies equally to both parties.

Addressing this issue in this manner, the written word, also subverts a common tactic of presups, which is to use the setting of definitions as the first ground of argument, before the actual topic (i.e.: Does God Exist? Is the Bible a Trustworthy Source of Truth? or whatever theological/philosophical topic has been chosen as the point of discussion) is ever addressed.  I’ve seen entire two hour conversations break down into epistemological sniping matches instigated by a presupper who started the argument before any such rules of dialogue were in place, and who followed that by subverting every attempt by their opponent to address the topic at hand  with an attack on their epistemology.

This explanation of mine will be very much a nutshell type of starting point – not being the actual topic at hand.  We know volumes upon volumes have been written on this topic alone.  While I look forward to any discussion, I refuse to get bogged down by the unreasonable in their defense of the indefensible.

So - how do we know what we know?

For the sake of discussing the Transcendental Argument as it relates to Christianity, from the basic question of the existence of any god to the very specific belief in fundamentalist Christianity, I would like to propose a “common sense” approach to the acquisition of knowledge, with the following rules of engagement:

  1. Each individual is limited in the acquisition of knowledge to that which he/she can acquire by the use of his/her senses or perception as they relate to him/her and the observable universe around him/her.
  2. Knowledge claimed by one proponent can only be judged valid if both the premises and the conclusions are such that any reasonable person can duplicate the conditions of the argument and is unable to reach any conclusion save the conclusion claimed by the proponent.
  3. That any claim regarding knowledge acquired or granted will be measured by the following basic laws of thought:
    1. The Law of Identity
    2. The Law of the Excluded Middle
    3. The Law of Non-Contradiction.
  4. That the Law of the Uniformity of Nature is a valid test of any argument.

Here is usually where one gets bogged down with presuppers, as their primary tactic is to avoid having their truth claims (which we’ll examine later) tested by rational inquiry by asserting an extreme form of solipsism on their opponent (brain in a vat.)  If you listen to a debate online and don’t catch this right away, just listen for the presupper to repeat the phrase, “How do you know that to be true?”

But even that fails to the previous very reasonable ground rules.  For instance, if we’re to examine the aforementioned and overused STB assertion, “You could just be a brain in a vat,” it still fails to the basic concepts of perception.  Because regardless of what could be, we only have our basic natural senses of perception to work from, so that such conceptual speculations are rendered irrelevant.  None of us have the faculty to examine extreme possibilities that would require knowledge beyond that which we are commonly able to perceive.  After all, if I’m really just a “brain in a vat,” whatever input my brain receives within that vat operates under consistent rules by which all interactions operate, so we can conduct arguments based on such rules of engagement without devolving into meaningless mental flagellation, which in any case is engaged in by presuppers as a deflection and not a means to determining the best possible conclusions for the argument at hand.

If we were to ignore such basic ground rules, and the common linguistic bricks (words and their common use definitions) upon which our dialogue is built, then there is no point in discussion at all.  Now, that is usually the point at which a presupper defecates on the chessboard and declares victory, as if confounding their opponents ability to communicate rationally with them is some sort of victory.

In other words, I’m not interested in navel-gazing.  Let’s talk about reasonably perceived reality.  At the point that we’re ready to do that, we’ll be ready to examine the basic claims of Presuppositionalism/The Transcendental Argument, which we’ll get to in Part II.

Numbers Don’t Lie

A popular Christian catch-phrase for decades has been: “Prayer changes things.”  As well as being bandied about, it was used as the tagline for a relatively popular evangelical teaching radio show a few years back.  Maybe it still is. Naturally I don’t believe that to be the case.  Prayer changes nothing.  And I don’t think that’s an opinion. I think it’s a demonstrable fact. In order to see why, let’s first lay out some basic Christian theology.  This is not fringe, cult, outlier theology.  This is core material – middle of the aisle evangelical stuff.  Serious born-again Christians think this is how the universe works. Obviously there is plenty more where this came from, but for the conversation, I’m relating enough of the relevant theology to ensure a clear understanding of my points below.

1. The Nature of God

  • God is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.
  • God is only good, there is no evil in him.
  • God is one in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  • God hears and makes an active decision on every prayer and petition that is spoken by the Christian faithful.
  • God can be convinced to enact supernatural change in a situation or event based on the sincerity, quantity, and persistence of the prayers of his faithful followers.
  • God will not enact a supernatural change if the requested change is contrary to his perfect and/or directly revealed (read: biblical) will.
  • God is willing to enact a supernatural change in any situation that falls under his permissive will (*note: we will be dipping a toe into the concept of the Will of God, but that is an enormous topic of its own for another time.)

2. The Nature of Humanity

  • Humans are also three-part beings:
    • Body:  Our physical self that interfaces with the physical world.
    • Soul:  Our mind, will, and emotions.
    • Spirit:  The part of us capable of interfacing with God and the spiritual realm (This is a very important piece of the conversation.)
  • Every human being is born in a “Fallen” state.  This means:
    • We are, by default, sinners, and therefore unqualified to enter into God’s presence and therefore Heaven.
    • That the third part of us, our Spirit, is dead, also by default, due to the original sin of Adam.
  • Every human being has the opportunity afforded by Christ’s death and resurrection to choose to be “Born Again.”  This means:
    • Each person who actively chooses to do so has his or her sins atoned for by Christ’s death.
    • They are therefore qualified to enter God’s presence, and therefore Heaven.
    • Their Spirit, heretofore dead is resurrected, brought to life – a theological concept called regeneration.
    • This regeneration enables the believer to be connected to God, through the Holy Spirit, and therefore have access to the power of God in their everyday life.
  • Every regenerated Christian has the right, and is called on, to pray to God in the name of Jesus Christ, and by that name to petition God for whatever they desire.

The key item in the above summary is that Christians believe they are regenerated.  They are not human beings like all others.  In their view, all non-believing human beings are only 2/3 whole – only partial humans, in a sense – incomplete.  Born Again Christians, however, believe that they are whole, that they are actually changed, different, new creations (II Cor. 5:17) and that the other 1/3 of them that was dead is now alive.  It isn’t that they are the same as everyone else and are just acting on their belief.  They are different, and they have a new part of themselves to utilize that non-believers don’t have, and thereby have access to the unlimited supernatural power of God to impact their and others’ lives. That established, let’s look at what Christians pray for, consider what outcomes we would expect to see if God regularly answered their prayers, then look at the realities of life around us to see if there is any indication of supernatural answers to prayer.

What are a few things that Christians pray for on a consistent basis that would provide a metric to test the efficacy of prayer?  I did an informal survey by simply going to the most subscribed to Facebook prayer page and poring through over 100 posts from individuals requesting prayer.  This is not at all scientific, yet is reasonably indicative of the general nature of Christian prayers.  I categorized the prayer requests topically.  If a request for an individual covered more than one category, I counted each prayer topic as one request.  I think this is reasonable as there is not a proscription against multiple prayers from or for any individual.  Here are the topics and the percentages of the overall requests they represent:

  • Healing/Illness/Injury – 43.3%
  • Housing/Financial – 13.6%
  • Travel/Safety – 5.1%
  • Drug/Alcohol – 1.7%
  • Personal Relationships – 9.3%
  • Christian Conversion – 2.5%
  • Military Safety – 0.0%
  • Help/Ministries for Poor – 1.7%
  • Cristiano Ronaldo’s Knee – 0.9%
  • Other – 22.0%

The “Other” category was made up mostly of requests for prayer for issues kept private, plus a few outlying requests.

I think it’s no surprise to see prayer requests for healing of illness or injury to be so overwhelming.  Rarely do we feel so helpless as when someone whom we care about is in danger of losing their life or suffering a severe change in their quality of life.  The more helpless we feel in a situation, the more we reach for outside intervention.

Interestingly, some of the prayers for healing were multiple requests for the individual.  I counted each as one because the bible indicates that a preponderance of prayers will more likely move god’s hand to action

The question isn’t whether it’s reasonable to reach for outside intervention, rather the efficacy of prayer to a god as a particular source of intervention.

So let’s take the top 3 single categories, which again aren’t all that surprising: Health, Finance, and Relationships.  If all that we’ve covered is true, what would we expect to see?

HEALTH

  • Longer life expectancy for Christians than non-Christians.
  • Lower incidence of serious/life-threatening disease.
  • Higher cancer survival/remission rates
  • Higher survival rates from accident/injury

The fact is that Christians experience the same incidence of all of the above as non-Christians, with some small variation.  These variations are generally attributable to lifestyle choices.  Christians as a demographic tend to avoid activities and substances that carry disease risk, such as smoking, drugs, alcohol, and riskier sex practices.

But Christians die of cancer just like non-Christians do.  Their survival rates are not any better.  While anecdotal evidence isn’t evidence per se, in 26 years as a committed Christian I have not seen one case of cancer survival that was not directly attributable to proper treatment following a medically predicted outcome.  I have seen the same outcomes in my non-Christian circles as well.

Interestingly, a number of studies have explored this prayer vs. illness issue and found prayer almost invariably wanting, save for one study, that found a small but measurable decrease in post-procedural complications.   The latest study released by the American Heart Journal was a showed the exact opposite.  It was a long-term study that was designed to overcome particular flaws in earlier studies.  The most interesting point that came out of the study is that people being prayed for who were told that people were praying for their health/recovery actually experienced elevated rates of post-procedural complications.  The other groups, those not prayed for and those prayed for but unaware of those prayers, experienced no measurable difference in recovery or complications.

But all of this overlooks the obvious.  If Christians could clearly show that being a Christian and having direct access to god would result in reliable answers to prayer, which would then result in a measurable difference between the health/recovery rates of Christians and non-Christians, the world would never hear the end of it.  It would be trumpeted as the proof that atheists and doubters everywhere have been clamoring for for ages.  It would show a direct correlation.

Probably the most tragic examples of this sort of failure are the ill-informed parents whose faith in their god is so strong that they refuse to provide their children necessary life-saving treatment.  Instead they sit on their knees and watch their children needlessly die.  One could argue their faith in god is the strongest of all, because they very specifically practice what they preach, to no avail.

But we all know, Christians included, that such behavior is irrational.  They know as well as the rest of us that those correlations we should expect to see just don’t exist.  Even the writer of Ecclesiastes was aware of that, though in the end he apparently, and unfortunately, came to the exact opposite conclusions than were warranted by his observations.

FINANCE:

This is probably more difficult to measure, because the criteria aren’t so black and white as they are with health, which is almost a simple binary equation.  Enough to say that it’s not uncommon to encounter Christians and non-Christians alike who have financial issues.  You certainly don’t see more wealthy Christians than poor ones, nor the other way around.

But one might question if that in itself isn’t an issue – not one of prayer, but of practical living out of the Christian ideals of the first century church as chronicled in the epistolary section of the New Testament, in which the wealthy were reviled and the poor admired.  Those who had much were encouraged to give it all away to help the poor.  Instead we have the cult of the Megachurch.  Those who build and lead those giant, well-funded churches are looked at as the epitome of Christian leadership.  Surely something there is not quite right?

PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS:

What would we expect to see in Christians’ lives as a result of prayer and access to the power of god?

  • Lower divorce rates
  • Lower incidence of adultery
  • More successful parent/child relationships

Not all of these things are easily measurable, especially the last item.  However, studies have shown that Christians have the same rates of infidelity and divorce as non-Christians.  Christians emphasize the sanctity of marriage, the importance of a god-centered family, the importance of faithfulness and devotion among the family.  Yet their families look the same as non-Christians.  They cheat on their spouses at the same rate.  They divorce at the same rate.

If they had special access to the supernatural power of god, and the right as children of god to petition him for aid, there should be a marked difference in the strength of personal relationships.  We don’t see that at all.

As far as children go, I’ll only go so far as to say that the PK – the Pastor’s Kid, is a well-worn stereotype that many of us have seen played out many times, sometimes to tragic ends.

If YHWH was real, if Jesus was alive, if the Holy Spirit lived within and regenerated every Christian, making them a new creation, if this triune god answered prayer, we should see a difference.  We should see that this god is different than all the other gods.  We should see a big difference between the Christian and the godless.

After all, in Elijah’s day, god purportedly had no problem showing the difference.

But there is no difference.  There is no power.  There is no magic.  There is no difference.

Prayer changes nothing.

Clear Reason

A young Christian apologist recently left a comment on my last post, which I put up quite a ways back.  I feel compelled to respond, perhaps in response to the sincerity of youth, or perhaps because I’m bothered by the assumptions in the comments and feel they open up a couple of issues I wish to address.

Actually, it’s mostly that she happened to refer me to the teachings of Chip Ingram, who was my pastor in Santa Cruz for over a decade.  She had no way of knowing that, but the coincidence makes it more compelling than the average comment.  Anyway, to her comments:

I have read a few of your post (and maybe there are more that better explain you reasoning) but from what I have read I do not see a clear reason as to why you decided your faith no longer had weight.

I’m guessing it’s more to do with not seeing it yet rather than it not being there.  I’ll refer you to a couple of links later in this post.

I am sure that you have reasons which, to you, are clear. However, I think that if you truelly (sic) want to intelligently discuss the absence of a god, you need to be able to state your point and reason, and these should prove what you now believe.

In saying this, I simply mean that if you want to blog about it and share your story, not only for yourself but for your readers, you need to be able to refute evidence that proves Christianity, Jesus Christ, and the Bible if your statement is that God does not exist.

A couple points:

1 – I have spent a lot of words discussing my reasoning. I feel that if anyone wishes to imply that I haven’t provide reasoning, they should first take the time to read through all of the 20-some posts and a number of comment threads (some of the comments are more vitriol, admittedly on my part too, than they are informative, but some of the fleshing out of arguments can be found there) on those posts.  It’s a little disingenuous to claim there’s nothing to see if one hasn’t looked.

2 – To put a finer point on it, it’s not that I argue for the absence of a god, but rather that I note the lack of evidence for the presence of one, whether we’re discussing YHWH/Jesus, Allah, Vishnu, or any other deity.

3 – And speaking of proof, the atheist doesn’t bear a burden to prove the absence of something.  We as humans have 5 senses with which to perceive and evaluate the universe and reality around us.  To the atheist, only what we can perceive in one way or another do we claim to exist.  The Christian says there is all of the same perceivable reality, PLUS there is an omnipotent deity behind it all.

ATHEIST:  What Exists?  Everything we can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste, or anything that could be experienced through one of those senses.

CHRISTIAN: What Exists?  Everything we can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste, or anything that could be experienced through one of those senses – PLUS – Invisible Deity who is 1.) In control of everything, 2.) Made everything, 3.) Interacts with everything, 4.) Has a purpose for everything, and 5.) Can be influenced to change his interactions based on specific requests from individuals.

If you are to claim the existence of this unprovable invisible being, it is up to you to provide ample evidence of its existence.  I don’t need to prove it/he doesn’t exist.  I only need express the fact that Christians have not provided evidence sufficient to convince me.

If you present what you think is evidence, and I’m able to provide a more likely, natural source for that evidence, then that is not evidence.

I encourage you to build your knowledge in this area. You stated that you were a Christian for 26 years and that you suddenly came to the conclusion that God is not real. So my question for you is what did your 26 years in the faith look like? Did you know God during this time or did you simply attended church without pursuing personal relationship with God?

This is another area in which I believe I’ve provided considerable material on the topic of my Christian past.  I was a spirit-filled believer who was certain he saw god working in his daily life.  I was a worship and ministry leader who was often told how inspiring his participation was – and I did it from a very tangible belief that what I was sharing and singing about was real.  I gave him all the glory, as I knew that such inspiration could only come from the indwelling holy spirit within me – I did not have it within my worldly self.  I knew him and prayed to him and strived to run the good race and not be found wanting.  I was a new creation, with a regenerated spirit, sealed for heaven by the holy spirit.

You get a bit close to the No True Scotsman fallacy here, a common rabbit trail in these conversations.  I think there’s even a post in which I delve into that trail a little bit… Or maybe it’s one of my many unfinished drafts… who knows?

I am in no way seeking to throw judgement upon you or to call you out. More so I am existed (sic?) for you because (from what I assume) you want to discover truth. For you, I recommend digging into the facts and deciding for yourself if you want to oppose them or support them. To be an atheist, to be anything, you must be able to stand for what you believe and back it up with evidence so that you can communicate it to others.

I think the reality of my stance is a little bit different than you might perceive, and your perception might be colored by preconceptions.  Most of us who grow up in a household with any sort of religious tradition take the concept of god for granted, as a starting point.  But the real starting point is from a point of complete agnosticism.  We are taught our religious concepts, indoctrinated from a very young age so that the very concepts seem to be but postulates, obvious and unquestionable.  The idea of the existence of a singular, personal god is so ingrained by the time we’re old enough to reason with others that the existence of said god becomes a starting point, rather than the natural starting point of zero input we’re born into.

That’s what’s behind the general perception that if I say that I don’t believe god exists, I somehow have to provide evidence disproving the claims of the religious.  But this is backwards.  After examining the claims of the religious, I find that there is not sufficient evidence to back up those claims.  In the absence of any reasonable proof, I hold a position of disbelief.  Should proof be forthcoming, I am happy to change my mind.

In this case there is nothing to particularly stand up for – religiously speaking.  Instead I evaluate that which others, like yourself, stand up for, and decide whether or not they’re worthy of my belief.

That’s not to say that I did not test my previous beliefs and assumptions.  I did so, and my archives provide a good deal of that.  If someone wishes to put forward a particular religious belief and the evidence they think supports it, then I’m more than happy to review the argument and its evidence and share and discuss my conclusions.

Why I Believe by Chip Ingram was the most factual, historical, insightful and intellectual lecture I have ever witnessed.

Of course you didn’t know this, but I sat under Chip’s teaching for a decade at Santa Cruz Bible Church. Chip is very intelligent and engaging, and an excellent apologist – a pretty nice guy all around.  I had my minor differences with him at the time, but overall appreciated his work there.  During his time at SCBC, I was in charge of several different ministries, either music or drama related.

I, like yourself, fell from the faith. The church I was attending did not encourage me in the ways I needed. I asked the question, “Is this all there is? Because if so, it’s not fulfilling enough for me.” I began to dig and dig deep. For me, God guided me to see that I did not know Him- that my preconceived notions of Him were not all sound or based on truth.

I would expect your and my “falls” were quite different from one another.  Fulfillment wasn’t quite the issue for me, although it probably touches on it.  I’ll post some links here to a better description of the process of my deconversion.  In a rather inadequate nutshell, it was a combination of realizing that Christianity didn’t reflect the reality of the world we lived in, a realization of the impotency of faith and of the Christian faith in particular, and the effort to do what I had claimed I was doing all along – taking the bible at face value, for exactly what it said.

Here are some of my previous posts that will better describe some of what went into my leaving:

The Line Between Hot and Cold

The Birth of Dr. Evil

The Devil Made Me Do It

Cruel and Unusual

Who Do You Trust?

All of these go some way to explaining the issues I have with Christianity as a reasonable explanation of reality.  I hope you will take the time to read through some of them.  Your thoughts will be welcome.

I recommend Chip Ingram’s Why I Believe because it’s designed and created for a scientific/ fact seeking mind set. There are plenty of lectures, books, and videos out there, but of all the ones I have heard, Why I Believe is the best. I am not recommending it to you because I want you to become a Christian again, I am recommending it to you because Chip discusses facts- the whole audio set is loaded with historical evidence and factual information. Those facts will either build up your cause or tear it down. If you can take the facts and refute them or show them to not be true- if you can find fault in them- then you can truly claim to be a none believer.

The problem with his teachings, with which I’m very familiar, and in fact still to this day find notes and worksheets from, is the he carries many of the same presuppositions, and that he perpetuates many of the same empirical errors, especially as concerns science and evolution.  I’m not sure I have it in me to sit through another teaching series after the time I took exploring apologetics in my attempt to hold onto my faith, but maybe one of these days I’ll at least give part of it a try.

I do not claim to be all knowing. I do not claim to know what is truth and what is not truth. How can anyone say to the masses, my religion (of the millions of religions) is the one truth. Truth is, for the individual, what you want it to be. I hope that in your search, you find your truth. But if you want to find truth, don’t seek to be comfortable- to please or satisfy yourself- seek truth.

Well, that’s a stance most of your brothers and sisters don’t take.  It does seem above that you do claim to know, but I appreciate your respectful attitude.

And do let me assure you I did not go for comfort or to please myself.  I sought Truth, or at least truth.  It has long been my assertion, well before I ever thought to consider the hardest of my doubts, that all truth would be god’s truth, and that any truth from god can withstand any and all reasoned scrutiny.  I do not believe that is the case with Christianity.

I’ll mention one more – step, if you will, in my journey.  I may have written about it in one of the posts cited above, but I’m not sure.

At a time when I was trying to figure out how to discuss my faith with my wife, to try and convince her to come back to the fold, I thought it was time that I got a better grasp on the arguments of atheists.  I thought that god’s truth must surely be greater than any arguments of man, so understanding those arguments would give me insight into the application of the truth of god.

I was in the bookstore and found a book by John Loftus called Why I Became an Atheist.  Being as it was by a former evangelical minister, I thought it might best represent the arguments against my particular position and best equip me to win my wife back to the faith.

I looked through the table of contents and found the chapter called “The Outsider Test for Faith” (upon which he has expanded in a separate book.)  I turned to the chapter, because it reminded me of something my wife had mentioned from time to time.

The long and short of the chapter was:  People from the same region of the world believe that same religion, often with a fervor, and with the conviction that theirs is true, just as I did.  Those religions we reject out of hand.  Therefore, whatever justification we use to reject those foreign religions, we should also by them test our own religion, the one we were brought up in as children.  Are the arguments for our religion better than the arguments for theirs?  Are the arguments against their religion any better than the arguments against ours?

I started to think through this, then quickly closed the book and put it back.  I could see the writing on the wall, though it would still be another nearly two years before I found the courage to read it.

I would encourage you to explore your own faith by the same criteria with which you reject others.  At the very least it will make for excellent conversation.

I’m sure this is incomplete, but hopefully it will help answer some of your questions and start a productive dialogue among any who still check in from time to time.

Timeline Timing

Sooo… traipsing through my Facebook timeline after work today, I found these two pictures next to each other:

First:

walkswater

And then:

drownsus

I found this a very amusing contrast.

Well into my second year of non-faith, I find myself still navigating the waters of reason rather erratically.  For instance, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted at this blog.  I began this blog for the purpose of sorting out my own thoughts and feelings.  Once I’d made the decision that Christianity was not the truth I thought it was, I still had (have) many things to sort out for myself.

I needed to figure out what I believe, if anything.  My friend Zen commented once that I needed some sort of religion, amused as he was by my new and ongoing forays into Buddhism.  He may be right.  I tend to glom on to a position and entrench myself once I’m satisfied with my level of understanding, whether or not that level is really adequate.  I’m very emotional and very sentimental.  I’m easily driven about by hyperbole and platitude, and make as much use of them as they do of me.

I also needed to figure out what my altered worldview meant in terms of the real world around me.  Realizing there is no god, that there is no magic rescue coming, no cracking of the Mount of Olives in the near future – realizing that this is all there is, that it’s up to us to take care of our world, to take care of each other – well, that’s a political shift as well as a spiritual one.  And in the same way I tend to let my passion outstrip my purpose.

So after a time of considering all of these things, of dealing with the aftermath of my leaving the faith and having to deal with myself with no magic help, I thought about just leaving this blog behind, and the whole issue.  I thought about just focusing on myself and my loved ones, of pursuing a philosophical brand of Buddhism and leaving behind the argument.  Let others come to it in their own time, or not at all.

I’m probably not wired that way, really.  For instance, I believe there is significant injustice in the world.  I believe we shouldn’t be quiet about it.  I believe there is too much violence in the world, and that we too quickly choose violence as a solution rather than recognize it as part of the problem.  I believe I can be a positive, compassionate person, and I believe that doesn’t take place in a personal vacuum.

So I guess I’ll still be blogging, here and there anyway.  And I guess platitudes will still fascinate me, despite my efforts to be more thoughtful.  I’ll try to learn from the people who challenge me, and try to deal compassionately with those I think propagate the worst problems in our society.

At least that’s what I think today…