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.

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9 responses to “Clear Reason

  1. I agree with you, Anthony. The location of our birth, the activity space we grow up in, our family history, the culture of our country; all of these effect us, shape us, and morph us into the people we become. Religion, under some interpretation, can be categorized as contagious diffusion. However, the time came when I had to make a choice. I chose to worship and follow a God whom I cannot see and whom I cannot touch.

    But, I do see Him, and I do touch Him. God has revealed himself to me numerous times. When I come out of my self focus, I see Him everywhere, all the time. I have felt the hands of God hold me, literally. That is a miraculous experience. As I said, not everyone has had the encounters I have, but these are the things I fall back on when I’m scared, when I doubt. I cannot deny the things that have happened. God will do great things threw me, because I have big faith in Him.

    The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. Psalm 145:18

    God has spoken to me, though people. I have felt His presence. And I know that this is something that not everyone can understand. One might say that I’ve made these things up in my mind. That I’m not actually feeling anything but what I have created; because I want to feel Him, I convince myself that I have.

    I am God’s biggest critic. I must be. The book you referenced, that’s my motto. “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.” I am always analyzing and seeking; not always in favor of my own religion I might add.

    I tell you all of this because I simply want you to know Why I Believe. I am not closed minded. I see phrases and text in other religions and cults that copy Christianity. It’s scary, to think that mine might be just like theirs.

    In Mormonism, the first thing missionaries will tell you is, “I know the Book of Mormon is true, because of what it has done in my life.” “I prayed with ‘true intent’ over the religious texts to see if they were true.”

    Oh, let that not be me. Let that not be my argument to justify my faith. That is why I seek historical evidence and scientific proof. [you say that you do not see any proof, this confuses me. I've found proof in Chip's compilations, the teachings of Andy Woods (spiritandtruth.org), Alan Weatherly (the Pastor of my church - a former atheist), Dr. Kent Hovind an apologist..... the list goes on and on.]

    I will check out some of your other pages when I get a chance. Till then, I close with this. I question God’s every move, I question every verse in the Bible, I read blogs like this to understand every side of the topic and not just my own understanding. I will continue, all my life, to search for truth.

    I praise God for revealing Himself to me continually, even though I doubt. I am truly blessed.

  2. You have such a great way of explaining things in a way that accurately addresses the evangelical mindset. I really look up to you man. Keep the blog going, it’s great!

  3. I need to poke around in your archives a bit, but I did want to post a comment so you’d know I was here. I had no idea about this side of you, dude. I must have made your acquaintance after you’d walked away from Christianity?

    Anyway, I wanted to share something with you. My mom was a true-believer Catholic, granted a nonpracticing one… mostly because my father (a convert to Catholicism!) was so totally indifferent about The Church (and about his family, but that’s another story). It was ingrained in me as far back as I can remember that there was a god. I read too much, thought too much of the “wrong” stuff for a kid barely in elementary school, but I remember the day that I figured out there was no god like it was yesterday. I was 8, and I was being sexually assaulted when it dawned on me that no one who “loved” me would be allowing what was happening to me to happen. I wasn’t yet aware that that shit happened to kids all over the world every damn day, and sometimes by god’s representatives on earth.

    I remember being incredibly angry with my mom for deluding me. Little did I know the wars that we would fight just a few years down the road about god, and about how and why I didn’t believe. She played the black soul guilt and said as long as I lived under her roof, I’d do what I was told and go to CCD. For three years. And I’d receive my first communion and be confirmed as a Catholic SO HELP HER GOD.

    It took a long time to get over feeling like a total fraud for it.

    • Wow – I have to say, that’s some powerful stuff. I’m sorry you had to experience that. I hope it’s not going too far to say that what you experienced, and the fact that it *does* happen to so many helpless little ones, was a key factor in opening my eyes. In an early post:

      http://winlb.wordpress.com/2011/11/01/the-birth-of-dr-evil-or-where-did-evil-come-from/

      I write this near the end – I apologize if there are any triggers:

      A few days before I met with my pastor to tell him I no longer believed, I read a news article about a child porn ring that had been busted. It was an online network where members downloaded and uploaded images. Pedophiles had to upload pictures to maintain their membership. The pictures were categorized into thematic sections. One of the sections required all pictures submitted to show a child victim either crying or in obvious pain.

      Did God not see that from the beginning? Did he create a world where such vile suffering was possible? Certain? Predestined? And did he, on that day, still pronounce his creation good?

      If so, I’d rather risk hell than worship a God capable of creating that kind of evil.

      I would never include that sort of suffering in my plan. If I’m a big enough god, I prevent that suffering and bring about my plan in another way. Period. The whole mysterious ways trope leaves me ill.

      It is amazing what our parents will put us through as well. Actually, I’m lucky my mom was pretty open-minded. We got through a few years of after school catechism, but once we lost interest, she didn’t push the issue.

      Thanks for your honesty. That can’t be easy.

  4. I believe in god because I see his workings all around me. I know he loves me because of the many blessings I see in my life. He created all of us and we will return to live with him. Belief in God requires Faith. Just like you have faith that you will get a job if you apply for one, or that you feel satisfied after you eat, you have to believe without completely knowing. The first step to knowing there is a God, is to believe there is one.

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