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Reason and belief
The famous worst worship songs post now has more than 600 comments. The most recent comments have drifted off-topic into a discussion of the reasonableness of the belief in God in general. I'd like to move that discussion to this post, and I'm going to start things out by responding to Michael Mays.
Michael is a Christian recording artist and graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. You can listen to a sample of his music here. Here are the lyrics to the first song sample. I may be mishearing them, but I think I got the gist of it. If I'm wrong, maybe Michael can provide the real lyrics.
Guard me from rationalization
For the mind is the wicked one's tube of cream
To keep sin. It's just a vacation.
Lead me as a child through the fire and to your peace.
I know what you must be thinking. A lyrical genius such as this with a seminary education is certain to provide an elegant and robust argument in favor of the truth of Christianity. Believe it or not, I think I have uncovered some weaknesses in his argument.
It may be pointless to try to argue with a fundamentalist who is completely convinced that they know the truth and who refers to the human mind as a tool of Satan, but Michael's comment was such a study in the strange logic of Christian fundamentalism that I can't resist.
It's hard to know where to begin, so I'm just going to go paragraph by paragraph, skipping over any that don't contain something wrong. I don't expect to skip many.
Being an atheist makes people *happier*? Hmm...
Yes. Are you calling me a liar, Michael? There are several reasons that I'm happier, so please allow me to elaborate.
- There is no hell to fear.
- There is no all-powerful God refusing to prevent suffering.
- This life is the main event, not just the run-up to future life. That makes me value life more.
- I don't have to twist logic to make the world fit in with the Bible.
- Religious diversity/confusion makes perfect sense to me now.
- My morality is now more logical and consistent (and less arbitrary).
- I can embrace science.
- No longer have to accept anything based on the reason "because I said so."
- I don't have to view every friendship as a potential for evangelism.
- I have more free time.
I could go on, but those are some of the main reasons that I'm happier now.
The Bible is the Word of God. Try as you might, you'll never succeed in winning on the absurd argument of "only because YOU say so." If there is a God, he has the prerogative to write His own book under whatever methods He chooses, whether an atheist will accept it as such or not. (Thank God He has never left it to us to have to prove His own Word--it is, as He is, self-evident.)
When I read that paragraph, I was actually uncertain if this comment was a genuine Christian or a parody. (This uncertainty has a name: Poe's Law.) I'm not sure why Michael accuses me of asking anyone to accept an idea because I say so, but I do think it's hilarious that he writes that immediately after declaring that "the Bible is the Word of God." Michael makes no attempt at providing evidence for this assertion. "If there is a God..." that's a pretty big if. He proceeds to assume that there is a God in order to prove that the Bible is his word. I suppose that he would prove that God exists using the Bible. That's a circular argument if I've ever seen one. If Michael thinks that he has provided a way out of the circle by saying that God and the Bible are both self evident, then he is sadly mistaken. Neither of them are self-evident to me. But I guess I'm just blinded by my sin and pride, so I am unable to see what is so obvious to everyone else.
Okay, having established that FACT (no, of course atheists aren't happy about that FACT, that's their PROBLEM, no matter what is said--see the above quote), let's consider what the Bible says, very succinctly:
Michael must define the words "established" and "fact" very differently than I do. The rest of this paragraph suggests that he knows that he has not made a convincing argument, but he forges on and begins quoting the Bible as if he can make me accept it as an authority by sheer force of will.
I honestly do not understand why Christians even bother quoting the Bible to atheists. Until you have established it as something more than a collection of human philosophies and tall tales, it's completely pointless to quote the Bible to me. When I was a pastor, I taught classes about evangelism and I stressed the fact that quoting the Bible is only useful when the person accepts it as true. I taught that the Christian must do what Francis Schaeffer called pre-evangelism. Apparently, this is a lesson that many in the church have not learned.
The other issue you've raised (the more interesting but still elementary one) is that "adherents to every religion can tell stories like yours about how their beliefs made their life better." You are confusing religion and faith; they are not the same. Religion is a system of beliefs; faith is a relationship with a very real, very holy God. If anyone is looking for hope in a religion, they might as well be atheists, because God will view them as the same in the end (Matt. 7:21-23).
re·li·gion (rĭ-lĭj'ən) n. 1. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe. 2. A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship.
Semantics aside, Michael does not address the point that I made. Many religions use the same "evidence" that he puts forward. Muslims say that Islam is a personal relationship with a real God who obviously exists and dictated the Quran to Mohamed. Mormons say that the truth of their book is self-evident. Scientologists claim that their lives are improved by the teachings of their church. All the religions that make claims like this provide the exact same evidence that Michael provides, which is none at all.
Call it circular logic, but since God is the author of logic, He alone gets to be the one who says "because I said so."
Yes, it is circular logic. If you are going to claim that your religion (I'm sorry, your faith) allows you to break the laws of logic, then your beliefs are illogical by your own admission.
Yes, I've been using a lot of Scripture. Atheists usually write this off as a sign of inability to make valid arguments, and on any other area of discussion they would be right.
I'm still not sure that this isn't a parody. I'm going to go ahead and write off your use of Scripture as an inability to make valid arguments, just as you expected.
But I'm citing evidences here, not lofting programmed, knee-jerk responses without thought of what they really mean. It will still look that way because the devil is very good at his job: "The god of this age [Satan] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord..." (2 Cor. 4:4-5)
You're asking me to accept the Bible as evidence, which is assuming what you are trying to prove. Would you buy this argument from a Mormon? I've been told by Mormons that if I will simply believe that the Book of Mormon is true, then when I read it I will see that their church is correct. Michael, would you accept that as a convincing argument if two Mormon missionaries were standing at your door?
Let me see if I get this straight. If I will simply ignore some of the laws of logic, I will see that God is real. But I've been blinded by the devil, who is making me think that your admittedly illogical statements are illogical. Am I understanding this correctly?
And to prove that I have no right to claim any authority (and, hence, responsibility) for this evidence on the merits of my own knowledge or intellect . . .
Michael, you don't have to prove that. Of all the things you're saying, that's the one that I will accept.
Atheists can argue with these facts all they want--they might even think they've won. But when they stand before God to give account for their lives, I somehow doubt they'll find much to say.
Here's an interesting strategy. Michael is trying to make me afraid that a god I don't believe in is going to send me to a hell that doesn't exist in an afterlife that will never happen. Not only do I find this unconvincing, but I am going to call it what it is: terrorism. The doctrine of hell is a way to scare people into believing and doing certain things. That is the very definition of terrorism, and it won't work on me.
So, I remain unconvinced that any of thousands of religions are more than human inventions. I hope Michael will come back and continue discussing reasons for and against belief in God. Everyone else is welcomed to join in the conversation, too.
Guard me from rationalization
For the mind is the wicked one’s tube of cream
I listened to the sample… and it sounds like you got the lyrics right.
Tub of cream? What the hell is a tub of cream supposed to even mean
So, how about some postmodern christianity hogwash now?
I mean, you know, it’s sooooo convincing and like omg wtf holz
Wow, you went to my website? I’m actually impressed! And you got others to come, too. This is possibly some of the best publicity I’ve gotten in a long time, but that speaks probably more to my admitted incompetence at self-promotion than anything else.
As to the humorous “butcherings” of the lyrics to the first track, I was really amused. “Tube of cream?” Wow… you guys might want to check your audio settings, but I GUESS I can see how there could be confusion… if you had a tube of cream in your ear. Really, I was quite amused. Here are the correct lyrics:
“Guard me from rationalization,
for the mind is the wicked one’s tool of grief*
To give sin justification.
Lead me as a child through the fire into Your peace.”
*You actually quoted me correctly a few paragraphs later… Hmm…
I know fixing misinterpreted lyrics is itself already off-topic, but I did take some time on those lyrics and hate to see them misprinted if I can do something about them, even if these errors were really pretty funny. “Tube of cream.” I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to sing that line with a straight face again. Thanks. ;-)
I’m reminded of Paul’s visit to Athens (Acts 17) wherein he debated the Epicureans and Stoics with arguments that were based not first on points of Scripture, but on the terms of those he was evangelizing. (It has been debated in theological circles whether this was a successful tactic for Paul or not.) This was doubtless my (at least one) error in the TECHNIQUE I adopted in that epic-length missive. I must admit to not having done the “atheism debate” very much before–and yes, I know, it showed. I’ll have to go back and forth with you on some of these issues, if only to work on my arguments. It will be good exercise, and hopefully informative for both of us.
It’s late, so I’ll only take the time to respond to a few of your reactions to my diatribe:
1. “Are you calling me a liar, Michael?”
After re-reading my tirade, I’m still not sure where you got the idea that I was questioning your honesty. Sanity, maybe–I truly couldn’t understand the apparent rationale that judgment, whether you believe in it or not, could be waiting on the other side of the grave and it gave you LESS angst–but I did not call you a liar. If you saw it there, you might consider what subtext you brought to my words.
2. “I’m not sure why Michael accuses me of asking anyone to accept an idea because I say so, but I do think it’s hilarious that he writes that immediately after declaring that “the Bible is the Word of God.”
How about 2 Timothy 3:16 - “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” May seem like an escapist logic, but it takes as much faith to believe the Bible is NOT God’s Word as to believe that it is, especially when *it says* that it is. I just find it baffling why anyone would want to take a chance on being on the opposite side of that argument. As I said before, don’t believe this because I said so. Believe it because God said so. Of course, the next logical argument is, “Did god really say that?” to which I would point to Genesis 3:1.
3. “I have more free time.” ;-) Touche.
One quick question. You said, “When I was a pastor, I taught classes about evangelism…” When were you a pastor? What circumstances changed your mind? I don’t mean to meddle, I’m just curious.
And, for the record, I totally agreed with everything negative said about “Trading My Sorrows.” Worst. Song. Ever.
just my 2 cents, but “rationalization” in the Christian cliqueish sense is not meaning what I think you are taking it for Danny. I can’t speak for him. But “rationalization” in a Christian context is meaning that you are trying to find some logic to make something you want to do seem “right.” The reason this is dangerous is because then you have become really biased, no longer searching for truth for the sake of truth seeking, but not for you own ends…
I wish I had the time to read the 600 posts and all of the argument between you and Michael, and this doesn’t really have anything to do with those posts, just the song. I like the lyrics, and often need someone outside myself to help me see reality in a circumstance that is very tempting (Whether that be God or another person), my logic can not be relied upon when I am emotionally torn.
I also really enjoy reading your blog.
We are in the US, and not to far from you…we are in Independence, MO. If you are ever up this way, I know my girls would love to play with Emma and we would love to see you and Sara.
I was thinking some more on all of this as I was wrangling girls this morning, and this has probably been said but…the reason I believe in the Bible is first because of the person of Christ. I know who Mohamed was and what he did, as well as most other religious leaders, and it isn’t the same thing. I am sure it seems that way to a lot of people, but I hope you see what I am getting at. Gandhi is a tough one for me, and has always been, but I think that would be another huge tangent. I guess my conclusion is that Christ is the only person that I trust enough to follow (from a rational standpoint). I don’t trust myself enough to follow myself, I know where that goes unfortunately. So I guess it really boils down to trust. I trust in Christ, I trust that He knows better than I do, not because I was indoctrinated that way , but because of the life he led. There is quite a lot of historical evidence on his life outside the Bible as well. But I do realize that there is a leap of faith with all of this. You just got another earful…sorry.
Have a great day, and say hi to Sara from us.
As far as documentation from people who actually met Jesus, there is not much outside of the Bible, but with the amplitude of Early Church Fathers Writings, and the lack of contradicting evidence, I guess I would call that “quite a lot.” I find it hard to believe that you wouldn’t have a tremendous amount of evidence to the contrary of what was being written, if it were not grounded in some historical accuracy.
I can believe that other people are wrong for any reason at all, whether it is reliant on facts, fiction, faith or fluff. But I do try to base my beliefs on fact. No one can claim that everything they believe rests entirely on fact. Marriage. for example, takes a lot of faith. I believe my husband loves me because he says he does and acts like he does, but he could be a liar and a good actor (sorry hun). Trust is something that is built over time with evidence, but requires faith. I also have personal experience with God/Christ that plays into my decision to trust and follow Him.
So I would wholeheartedly say that those who aren’t following Christ are wrong. But it gives me no pleasure to say this, it is not because I want to be right, but because I believe that I am right. Having spent most of your life as a Christian, you know all that goes along with that belief and the passion that makes me want to tell others.
So if we come right down to it, I think you are wrong in your belief in atheism. But I still really appreciate you as a person, and have really enjoyed reading you blog. I appreciate the passion that you put into writing. I also hope very much that you turn back to Christ and put your trust in him, as I am sure all of you friends and family do, that are Christians. But I appreciate that you are searching for truth and hope that your search never ends entirely.
Dan, great follow-up points. Let me address some of them.
Understanding that the mind is a tool of Satan has nothing to do with the morality of the mind in and of itself, and I didn’t say that in my lyrics. That’s like saying “Michael thinks guns are bad” (which I don’t) if I were to have written a song that says “guns are used to kill people” (which they have been). What I’m saying is that the mind is *a tool* of grief” (easily understandable by reasonable people, since… those were the actual words), not “the mind is the source of all grief.” This is not a semantic issue; I think you actually misinterpreted it.
As to the Bible’s self-referential nature, I want to be really clear here: I do not presume to debate the issue on my own intellect or wisdom, because (whether I’m depicted as a no-it-all or a buffoon), I don’t really think I’m smarter than everyone else. I can only refer to the Scriptures themselves, trusting that God’s Word is solid enough to reach those WHO WILL BE reached. To my knowledge, there is no cut-and-dried logic to reach those in apostasy (it’s a dirty, ugly-sounding word to some, but I use it in the dictionary sense here (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/apostasy), not to name-call), except to further invoke the Bible. See Jeremiah 2:19.
As to what I would say to Mormons or Muslims, it comes down to authenticity of the character of the one leaving the testimony. Jesus claimed to be God and backed it up by actions and deeds. This is historic fact recorded in the Bible. The facts about Mohammed and Joseph Smith are easily deduced: they were mere men; they lived and died, and that was all we saw of them. Jesus alone claimed to be God, and he backed it up with His resurrection. The gospel of John says this happened and that there were witnesses. That the Bible makes this observation about witnesses is significant in this sense: when the gospels were written (and these dates are not in dispute), they really were available to people *who WERE alive at the time of the resurrection & ascension and could corroborate or refute the argument.* The only REASONABLE conclusion we can come to is that there was inadequate–or no–contrary evidence AT THE TIME to refute the claims of the resurrection. If there had been, we’d have no church, no Christianity, and no point on which to be having this lovely discussion. Obviously, any “evidence” after the fact (after the generation that would’ve witnessed it first-hand) is suspect. The biblical account is not of that nature.
Now, if we choose to dismiss the biblical account as authentic, it is really as arbitrary as saying, for instance: “I don’t like Harcourt-Brace-Jovanavich Publishing, I don’t think they tell the truth about where the U.S. came from, so I’m not going to accept what’s written in their history textbooks.” At some point, all truth becomes self-referential or self-evident. We’re all certainly free *not* to believe what’s happened, and our argument may seem to be bolstered by the fact that no one living at the time of the formation of our country is still alive, but we’re still here, we still have copies of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. You can’t *see* a country, you can only see the land, people, the cities. It looks like any other country. But that doesn’t mean the *United States* doesn’t exist. Similarly, just because God hasn’t revealed Himself to us on our terms (beyond the ways Scripture says he already has), it doesn’t mean He doesn’t exist and hasn’t endeavored to communicate with us.
This argument, of course, breaks down after a while, because the Unites States is an agreed-upon *idea,* whereas God is an authentic Person who exists whether we agree upon that or not. But my point remains.
When we get right down to it, belief in God’s existence–or not–is an arbitrary act of faith. You can call it “reason” if you like, but you can only chase that argument so far until you MUST say, “That’s just what I think.” As you’ve said, no evidence from either side will be sufficient to the other.
Dan, thanks for the continued provocative posts.
I have a few worries about what’s going on in this post and subsequent comments. With all due respect to Michael Mays, I think you (Dan) are not engaging the best of Christianity’s intellectual resources here. If you are going to make (or imply) the sweeping claim that Christianity (indeed, all religion) is irrational, I would encourage you to read what the best Christian thinkers think, and not merely to set up straw men and knock them down. Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief would be a good place to start.
Regarding the issue of Scripture as the word of God, I think there is a stronger case for this claim than your discussion with Michael and Katie has brought out. I believe scripture is the word of God because that is the way Jesus thought about it. Throughout the Gospels he quotes and speaks about scripture as authoritative and spoken by God. If Jesus rose from the dead then I take his message to be vindicated and true, not only with respect to scripture but in all other respects also. Of course, the counter to this point (as you have mentioned) is “Why think the biblical account of what Jesus said about scripture or his resurrection is worth anything in this debate? Isn’t the point of the argument to ESTABLISH that the bible is true in the first place? If this is the point, it makes no sense to rely upon scripture in the argument for its reliability.” I think the answer here is that we can think of the bible (or, more specifically for my purposes, the Gospels) in two different ways. First, (at least first in this argument) we view the Gospels as historical documents. Clearly, not every part of the Gospels is going to pass historical muster, i.e., is going to live up to contemporary standards of historical veracity. For example, most historians think John is not particularly reliable as a historical book, so throw that one out for the purposes of this argument. However, even the most skeptical NT scholars (e.g., the Jesus Seminar people) think the synoptic Gospels record many genuinely historical sayings of Jesus. Although I am not on top of exactly which sayings are accepted by which historians as historically stated by Jesus, my guess is that there is at least a strong (though perhaps not uncontroversial) case for the historicity of some of his sayings about the authority and divine origin of scripture (which, for Jesus, was the OT). I would want to make a similar kind of argument for the historicity of the resurrection. Of course, this will also be controversial, but I think there is a good case to be made (from what I hear, William Lane Craig has a good book on the historicity of the resurrection, if you are interested). So, if we can at least make a good (though not uncontroversial, of course) case for the historicity of some of the NT record of Jesus’s statements about the authority of scripture and the NT account of the resurrection, it seems that we at least have some decent reasons for thinking the OT is the word of God, and decent reasons is really all we need to qualify the belief as “rational” (i.e., belief for good reasons). Once we have established this category of “scripture” as applied to the OT, it is not hard to see that we might extend that category to include the NT. I won’t rehearse the argument for that here, but the main point is that it is not simply absurd to think there is such a thing as scripture (i.e., divinely inspired authoritative literature), and that its content is restricted to Biblical documents.
Okay, so the rejoinder here (even if you track this far with me) is “Simply having decent reasons isn’t enough; I want scientific proof.” To this I would say that, in fact, the atheistic position you maintain has no more scientific proof supporting it than the theist has for her view. There may or may not be any deductive arguments for theism that even the skeptic would accept (read Stephen Davis, God Reason and Theistic Proofs, to figure it out for yourself), but even if there aren’t (which is my view), there are equally no uncontroversial deductive arguments for atheism, so the epistemic position of the theist is at least no worse than that of the atheist. Why not think belief that there is a God is as good a place to start reasoning from as belief that there is not?
Danny, I guess I need to clearly explain why I don’t accept the teachings of Mohamed. It is not on a Biblical principle, but on worldly principle. Mohamed didn’t do anything extraordinary in my opinion. This is based on the fact that many other people before him conquered and convinced many people to follow them. His teaching is nothing out of the ordinary, it is mainly rules, “wisdom", and his personal indoctrination. I believe that he lived and that there is historical accuracy in accounts of him. But he is not worth following in my opinion. I don’t mean to offend anyone adhering to the Islamic faith, but in stating my reason for not, I must be open in my view. I feel the same way about Joseph Smith, but we probably have more historical evidence on him, and that really hurt his chances of anyone following him that did their research. Jesus was different, I could try to tell you how, but I think you already know what I am talking about. Grace would be the main thing. Reading through the Gospels, it is pretty hard to believe that several people could come up with a man that acted that way and changed lives like he did. There will probably never be clear, hard evidence one way or another on whether or not the NT account of Jesus is accurate, but reading the NT, I can’t believe that even a group of really, really smart people could make up something so absolutely life changing and against the norm. I see it as so improbable that I can’t not believe it.
I don’t accept the teachings of Islam, because I don’t trust the man of Mohamed. I guess I am trying to say that my faith is not based on the Bible , but the man of Christ. Which, as you said I know through my reading of the Bible.
I actually was not raised Christian, but in America, so I did have a Christian Influence. I became a Christian my Senior year of High School as a result of reading the Bible. I was pretty much a very selfish and shallow person at that time, and for the first time in my life, I realized there was more meaning in life than just my happiness. Had I read the Koran at that time, I promise you it would not have had the same affect. The grace of the story of Christ was totally contrary to the world I lived in.
I hope I am clear in what I am saying. I am not really trying to give you a good argument, as explain why I believe what I believe.
But I will ask another question. How do you know you are right in your belief, or lack there of. I see what you are saying as far as I don’t believe in the other gods and you take it one step further, but I guess I wonder why you take it that step further, or rather what evidence you have to take it a step further. You seem to be relying on lack of evidence, but even scientifically you don’t have evidence to believe there is no God.
Okay, here’s my best shot at replies to your responses.
1. I think my argument for scripture as word of God is not simply circular in the ordinary way you point out (i.e., assuming that the bible is reliable to prove that it is). My first move (as you note in a subsequent paragraph) is to establish the *HISTORICAL* reliability of *SOME* (NOT all) portions of the Gospels, which I contend will include evidence justifying Jesus’s view of scripture as the word of God and the resurrection of Jesus. Importantly, I claim that this reliability of some passages of the Gospels derives from the ordinary rules of historical criticism. The point that some of the Gospels are historically reliable is actually uncontroversial. You will not find a NT scholar that writes off the Gospels as having no historical evidence for certain events and words of Jesus. I should add here, for the sake of Christians reading this, that I, in fact, do believe that the entire bible is reliable (as the rule of faith and practice/ethics, though perhaps not as a scientific or historical text book–two functions which it does not claim for itself) as the word of God; what I’m doing here in treating only portions of it as historically reliable is trying to argue in a way that will connect with atheists like Danny. So, back to the main point, Dan, my argument is not simply circular as you claim since it does not depend on the claim that the bible is reliable because it’s the word of God, but rather it depends on the claim that portions of the Gospels are *HISTORICALLY* reliable, which is actually an uncontroversial claim. If you wish to write off the entire Gospels (indeed, the entire Bible) as historically unreliable, then you are in a strange camp of your own. No biblical scholar would agree with you, atheist or otherwise.
2. Of course, now the controversy between us moves to evidence for the resurrection, which I claim would vindicate Jesus’s statements about scripture (among other things). I can’t make a full case for the Resurrection here–and so I refer you to William Lane Craig’s book on the subject–but I will offer a few reasons to think that the NT accounts of the resurrection are historically reliable. First, in the synoptic Gospels (Matt., Mark, Luke), the first people to witness the empty tomb and to meet the resurrected Jesus are poor women. In that time the testimony of women (never mind poor ones) counted for nothing in a court of law, and so, in fact, the testimony of the women about Jesus would not have been regarded as reliable in the original context (though we have no trouble viewing the testimony of women as reliable today). So, if the writers of the NT (and those handing on the stories to some of the writers) were interested in fabricating the “perfect story” about Jesus that would lead to carrying on myths about him, this point that the women saw him first would have been cut, or would have never made it into the story. My point here is that NT scholars and historians tend to give more historical credence to stories like this because of their potentially embarrassing nature. Since it would be embarrassing and could work against the objectives of the NT writers, it is unlikely they made it up. Another important NT passage is Paul’s account in 1 Cor. 15. Paul’s letters, of course, are the earliest literature of the NT, only some 20 years after Jesus’s death. At the beginning of 1 Cor. 15, Paul lays out what he intends as a formal/legal account of the witnesses to the resurrected Jesus. We know it is a formal account from comparison to other literature. Now, you might say “Of course Paul lays it out this way, he was a Christian and wants to perpetuate the myth,” but this doesn’t seem entirely fair. You are writing off his testimony simply because he had a view different from yours. And the motives you attribute to him (perpetuating the myth) just aren’t there on the page. His stated motive is to communicate the truth (which I get from his statement that if the resurrection has not really occurred, everything he’s saying is in vain). Indeed, all the more ordinary motives for perpetuating lies that we are so familiar with from our political system (self-interest, greed, personal gain, etc.) seem absent in this case; if anything, Paul LOST a great deal as a result of his views and preaching. Should we reject anything you, Dan, say just because you are an atheist? I don’t think so, and so I think it won’t do to simply write off Paul’s testimony either. If you say the only evidence you would accept was a videotape from the tomb, then you have biased things from the beginning. We accept testimonial evidence all the time. Indeed, you may need to rely on it one day in court. Okay, I know I won’t have convinced you here, but I think there are some reasons to think the resurrection occurred as a historical event, and that Craig’s book offers many more than I can give here. So, belief in the resurrection is not completely irrational from the perspective of the historical evidence alone. I think it is at least as good an account of what followed (the development of world-wide Christianity, etc.) as your myth account, and so I don’t need to accept your alternative story.
3. Regarding your point that everyone you’ve ever known who died stayed dead: this has been my experience too. However, my experience is limited. And as you well know, just because it has always happened a certain way in your experience (or even in the experience of all living people) does not mean–logically speaking, or metaphysically speaking–that it MUST happen that way in the future. Just because all the swans you’ve seen have been white does not mean that there isn’t a black swan out there somewhere. I am getting at well-known problems with the logic of induction, pointed out first by Hume I believe. The point is that you need some sort of principle like “Things always happen the way they’ve happened in the past” to get your claim off the ground that it could NEVER be that something like the resurrection could have occurred, and I just don’t see any way to prove that such a principle is true (in fact, no philosopher, atheist or otherwise, has yet either; that’s why the problem of general skepticism won’t go away). Science doesn’t get you that sort of necessary claim. It only gets you probabilities. Now, of course, I will grant that events like the resurrection are highly improbable, but this does not rule them out. By your own naturalistic story, events like the Big Bang are highly improbable and operate according to a different kind of physics than we see operable from day to day, and yet you would not deny that it has occurred. Strange things can happen from time to time, and the scientific method will not rule that out for you. Science is great within limits, but it is not the measure of all possibility (thankfully, since this leaves room for us philosopher/theologian types).
4. Regarding your doubts about the relevance of my arguments for understanding the NT as scripture: if you have bought into the story thus far about the OT (i.e., that Jesus said it’s God’s word, and that the resurrection really happened and thereby vindicates his claim)–which, of course, we must assume for the sake of argument if you are now objecting only to the problems with viewing the NT as scripture–then you have granted (again, only for the sake of argument; I know you don’t really grant this) that that there is such a category as scripture, i.e., that the OT is the word of God. The next move would be to consider how that OT was formed, as best we can from a historical critical perspective. Glossing over details, its formation seems to have taken place as a result of followers of Yahweh writing various materials, or saying various things that were recorded in books, which were then taken by the Yahweh community, sometimes edited, and then understood as divinely inspired. But, if Jesus (again, assuming for the sake of argument, the vindicated Jesus who rose from the dead) thought a book that was created like this–in this messy, human manner–was the word of God, why not think that the messy human process of creating the NT documents could not also be understood as the formation of a divinely inspired document? Given that we have accepted this process as it pertains to the OT (indeed, a process that often looks even messier with respect to the OT), it seems like a cakewalk to say that the same thing was going on with NT formation. So, I don’t think the messy human process of scripture creation threatens the status of the NT (or OT) as scripture/word of God. I think this is where folks like Barth Ehrman (of “Misquoting Jesus” fame) go wrong: just because there was a messy human process of canonization for the NT does not mean that the NT cannot be the word of God! This is a faulty deduction and does not follow in any logical way. Every Christian ought to admit that human fingerprints are all over the Bible; but this does not mean it isn’t inspired. Indeed, what we mean by divinely inspired is that God chose fallible humans to work through in bringing about the Bible. The Christian point is that the bible, NT and OT, is a joint effort of humans and God, the result of which effort was a uniquely authoritative collection of writings. No Christian should claim that the Bible descended from heaven intact, solely created by God, or even that God dictated every word of it to people and they just copied it down (though, in the case of some parts of the OT prophets, this seems to be what happened). The “book descended from heaven” is the main Muslim view of the Qur’an, but it is not what Christians generally claim about the Bible. If my view here dissolves some of the “mystery” (or Bibliolatry) with which Christians view the Bible, then so much the better (we worship God, not the Bible), but it is not logically inconsistent with what I have written to claim that the Bible is divinely inspired and authoritative for faith and practice/ethics.
5. I get the fact that you are making a negative point about your beliefs about God (i.e., that you just don’t have any), but I’m not sure I buy it. On this blog you actively offer reasons to believe there is no God, and so I think your atheism is more positive than you seem willing to admit. Furthermore, you live in a way that suggests there is no God (i.e., you do not worship or pray, etc. I mean to make no point here about the ethical nature of your life, which, by all evidence I have, is as upstanding as that of any Christian)–or at least that the God of the Bible does not exist. So, I think your view is more positive than you think.
6. Finally, to your reasons for not taking theism as a default position:
In general, I think you’ve misunderstood y claim here. I’m not claiming that belief in God should be the default belief, but only that belief in God is no worse a default setting than belief that there is no God (or no belief in God, if you prefer). The two views are on epistemically equal footing. Now, to some of your specific points:
a) “Diversity of religions. Which one should I consider true by default?” I would probably say that we should consider whichever religious view (atheist or otherwise) we are raised with as the default setting, since it is generally a good thing when we are children to believe what our parents tell us (unless our parents are doing a crappy job). For example, my parents are atheists, and so I was raised in an atheist home, as an atheist. However, when we become adults, or at least capable of our own investigation of things, I think we ought to begin a kind of examination of our view of the world (including religious matters) that finishes only when we die, and that may well lead us to change our beliefs, as I did in becoming a Christian when I was 24. This is not to say that I think all religious beliefs are equally “true” in some strange relative sense, but only that atheist/non-religious positions don’t enjoy some privileged justified status over religious positions. So, I guess I don’t see the problem you are raising here for my point that someone who believes in God is in just as good a position epistemically (i.e., with respect to their justification for their beliefs) as someone who does not.
b) “Laws of nature. Supernatural religions go against our common experience of how the world works.” Does the big bang go against your common experience of how the world works? See my comments on the limitations of scientific induction above.
c) “Explanatory power of science. Most things that religion tried to explain are now understood and explained by science.” I actually disagree with this point. There are many things (I would say the central things) that religion tries to explain and that science has not and cannot explain. Science has not explained ethical norms (and never can, given the is-ought problem: you just cannot infer from a scientific description of the world to a prescriptive account of how the world/people ought to be/live), though I don’t think this means atheists can’t come to see moral truths and live according to them. But, a good bit of what religion tries to do is explain moral norms. Furthermore, I don’t think science has explained why there is something rather than nothing, another important point religion weighs in on, or why our lives are meaningful, or why we have hope. I’m not saying that atheists can’t/don’t have answers to these issues, but only that Almighty Science is not going to provide them. Insofar as religion provides answers to these issues, it seems to offer something science does not. And what exactly are the issues that Biblical religion tried (but failed?) to explain, that science now does explain? I can’t think of any.
d) “Average intelligence of believers and nonbelievers. If I arrived from another planet and began to investigate religion, I would find it relevant that on average the general intelligence of nonbelievers is higher than of believers (though of course there are plenty of exceptions).” This smacks of a very arrogant 21st-century-centric view. If your aliens arrived in the medieval period, ALL the best minds would have been theists. In fact, if they had arrived most any time between 400 CE and around 1850 CE, they would have found a situation contrary to the one you cite. Are you saying that our period of history is superior to the others in some relevant respect, and thus should be taken as the proper sample for your test of average intelligence? Could it be superior because in this period the elite are generally atheists? Now that sounds like a circular argument to me, or perhaps just a circular prejudice.
By the way, I don’t take my position to be liberal or academic. I think my high views of scripture and Jesus place me squarely in the evangelical (and not the liberal) camp. Moreover, my faith is living and active, not simply an academic exercise. I do aim to be a thoughtful Christian, but I don’t think that puts me in some separate denominational or ideological category.
I am very limited on time, but wanted to quickly say that I don’t think you answered my question. I do have evidence for Jesus’ life…the NT. I don’t have any contrary evidence from the time period that Jesus didn’t live, die and rise from the dead. And I think that I took for granted that the main difference is the resurrection. I assumed I didn’t have to say this. So I have reason to believe Jesus, reason not to believe other religions (no resurrection, grace, etc…). I don’t see the point of spending my whole life studying every other possibility when I would then be missing out on life and wouldn’t have time to do an adequate job besides. I don’t deny that I am very “lucky” to grow up where Christianity is the norm. But the moderate amount of study that I have done shows me that there is no one as trustworthy to follow than Christ. I guess my point is, that I have evidence, and you don’t. You are going completely on lack of evidence. But that is very dangerous, because you will never be able to collect all data and research everything. So your lack of belief will never have proof either. So we are really at an impasse. You have to have faith to believe what you choose to believe (or not to believe) and I have to have faith for my beliefs.
I will never believe something on lack of evidence, and you will not believe anything without proof. I don’t think that either of us would ever be able to satisfy the others requirement for belief.
It has been great finding out where you are coming from, and as Dave’s brother has been there and back, a little familiar too, but I do hope that you continue your search. Katie
“If I arrived from another planet and began to investigate religion, I would find it relevant that on average the general intelligence of nonbelievers is higher than of believers (though of course there are plenty of exceptions).”
I think Aaron’s point above about the inaccuracy of this point from a historical perspective is a good one. I would also say, though, that Paul acknowledged not many of the Christians in Corinth were known for their wisdom when they became Christians and argued that God has chosen the lowly of the world to shame the wise. Your observation about the average intelligence of believers is, at least, a Biblical one.
That said, if we’re going to turn to impressionic stereotypes of the type of people who are atheists vs. Christians (probably a dangerous move), then I would say that in general the kindness, love, and compassion of devoted believers far outpaces that of atheists. This is not to say that atheists as a whole are immoral, but my experience has been that Christians, in general, are better at working for the common good and self-sacrifice for the sake of others. Atheists couldn’t even raise enough money for a bus sign in London (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/2485331/Atheists-fail-to-cough-up-for-London-bus-ad.html) and I believe they are far outnumbered by Christians in overseas relief efforts. There’s plenty of evidence that Christians aren’t much better at personal morality than atheists (divorce rates are about the same for both groups, for instance), but as a group, they seem better at atheists at looking outwards even if many today sometimes lack the mostly inward skills of analysis and deduction. The fools shaming the wise, perhaps.
Anyway, I’m pretty sure you recognize this is not your strongest argument, so I’ll move back up out of the swamps of sweeping generalizations. I only wanted to address the point, because the actions (or fruit, if you like) of believers is actually one of the things that helps steady my faith when I’m feeling doubtful. I’d also say that I think it might do you good to get out of the Midwest/South if it ever becomes possible for you and your family. The commercialized, cultural, and mostly vapid Christianity so prevalent there gave me some long dark nights of the soul, especially when I was in Lexington.
“I don’t think that nonbelief requires evidence.” - Danny
I’m not sure. Could be the case, but I think it might not be. I suspect that most people operate of the tons of evidence that Christianity is not what it says it is, that prayer does not work, that there is no viable god up there in the sky, etc. I think that is the evidence that you are going off of, or something similar.
I’d wager to say that the only position that does not need evidence is a person’s starting point. That is, the culture’s position in which they are raised. That is what people will take at face value. It takes perceived evidence to move them one way or another.
Was lack of evidence was a reason that moved you from your starting point of your cultural backdrop into where you are now?
If it was, then I would say that the lack of evidence is an evidence itself.
I’m just saying that on the ground, no one has to justify their cultural backdrop, only movement in relation to it.
1. “Even if the Bible contains some historically reliable information about Jesus, the resurrection is not one of the uncontroversial items.”
Reply: You have missed my claim. I’m not saying that the historicity of the resurrection is an uncontroversial item. I’m saying that there is *SOME* evidence for it (i.e., the arguments I made previously), and thus there are reasons to believe in its historicity. So, it won’t do to say that Christians are completely irrational to think Jesus rose from the dead: in fact, they have their reasons. Part of the problem here is that what counts as evidence varies between our worldviews and there is no straightforward way to settle that difference. This is why the simple “Proportion belief to the evidence” policy is a lot less satisfying or effective than you seem to think. We will agree on much of what counts as evidence for many claims (e.g., scientific ones), but you will reject much that I see as evidence (particularly for religious claims) and there is no way to settle who is right. We interpret the data differently, we look at the world differently.
2. “As you know, there is a relationship between early Christian thought and Gnosticism, which considers women to be equal to men.”
Reply: If your point is that the women’s testimony would be readily accepted in the culture of the day, I think you are just flat wrong. I don’t think you’ll find any NT scholars to agree with you. You underestimate the patriarchy of that culture and overestimate the influence of gnosticism.
“I think it’s very likely that there was a historical Paul who really did believe that Jesus came back from the dead. But his only first-hand knowledge is from a vision he claimed to have. Yes, his life was probably disrupted by his change in beliefs, and he probably did think that his message was worth more then the life he gave up. But this could describe any number of cult promoters throughout history.”
Reply: I’m not saying we ought to believe Paul simply because he was sincere and not self-serving (as many other cult leaders might similarly have been), but rather I am saying that we cannot write off his testimony as not constituting evidence (he was passing on first-hand accounts of others). The same is true of Joseph Smith and Mohammed, though in those cases I think the defeating evidence of their claims is overwhelming (and so I reject their claims). I don’t think the defeating evidence in the case of Paul’s claims is overwhelming at all.
3. “I think you have misunderstood Hume, or at least the way I am using his argument…”
Reply: I’m not talking about Hume’s argument against miracles but rather his arguments against the validity of scientific induction. Hume has shown (I think) that there is no way to demonstrate the truth of an inductive claim (white swans, black swans, etc.). Indeed, I think his arguments against induction are in conflict with and overturn his argument against miracles. I think your comment that you would probably reject any evidence I provided for the resurrection is correct. However, as I suggested above, I don’t think this is because there isn’t enough evidence. I think it is because we are looking at the world differently, and thus what counts as evidence for us is different. We read the data differently, and you do not have a straightforward way of showing that your account of what constitutes evidence is correct over-against mine. I think this is a fundamental impasse of the “evidential” method of forming beliefs that you seem to want to pursue. Any scientist (or at least philosopher of science) will tell you that evidence is “theory-laden". Scientists must decide, when looking at a data set, which data actually count as data for theorizing, and this decision is generally made on the basis of the reigning theory. So, the view from which you start necessarily influences what is going to count as evidence, and thus what counts as a good belief to have.
5. “I don’t see how my disbelief in Yahweh is any more positive then your disbelieve in Woden.”
Reply: I’m not sure what “Woden” is, but I have no trouble admitting that I disbelieve in it (I can’t believe in something I know nothing of), in a positive sense, as I positively believe atheism is false. You are the one trying to claim your beliefs are negative (i.e., no beliefs about God) not me. My point is that, in fact, we *BOTH* have positive views about God. I think he exists, you think he does not.
6a. “That’s a fine idea, but we both know it doesn’t usually work that way. Your story and my story are the exceptions. It’s much more common for people to accept their parents’ religion.”
Reply: I thought your question was “Which religion *SHOULD* be the default?” not “Which religion *IS* the default?". The way you have answered “It’s much more common…” makes me think you are being inconsistent. You have asked me how it *SHOULD* be, I have responded with how I think it *SHOULD* go, and now you are telling me “No, it shouldn’t be that way because here is how it is…” That doesn’t make sense. I’m making a normative claim, so you can’t respond with a descriptive one.
c. “The scientific explanations overturned the religious explanations much more commonly than vice versa. Some examples: the creation of our planet…”
Reply: as far as I can tell, Christians are committed to the idea that God created our planet, insofar as God created everything in the universe. Has science really demonstrated that Christians are wrong about that? I don’t think so.
“…the creation of species…”
Reply: theistic evolution seems completely consistent with the best reading of Genesis. I don’t think science has “overturned” the Christian view of the creation of species in any sense. Taking the bible to be authoritative does not commit Christians to a view that includes the special (i.e., non-evolutionary) creation of any species. To your mind (and I would agree) science may have overturned this special creation view, but please don’t equate that with the view that deeply religious people (including Biblical Christians) must hold. Science certainly has not overturned my religious explanation of the creation of species, i.e., that God directed a process of evolution.
“…the shape of the planet…”
Reply: Does the Bible really commit Christians to the idea that the earth is flat? Again, science just has not overturned a properly religious view about this issue.
“…the cause of disease…”
Reply: I don’t see anywhere in the Bible that tells me where disease came from. What exactly has science overturned here?
“…and the history of the people of Israel…”
Reply: Christians need not be committed to the literal historical truth of the biblical accounts of Israel, though I think they are true in large part and that the “alternative stories” told by historians about OT literature are not always grounded in very solid evidence. We just don’t know much about that period, one way or the other. What I think Christians need to be committed to is the authority and truth of the teachings of the OT stories about Israel. So, the question is not, “Is this account historically accurate?” (suppose it was historically accurate: what help would that be?) but “What does this story teach me about God, how I ought to live my life, what my relation to God and people ought to be, etc.?” Again, I’m just not sure what important religious claim science has overturned here. The religious claim is not that we have an accurate history of Israel in the Bible, but rather that we have a true and authoritative account of how God deals with people (among other things).
d. “In terms of the state of human knowledge, of course our time is superior to previous centuries.”
Reply: I grant that our time has superior scientific and technological knowledge than any other in history. But, importantly, your claim is not about how much knowledge we have, but rather how intelligent we are. I take those two things to be different. We have accumulated more scientific facts, but do we reason better? Is there really a gap of INTELLIGENCE between this generation and prior ones? I don’t think this is so obvious, and so I still don’t think you have grounds for preferring our era over past ones: we are not at the pinnacle of human intelligence. Moreover, even if it were a matter of having more knowledge (as you say in your latest statement), I think the kind of superior knowledge this era has (i.e., scientific and technological) is not necessarily relevant to religious questions. Is the kind of knowledge this generation has really relevant to settling the religious questions you are trying to settle? If your aliens interested in investigating religion could pick any era of people as their sample for determining average intelligence/knowledge, I don’t think the superior scientific knowledge would be relevant to them. What they want is the era in which knowledge of religious matters is highest. If, in that era, the average intelligence of unbelievers was higher, then you might have a case. However, it is not obvious (indeed I think it is just false) that we are in an era in which knowledge of religious matters is greater than in past eras. I might claim that even many of our brightest minds are more unknowledgeable than ever when it comes to religion.
I don’t agree with your premise, Henry. And I’m not sure what point you’re driving at, anyway.
I wanted to comment on your proposition that unbelief is the starting point in all of this. I don’t think that is the case. I’d wager to say there is no such thing as non-belief, only a collection of beliefs. Non-belief is a misnomer because while I believe there is a god you believe there is not a god. It is a belief that you hold. Even agnostics believe something, namely that they believe they can cross this line when talking about attribute X of god’s (that attribute can be its existence or it could be that it is a personal and knowable deity). There is always a belief value.
Because there is a belief values that are ever-present in all of our questions it is not profitable to speak of a position of non-belief as a starting point, because it is impossible.
That was my first point. My second speaks to what position we must have evidence for in order to believe something. As products of culture we emerge very early on with that imprint upon us. This imprint is our baseline worldview. For myself, it was a baptist dispensationalist patriarchal captialist and libertarian restorationist young-earth worldview. I did not have any justifications for those beliefs, they were just what I grew into. Each and every one of us has our own and these are not brought into existence with proofs and evidence, they are just assumed.
The moment I start to move in any particular direction, either to strengthen my belief in dispensationalism or to move away from it - that is where evidence moves into the picture. I don’t know of anyone that has woken up one morning and said “I am stripping it all away” and proceeded to do so. In reality, they had been challenged by pieces of evidence that challenged their unwarranted starting point.
What I am saying is that there is no universal starting point because we all (in reality) start from a position of cultural background and have to move forward from that.
What is the point of all of the above? If you wanna be effective in moving yourself or others, this should be factored in.
Okay, I’m running out of steam here, but here are a few further thoughts/responses:
What evidence do you have for Sagan’s maxim? It’s a normative principle, so I don’t think you can have any. As you say, it is an “assertion", i.e., an unsubstantiated proposition.
Also, I will readily concede that my religious views are not proportioned directly to the evidence available. My only point has been to suggest that they are not completely without evidence. I do not support the view that we should/must have evidence for everything we believe. I’m just pointing out to you that there is some evidence, so the claim that there is none won’t fly.
Finally, you (Dan) come across as thinking that all your beliefs are grounded by evidence, and that they are appropriately proportioned to that evidence. In fact, roughly for reasons I think Henry has put quite well, I think that many (perhaps even most) of our beliefs are not grounded proportionally to evidence in this way. Skeptical philosophers have emphasized that in fact we don’t (and couldn’t) have good evidence for many of our most foundational beliefs, like belief that there is a world outside our minds, belief that our memories are reliable, belief that there are other minds in the world, etc. But, without these beliefs, we can’t even get science off the ground. So, I just think the whole idea that all belief requires proportional evidence is just not going to fly.
Well, I think it’s more spiritually and aesthetically satisfying to describe your blog posts as flaming arrows of the enemy. That image has the simultaneous advantages of having a biblical precedent and not being easily misinterpreted as an accusation of being Cool Whip.
I just realized that the lyric was thought to be “tube of cream,” not “tub of cream.” That’s where my very funny reference to Cool Whip went wrong. Leave it to the logic of a theist….
Sorry for the lack of response, we were out of town this weekend, but I did want to answer the question about Dave’s brother, which is yes, he is a Christian, and yes he was one of the first members of the free-thinkers, I am not sure about founding it though.
I knew you weren’t claiming to have evidence, I was making an observation. I also don’t think there is conclusive enough evidence to convince you. From the way you are talking, it seems you would need a document that is not at all debated or challenged. There aren’t any of those from the time period we are talking about (Jesus’ life), so I believe we are at an impasse still, but I will continue in prayer that God will make things clear to you, as you express that as your desire (truth and clarity).
Peter, you are a pretty funny guy. I got the cool-whip thing, and it was pretty funny.
I think you would have to either talk to Dave of his Brother for that info, I am not really someone his brother confides in. But I will ask Dave and see what I can tell you.
You don’t need to expect it at all, if God wants your attention, He will get it. Probably not through Peter’s jokes, but you never know. Peter is pretty smart for a theist though, you have to give him that.
lol, sorry I really disagree here.
Stephanie is pretty, Peter is pretty smart and funny.
Have you asked God to show you if he is real? You’ve done a lot of other research and asked a lot of people, but until you ask God you haven’t exhausted every resource. Miracles may not be real, until one happens to you. Then it’s real. If you really want to know, ask God. And no, you don’t have to believe in him to ask him a question. That’s why I believe. One day I asked God to show me if he was real. He did, in a BIG way. He would do the same for you.
At the end of your article you welcome people to share their reasons for and against belief in God. I was just sharing my MAIN reason for my belief, which is simply God revelation in the form of the miraculous. There was a point in my life when I was skeptical, so I asked God to show me if he was real. Then I started researching. I’ve have spent years researching the other players in the field, but find them lacking, and never got an answer or miracle from one of them. I’m no one special, so I assume what God does for me he would do for another, which is why I asked if you had ever specifically asked God the same question I did. I may have offended you in the tone of my original question - I think I was a little overbearing but I did not intend it that way. I sorry that in years of trying to experience God you said he did not answer you. I think its possible his answer is a process, and this could all be a part of it. I guess time will tell. I do wonder though if you are still searching, or if that time is past and you are now on a trek to disprove God. I appreciate your honesty and admire that you are open to these conversations. I wish you, Sarah and Emma much happiness. I will be praying for your “journey". You may think that its a waste of my time, but I would argue that you are worth it.
With all sincerity,
First, I have to say that I am always happy to see someone who stands firm on their views without alienating others and their opinions.
I think the point that I get from you and all the dialogue here is that you cannot use the holy book of your faith to explain its validity. As a “scholar-in-training,” I have to agree. If a person doesn’t believe the book is valid to begin with, using it as proof for anything is pointless. Even though I am consider myself a Christian woman, I have never taken the Christian Bible as the direct and strict word of God. Even when I was young, I noticed the inconsistency and the holes, holes that humans leave. More so when certain family members or other people attempted to explain the gaps to me. It went something along these lines:
“Where are the dinosaurs in the bible?”
“There were no dinosaurs in real life.”
“Then where did all the bones in the history museum come from?
“They were made by atheists to drive you from your faith.”
“But people find fossils in their backyards all the time…”
When I got to college, as an Agnostic, and began studying religion (not any religion specifically), I realized everyday in my Christianity courses that the words of the Bible were written by certain men for a certain people for a certain time, an explanation that apparently no one I had spoken to had come up with. I highly doubt that setting a prostitute on fire or requiring a man to have sex with his late brother’s sister to provide an heir would go over well in the 21st century world or even be considered ethical by most people’s standards.
I also don’t attempt to explain my religious experience as proof either. Language has a way of getting many things across, but experience is not one of them. Its like trying to explain how chocolate tastes. It would go something like this:
“I’ve never had chocolate. What does it taste like?”
“Well, its sweet but kind of bitter at the same time.”
“Sweet and bitter? But they’re completely opposite tastes. That doesn’t make any sense.”
“You just have to taste it for yourself.”
And even then, they might not even like chocolate, or may describe its taste differently. Not saying that religion is like chocolate, but it just proves the point on language and its boundaries. Not to mention that people interpret different experiences many ways. Sometimes a similar experience will lead to the Christianity. Sometimes it leads to Wicca (like my ex-boyfriend and my best friend, which didn’t go over well with some family members). Sometimes it leads to Atheism.
In addition, to try to invalidate others points of view or religions as “misguided” is ridiculous. Not implying that anyone on here is (I haven’t been able to read ALL of the comments yet), just pointing out that there are some within religious faiths who do so as a weak rebuttal.
A friend of mine, a reverend, doesn’t try to convert people. If they ask, she tells them as best she can what she feels. But ultimately she says, “I can’t force a Hindu woman to get out of her Volkswagen and into my Toyota.” Over dinner once, we had a pretty wonderful conversation. It circled around how even though we consider ourselves Christian women, so many religions came before ours, can we be sure ours is right? We still have no definitive answer, and we both are completely content with it.
I also see some things differently than a lot of people in terms of religion in general. I don’t see God, Allah, Jehovah, YHWH, Shiva, etc. as different entities. Just different interpretations based on people’s previous experiences and surroundings. Unfortunately, as a result of a differing view than mine, the world has had to endure many pointless “holy” wars to defeat other people’s Gods/ Goddesses.
I completely understand why someone would become an Atheist. For that matter, I can see why people follow a lot of different faiths.
I’m sorry if this might seem long-winded and maybe disjointed. I’m usually not up this early and I guess I’m trying to answer questions before you ask them. But I’m sure you’ll find some, and I am happy to answer them as best I can with the limit of language I know.