Interfaith Dialogue from the Christian Perspective

Here’s an article you don’t read everyday.

Martin L. Smith explains to fellow Christians the benefits of religious dialogue with atheists.

In the process, he actually gets most of his descriptions of atheists correct:

… adherents [of atheism or agnosticism] believe human beings can and must create for themselves lives that are worth living, that we must forge values that work now without the claims of a supernatural source. It believes that though human beings enjoy only a few decades of existence and our species is destined for extinction, yet the adventure of human existence is sufficiently glorious to be lived well.

… Go deep in conversation with our humanist neighbor and we might discover a commitment to justice, decency, compassion, even to virtue, for their own sake. The idea that atheists are intrinsically likely to believe that anything goes morally is a slander. So in dialogue with humanists, Christians may find themselves more in agreement than they imagine. When I talk with an avowed humanist committed to social justice and strong personal ethics of compassion and fidelity, I find myself in hearty agreement that goodness is to be chosen from the heart because it is good, as our mystics have always held. Making a choice from fear of punishment is spiritually infantile.

There are millions of intelligent people who aren’t prejudiced against spirituality but who see no signs of the existence of God when they look hard at the same world we live in as people of faith. It is very healthy for Christians to realize how mysteriously hidden God is. We believe that God is hidden intentionally. If God were obvious, our devotion would be coerced. It is because we can say No to the being of God that when we do say Yes we are acting in real freedom.

I take issue with Smith’s mention of atheism as a stance of faith. But outside of that, it’s rare to hear that sort of respectful commentary about atheists coming from a priest.

(Thanks to Donna for the link!)


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • Karen

    Way to call out a slander when he sees it! Excellent.

    The idea that god is intentionally hiding mysteriously so we won’t be “coerced” into worshipping him is just weird, though. That god is such a tricky fellow! ;-)

  • Mark

    Karen wrote:

    “The idea that god is intentionally hiding mysteriously so we won’t be “coerced” into worshipping him is just weird”

    Is the idea really all the weird? Think about it. If God wants you to make your own decision then it makes sense that he would not want to intimidate you in any way. It would also make sense that instead of coming to visit us as a fearsome warrior galloping across the sky, God might choose to come to earth in the form of a baby newly born to a family so poor that he was delivered in a barn with the animals.

    If you really think about it you might find that God is not forcing anything upon you. Its all those foaming-at-the-mouth nutballs who call themselves Christians who want to argue with you and force you into doing (or believing) what they want you to.

    If you think about it long enough you begin to realize that God is really cool but Christians are awful and nasty. Can I choose to believe in God but not Christians?

  • http://wisertime.wordpress.com Jake

    The trouble is, the same book that tells you he came to earth in the form of a baby also says next time he’s coming back as a fearsome warrior galloping across the sky.

  • Siamang

    If God wants you to make your own decision then it makes sense that he would not want to intimidate you in any way.

    Brilliant! It’s either a backwards-double-secret-reverse-psychology mind-game that just makes it LOOK like the world’s religions are either making it all up or people who went way overboard on an old bunch of campfire legends. OR, it’s INGENIOUSLY subtle. Hmmmm….

    Which is more likely… human fallibility, or divine backwards double-secret I perform giant miracles, yet am hidden, yet come as jesus and walk on water, yet didn’t! Yet died, yet DIDN’T, so you won’t die when you DO, but really really you DON’T really die when you die, that’s just a little trick! HURRAY!

    What a big FOOLER that God guy is, making it just LOOK like you die when you die, but you don’t die, you go somewhere else!

    Sorry Mark. You are being nice, and I’m actually not being nice, and I really SHOULD. But I am illustrating the wierdness that I see in it, as Karen points out.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    As long as said God does not eternally damn people who can’t find him because he’s so good at his own game of hide-and-seek, I don’t have a problem with that doctrine. In fact, it is the only one that makes sense, since it is basically impossible to find concrete evidence for the existence of said God. People believe in God because they were told to and/or it makes them feel good, and this provides a way to justify faith. OK, I can live with that. Especially coming from someone who says the other things that this guy did in his article. It was an excellent piece.

    I didn’t understand the penultimate paragraph — beginning with “And what about superstition and religious illusion?” — though.

  • Xeonicus

    I like him, seems like a pretty decent chap to me. Can we keep him?

  • Siamang

    I agree Xeonicus. I applaud that kind of bridge-building. Hey! I wonder if Hemant could contact Martin Smith and invite him into a conversation here!

  • David D.G.

    Mark wrote:

    If you think about it long enough you begin to realize that God is really cool but Christians are awful and nasty. Can I choose to believe in God but not Christians?

    Christians definitely do exist. Proof of God is a wee bit more elusive, to say the least.

    And by the way, are you so sure that God is all that cool? If you accept even half of what the Old Testament reports him doing, I’d say he’s an insecure, sadistic, psychopathic monster. And before you go saying that the New Testament replaces that view, I’d like to add that killing his own, innocent son by torture to satisfy his own bloodlust by proxy to free us from being punished for doing what we could never avoid doing in the first place, because that’s how he made us, is hardly an improvement, either.

    Stick with Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Aesop’s Fables. Not only are the morals clearer, but they are morally superior to those the Bible presents.

    ~David D.G.

  • Siamang

    Mark said,

    God might choose to come to earth in the form of a baby newly born to a family so poor that he was delivered in a barn with the animals.

    I’ve heard this before.. this idea that the best spokesperson for God would be a human being.

    To me, that’s the WORST spokesperson. Why? Because it’s the easiest thing to fake, or be mistaken or get wrong. If God has a message for human beings, the WORST messenger is a person, because people lie.

    So if Jesus was God’s spokesman on earth, and the apostles were Jesus’s spokespeople, and then the writers of the gospels were THEIR spokespeople, and the editors of the bible became THEIR spokespeople, and then preachers of the Bible become ITS spokespeople. By the time you get to Church on Sunday, what you’re hearing is 5 steps removed from God! Nope, no human possibility for error, sin, pride, greed, power, small-mindedness, etc in danger of corrupting the message there, no-sir-ee. And that’s ASSUMING Jesus spoke for God in the first place, a HUGE assumption that gives away the farm.

    If a message is important, then authenticating that message is at least as important as the message itself. It does the soldiers in the D-Day invasion no good to have clear orders telling them exactly what to do, but no idea if they came from Washington or Berlin or were decided on by a bunch of guys in the boat, and they pretty much all BELIEVED it came from Washington.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    As long as said God does not eternally damn people who can’t find him because he’s so good at his own game of hide-and-seek, I don’t have a problem with that doctrine.

    The Hiddenness of God is part of the reason I don’t believe that God eternally damns people for choosing the wrong religion, or for choosing not to believe in her at all.

  • Rest

    It’s refreshing to see a positive viewpoint of atheists from a Christian. However, if I may lapse into my old evangelical-speak, he’s a liberal and therefore not a Real True Christian ™. Atheists are still headed for hell!

    As for the hiddenness of God, I guess those of us who were honest and devout Christians for many years just didn’t look hard enough. Maybe He was hiding under the church carpet all this time, that crafty old trickster. The same logic can apply to faeiries or other supernatural entities.

    “It is very healthy for people to realize how mysteriously hidden faeiries are. We believe that faeiries are hidden intentionally. If faeiries were obvious, our devotion would be coerced. It is because we can say No to the faeiries that when we do say Yes we are acting in real freedom.”

  • Richard Wade

    I visited Martin’s blog, read his article and left this, taking him up on his offer. It has to be approved first before it is published. If I spoke for others here inaccurately, you can differ with me if and when he or his readers come to visit.

    Martin,
    Thank you for this wonderful and courageous statement. After years of being repeatedly told by Christians that as an atheist I am immoral, foolish, depressed, hateful, conceited, unpatriotic, untrustworthy and downright evil, it is heart warming to hear an influential cleric denounce all those assumptions as the slanders that they are.

    I learned about your article at another blog, “The Friendly Atheist” run by Hemant Mehta where I often comment and occasionally write my own articles. http://www.friendlyatheist.com The largest portion of my time there I spend trying to break through negative stereotypes and to establish positive, respectful dialogues between believers and nonbelievers. I confront my fellow atheists just as readily on their prejudice as I do the misinformed theists who come to visit. When an etiquette faux pas is inadvertently committed, (such as referring to an “avowed atheist”) some of the more touchy ones may be annoyed by it but I try to encourage everyone to patiently explain things.

    If you and your readers are actually interested in engaging in the conversations you describe, then “The Friendly Atheist” is a very good place to start. We are real, live atheists and we would be happy to welcome you and your friends to as one of my good friends calls, “our virtual olive garden.”

    However I would want to help the process to avoid a stumbling block right at the beginning by warning you that most of us would strongly disagree with the sentiment you attributed to Krister Stendahl that “…the only kind of interfaith dialogue worthy of the name is a conversation between equals that puts both parties at risk of being drawn to adopt the other person’s belief;” It would be helpful to not assume that the atheists you will talk with are simply the mirror images of yourselves. For instance, if one of your readers has as a motive the possibility of converting an atheist to your belief, that atheist is not likely to be harboring a desire to convert him to non-belief. There are a very few, but most of the atheists I know have no interest in causing someone else to “lose their religion.” Yes, we expect to be treated as equals and will afford you the same courtesy. But we have already been through literally thousands of dialogues initiated by believers whose overt or covert purpose was to convert us to their belief. The very best and the very worst have tried time and again, and none of it has ever worked. We have heard every argument for conversion ever dreamed up many times, and we’re very bored with it all. We consider such motivations to be aggression and we are not interested in receiving or delivering such a thing.

    If there is any convincing in mind the most common one in atheists is to try to convince theists to stop intruding into five rooms where they don’t belong: someone else’s bedroom, the public schoolroom, the courtroom, the doctor’s office, and the research laboratory. When atheists fight to keep church and state separate, they are fighting for your right to worship as you see fit.

    What I and several other atheists would want from such talks is mutual understanding and respect based on correct information, on-going commitments to go back to our respective “camps” to dispel misconceptions in the minds of our fellows, and agreements to work together for mutually beneficial goals.

    Martin, I hope that you and your readers take up your challenge to visit and converse with us. There may be awkward moments and misunderstandings along the way, but if we come together with the spirit that you have portrayed, I think we can all benefit. I leave an olive branch at your feet.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Why can’t people get out of this mindset of humanizing God? The concept of the Trinity is not as simple as you all want to make it. Jesus is not a mere spokesperson for God.

    It is very healthy for Christians to realize how mysteriously hidden God is. We believe that God is hidden intentionally. If God were obvious, our devotion would be coerced. It is because we can say No to the being of God that when we do say Yes we are acting in real freedom.

    I don’t know if I agree with this. I guess we do ultimately choose our behaviors, so maybe there’s some choice involved. But I believe he chose us first. Let’s look at our bio needs. We drink when we’re thirsty, we eat when we’re hungry, and we dispose of our wastes when we need to. But aren’t they also natural reactions to our physical needs that we have no choice over? Perhaps we can apply that concept to our spiritual needs as well?
    I’m just thinking…

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Richard,

    Great post! I agree with everything except for the doctor’s office and the research laboratory. As a matter of fact, I have some issues with the whole separation of church and state thing. As long as it’s not pushed on others, I don’t see why people can’t be honest about their faith no matter where they are.

    That’s just like saying I can’t talk about this blog while I’m in church. Why not? Why should I hold back on talking about my friends just because it makes some people uncomfortable?

    How can a person turn on and off their faith depending on where they are? Don’t you think pushing the school systems to hire more atheist teachers like Hemant and allowing open discussion among the students (with the teachers as role models) would be a better idea?

    Religion is not going away anytime soon. I read somewhere that telling people to stop doing religion (in public or otherwise) is like telling them to stop having sex. It will still go on regardless. Pretty soon, the kids will be sneaking around and doing religion in the bathrooms in between classes. Scripture verses will be passed around in cheap plastic baggies with a secret hand-shake. Is that what you want, huh? huh? ;)

    All joking aside, maybe it’s a bad idea… I’m afraid too many people on both sides probably will not see it my way. :(

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    So God cleverly set up the world to make it appear as though it has no supernatural aspects…. And only the spiritually gifted can discover through revelation the hidden nature of God… And God rewards those who believe… just not in any tangible way in this this life that can be distinguished from an atheist with a positive mental attitude…. The rewards come in the theorized afterlife (which we have no evidence for)….

    It all kind of reminds me of a sophomoric (kind of cleaver) math riddle where absolutely anything can be proven (like 1=2) but the proof involves a “hidden” step of dividing by zero…

    Although, I do say that it is refreshing to hear Christians not slander atheists. Unfortunately, I too often hear the slanders…

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Linda wrote:
    …I agree with everything except for the doctor’s office and the research laboratory…

    Note that many Christians want to gag doctors from saying certain things about reproductive options and what they can prescribe.

    Also many Christians want to dictate and limit what research is allowed in the laboratory (for example, prevent stem cell research).

    I don’t think anybody cares if people talk about religion in either the doctor’s office or the laboratory…

    I do like, though, your version of Christianity much better than what I usually hear. :)

  • http://ecstathy.blogspot.com efrique

    Mike Clawson said,
    The Hiddenness of God is part of the reason I don’t believe that God eternally damns people for choosing the wrong religion, or for choosing not to believe in her at all.

    Mike, I definitely see there’s a kind of logic to your position (logic is a thing I admire). I presume then that you either:
    (i) don’t think that the Bible faithfully records what Jesus said (since he seems to disagree with you, e.g. in Matthew and Luke) or
    (ii) don’t think Jesus was/is divine (so was perhaps accurately recorded but mistaken when mentioning hell – presumably rejecting the Nicene creed)?
    (NB I realize there’s more than this dichotomy available to you)

    If (i) is true, how do you decide what is true in the Bible? Do you just pick whatever feels right, or is there some sophisticated method for arriving at what’s true?

    If (ii) is true, do you lean a bit more toward Deism? (Deism or not is just dandy with me – I’m just trying to get a handle on where you’re at)

    If neither is true, could you please explain how you reconcile Jesus’ words with your disbelief in Hell?

    [This is not intended as an attack in any way. If it reads that way to you, please feel free to ignore the question, with no hard feelings from me. I just find myself curious how this works. If you have discussed issues like this somewhere else, a link would probably suffice to satisfy me - I'm not looking for a big debate here.]

  • http://ecstathy.blogspot.com efrique

    A minor correction to my earlier question. A desire to be brief led me to inaccurately characterize what you said. I mentioned “disbelief in Hell”, which is not what you said. Please read that as “disbelief in Hell for believing the wrong religion” — you never said you disbelieve in Hell for other things.

  • http://www.xanga.com/drew85 Drew

    You know, everyone on earth has seen hard evidence of a police station, yet some people continue to choose to steal.

    God revealing himself would not remove our ability to choose freely. “Hiding” his existence really is stupid. BUT, it seems if God wanted people to follow him out of goodness, he would hide his power. It seems like he would appear as a weakling in the desert. No, not Jesus, who worked miracles and made it understood that if he wanted, he could have a horde of angels fighting for him… but someone like Ghandi, claiming no backing from God, but only proclaiming that we should all live morally and respect each other.

    I dunno. I’m sure I’m repeating what other people have said here.

    The point I originally wanted to make:
    I’ve been talking with a friend who has an attitude very similar to this poster. And she has a different take on faith than the one I am used to. I’m not sure it makes sense, and I’m not sure I agree with it, but she’s very sharp and I thought I’d put it out here for others to criticize or agree with.

    She likens “faith” to the Christian ideas of “joy” and “love.” She says all of these ideas are beautiful/holy because they are intertwined with free will. However, she has a definition of faith that is different from what I am used to, but it’s the idea, not the word, that’s important. Her idea is that “faith” does not mean “without evidence.” In fact, she goes so far as to say that without evidence, faith is meaningless.

    I admit, I’m still not exactly sure I understand what this definition of faith really means, but the way I look at it is from the perspective that there really could exist “philosophical zombies” and that a “spiritual self” really does exist. If you grant these things, then I think her idea of “faith” would be whatever is the difference between a spiritual being with free will following the evidence out of choice, and a philosophical zombie following the evidence out of necessity.

    Again, this isn’t my idea, and it may not even be a perfectly accurate representation of her idea. However, I write this to make a point: it’s possible that when the writer of that article talks about “faith,” he’s not accusing us of belief without evidence. (Of course, it seems to me, saying that atheism and Christianity both require the same amount of faith is the same, then, as saying “there is equal evidence for the two things.” Which, I think, is what the author would believe– although that evidence might be cleverly hidden.)

    And yes, this is very different from the version of “faith” that most Christians (and atheists) usually use. And yes, I still hate it when people say atheists have “faith.” But people don’t always say it out of ignorance or stupidity, and to the degree that we could grant that some Christians might see evidence for their beliefs, then from their worldview it might actually be at least a logically consistent use of the word.

    Maybe.

    Sorry for the length.

  • Darryl

    Mark, you poor fella, you’ve just been . . . SIAMANGLED!!!

    Mike said:

    The Hiddenness of God is part of the reason I don’t believe that God eternally damns people for choosing the wrong religion, or for choosing not to believe in her at all.

    Keeping in mind that I don’t believe that either, nonetheless, the Scripture states
    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

    John 3:16-18

  • Richard Wade

    Hi Linda, Jeff touched on what I meant by the five rooms, in particular the doctor’s office and the research laboratory, but I’ll clarify just to be sure:

    Separation of church and state does not mean that people should be forbidden from expressing their religious beliefs in the public square. It means that those beliefs should not be made into the laws of the land, laws that would tell us: who as adults we can love or marry, (bedroom) that a specific religious explanation must be substituted for a scientific theory in a science class or that a religious prayer should be required in a publicly funded school setting, (public classroom) that civil and criminal laws and public policy should be dictated by the morals and values of a specific religion, (courtroom) what medical procedure a doctor should recommend or perform for his patient, (doctor’s office) or what scientific research may or may not be pursued. (research laboratory.)

    For instance, prayer is not forbidden in schools. That statement is fundie propaganda. Kids can pray on their own or in groups during non-classroom time as they so choose. What is out of line is to force taxpayers to pay for religious practices and beliefs being forced upon their children, beliefs with which they may not agree.

    Since the government is notorious for screwing up most of the things it takes over, religious folks should be the strongest supporters of separation of church and state. I don’t understand why so many can’t see that.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    efrique, you said:

    Mike, I definitely see there’s a kind of logic to your position (logic is a thing I admire). I presume then that you either:
    (i) don’t think that the Bible faithfully records what Jesus said (since he seems to disagree with you, e.g. in Matthew and Luke) or
    (ii) don’t think Jesus was/is divine (so was perhaps accurately recorded but mistaken when mentioning hell – presumably rejecting the Nicene creed)?
    (NB I realize there’s more than this dichotomy available to you)

    You’re right. There are more options available. For instance:

    (iii) don’t think that “God sends people to Hell for choosing the wrong religion” is a correct interpretation of the Biblical texts.

    If you have discussed issues like this somewhere else, a link would probably suffice to satisfy me – I’m not looking for a big debate here.

    We’ve already gone over all of this very recently in the comments of this post.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

    What does it mean to be “condemned”? Does it necessarily mean “condemned to Hell after one dies”? Does the text actually say anything about that at all?

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    “…the only kind of interfaith dialogue worthy of the name is a conversation between equals that puts both parties at risk of being drawn to adopt the other person’s belief;”

    Richard, I’m not sure he was talking about trying to “convert” others. It seems to me that this is simply a good way to approach any conversation, regardless of what the topic is. How can you have a worthwhile dialogue with anyone who thinks differently than you unless you’re willing to honestly consider their point of view and the possibility that they may be speaking truth? I find that the conversation is most profitable to me when I come at it with an open mind and willingness to learn.

  • Richard Wade

    Mike,
    Oh I agree that Krister Stendhal’s thrust in that quote was probably not about conversion. I was responding to what Martin said further. Here is his whole paragraph:

    Now, as the late Bishop Krister Stendhal has reminded us, the only kind of interfaith dialogue worthy of the name is a conversation between equals that puts both parties at risk of being drawn to adopt the other person’s belief; so we must mean business and take that risk. If the outcome is that someone comes to know God through our conversation that is great. But even if she doesn’t, it will do us good to discover that atheists have something important to contribute to our religious faith. They can keep us more rigorously honest. Their challenges can have a purging effect and jolt us into more mature belief.

    I think Stendhal was talking about mutual and genuine open-mindedness, the kind of willingness to learn that you are saying. Martin’s next three sentences sound more like an interest in deliberately changing an atheist’s views by getting them to “come to know God.” I also found it interesting that with the exception of his use of Stendhal’s word “risk,” he doesn’t seem to consider the possibility that the theists whom he is encouraging to talk to atheists might end up abandoning their beliefs.

    Perhaps I’m reading Martin’s words too strongly, but I was hoping to forestall what I thought would be the most futile and unpleasant part of his proposal. On the other hand, to what he said about using such dialogue to keep them “rigorously honest” and challenging them to a more mature level of belief I have no serious objection. It reminded me of things you said about your motives when you first started engaging with people here. I wouldn’t however want such talks to be nothing more than a spiritual gymnasium where theists can get stronger in their faith by sparring with atheists. This isn’t a Balley’s for Belief. There has to be some benefit for us too, or they’re gonna get born again and we’re just gonna get bored again.

  • cipher

    I’m not at all surprised by this. Smith is an Episcopalian; they’re notoriously liberal. It isn’t at all uncommon to hear one of them talk this way. It’s far less common to hear this kind of rhetoric from an evangelical. Our friend Mike Clawson (with whom I still disagree about the history of Christian theology and the meaning of the text) is a rare exception.

    I had the privilege of meeting Krister Stendahl on two occasions over the course of the past year. I live in the Boston area, and often attend lectures at Harvard, particularly at the Divinity School. Occasionally, Rev. Stendahl would attend as well. I was able to sit next to him one evening and talk for a bit. A rare and wonderful man, greatly loved by the entire Harvard community and everyone who knew him. There will be a memorial service at Memorial Church in Harvard Yard next Friday, May 16th, at 3:00.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Thank you Jeff and Richard, for clarifying the separation of church and state. I’ve always looked at the concept as government ruled vs. church ruled. Now I see where we’re trying to go, although I’m not quite sure we can fully get there. I recently heard someone’s quote (can’t recall who) which says that democracy is great while we’re pursuing it; but once we get it, we must get rid of it immediately. :)

    And great thoughts from all posters, indeed, regarding the dialogue between the two sides. Can we suppose for a moment that there is no choice; that our spiritual personality is already determined? A part of our genetic make-up, if you will. Let’s not even look at the afterlife aspect of it right now. Let’s call this… SQ. (There’s no such thing, of course…yet! ;) It’s just one of Linda’s crazy ideas.) Supposing that everyone accepts that we have different SQ (not good or bad, just different), do you think that would change the color and the direction the dialogue flows between the theists and the atheists?

    And Drew, thank you for your post. I want to see more of them – I like the way you think. :)

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    It seems to me that this is simply a good way to approach any conversation, regardless of what the topic is. How can you have a worthwhile dialogue with anyone who thinks differently than you unless you’re willing to honestly consider their point of view and the possibility that they may be speaking truth?

    I don’t know. I can talk to people about things I disagree about without thinking that one of us has to win and convince the other that they are wrong. That’s the difference between discussion and debate. And some things are just opinions, so there’s no reason both people can’t be speaking the truth even if they disagree. I’ve also found that many times people think they disagree because they use different words and examples to express the same thoughts. I think that’s part of what this article is saying about (liberal) Christians and atheists.

    However, I must say as I’m writing my de-conversion memoir, I’m feeling the tugs of what I once found appealing about Christianity. It’s an interesting experience. I know I can’t go back, because I could never be a blind believer like I was before, but it’s nevertheless interesting to have these old feelings come back to me. Not sure how that’s related to this topic, but it made me think of that.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    I don’t know. I can talk to people about things I disagree about without thinking that one of us has to win and convince the other that they are wrong.

    I wasn’t talking about “winning” or “convincing” the other. I was talking about trying to learn from the other. The first (what I think you and Richard are responding to) is an attempt to do something to the other. The latter is about desiring to receive something from the other.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    I don’t know. I can talk to people about things I disagree about without thinking that one of us has to win and convince the other that they are wrong.

    I wasn’t talking about “winning” or “convincing” the other. I was talking about trying to learn from the other. The first (what I think you and Richard are responding to) is an attempt to do something to the other. The latter is about desiring to receive something from the other.

    Anytime there is a discussion about any subject, isn’t it natural to want to have an end goal? If there is an agreement, we seek a higher knowledge of what’s discussed than what we had before the discussion. If there is a disagreement, both sides should be open to the possibility of being wrong. Isn’t that what having an open mind is all about? Otherwise, what’s the point in discussing anything? We cannot go on indefinitely just agreeing to disagree. Where’s the progress in that?

    I agree with you, Mike, but once the new information is received, don’t we need to decide whether that information is valid or not? We can’t continue a dialogue if all we’re doing is receiving. Can there ever be two rights or two wrongs?

  • Siamang

    Darryl said:

    Mark, you poor fella, you’ve just been . . . SIAMANGLED!!!

    Yeah, sorry about that, Mark.

    From the article quoted:

    So in dialogue with humanists, Christians may find themselves more in agreement than they imagine. When I talk with an avowed humanist

    Can we get him to work on the word “avowed”? Is he an avowed Episcopalian?

  • Richard Wade

    Linda, you brought up an interesting question:

    Can we suppose for a moment that there is no choice; that our spiritual personality is already determined? A part of our genetic make-up, if you will.

    This is an idea I have considered for some time, (but so far I haven’t found much affirmation in literature. Maybe somebody can refer me to something they have read.) I sometimes talk about how it seems that there are two kinds of people, those who are strongly oriented toward their hearing and those who are strongly oriented toward their seeing. It is not a learned difference, it’s a biologically inborn difference.

    Some people learn by listening to others, and they are satisfied that what they have learned is sufficiently verified by having heard it. Then they repeat what they have been told to others who will also accept it upon hearing it. Because this involves a social interaction, they tend to congregate in large groups where the verbally repeated knowledge is basically consistent. There is a power and a comfort in that consistency.

    On the other hand there are those who hear things from others but who must also go out and see for themselves. For them, only seeing is believing. When there is a contradiction between what has been heard and what has been seen, then they have a crisis. They must choose between their ears and their eyes. Will they continue to accept what they have heard from their parents, preachers and friends and ignore what their eyes are showing them or will they reject what they were taught in favor of what their own eyes now reveal. The ones who do that are the skeptics. The word skeptic means “to look.” The same word is in “telescope” and “microscope.” It does not mean to refuse to believe. These visually-oriented people will be attracted to others like them, but because their process for learning is more about interacting with the physical world around them, they will apply their skepticism to each other’s conclusions as well. Consequently their groupings tend to be smaller and less cohesive.

    The circumstances of their personal and cultural upbringing will determine how painful that hearing/seeing crisis will be. For me it was easy because I was raised by skeptics who encouraged me to look and look and look, but that does not guarantee producing a skeptic. My brother, raised in the same environment, is a devout Christian. He accepts for the most part scientific explanations for the world and life, but his ability to believe upon hearing and my inability to believe upon hearing seem to have been biologically inborn.

  • J Myers

    Linda,

    Can we suppose for a moment that there is no choice; that our spiritual personality is already determined?

    Yes and no. There are many people whose religious beliefs (what I understand you to mean by “spiritual personality”) have changed at some point in their lives, so a fixed “spiritual personality” is not what we observe. If, however, you simply mean “personality” when you say “spiritual personality,” then yes, we all certainly exhibit different tendencies and preferences (such as an inclination to believe or disbelieve in gods) as a result of our varied genetics and life experiences–I think this much is already accepted by just about everyone.

    I have previously commented that what we believe is not in any way a choice; a belief is, by definition, what you think is true about the world. Given your inherent tendencies, the life you’ve lived, the arguments you’ve heard, etc, you have formed certain beliefs. These beliefs are a consequence of your circumstances. This is not to say that these beliefs are fixed; if I introduce an argument regarding a particular belief you hold, and you find my argument compelling, your belief will change in some manner (you may not be as sure about your position as you were previously, or you may abandon it altogether). If your belief does not change, then you did not find the argument compelling (perhaps you identified a flaw, or you did not understand it, or you may acknowledge that you find it sound as presented, but you suspect that others who are more knowledgeable than you would be able to refute it, etc).

    do you think that would change the color and the direction the dialogue flows between the theists and the atheists?

    If this were indeed the case, then yes, the dialogue would certainly change; there would be point discussing such things, as it would be known a priori that no information that might be exchanged would have any affect on anyone’s position.

  • Richard Wade

    Siamang,

    Can we get him to work on the word “avowed”? Is he an avowed Episcopalian?

    Yeah, I needled him a little about that. Half of the definitions for “avowed” are about revealing a negative thing, but at least it wasn’t “admitted.” Why does there have to be an adjective there at all? Maybe Martin was meaning something like “confirmed” or “serious” or “strongly committed” or “real live” which is why I used that phrase in my invitation.

    Thanks, by the way for that great phrase, “virtual olive grove.”

  • cipher

    Can we suppose for a moment that there is no choice; that our spiritual personality is already determined?

    There actually seems to be some evidence now of a physiological basis for ideological orientation: http://www.latimes.com/news/science/la-sci-politics10sep10,0,5982337.story?coll=la-home-center

  • Siamang

    Thanks, by the way for that great phrase, “virtual olive grove.”

    Thanks. I was moved by a recent trip to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. They’ve got a small grove of olive trees on the grounds. I wasn’t aware of the symbolism before.

    I love the image of a place where ideas are batted around as being a holy place.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Can we suppose for a moment that there is no choice; that our spiritual personality is already determined?

    I would put it this way: belief is not voluntary. I would have never chosen to become an atheist and stop being a born-again Christian. But one day I just realized that I didn’t believe in God any more. It was a revelation about myself, not choice about what to believe.

  • Karen

    Mark (who is probably long gone by now), I won’t address the “hidden” god syndrome because the Siamangler ;-), Writerdd and Mike C. already covered that ground. Basically, I agree that if one’s eternal future depends on which god one believes in, only a malevolent god would play hide-and-seek while sending out confusing and contradictory messages about its existence.

    You said:

    Its all those foaming-at-the-mouth nutballs who call themselves Christians who want to argue with you and force you into doing (or believing) what they want you to.

    If you think about it long enough you begin to realize that God is really cool but Christians are awful and nasty. Can I choose to believe in God but not Christians?

    This is one of those common points we hear all the time: Believe in Jesus because he’s really, really cool, but ignore/despise those “nutballs” who claim to believe in Jesus, and who say their lives have been changed by him.

    Can you see how this doesn’t make much sense and isn’t very convincing? If these Christians are the people claiming to represent Jesus and his way of life, and if they claim to have been given supernatual help (the holy spirit) to improve themselves, how come they’re so “awful and nasty” (your words, not mine)?

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Again, thank you for the great thoughts to my question of the link between genetics and spiritual tendencies. I found this book and three articles regarding the book:

    Time
    Washington Post
    Nature Genetics

    I also found an ABC News article regarding a study of twins, which is very interesting. The Time article refers to this study as well.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Thank you for the thoughts on my question about the link between spiritual tendencies and our genes.

    I found a few articles, but I guess I can’t post a comment with more than one link (i tried), so here’s a TIME article. I found another article in Washington Post, as well as Nature Genetics, in response to the book, The God Gene by a geneticist Dean H. Hamer.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Also, here’s an ABC News article on a study of identical twins and spirituality. Fascinating.

  • http://www.runicfire.net ansuzmannaz

    Cipher,

    There actually seems to be some evidence now of a physiological basis for ideological orientation: http://www.latimes.com/news/science/la-sci-politics10sep10,0,5982337.story?coll=la-home-center

    Are you sure about this? All the study seemed to confirm is a psychological difference between liberals and conservatives, having to do with how each group deals with ambiguity and change. While temperament no doubt has something to do with it, it could be that those who are brought up as liberal are psychologically “primed” to deal with change and ambiguity better, whereas conservatives are primed to be unfaltering in their right (or wrong) judgment. In other words, correlation does not equal causation. The change in temperament could reflect external as well as internal factors, and it could be that such personality traits are more malleable than they appear.

  • cipher

    Ansuzmannaz,

    I know. There are actually a number of articles pertaining to these studies, including a much more comprehensive one in Tikkun magazine which dealt with, among other things, the interplay of physiological and psychological factors. Unfortunately, the link requires a subscription now. I saved it, but it’s too long to post here. Email me at jeyges@yahoo.com and I’ll send it to you.

    One thing from the article that I found particularly fascinating:

    An individual with frontal lobe injury or dysfunction can display a very curious behavior: They may have trouble letting go of people and things and will reflexively touch and grasp even when inappropriate. Here, a patient’s hand literally adheres and follows the hand of his physician no matter how the physician moves; the patient is unable to “let go.” Such physically adherent or stuck behavior is an outcome of the person’s inability to reason divergently. Could practicing fundamentalism unconditionally be a mental equivalent of this physical behavior?

    The thing that strikes me about this line of research (this has bothered me for years, actually) is that if we can demonstrate that our ability to choose, to consider different points of view, convergent vs. divergent reasoning, etc, are physiologically based, or at least profoundly influenced by physiological factors – how can we be held responsible for failing to “accept” Jesus? Of course, the Calvinists will have a field day; they’ll just insist that this confirms what they knew to be true all along.

  • Mark

    I had previously written:

    If God wants you to make your own decision then it makes sense that he would not want to intimidate you in any way. It would also make sense that instead of coming to visit us as a fearsome warrior galloping across the sky, God might choose to come to earth in the form of a baby newly born to a family so poor that he was delivered in a barn with the animals.

    Jake responded:

    The trouble is, the same book that tells you he came to earth in the form of a baby also says next time he’s coming back as a fearsome warrior galloping across the sky.

    Jake, does the book really say that or is it merely a currently popular yet seriously flawed interpretation invented by racist white european men as a way to hold on to political power?

    David D.G. replied:

    Christians definitely do exist. Proof of God is a wee bit more elusive, to say the least.

    How can you be sure that there really are any Christians in the world? Just because someone claims to be a Christian does that make it true? Jesus said in Matthew 7:21 that just claiming to be a Christian doesn’t get you into heaven.

    And by the way, are you so sure that God is all that cool? If you accept even half of what the Old Testament reports him doing, I’d say he’s an insecure, sadistic, psychopathic monster.

    Anthropology tells us that the people living during “old testament” times were also sadistic monsters who routinely attacked their neighbors, murdered the men and boys, raped the women and took any survivors as slaves. It would make sense to me that any religious writings from that period would reflect the sadistic nature of that culture.

    And before you go saying that the New Testament replaces that view, I’d like to add that killing his own, innocent son by torture to satisfy his own bloodlust by proxy to free us from being punished for doing what we could never avoid doing in the first place, because that’s how he made us, is hardly an improvement, either.

    My understanding is that during the times of the old testament a family’s first born son was the most valuable thing in the world. The success of the first born son represented prospects for survival of the family in the future. If you were a neighbor during those sadistic times and you wanted to wipe out the family next door then you would not only kill the parents but you would make sure you killed all the male children.

    If you were God and you wanted to show people a better way to live after watching them attacking each other, enslaving each other and murdering each other’s children wouldn’t it be a powerful statement to offer the life of your own first born son? In that culture it might look like an even greater gift than giving your own life.

    Serving each other instead of killing each other? What a concept!

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    I apologize for the redundancy with the links above… (patience is not one of my best traits)

    Anyway, what I find fascinating is that if our cognitive preferences are inborn (as in Carl Jung’s type theory) but our behaviors may not always show those preferences, then would we be able to apply that idea to spirituality as well?

    If you could measure what I call SQ, which I believe is much more complicated than just sorting one type from another, could it be possible to easily differentiate between the “beliefs and the act of believing”?

    I’m also fascinated with Richard Dawkins’ study of memes and how ideas can seep into our minds and influence our perception and judgment.

    When I saw this speech by Richard Dawkins, it made me start to wonder if he, in fact, has a high SQ, which has nothing to do with what we believe or how we act out those beliefs (I can’t stress that enough.)

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    J Myers,

    If, however, you simply mean “personality” when you say “spiritual personality,” then yes, we all certainly exhibit different tendencies and preferences (such as an inclination to believe or disbelieve in gods) as a result of our varied genetics and life experiences–I think this much is already accepted by just about everyone

    I don’t know that this is already accepted by just about everyone. In fact, I disagree, especially when it comes to spiritual matters. It may be accepted in your circle of influence, but in no way is it in mine. I think this statement is a perfect example of “if it is true for me/us, then it must be true for all.”

    And no, I don’t simply mean “personality.” When I said spiritual personality, I meant the ability or the propensity for being open to possibilities. I guess personality is not really a good term to use here. It does not necessarily show up in behavior or expression. That’s why I referred to it as SQ.

    As I learn more about the type theory (which is different than traits), I was wondering if there is a link between our personality type and the SQ (both of which may or may not play out in our behaviors.)

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Mark said,

    How can you be sure that there really are any Christians in the world? Just because someone claims to be a Christian does that make it true?

    If you were God and you wanted to show people a better way to live after watching them attacking each other, enslaving each other and murdering each other’s children wouldn’t it be a powerful statement to offer the life of your own first born son? In that culture it might look like an even greater gift than giving your own life.

    Serving each other instead of killing each other? What a concept!

    Nothing to add… Just wanted to highlight your points. Very well said. Thank you.

  • Claire

    Mark said:

    How can you be sure that there really are any Christians in the world? Just because someone claims to be a Christian does that make it true?

    For any single individual, this may be a valid point. However, considering there are a couple of billion people on the planet that claim this, what are the odds that none of them are? Vanishingly small, I would think. Christians are fairly certain to exist, in abundance and to the regret of many, but not their god.

    Jesus said in Matthew 7:21 that just claiming to be a Christian doesn’t get you into heaven.

    This is a complete non sequitur.

  • J Myers

    Linda,

    I don’t know that this is already accepted by just about everyone. In fact, I disagree, especially when it comes to spiritual matters.

    The paragraph of mine that you quoted simply states that people have different personalities which are a result of all possible influences (internal tendencies—which would incorporate the influence of a soul, if any such thing exists—and the effects environmental factors such as treatment by parents, peers, life experiences, etc). To me, this seems tautological, and I was attempting humor when I vastly understated that “I think this much is already accepted by just about everyone.” You actually do not accept this? In what manner is it flawed? What alternative possibilities exist?

    And no, I don’t simply mean “personality.” When I said spiritual personality, I meant the ability or the propensity for being open to possibilities.

    I don’t see how this definition has anything to do with what is typically considered “spirituality.” Openness to possibilities does not relate to metaphysical beliefs any more or any differently than it relates to beliefs about anything else; this is simply a character trait (or aspect of one’s personality, if you prefer). Liberals are by definition more open to new possibilities than conservatives, yet conservatives are more likely to espouse the sort of beliefs that characterize the “spirituality” with which most of us are familiar. This means that secular liberals have more “spiritual personality” than the religious right, by your definition.

    I guess personality is not really a good term to use here. It does not necessarily show up in behavior or expression. That’s why I referred to it as SQ.

    In what manner, then, does this “SQ” (“spirituality quotient,” I’m guessing) manifest itself? If it has no effects, how can its existence be meaningful in any way? How can it even be determined to exist?

    I am admittedly unclear on exactly what you’re trying to say; my responses above were based on the most reasonable interpretation I could manage. Any clarifications you can provide would be appreciated.

    Mark, Linda,

    A Christian is one who believes in the divinity of Jesus; there is no other meaningful way to define a Christian. I expounded upon this point in another thread a few months ago (here).

  • Mark

    Karen said:

    If these Christians are the people claiming to represent Jesus and his way of life, and if they claim to have been given supernatual help (the holy spirit) to improve themselves, how come they’re so “awful and nasty” (your words, not mine)?

    Linda, I believe the answer is simple. They are not Christians. They may claim to be Christians but they clearly are not. I got the idea from Matthew 7:21

    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matthew%207:21-23

  • Mark

    Claire wrote:

    For any single individual, this may be a valid point. However, considering there are a couple of billion people on the planet that claim this, what are the odds that none of them are? Vanishingly small, I would think. Christians are fairly certain to exist, in abundance and to the regret of many, but not their god.

    I wrote:

    Jesus said in Matthew 7:21 that just claiming to be a Christian doesn’t get you into heaven.

    Claire responded:

    This is a complete non sequitur.

    It’s totally sequitur ;-)

    Jesus clearly said in Matthew 7:21 that claiming you are a Christian doesn’t necessarily mean that you are one. Therefore you can’t determine the existence of Christians by the size of the group who claim they are.

  • Claire

    Mark said:

    Therefore you can’t determine the existence of Christians by the size of the group who claim they are.

    Do you actually mean to state that out of 2 billion ‘christians’, you consider it possible that none of them actually are? Does this include you? I figure that ‘you’ are the person that you would know about the best and most certainly, that’s why I ask.

    It’s totally sequitur

    Cute, but no. You left out the middle bit, and that made it a non sequitur (at least for those of us not up on scripture), as not getting into heaven doesn’t really have anything to do with the non-existence of christians. Well, unless you were restricting the definition of ‘christian’ to the deceased…. Anyway, this time the way you phrased it did make the connection apparent. So, yes, sequitur now!

    They are not Christians. They may claim to be Christians but they clearly are not.

    Clearly? Truly clearly? By what power do you look into either their hearts, or ‘god’s’ mind, to determine this?

    If you are god, let me know, I’ll stop being an atheist and become a simple non-theist instead. Or whatever word makes it clear I don’t worship anything….

  • Karen

    Linda, I believe the answer is simple. They are not Christians. They may claim to be Christians but they clearly are not.

    I’m Karen, not Linda. ;-)

    Mark, what you’re doing here is employing a logical fallacy called No True Scotsman.

    We see it all the time, but it’s not a valid rational argument and neither is it biblical. The bible says that only god knows a person’s heart and it says that you shouldn’t judge other people.

    When someone claims to be a Christian, and believes in the basic tenets of the faith as they’re laid out in scripture, the only logical, respectful response is to take them at their word. Your coming in here and asking us to ignore all of them and their behavior because you’ve concluded they’re fakers isn’t valid.

  • Mark

    I’m Karen, not Linda.

    Hi Karen. I have no idea why I called you Linda.

    Mark, what you’re doing here is employing a logical fallacy called No True Scotsman.

    Nope. Sorry. I’m not employing any logic here. I’m merely pointing out what Jesus said in Matthew 7:21

    We see it all the time, but it’s not a valid rational argument and neither is it biblical. The bible says that only god knows a person’s heart and it says that you shouldn’t judge other people.

    You need to read Matthew 7 and get back to us.

    When someone claims to be a Christian, and believes in the basic tenets of the faith as they’re laid out in scripture, the only logical, respectful response is to take them at their word.

    Jesus clearly said he was not going to take them at their word and not give a “respectful response” in Matthew 7. Have you actually read the Bible? I encourage you to take a look.

    Your coming in here and asking us to ignore all of them and their behavior because you’ve concluded they’re fakers isn’t valid.

    I didn’t call them fakers. Jesus did in Matthew 7. I encourage you to read what the Bible actually says instead of using your own personal values and preferences to declare the ideas of others as “un-biblical”.

  • Mark

    Claire wrote:

    Clearly? Truly clearly? By what power do you look into either their hearts, or ‘god’s’ mind, to determine this?

    Claire, you don’t seem to be hearing me so let me try again. I’m not looking into anyone’s heart. I’m also not needing to make any judgements. Jesus clearly said in Matthew 7 that there are people who claim to be Christians who are not really Christians, go read it for yourself, thus there is no way for you and I to know how many Christians actually exist and indeed if there exists any Christians at all.

    What I find interesting is that if you don’t believe God exists then you are called an Atheist but what should we call people like me who are not sure that any actual Christians exist?

  • Claire

    Ok, Mark, since it’s your source, let me point you right back at it. It says ‘not everyone’ – that implies that there are some who are genuine, or it would have said ‘none’. The next sentence says ‘many’, which again implies some are accepted as real, or it would have said ‘none’.

    So, for clarity’s sake – just what is your point, and why do you think that one small bit of a 2000 year old assemblage of blather is a good source to predict what exists now and back up your point? Especially since it contradicts it….

  • J Myers

    Mark, since you evidently didn’t read my link, allow me to repost part of my comment re: definition of “Christian” here:

    J Myers said,
    February 20, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    Darryl: Ed is right, you are wrong: being a Christian is about behavior more than affirmation.

    It should be glaringly obvious how wrong this is — it is the very definition of a No True Scotsman fallacy. If I live in accord with your Christian values but reject the divinity of Jesus, am I then a Christian? Which set of Christian values is the precise set that one can follow to ensure that they are indeed Christian? It’s not as though every (supposed) Christian reaches the exact same conclusion for every ethical consideration — who’s correct? And whoever it is, everyone sins anyway, right? So how can anyone really be a Christian, if everyone fails at some point to exhibit the requisite behavior? Or does one cease to be a Christian after their transgression, but regain their status after they ask for forgiveness (at least until the next time)? You’d better be really good between your last repentance and your death, in that case…. And what if one believes that Jesus lived and was divine, but that the bible as it exists today is a corruption of his teachings resulting from centuries of miscopying and deliberate modification by man? What of all the incipient Christian sects who were stamped out or irreparably marginalized by what later came to be known as orthodox Christianity? A Christian is, by definition, one who believes in the divinity of Jesus. Arguing to exclude people from this category on the basis of their behavior is fallacious.

    — End excerpt—

    Being a Christian and being a successful Christian are two different things. Similarly, every competition begins with a number of competitors intending to win. Is the only “True Runner” in the Boston Marathon the one who finishes first? Mark 7:21 discusses who gets into heaven; this is not the same as who is or is not a Christian.

  • Mark

    J Myers wrote:

    Being a Christian and being a successful Christian are two different things.
    Mark 7:21 discusses who gets into heaven; this is not the same as who is or is not a Christian.

    J, its an interesting detail that you present but I’m only interested in the latter group – the Christians who get into heaven. I believe that most if not all of the many so-called Christians that live and work around me every day are also interested in the latter group because they don’t even ask me if I’m a Christian. They only ask me if I have been “saved”.

    For the purposes of this discussion I will have to fall back and plagiarize Claire’s response and say that your first group of Christians, the one’s not going to heaven, for me is a non sequitur.

    Claire said,

    Ok, Mark, since it’s your source, let me point you right back at it. It says ‘not everyone’ – that implies that there are some who are genuine, or it would have said ‘none’.

    Hmmm. That’s an interesting proposal. If that is indeed the case then I’m wondering if I will ever meet a “genuine” Christian.

    So, for clarity’s sake – just what is your point, and why do you think that one small bit of a 2000 year old assemblage of blather is a good source to predict what exists now…

    My point is that the “2000 year old assemblage of blather” is even less relevant and meaningful if the modern day so-called Christians currently feel free to ignore what it actually says.

    To put it another way, when I see a Christian and an Atheist debating the existence of God I have to laugh because what I see is two people who neither believe in God but only one of them is being honest about it.

    The behavior of the average Christian is the best proof Atheists have that there is no God.

  • Claire

    Mark said:

    If that is indeed the case then I’m wondering if I will ever meet a “genuine” Christian.

    And even more to the point, how will you know if you do?

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Mark,

    I completely understand what you are saying. I often feel that so many people misinterpret who Jesus is and what that actually means. What is the will of God? Why did Jesus come into the world? There would be many different answers to these questions.

    It sounds to me like you know what you know to be the absolute truth. But is it? Would it be unreasonable to contemplate the possibility that our perception may contain flaws? Paul said that there is no one righteous, not even one. I know that sometimes it feels like everyone else must have it all wrong, because what I see seems so true at the moment. If you look back on your faith journey, haven’t you felt that way every time you had a new revelation?

    I think it would be fair to say that regardless of what our beliefs are, each one of us is on this earth doing the best we can with what we know about life and love… and at times, small glimpses of something bigger than all of us.

  • Karen

    Hi Karen. I have no idea why I called you Linda.

    No problem, it’s easy to get mixed up with so many posts accumulating in a thread.

    Nope. Sorry. I’m not employing any logic here.

    That, Mark, is the most sensible and true thing you’ve said so far. ;-)

    Have you actually read the Bible? I encourage you to take a look.

    Um, yeah. I’ve read the bible. I read it multiple times and studied it extensively, both on my own and in organized bible studies, during the 30 years when I was a Christian. And please – spare me your judgment that I was not a “true Christian,” I’ve already heard it a million times.

    You’re isolating one verse, interpreting it as you see fit and then deciding that you get to proclaim who is and isn’t a “true Christian.” That ridiculous, Mark, and I think you know it. Why you cling to this idea I don’t really understand, but please recognize that you’re not making any kind of reasonable argument with it.

  • Mark

    Karen wrote:

    You’re isolating one verse, interpreting it as you see fit and then deciding that you get to proclaim who is and isn’t a “true Christian.”

    Hey, if you think that’s bad just take a look around and notice what Christians have done with Jesus’ utterance: “no one comes to the father except through me” and how Christians have used this one verse to decide that that rest of the world is condemned to hell forever.

    That ridiculous, Mark, and I think you know it.

    Ridiculous or not, isn’t it the exact same process by which so-called Christians judge Atheists and those of other religions? Then they proclaim that all the others (the non Christians) are going straight to hell because they don’t believe in God the way that someone calling himself a “Christian” decided that they should.

    If Christians can do it, why can’t I? Its time for the rest of the world to push back against Christians who claim they alone get to speak for God.

    Anyway, getting back to my original idea, Jesus has clearly allowed for the possibility that Christians don’t exist because claiming you are one doesn’t guarantee you really are one. At this point in my “journey” I believe that Christians don’t exist and that there is sufficient basis in the Bible to support this possibility.

    Why you cling to this idea I don’t really understand, but please recognize that you’re not making any kind of reasonable argument with it.

    Isn’t that what Atheists say to those trying to convince them that there is a God?

  • Darryl

    There are at least two ways to look at the question of who is a true Christian. One is the taxonomical way, the other the phenomenological way. The first way examines the Christian according to a set of criteria which may include anything and everything that may be thought to be typical of the Christian, e.g., Christ-like, loving, pure, spiritual, Bible-believing, doctrinally orthodox, professing, Church-attending, etc. This way is the one that Christians most often use to answer the question. This way is problematic since it requires an authority, and general agreement on the authority, and hence the criteria, is hard to get.

    The other way is the one that most non-believers, agnostics, atheists, etc. would be inclined to use, that is, if someone claims they are a Christian, then they are a Christian. The advantages of this way are that it requires no authority to decide among criteria, it doesn’t seem ‘judgmental,’ and it puts the emphasis where it ought to be (even the Scriptures say this)–on behavior. In this respect it levels the playing field because all people, not matter what they do or don’t believe, are measured by their conduct.

  • Darryl

    I should also add one more point to my previous post. On this blog I and others have argued from at least two positions relating to all things Christian. The one corresponds to the taxonomical view of Christians, the other the phenomenological view. In the first we argue as if from the inside of Christianity, criticizing it by its own standards and practices, almost as if we actually believed it. In the second we argue as disinterested observers–from the outside–with no dog in the fight. As an atheist I only argue in the first way whenever I see, or think I see, errors of argument, or disingenuousness, or self-deception coming from believers. Since my view is ultimately a disinterested one, I have little to win or lose in these arguments, but maybe it does some good in some way.

  • Darryl

    I should also add one more point to my previous post. On this blog I and others have argued from at least two positions relating to all things Christian. The one corresponds to the taxonomical view of Christians, the other the phenomenological view. In the first we argue as if from the inside of Christianity, criticizing it by its own standards and practices, almost as if we actually believed it. In the second we argue as disinterested observers–from the outside–with no dog in the fight. As an atheist I only argue in the first way whenever I see, or think I see, errors of argument, or disingenuousness, or self-deception coming from believers. Since my view is ultimately a disinterested one, I have little to win or lose in these arguments, but maybe it does some good in some way.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    The other way is the one that most non-believers, agnostics, atheists, etc. would be inclined to use, that is, if someone claims they are a Christian, then they are a Christian. The advantages of this way are that it requires no authority to decide among criteria, it doesn’t seem ‘judgmental,’ and it puts the emphasis where it ought to be (even the Scriptures say this)–on behavior. In this respect it levels the playing field because all people, not matter what they do or don’t believe, are measured by their conduct.

    One disadvantage of this way though is that it can sometimes incline one to ignore all the differences and distinctions between Christians and argue as if anyone who claims to be a “Christian” is necessarily in the same camp or even following the same set of religious ideas and principles as anyone else who calls themselves a Christian, which is demonstrably not the case.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Darryl,

    it puts the emphasis where it ought to be (even the Scriptures say this)–on behavior.

    Where? I don’t know that it does actually say that.

  • Claire

    Mark said:

    At this point in my “journey” I believe that Christians don’t exist and that there is sufficient basis in the Bible to support this possibility.

    Why should you care if they exist or not? As long as they keep it out of the public sphere, it shouldn’t have any bearing on your life if they do or don’t exist.

    I think part of the reason so many of us had trouble seeing your point is that it’s such a, well, pointless point. Why are you so interested in whether there are christians or not?

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    J Myers,

    To me, this seems tautological, and I was attempting humor when I vastly understated that “I think this much is already accepted by just about everyone.” You actually do not accept this?

    As a matter of fact, I do believe it. But most of the people in my Christian circle do not.

    I was just wondering if we could consider the possibility that there may be something else going on in our brains than what is known and that there actually may be an element of our consciousness that may be spiritual in nature.

    I don’t see how this definition has anything to do with what is typically considered “spirituality.” Openness to possibilities does not relate to metaphysical beliefs any more or any differently than it relates to beliefs about anything else; this is simply a character trait (or aspect of one’s personality, if you prefer). Liberals are by definition more open to new possibilities than conservatives, yet conservatives are more likely to espouse the sort of beliefs that characterize the “spirituality” with which most of us are familiar. This means that secular liberals have more “spiritual personality” than the religious right, by your definition.

    I was not referring to a trait, behavior, or anything that we have control over. I was thinking more in terms of our innate ability for… intuitiveness, having a sixth sense.

    In what manner, then, does this “SQ” (”spirituality quotient,” I’m guessing) manifest itself? If it has no effects, how can its existence be meaningful in any way? How can it even be determined to exist?

    I am admittedly unclear on exactly what you’re trying to say; my responses above were based on the most reasonable interpretation I could manage. Any clarifications you can provide would be appreciated.

    I don’t have the answers. I just wanted to think out into the unknown for a bit, that’s all. The SQ I’m speaking of, if it could be measured, could measure the aptitude and not the actual manifestation. Or perhaps it could. It could be a way to think of spirituality as a natural gift, such as gift for music, art, or athletics. No? Am I just totally out in the left field? I was just getting tired of arguing the same points over and over again. Thought I’d inject a new angle to ponder over to see where it would go. ;)

  • J Myers

    Mark,

    I’m only interested in the latter group – the Christians who get into heaven. I believe that most if not all of the many so-called Christians that live and work around me every day are also interested in the latter group because they don’t even ask me if I’m a Christian.

    Your interest in the group of Christians that gets into heaven doesn’t change the definition of what a Christian is; it isn’t a detail I brought up, it is the very matter under discussion.

    Hey, if you think that’s bad just take a look around and notice what Christians have done with Jesus’ utterance:

    Tu quoque; just because they do something wrong doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong when you do it.

    Ridiculous or not, isn’t it the exact same process by which so-called Christians judge Atheists and those of other religions?

    Just because someone else does something ridiculous doesn’t mean it isn’t ridiculous when you do it.

    Isn’t that what Atheists say to those trying to convince them that there is a God?

    Sometimes, when that is in fact what the other party is doing. Your point? (And “atheist” / “atheism” are not capitalized).

    You seem to be painting yourself into a corner… if I understand you, you believe in God, and that there may even be some truth to Christianity… if only someone could manage to find it. But you don’t think anyone has. So… uh… see you in hell?

    Darryl,

    The other way is the one that most non-believers, agnostics, atheists, etc. would be inclined to use, that is, if someone claims they are a Christian, then they are a Christian.

    No – what someone claims does not necessarily indicate what they actually are. The definition is that a Christian is one who believes in the divinity of Jesus (or, if you want to get really technical, in the divinity of anyone else who might instead be the Christ, but I’m not aware of any other serious contenders). You might claim (for whatever reason) to be an atheist, but if you actually believe in the divinity of Jesus, you would be a Christian, by definition.

    Mike,

    One disadvantage of this way though is that it can sometimes incline one to ignore all the differences and distinctions between Christians and argue as if anyone who claims to be a “Christian” is necessarily in the same camp or even following the same set of religious ideas and principles as anyone else who calls themselves a Christian, which is demonstrably not the case.

    You are correct; it is a certainly a non sequitur to claim that all people who believe Jesus existed and was the son of God necessarily exhibit the same behavior or have the same beliefs about anything else. I would hope that people who understand the reason for defining Christians as I have would not often make this error. In fact, this is exactly the problem with attempting a definition based on other beliefs or actions–even if some form of Christianity is true, which is it? There a many well-intentioned Christians who come to different conclusions about the veracity of the bible, what Jesus taught or would want us to do, etc. The only means we have to choose among these varied groups is to make our own subjective assessment as to which is correct.

  • Darryl

    J Myers, your disagreement with me simply shows you to be one that follows the first way, the taxonomical way, to defining what is a Christian.

    Mike’s criticism is beside my point. Any careful observer of Christianity will note the distinctions and differences, of course.

    Linda, go back and study the New Testament in those places that speak of the Last Judgment, as in the following from Romans chapter two:

    But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who “will render to each one according to his deeds”: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness–indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.”

  • Mark

    Karen wrote:

    You’re isolating one verse, interpreting it as you see fit and then deciding that you get to proclaim who is and isn’t a “true Christian.”

    That’s ridiculous, Mark…

    I replied:

    Hey, if you think that’s bad just take a look around and notice what Christians have done with Jesus’ utterance: “no one comes to the father except through me”. They condemn millions with just that one isolated verse.

    Ridiculous or not, isn’t it the exact same process by which so-called Christians judge Atheists and those of other religions?

    J Myers jumped in with this grandmotherly admonishment:

    Tu quoque; just because they do something wrong doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong when you do it.

    Just because someone else does something ridiculous doesn’t mean it isn’t ridiculous when you do it.

    J, you seem to have completely missed my point… twice.

    Go back and take special notice of my use of the phrase “Ridiculous or not”. Maybe that will help you get out of the weeds and back on the pavement.

    J Myers went on to write:

    You seem to be painting yourself into a corner…

    Not very likely since I have no brush and no paint… and no corner.

    if I understand you, you believe in God, and that there may even be some truth to Christianity… if only someone could manage to find it. But you don’t think anyone has.

    The conclusion to my thesis is that the “Christianity” we see today is nothing more than a clever game invented by men to get political power for themselves. It doesn’t resemble Jesus’ teachings at all. What I have managed to discover is that if you concern yourself with who is going to heaven and who is going to hell then by your own action you have condemned yourself to hell. If you believe in God only because you want the reward of heaven you will not get there. Faith is not a lottery where only those who draw the winning ticket get the big prize. God is not a vending machine where we can simply pull the knob (prayer) and receive rewards for our own egos, greed and pride. The commercial enterprises that have grown up around Christianity, something I like to call the “Jesus Industrial Complex”, have nothing to do with real faith.

    So… uh… see you in hell?

    Atheists say there is no hell. But if there is, then I believe that Christians will be the first ones to put themselves there. Christians in hell and Atheists in heaven – now, wouldn’t that be an ironic twist of fate?!

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Darryl,

    Linda, go back and study the New Testament in those places that speak of the Last Judgment, as in the following from Romans chapter two:

    I still cannot find it written anywhere that our behaviors have anything to do with our connection to the divine, except in the very beginning when we listened to the lie that we can be God and know what’s good and evil. Hmmm…. Sorry, I’m a little slow. :-(

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    The conclusion to my thesis is that the “Christianity” we see today is nothing more than a clever game invented by men to get political power for themselves. It doesn’t resemble Jesus’ teachings at all. What I have managed to discover is that if you concern yourself with who is going to heaven and who is going to hell then by your own action you have condemned yourself to hell. If you believe in God only because you want the reward of heaven you will not get there. Faith is not a lottery where only those who draw the winning ticket get the big prize. God is not a vending machine where we can simply pull the knob (prayer) and receive rewards for our own egos, greed and pride. The commercial enterprises that have grown up around Christianity, something I like to call the “Jesus Industrial Complex”, have nothing to do with real faith.

    Gosh, Mark! There you go again. Worthy of posting twice. You say something that rings so true, and then turn around and say something very odd. I don’t get. Maybe this is the problem?

    I have no brush and no paint…

    I don’t mean that sarcatically. It’s just that I would love everyone to have a brush and lots of paint… and a blank canvas. :)

  • Mark

    Linda, if you go back and take a look at the context you will notice that I was responding to the idea of painting one’s self into a corner. The whole concept of painting one’s self into a corner tells me that the author was interested in cleverly defining God in a way that leads to our own advantage and thus “not in a corner”. This is the clever game that Christians play and of which I want no part.

    I completely reject such thinking thus I have no brush, no paint and no corner within which to paint myself.

    I was not talking about paint on canvas.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    This is the clever game that Christians play and of which I want no part.

    Wait!!! Do you notice that you refer to Christians as if they are the opposition? I understand your frustration with the mainstream Christianity today. I concur with many of your thoughts. But do you think it’s fair to lump everyone together in the manner that you do?

    I often see inconsistencies and hypocrisy in much of the Christian teachings, but to deny those people as people who are just as deserving would be unjust. We do things and behave in certain ways because that’s all we know. We make adjustments accordingly as we learn new information and gain more insight. Do you think people fly planes into buildings believing that they are doing evil? They actually believe they are doing good, in their demented mind. Why? Because they have an enemy they see as evil who they believe must be destroyed.

    The most dangerous groups of people are the ones who are banned together in hatred in the name of righteousness to fight a common enemy. Logic and reason can go right out the window as a result.

    So do we want to keep drawing lines and putting everyone on the other side of the line?

  • J Myers

    Linda, I was going to reply to you, but Mark grows more peculiar by the post, and I find I cannot resist…

    Mark,

    J, you seem to have completely missed my point… twice.

    I can’t say you’re wrong about that… what exactly was your point? It seemed to me that you were attempting to justify fallacious arguments on your part by pointing out that others make such arguments as well (and that’s exactly what I see now when I revisit your previous post as you requested). I’ve never heard the identification of a rhetorical fallacy described as a “grandmotherly admonishment” before, but I must say, the term has a nice meter… anyhow, if you’d care to cease the obfuscation and stake out some sort of coherent position, I would gladly discuss that with you, instead.

    Not very likely since I have no brush and no paint… and no corner.

    *blink* This is a figure of speech. It means that the implications of your statements have put you in a position that you didn’t intend to occupy, and from which there is no easy egress.

    The conclusion to my thesis is that the “Christianity” we see today … doesn’t resemble Jesus’ teachings at all.

    Now here is a substantive remark, though you are not the first to make it. Many people would agree with you on this point; assuming Jesus existed, I would agree with this statement.

    What I have managed to discover is that if you concern yourself with who is going to heaven and who is going to hell then by your own action you have condemned yourself to hell.

    Perhaps I make grandmotherly admonishments, but you just served up the granddad of all proclamations–how on earth did you discover this?? How does this comport with your previous statement that you are “only interested in the latter group – the Christians who get into heaven”? Has you interest condemned you to hell?

    If you believe in God only because you want the reward of heaven you will not get there. Faith is not a lottery where only those who draw the winning ticket get the big prize. God is not a vending machine where we can simply pull the knob (prayer) and receive rewards for our own egos, greed and pride. The commercial enterprises that have grown up around Christianity, something I like to call the “Jesus Industrial Complex”, have nothing to do with real faith.

    How do you know any of this? Never mind… assuming it’s all true, and in conjunction with your previous statements, let me see if I can nail down your position: you seem to be saying that Christianity in some form is true (it would have to be if contemporary Christianity leads everyone to hell precisely because its practitioners do not fulfill your definition of a true Christian). But, to know this, you must know what form of Christianity would be true. The object of this true form known (only?) unto you would be, as with any other, to fulfill God’s will and thereby earn your place at his side in the kingdom of heaven. Yet to pursue this end would, by your own proclamation, damn you to hell. So Christianity is true, but it doesn’t matter; the very revelation of its true form makes it impossible to reach the goal you would have as a Christian.

    I think this is the only time I’ve ever seen anyone say “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” and actually, literally mean it.

    The whole concept of painting one’s self into a corner tells me that the author was interested in cleverly defining God in a way that leads to our own advantage and thus “not in a corner”.

    I don’t believe anyone here has made any attempt to define God; the topic that has been driving the latter half of this thread is the definition of a Christian. Anyhow, the attempt you describe would constitute “stacking the deck” (a fallacy) not “painting yourself into a corner” (a metaphor). In fact, it might be employed in an effort to un-paint oneself from a corner, so to speak.

  • mark

    J Myers said,

    Linda, I was going to reply to you, but Mark grows more peculiar by the post…

    It only seems peculiar because you are unable to follow the idea. You are still in the weeds. Don’t feel bad. Not everyone has the necessary skills to follow along with such a concept. Some people are more adept at correcting spelling errors than following deep concepts. Diversity is a good thing.

  • J Myers

    Mark,

    It seems we’re at the point where further discussion would be unproductive. You continue to interject unrelated matters (claiming someone was defining God, implying that someone was correcting spelling errors–neither of which occurred anywhere in this thread) while ignoring the points under discussion and the contradictions of your own statements. I’m signing off this thread, but if you exhibit such incoherency elsewhere, I’m sure we’ll cross paths* again.

    *metaphor

  • mark

    J Myers said,

    It seems we’re at the point where further discussion would be unproductive. You continue to interject unrelated matters (…implying that someone was correcting spelling errors–neither of which occurred anywhere in this thread)

    Gosh, J. I could have sworn it was you who said above:

    (And “atheist” / “atheism” are not capitalized).

    It sure seems to me that you were correcting spelling unless you want to argue that capitalization is technically not spelling.

    I’m signing off this thread,

    Good by J. Myers. Have a nice life and sorry about the difficulty you had following along with my idea.

    …but if you exhibit such incoherency elsewhere, I’m sure we’ll cross paths* again.

    Gosh, that almost sounds like a threat veiled in metaphor.

    Not to worry, I’ve been threatened by religious zelots before. I have even been kicked out of a few churches for daring to ask the wrong questions.

  • mark

    I had previously written:

    The whole concept of painting one’s self into a corner tells me that the author was interested in cleverly defining God in a way that leads to our own advantage and thus “not in a corner”. This is the clever game that Christians play and of which I want no part. I completely reject such thinking thus I have no brush, no paint and no corner within which to paint myself.

    Linda responded:

    Wait!!! Do you notice that you refer to Christians as if they are the opposition?

    I’m not claiming they are the opposition. I’m claiming they don’t exist.
    It was Jesus who said to them in Matthew 7 “away from me you evildoers. I do not know you”. Its pretty clear to me that Jesus considers them the opposition.

    I understand your frustration with the mainstream Christianity today. I concur with many of your thoughts. But do you think it’s fair to lump everyone together in the manner that you do?

    It wasn’t me who did the lumping. It is the So-called Christians who have lumped themselves together and declared themselves “saved” and thus better than the “unsaved”.

    I often see inconsistencies and hypocrisy in much of the Christian teachings, but to deny those people as people who are just as deserving would be unjust.

    You may be forgetting I didn’t decide that these people weren’t real Christians. Jesus did in Matthew 7. My idea is that if “Christians” spend a little more time worrying about whether or not they themselves are really saved then they might have a little less time and self appointed justification for flying planes into buildings.

    We do things and behave in certain ways because that’s all we know. We make adjustments accordingly as we learn new information and gain more insight.

    Hopefully my pointing out what Jesus said in Matthew 7 helped a few in this group to gain more insight that not everyone who claims to be a christian really is a christian. Hopefully Atheists now will have two options from which to choose. They can choose to not believe in God and they can now also choose to not believe in christians either. Jesus himself said they didn’t have to believe that Christians actually exist.

    Do you think people fly planes into buildings believing that they are doing evil? They actually believe they are doing good, in their demented mind. Why? Because they have an enemy they see as evil who they believe must be destroyed.

    Thats one of the most amazing things about religious fanatics, they start to believe that the God who created the universe all of a sudden desperately needs our help defending the faith. That’s not religion at all. Its mental illness.

    The most dangerous groups of people are the ones who are banned together in hatred in the name of righteousness to fight a common enemy. Logic and reason can go right out the window as a result.

    I agree. It doesn’t take long after a nut believes he is “saved” before he starts to look around and then decides that he must punish all the “unsaved” who don’t look like him and don’t act like he does. That’s why we need to nip this insanity in the bud from the very beginning. When someone stands up and claims they are saved we need to remind them of Matthew 7 and tell them they are not. Instead of turning his sights on attacking his unsaved brother he needs to keep working on improving himself.

    So do we want to keep drawing lines and putting everyone on the other side of the line?

    I’m not putting them on the other side of the line. I’m yanking them back to my side of the line by getting them to understand that they are not christians and they are not saved thus they are not part of some special privileged group on the other side of the line from me.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Hi Mark,

    Its pretty clear to me that Jesus considers them the opposition.

    You keep referring to “them.” Who are these people who are not Christians? I don’t know if Jesus was talking about anyone in particular. To me, he is only saying that not everyone who says they know him really do. As a matter of fact, how do you know that he wasn’t talking about you? or me?

    You seem to be stuck on that one chapter for some reason, but the way I see it, Jesus was basically saying that no one can really know the state of anyone else’s spirituality. We have no right to judge other people. Looks can be deceiving. Words can be empty. Actions may be hollow. But no one knows but one’s own heart.

    I’m not putting them on the other side of the line. I’m yanking them back to my side of the line by getting them to understand that they are not christians and they are not saved thus they are not part of some special privileged group on the other side of the line from me.

    That may be how it looks to you. But you see, it doesn’t look that way from everyone else reading your words. You can’t get anyone to understand, first of all. We all need to come to our own understanding on… just about everything in life. And when it involves bully moves such as yanking (your words)… then that person becomes suspect regardless of how much truth he thinks he’s conveying. It ends up sounding like nonsense. Then again, I too talk nonsense sometimes.. Quite often, as a matter of fact.

  • Mark

    Once upon a time I gibed:

    Its pretty clear to me that Jesus considers them the opposition.

    and then Linda responded:

    You keep referring to “them.” Who are these people who are not Christians?

    All of them

    I don’t know if Jesus was talking about anyone in particular.

    That could also mean he was talking about EVERYONE in particular.

    To me, he is only saying that not everyone who says they know him really do.

    Which is what makes Christians look so silly when they start to assume they are saved and assume they are perfect and they turn around and put all there energy into judging everyone else.

    As a matter of fact, how do you know that he wasn’t talking about you? or me?

    He was. You don’t seem to be following that I’m describing my understanding of reality and how the universe works. This is not some game intended to make me look right and everyone else look wrong. Unlike Mr. Myers’s assertion, I’m not interested in painting anyone into any corners.

    You seem to be stuck on that one chapter for some reason…

    This discussion was not intended to be a tutorial on the contents of the Bible. There are many references all over the bible where Christians are being told by God that they may claim to be faithful but in their heart they really are not. One of my other favorites is where Jesus accuses the religious leaders of his day of washing the outside of their cup while leaving it dirty on the inside.

    but the way I see it, Jesus was basically saying that no one can really know the state of anyone else’s spirituality. We have no right to judge other people.

    Yes, exactly! So why then have modern day Christians set up an entire world wide industry to judge others? My thesis is that its because they are not really Christians and Atheists can include Christians on the list of things they don’t have to believe in.

    Looks can be deceiving. Words can be empty. Actions may be hollow. But no one knows but one’s own heart.

    Yes, Agreed, with only one exception. When someone starts to ignore his own failures, flaws and sins and begins to put energy into worrying what his neighbor is doing then its pretty clear that his cup is dirty on the inside and that he is not a Christian.

    Previously I wrote:

    I’m not putting them on the other side of the line. I’m yanking them back to my side of the line by getting them to understand that they are not Christians and they are not saved thus they are not part of some special privileged group on the other side of the line from me.

    Then Linda replied:

    That may be how it looks to you. But you see, it doesn’t look that way from everyone else reading your words. You can’t get anyone to understand, first of all. We all need to come to our own understanding on… just about everything in life.

    Agreed. In fact you saw how my idea went sailing far over the head of Mr. Myers. He doesn’t get it but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a hundred people reading this thread who will.

    And when it involves bully moves such as yanking (your words)… then that person becomes suspect regardless of how much truth he thinks he’s conveying.

    I’m much less worried about words such as “yanking” and I am much more concerned about how you got completely turned around and thought I was drawing a line and putting people on the other side when in fact I’m trying to erase the lines that so-called Christians are desperately trying to draw with flawed and bigoted concepts such as being “saved”.

    It ends up sounding like nonsense.

    Relativistic sub-atomic physics also seems like nonsense to someone who is struggling to learn algebra.

    Then again, I too talk nonsense sometimes.. Quite often, as a matter of fact.

    Wow! a statement focusing on improving one’s self instead of condemning others. Cool. That’s the first sign of a clean heart.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    You are a fellow thinker, indeed! But be gentle with your thoughts, will ya? ;)

    Relativistic sub-atomic physics also seems like nonsense to someone who is struggling to learn algebra.

    Exactly! And we cannot digest Advanced Mark-Thoughts before we get a chance to get used to Mark Basics 101. :)

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    If God were obvious, our devotion would be coerced.

    This sets off all kinds of “does not compute” errors in my head. Do they say this because God is supposed to be so damn huge and majestic that if he were to be revealed we would all fall to our knees and worship him?

    Is that really coercion? If worship is deserved, and stupidly obviously so–If the revealed Glory of God is just that powerful and compelling–wouldn’t we all be making that choice willingly? Would any of us feel forced? Wouldn’t it be (rather than forced) just the obviously right thing to do?

    And, since Lucifer was apparently able to rebel against God within the context of full revelation, doesn’t it stand to reason, in the context of standard Christian theology, that free will can be exercised even after full revelation and some can still “opt out” as it were?

    Why, then, the insistence that worship and devotion are only willful (and thus valid) if God is hidden?

  • Mark

    Derek said,

    “If God were obvious, our devotion would be coerced.”

    This sets off all kinds of “does not compute” errors in my head. Do they say this because God is supposed to be so damn huge and majestic that if he were to be revealed we would all fall to our knees and worship him?

    More to the point, it might change their behavior just because God is in the room. That’s not what God wants. God doesn’t want you on your knees worshipping him. Too many people do the worship-on-the-knees thing and then they get up off their knees and go out into the world and do hideous things to other people, sometimes in the name of god himself. God wants you to live your life in a way that honors him and the world he created. The part about falling to one’s knees and worshipping a god is merely a ceremony to help those who are struggling to understand. One must first learn to do arithmetic in preparation to understand the value and the power of vector calculus.

    Is that really coercion? If worship is deserved, and stupidly obviously so–If the revealed Glory of God is just that powerful and compelling… Would any of us feel forced? Wouldn’t it be (rather than forced) just the obviously right thing to do?

    I saw a wonderful old movie the other day. Its called “roman holiday” and its in black and white. Its an awesome story of a princess who hated her life because everyone behaved artificially around her just because she was a princess and had a lot of power. There were so many things she couldn’t do because of the way people treated her “differently” from a regular run-of-the-mill human being. One day she was so fed up with her life that she climbed out the window and ran around Rome with Gregory Peck and got to enjoy being with real people doing real things. She even got into a brawl.

    Jesus walked the Earth unrevealed to the general population for 30 years before making himself known to humanity.

    Jesus could have rode down on horseback through a fire in the sky if he wanted people to fall to their knees out of fear. Why do you suppose he didn’t do that?

    Linda said,

    You are a fellow thinker, indeed! But be gentle with your thoughts, will ya?

    Yea, me and President Bush, we both are just a tad blunt.
    He says he gets it from his mother and the “mangling of words” he gets from his father.

    It might help to remember that I’m not excluding myself from any of it.

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    God doesn’t want you on your knees worshipping him.

    Obviously “falling to one’s knees” was more illustrative than specific in the context of my argument. But all you’ve done is reframe the question and shift the focus from worship to sincerity, and I think the fact that God is supposed to be able to see into our hearts renders the reframing moot.

    If we’re behaving differently because God’s around, and God can see into our hearts, then he knows the difference between who’s just putting him on and who’s sincere. That’s different from saying that nobody would be sincere if God were fully revealed.

    But if the revelation of God is such that we would all invariably, consciously choose to be sincere, then that’s not coercion, it’s just the obvious choice, like choosing to eat over not eating. Does God want to give me the free will to eat or not eat by removing my sense of hunger?

    Frankly, if people who don’t make the right choice burn in hell for all eternity, I think God owes it to himself and humankind to reveal himself fully so that people can make the choice in full confidence rather than resting on scriptures that may or may not be trustworthy. And further, if you truly believe God is present but hidden, then your behavior should be no different than if God were unmistakably present, right?

    Jesus could have rode down on horseback through a fire in the sky if he wanted people to fall to their knees out of fear. Why do you suppose he didn’t do that?

    Again, you are misinterpreting my question. It has nothing to do with fear and trembling and everything to do with whether or not a direct revelation would result in a sincere reaction. I see no reason why it wouldn’t.

  • Claire

    Mark said

    My thesis is that its because they are not really Christians and Atheists can include Christians on the list of things they don’t have to believe in.

    There’s at least one big problem with that – your basis for saying that there are no christians is based on a bible verse.

    Fine for you maybe, but why would atheists believe/accept/give any credence to any theory based on the bible?

    As much as I would like to disbelieve in christians on occasion, since I’m not a believer I’m certainly not going to accept the bible’s word on it.

    Yea, me and President Bush, we both are just a tad blunt.

    He’s a power-drunk moron with a tenuous grasp of reality, who who gets away with it because of his position and the enormous right-wing machine that handles him and his indiscretions. Are you sure you want to group yourself with him?

  • Mark

    Claire wrote:

    There’s at least one big problem with that – your basis for saying that there are no christians is based on a bible verse.

    There are many references throughout the Bible. I was only needing one verse to serve as an example. What I find interesting is that the Bible, the very basis for Christianity, very clearly shows that Christians might not actually exist in the world today. Thus my thesis proposes that Atheists should consider not believing that Christians actually exist as well as not believing that God exists

    Claire then exclaimed!

    He’s a power-drunk moron with a tenuous grasp of reality, who gets away with it because of his position and the enormous right-wing machine that handles him and his indiscretions.

    Ouch! Hey, Claire, now don’t hold back. Tell us how you REALLY feel.

    LOL!

    Its a shame that this is off topic for this thread because I would enjoy taking you through all that you have been told about President Bush and showing you that 9 out of 10 are lies. I’m not saying the Bush is perfect. No one is. I guess that discussion will have to wait for another day. By the way, I also spoke up to defend President Clinton when I found people spreading lies about him. I’m not against Republicans or Democrats. I’m mostly against liars and we have a lot of liars in the media today. I guess you could call me a loyalist. If you are going to badmouth the President of the United States of America (any President, Republican or Democrat) you had better be able to back it up if I’m in the room.

  • J Myers

    Mark,

    I had no intention of coming back here when I made that last post, but you’ve since repeatedly made the laughable claim that I am not capable of comprehending your (contradictory, incoherent) ideas, while you seem incapable of understanding a rather straightforward metaphor I used, all the while ignoring all the substantive criticisms that have been raised… this seems fair grounds for re-engagement. So, off we go:

    It sure seems to me that you were correcting spelling unless you want to argue that capitalization is technically not spelling.

    No, I don’t need to do that; I’ll just point out that capitalization isn’t spelling, technically, or otherwise. You had all the letters in the right place, you just used the wrong case. BTW, I did not make this correction out of mere pedantry; there is an important conceptual difference here that is obscured when you capitalize “atheist” and “atheism.”

    Anyway, here you are again, just as I described, arguing the particulars of an irrelevancy while ignoring the substance of the matter under discussion.

    Gosh, that almost sounds like a threat veiled in metaphor.

    A threat? Yes, yes it was… I am threatening to discuss things with you on the internet. The horror. And it’s not just a threat, Mark—it’s happening right now.

    Not to worry, I’ve been threatened by religious zelots before. I have even been kicked out of a few churches for daring to ask the wrong questions.

    Oh… here’s where that conceptual distinction comes in: atheism is not a religion, nor is it a belief system.

    Its pretty clear to me that Jesus considers them the opposition.

    No; it’s clear (in this verse, anyway) that he considers them failures. Failing to meet an objective and opposing the completion of that objective are two very obviously distinct concepts, and it is your tendency to conflate such disparate ideas that leads you to such nonsensical positions. I explained this before, but you seem to just disregard such inconvenient matters, and keep plugging ahead as though you make sense.

    All of them

    No; you’re making a very poor interpretation of the passage, which was already explained by by Claire (5/10, 11:13 PM), and you’re completely disregarding the only meaningful definition of “Christian” that has been offered.

    That could also mean he was talking about EVERYONE in particular.

    No; again, see Claire’s post. Also, I have to ask you: if everyone has always and will always fail to meet God’s standards (as you are claiming), what would be the point? Why did Jesus show up in the first place? Why wouldn’t God bring on the apocalypse right now? What is he waiting for—does he just enjoy seeing the horror manifest in each soul as, upon the demise of its earthly carriage, it learns that it has failed the Lord, and will now be sent to suffer for all eternity?

    Do you see how little sense you’re making yet?

    Which is what makes Christians look so silly when they start to assume they are saved and assume they are perfect and they turn around and put all there energy into judging everyone else.

    Wait, I thought you said that such people weren’t Christians? I agree with you that they look silly by claiming that they know the precise nature of reality. Do you not realize that you are doing the exact same thing?

    He was. You don’t seem to be following that I’m describing my understanding of reality and how the universe works. This is not some game intended to make me look right and everyone else look wrong. Unlike Mr. Myers’s assertion, I’m not interested in painting anyone into any corners.

    Again, how did you arrive at this understanding? From your very poor interpretation of a single passage in a very unreliable text? This is all it takes to establish metaphysical certainly for you?

    And regarding “painting… into a corner,” not only is this a common metaphor that shouldn’t need to be explained, but you weren’t getting it, so I explained it… and you still don’t get it. Again, you are the one who painted yourself into a corner; you keep contradicting yourself. No one accused you of painting anyone else into a corner; not only does the metaphor become rather strained in that formulation, but as you yourself noted, you lack the necessary tools.

    This discussion was not intended to be a tutorial on the contents of the Bible. There are many references all over the bible where Christians are being told by God that they may claim to be faithful but in their heart they really are not.

    I think the point here is that the one verse you cite doesn’t mean what you claim it does, so referencing some other part is the only hope you have of salvaging your point. And do you even realize that what you are saying here is different from what you were saying before?

    My thesis is that its because they are not really Christians and Atheists can include Christians on the list of things they don’t have to believe in.

    And back to your contrived definition of “Christian,” and your improper, concept-blurring capitalization.

    Yes, Agreed, with only one exception. When someone starts to ignore his own failures, flaws and sins and begins to put energy into worrying what his neighbor is doing then its pretty clear that his cup is dirty on the inside and that he is not a Christian.

    Isn’t this exactly what you’re doing here by going on and on about all these allegedly “false” Christians while ignoring the contradictions of your own pronouncements? And again, your criteria has nothing to do with whether or not one is or is not a Christian.

    I’m not putting them on the other side of the line. I’m yanking them back to my side of the line by getting them to understand that they are not Christians…..

    Wrong; refer to the definition, or provide some valid reason as to why your pet definition should stand, given the problems with it that I’ve highlighted.

    … and they are not saved thus they are not part of some special privileged group on the other side of the line from me.

    You cannot know this, any more than they can know that your beliefs are wrong.

    Agreed. In fact you saw how my idea went sailing far over the head of Mr. Myers. He doesn’t get it but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a hundred people reading this thread who will.

    Mark, your “idea” is nonsensical, as I’ve previously explained in some detail, and the substance of which you’ve completely disregarded. And in case you haven’t noticed, no one else is “getting it,” unless you include those who seem to have arrived at the same conclusion that I have.

    I’m much less worried about words such as “yanking” and I am much more concerned about how you got completely turned around and thought I was drawing a line and putting people on the other side…

    Because that is exactly what you’re doing when you claim that every Christian on the planet is wrong.

    …when in fact I’m trying to erase the lines that so-called Christians are desperately trying to draw with flawed and bigoted concepts such as being “saved”.

    “Flawed” and “bigoted”? Being and atheist, I certainly agree with “flawed,” but within the context of Christianity, this is nonsense. Being “saved” (in some manner) is the fate of every successful Christian. Saying it’s a flawed concept is an even stronger admonishment than your claim that no one is actually a Christian; it is to say that Christianity itself is false. As far as it being a “bigoted” concept, that, like so much else you’ve said, doesn’t even make sense.

    Relativistic sub-atomic physics also seems like nonsense to someone who is struggling to learn algebra.

    Last I checked, it seemed like nonsense to everyone; quantum mechanics describes sub-atomic physics, Relativity describes large-scale phenomena, and yet have the two been reconciled. For the sake of your analogy, let’s assume you used an meaningful example. In that case, the “seeming like nonsense” to your struggling algebra student would be a failure of the student, not a result of the incoherency of the subject. This is not analogous to what we have here; you have yet to provide a coherent position for anyone else to fail to grasp (so, amusingly, your example was more accurate than you intended!).

    Wow! a statement focusing on improving one’s self instead of condemning others. Cool. That’s the first sign of a clean heart.

    And what then can be said of your heart, he who hath condemned all of Christendom?

    Well, look at this monstrosity of a comment I’ve made, again pointing out so many things that are wrong with what you’re saying… Mark, it’s time to either address the criticisms that have been raised, or admit that you position is incoherent, and modify it accordingly.

  • Mark

    Check out this video.

    This guy is saying pretty much the same thing I’m trying to say

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrMdTrb65xw

  • Mark

    J. Myers wrote:

    …Mark, it’s time to either…

    Mr. Myers, you SAID you were NOT going to participate in this conversation any further. WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE??

    As far as I’m concerned, any credibility or integrity you once had is now shot.

    It would be most impressive if you would actually do what you say you are going to do.

    Good day, sir.

  • Claire

    Mark said

    Thus my thesis proposes that Atheists should consider not believing that Christians actually exist as well as not believing that God exists

    You still haven’t said why an atheist should believe anything based on the bible. It’s not source in which atheists (certainly not this one) place any credence.

    I would enjoy taking you through all that you have been told about President Bush and showing you that 9 out of 10 are lies.

    You are making a wrong assumption there, Mark. I’m not basing my opinion on what I’ve been told, I’m basing it on things I have seen and heard him say. I’ve seen lots of video of him being intereviewed and in press conferences. My opinion WAS holding back :-)

  • J Myers

    Mark,

    WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE??

    Uh… I pretty clearly explained that, Mark, not that explanations have helped you to comprehend any other points. Re-read the first paragraph of my last post if you’d like to see the answer to this question again.

    As far as I’m concerned, any credibility or integrity you once had is now shot.

    Then you have some very peculiar criteria as to what constitutes “integrity” and “credibility.” Apparently, incoherency, self-contradiction, out-of-hand dismissal of criticism, and making inaccurate comments about someone in their (presumed) absence are permissible, but re-entering an internet thread that I bowed out of to contest the claims made about me in my (presumed) absence is not. Hmmm.

    Nice ad hominem, by the way. My points and arguments still stand, whatever you may think of me. If you want those to go away, you have to address them.

    It would be most impressive if you would actually do what you say you are going to do.

    I’m not here (or not here) to impress you, Mark, nor is anyone else. We are here to conduct good-faith discussions–something in which you apparently have little interest. Tell me, what is your aim with vacuous pronouncements such as this?

  • Mark

    I wrote:

    Thus my thesis proposes that Atheists should consider not believing that Christians actually exist as well as not believing that God exists

    Then Claire replied:

    You still haven’t said why an atheist should believe anything based on the bible. It’s not source in which atheists (certainly not this one) place any credence.

    I’m not saying that Atheists should believe. I’m saying that the evidence shows that Atheists are free to NOT believe in the existence of Christians.

  • Mark

    Claire previously said about President Bush:

    He’s a power-drunk moron with a tenuous grasp of reality, who gets away with it because of his position and the enormous right-wing machine that handles him and his indiscretions.

    I’m not basing my opinion on what I’ve been told, I’m basing it on things I have seen and heard him say. I’ve seen lots of video of him being intereviewed and in press conferences

    Its an amazing coincidence today that NBC was caught faking an interview with President Bush by editing his responses to the questions in an obvious effort to make him appear to say things he never said and also covering up the President’s objection to false statements made by the NBC journalist. You should keep this incident in mind whenever you begin to believe that you know someone only by what biased broadcasters allow you to see of them on your TV. NBCs pitiful response simply claimed that they have freedom of the press so they can edit any way they want. They also made the laughable claim that its ok if they lied on their television broadcast because the truth of the unedited story is buried somewhere on their website.

    I’m sure that you find all this delicious because of your obvious hatred for the current President but the media will do the same to people you think are important. I’m sure you are not so shallow as to approve of lying by the media just because the lie they tell makes you feel good.

    You can find hundreds of news hits by googling these three names all at the same time.

    “Richard Engel” “Ed Gillespie” “Steve Capus”


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