“I perceive that you are very religious”

There is a new Pew survey of Americans’ religious beliefs. For the full report go here.

Much of it confirms what other polls have noted: 92% of Americans believe in “God or universal spirit”; 40% of Americans say they attend a religious service every week.

There are some additional facts I had not known before: 20% of Americans speak in tongues. 60% pray daily. 63% believe their holy book is the word of God. 79% believe in miracles.

The biggest revelation, as it were, is that for all of Americans’ religiosity, some 70% believe that people who hold to other religions can find salvation.

My favorite fact of the study: One out of five ATHEISTS believe in God or a universal spirit. And nearly half of all AGNOSTICS (defined as someone who does not know whether or not God exists) report believing in God or a universal spirit.

The non-believing community, like other religious groups, needs to better teach and enforce their doctrinal orthodoxy. Or at least stop calling their adherents “brights.”

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Or they need to stop calling themselves atheists.
    Sounds like some ex-communications are in order.
    You know, it’s very discouraging when even atheists can deny the basic tenets of their faith, and still call themselves atheists. Is nothing sacred?
    Aside: What ‘river’ does an atheist ‘swim’, going from from atheism to vague deism?
    The River Styx? Moody River?

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Or they need to stop calling themselves atheists.
    Sounds like some ex-communications are in order.
    You know, it’s very discouraging when even atheists can deny the basic tenets of their faith, and still call themselves atheists. Is nothing sacred?
    Aside: What ‘river’ does an atheist ‘swim’, going from from atheism to vague deism?
    The River Styx? Moody River?

  • http://gpiper.org/katiesbeer TK

    Thanks for the reference to one of my favorite Bible accounts – Paul at the Aeropagus. Lots of surface knowledge about various religions, but not much faith.

    Yesterday a local professor was quoted stating that the report showed that religion in America is a mile wide and three inches deep. I think that fits in with Paul’s experience because after the group invited him in and listened to his “ideas”, they said they would invite him back to hear more but never did. (That is a conclusion based on the fact that scripture doesn’t mention a second meeting and records show that there weren’t many believers in that area).

  • http://gpiper.org/katiesbeer TK

    Thanks for the reference to one of my favorite Bible accounts – Paul at the Aeropagus. Lots of surface knowledge about various religions, but not much faith.

    Yesterday a local professor was quoted stating that the report showed that religion in America is a mile wide and three inches deep. I think that fits in with Paul’s experience because after the group invited him in and listened to his “ideas”, they said they would invite him back to hear more but never did. (That is a conclusion based on the fact that scripture doesn’t mention a second meeting and records show that there weren’t many believers in that area).

  • http://heresyhunter.blogspot.com Bob Hunter

    “57 percent of evangelical church attenders said they believe many religions can lead to eternal life.” What are they teaching in churches these days?

  • http://heresyhunter.blogspot.com Bob Hunter

    “57 percent of evangelical church attenders said they believe many religions can lead to eternal life.” What are they teaching in churches these days?

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    I wonder if “atheists” who believe in God are cultural atheists, like the cultural Catholics or Jews who don’t actually believe their religions, but feel comfortable with its traditions.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    I wonder if “atheists” who believe in God are cultural atheists, like the cultural Catholics or Jews who don’t actually believe their religions, but feel comfortable with its traditions.

  • Ryan

    Universalism is very popular. It is not so much the teaching in the churches. I teach there is only one way to the father and that is through Jesus Christ. Yet whenever the topic comes up I always have dissenters, vocal or closet, who believe a good God could never damn someone who did not have a chance to hear the Gospel.

    Christian universalism is a twisted attempt to defend God’s reputation as good and express love for people that in the end does neither.

  • Ryan

    Universalism is very popular. It is not so much the teaching in the churches. I teach there is only one way to the father and that is through Jesus Christ. Yet whenever the topic comes up I always have dissenters, vocal or closet, who believe a good God could never damn someone who did not have a chance to hear the Gospel.

    Christian universalism is a twisted attempt to defend God’s reputation as good and express love for people that in the end does neither.

  • CRB

    Ryan,
    You said, “Yet whenever the topic comes up I always have dissenters, vocal or closet, who believe a good God could never damn someone who did not have a chance to hear the Gospel.”
    The text for the one year series last Sunday was from St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25. What in the world do they do with that?!

  • CRB

    Ryan,
    You said, “Yet whenever the topic comes up I always have dissenters, vocal or closet, who believe a good God could never damn someone who did not have a chance to hear the Gospel.”
    The text for the one year series last Sunday was from St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25. What in the world do they do with that?!

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    CRB,
    They ignore it. People have a way of doing that with things they don’t like.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    CRB,
    They ignore it. People have a way of doing that with things they don’t like.

  • Michael the little boot

    Susan @ 1,

    You said “You know, it’s very discouraging when even atheists can deny the basic tenets of their faith, and still call themselves atheists. Is nothing sacred?”

    I do detect humor here, so I could be quibbling with what was intended as a joke; just wanted to point out that atheism is not a faith. It has no orthodoxy (although everyone here is correct in highlighting the utter lack of common sense in a person claiming to be an atheist AND claiming to believe in God), nor any clergy to determine what an atheist orthodoxy might be. While believers like to point out that it takes faith to deny the existence of God, atheists like to make the contrary assertion that it actually takes a lack of faith. (One tends to be persuaded by one tack or the other, leading one to accept the evidence of one’s favored side and to accuse the other of having no evidence to support its’ claims. Since we’ve got representatives of both groups here we’re probably not going to make any headway in regard to either side.)

    But Dr. Veith seems to think there is some sort of doctrine of atheism, as he states “The non-believing community, like other religious groups, needs to better teach and enforce their doctrinal orthodoxy. Or at least stop calling their adherents ‘brights.’” PLEASE don’t take the strident proselytizing of some people to mean that all or even most atheists adhere to this label. Most of us think it’s as idiotic a name as you do – especially for a bunch of people who are not even a cohesive group. We don’t have any doctrine so we can’t have a definition of “atheist orthodoxy” (I actually had to keep myself from laughing out loud while typing that), nor do we have any officials entrusted to enforce such an orthodoxy, as I’ve already said.

    So, while it may TAKE faith not to believe in God (and that, as I’ve said, is HIGHLY debatable, and not really apropos of this discussion), disbelief is not A FAITH in itself.

  • Michael the little boot

    Susan @ 1,

    You said “You know, it’s very discouraging when even atheists can deny the basic tenets of their faith, and still call themselves atheists. Is nothing sacred?”

    I do detect humor here, so I could be quibbling with what was intended as a joke; just wanted to point out that atheism is not a faith. It has no orthodoxy (although everyone here is correct in highlighting the utter lack of common sense in a person claiming to be an atheist AND claiming to believe in God), nor any clergy to determine what an atheist orthodoxy might be. While believers like to point out that it takes faith to deny the existence of God, atheists like to make the contrary assertion that it actually takes a lack of faith. (One tends to be persuaded by one tack or the other, leading one to accept the evidence of one’s favored side and to accuse the other of having no evidence to support its’ claims. Since we’ve got representatives of both groups here we’re probably not going to make any headway in regard to either side.)

    But Dr. Veith seems to think there is some sort of doctrine of atheism, as he states “The non-believing community, like other religious groups, needs to better teach and enforce their doctrinal orthodoxy. Or at least stop calling their adherents ‘brights.’” PLEASE don’t take the strident proselytizing of some people to mean that all or even most atheists adhere to this label. Most of us think it’s as idiotic a name as you do – especially for a bunch of people who are not even a cohesive group. We don’t have any doctrine so we can’t have a definition of “atheist orthodoxy” (I actually had to keep myself from laughing out loud while typing that), nor do we have any officials entrusted to enforce such an orthodoxy, as I’ve already said.

    So, while it may TAKE faith not to believe in God (and that, as I’ve said, is HIGHLY debatable, and not really apropos of this discussion), disbelief is not A FAITH in itself.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    Wait, wait, wait. You mean atheism means something *other* than believing there’s no God?

    You’re saying believing in God is not contradictory to atheism?

    You can say atheists have no dogma, but if atheism doesn’t mean you don’t believe there’s a God, what in the name of all that’s (or isn’t) holy *does* it mean?

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    Wait, wait, wait. You mean atheism means something *other* than believing there’s no God?

    You’re saying believing in God is not contradictory to atheism?

    You can say atheists have no dogma, but if atheism doesn’t mean you don’t believe there’s a God, what in the name of all that’s (or isn’t) holy *does* it mean?

  • http://www.boomerinthepew.com David Porter

    I found it interesting that they equated God with “universal spirit” in asking people if that believed in God.

    Here is the question that was asked:

    Question wording: Do you believe in God or a universal spirit? [IF YES, ASK:] How certain are you about this belief? Are you absolutely certain, fairly certain, not too certain, or not at all certain?

    I would have like to have been a fly on the wall as they were attempting to formulate the questions and hear their reasonings.

  • http://www.boomerinthepew.com David Porter

    I found it interesting that they equated God with “universal spirit” in asking people if that believed in God.

    Here is the question that was asked:

    Question wording: Do you believe in God or a universal spirit? [IF YES, ASK:] How certain are you about this belief? Are you absolutely certain, fairly certain, not too certain, or not at all certain?

    I would have like to have been a fly on the wall as they were attempting to formulate the questions and hear their reasonings.

  • http://- Catherine

    This reminds me of a discussion I had with a friend. He was raised Roman Catholic, but he doesn’t go to church anymore, though he’s attended Lutheran services with me a few times. He’s in his early twenties and is very intelligent. He says he believes that people who aren’t Christian can go to heaven, and when I asked why in the world he believes that, he had a strange answer.

    He said, “Well, I’ve thought about it, and really, why would God damn people to hell if he loves them? It just doesn’t feel right to me.”

    The second sentence is what really stuck out at me. People are basing so much on feelings and perceived logic. I told him that you can’t always trust your feelings, and that we should base our beliefs in God in the Bible, and not what we WANT to believe about God. Because when we base everything on what we WANT to believe about God, then what’s stopping us from falling into an even deeper pit of sin? What’s stopping us from deciding that God wouldn’t mind if we bent the rules, and if we picked and chose what we wanted to follow.

    He didn’t say much after that, but I sure hope I gave him some food for thought.

  • http://- Catherine

    This reminds me of a discussion I had with a friend. He was raised Roman Catholic, but he doesn’t go to church anymore, though he’s attended Lutheran services with me a few times. He’s in his early twenties and is very intelligent. He says he believes that people who aren’t Christian can go to heaven, and when I asked why in the world he believes that, he had a strange answer.

    He said, “Well, I’ve thought about it, and really, why would God damn people to hell if he loves them? It just doesn’t feel right to me.”

    The second sentence is what really stuck out at me. People are basing so much on feelings and perceived logic. I told him that you can’t always trust your feelings, and that we should base our beliefs in God in the Bible, and not what we WANT to believe about God. Because when we base everything on what we WANT to believe about God, then what’s stopping us from falling into an even deeper pit of sin? What’s stopping us from deciding that God wouldn’t mind if we bent the rules, and if we picked and chose what we wanted to follow.

    He didn’t say much after that, but I sure hope I gave him some food for thought.

  • Michael the little boot

    Lars Walker @ 9,

    Not sure if you’re responding to my post since you didn’t specify; but since your post comes directly after mine, and seems to be a response, I’ll respond to you. In my post I specifically said “…everyone here is CORRECT in highlighting the UTTER LACK OF COMMON SENSE in a person claiming to be an atheist AND claiming to believe in God.” So, in case you were responding to me, there it is. No, atheism means nothing other than a lack of belief in God. If you weren’t responding to me, apologies!

  • Michael the little boot

    Lars Walker @ 9,

    Not sure if you’re responding to my post since you didn’t specify; but since your post comes directly after mine, and seems to be a response, I’ll respond to you. In my post I specifically said “…everyone here is CORRECT in highlighting the UTTER LACK OF COMMON SENSE in a person claiming to be an atheist AND claiming to believe in God.” So, in case you were responding to me, there it is. No, atheism means nothing other than a lack of belief in God. If you weren’t responding to me, apologies!

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    Michael: I’ve re-read your message several times, and I can’t find the line you quote. If I’m being willfully blind, I apologize. (Update: I found it at last. It was kind of buried in there.)

    But it seems to me that if you say, “We have no doctrines, but we have one irreduceable basic conviction,” (not a direct quote) well, that’s pretty much my definition of a doctrine.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    Michael: I’ve re-read your message several times, and I can’t find the line you quote. If I’m being willfully blind, I apologize. (Update: I found it at last. It was kind of buried in there.)

    But it seems to me that if you say, “We have no doctrines, but we have one irreduceable basic conviction,” (not a direct quote) well, that’s pretty much my definition of a doctrine.

  • Michael the little boot

    Catherine @ 11,

    If you think we should base what we think on the Bible, rather than on “feelings and perceived logic,” where is your evidence that the Bible wasn’t based on such things as well? How should we “base our beliefs in God in the Bible, and not what we WANT to believe about God”? Last I checked there was nothing definitive either way as to the question of whether God exists, which leaves all books claiming to be about God in the “possible” category, but not in the “actual” one. Is it possible that you are picking and choosing what you want to follow in ONLY looking to the Bible for your ideas about God? Most people hold views about God which contradict the views others hold. Doesn’t every believer in God pick and choose what they want to believe about God? Don’t you believe what you WANT to believe, too? If you have better evidence than your feelings and logic, I’d love to hear (or read) it!

  • Michael the little boot

    Catherine @ 11,

    If you think we should base what we think on the Bible, rather than on “feelings and perceived logic,” where is your evidence that the Bible wasn’t based on such things as well? How should we “base our beliefs in God in the Bible, and not what we WANT to believe about God”? Last I checked there was nothing definitive either way as to the question of whether God exists, which leaves all books claiming to be about God in the “possible” category, but not in the “actual” one. Is it possible that you are picking and choosing what you want to follow in ONLY looking to the Bible for your ideas about God? Most people hold views about God which contradict the views others hold. Doesn’t every believer in God pick and choose what they want to believe about God? Don’t you believe what you WANT to believe, too? If you have better evidence than your feelings and logic, I’d love to hear (or read) it!

  • Ryan

    CRB,

    I want to echo Lar’s comment: they ignore it. I have had occasion, on various Scriptural topics, where I have shown from Scripture (several Scriptures) a certain teaching was true and Biblical and the people choose to ignore it. There is a laundry list of these: Living Together/Sex before marriage, Abortion, Evolution, Church Attendance, Universalism and so on.

    How do I deal with this? Patiently proclaim and Teach, Teach and Proclaim.

    Still, it is difficult in 15 to 20 minutes on a Sunday (lets say 2 hours if you include the whole Divine Service and Sunday School) to counter the influence of the 24/7 media and entertainment culture. Difficult, but nothing is impossible with God.

  • Ryan

    CRB,

    I want to echo Lar’s comment: they ignore it. I have had occasion, on various Scriptural topics, where I have shown from Scripture (several Scriptures) a certain teaching was true and Biblical and the people choose to ignore it. There is a laundry list of these: Living Together/Sex before marriage, Abortion, Evolution, Church Attendance, Universalism and so on.

    How do I deal with this? Patiently proclaim and Teach, Teach and Proclaim.

    Still, it is difficult in 15 to 20 minutes on a Sunday (lets say 2 hours if you include the whole Divine Service and Sunday School) to counter the influence of the 24/7 media and entertainment culture. Difficult, but nothing is impossible with God.

  • Michael the little boot

    Lars @ 13,

    Didn’t mean to bury that concession in the second sentence of my post! I’ll make sure to place all future agreeable sentiments in the very first line.

    If what I said conforms to your definition of a doctrine, that’s cool. It doesn’t completely work with the accepted definitions, though. These seem pretty straightforward:

    1. a particular principle, position, or policy taught or advocated, as of a religion or government: Catholic doctrines; the Monroe Doctrine.
    2. something that is taught; teachings collectively: religious doctrine.
    3. a body or system of teachings relating to a particular subject: the doctrine of the Catholic Church.

    While it does fall into the vague “something that is taught” definition, it does not conform to the rest of the entry: teachings collectively. And the following definition goes further:

    A principle or body of principles presented for acceptance or belief, as by a religious, political, scientific, or philosophic group; DOGMA.

    I highlighted the last part to show that some definitions of the word include dogma as part of the idea of doctrine.

    What I find to be really funny is that I can’t think of a single other non-belief that is considered a belief! What other “group” could you cobble together out of a totally disparate set of people who, lacking any other shared ideas, are thrown together by a collective LACK of belief in one area? If you can give me an example it would be good for a laugh!

    Can you imagine? Let’s use this example: most people on this blog do not believe in the principle of evolution by natural selection, or, at least, reject the idea of macroevolution. So let’s call you non-evolutionists (since a-evolutionists just doesn’t sound right). This puts you in a category with many Mormons, Muslims, and people of all different stripes (including, you may be surprised to find out, some atheists). Of course, this weird group is not brought together by a shared lack of belief; rather, it is not a group, since many of its’ “members” have beliefs which make them reject the ideas of others within this group.

    It is my contention that atheism SEEMS to be a group because of its’ minority status – i.e., people who have a shared lack of belief in God tend to come together only because of a collective REJECTION by the rest of the culture. These people are varied, and do not necessarily share any other beliefs. How is this anything like a religion? And how can, out of this loose affiliation, anything like doctrine arise?

  • Michael the little boot

    Lars @ 13,

    Didn’t mean to bury that concession in the second sentence of my post! I’ll make sure to place all future agreeable sentiments in the very first line.

    If what I said conforms to your definition of a doctrine, that’s cool. It doesn’t completely work with the accepted definitions, though. These seem pretty straightforward:

    1. a particular principle, position, or policy taught or advocated, as of a religion or government: Catholic doctrines; the Monroe Doctrine.
    2. something that is taught; teachings collectively: religious doctrine.
    3. a body or system of teachings relating to a particular subject: the doctrine of the Catholic Church.

    While it does fall into the vague “something that is taught” definition, it does not conform to the rest of the entry: teachings collectively. And the following definition goes further:

    A principle or body of principles presented for acceptance or belief, as by a religious, political, scientific, or philosophic group; DOGMA.

    I highlighted the last part to show that some definitions of the word include dogma as part of the idea of doctrine.

    What I find to be really funny is that I can’t think of a single other non-belief that is considered a belief! What other “group” could you cobble together out of a totally disparate set of people who, lacking any other shared ideas, are thrown together by a collective LACK of belief in one area? If you can give me an example it would be good for a laugh!

    Can you imagine? Let’s use this example: most people on this blog do not believe in the principle of evolution by natural selection, or, at least, reject the idea of macroevolution. So let’s call you non-evolutionists (since a-evolutionists just doesn’t sound right). This puts you in a category with many Mormons, Muslims, and people of all different stripes (including, you may be surprised to find out, some atheists). Of course, this weird group is not brought together by a shared lack of belief; rather, it is not a group, since many of its’ “members” have beliefs which make them reject the ideas of others within this group.

    It is my contention that atheism SEEMS to be a group because of its’ minority status – i.e., people who have a shared lack of belief in God tend to come together only because of a collective REJECTION by the rest of the culture. These people are varied, and do not necessarily share any other beliefs. How is this anything like a religion? And how can, out of this loose affiliation, anything like doctrine arise?

  • http://- Catherine

    @ 14
    That’s assuming you don’t believe in Absolute Truth. I do believe in Absolute Truth, and that it was passed to us through the Bible. Of course, you do have a few good points, but only if you look at everything subjectively, i.e. that there is no one Absolute God.

    I believe in God because, yes, I do feel that Jesus Christ is the one true way to salvation. But I also believe that faith in Christ is the ONLY means to salvation. So it doesn’t matter what I feel, because the Absolute Truth of the matter is that Christ is the only way to salvation.

    I’m no theologian, and I don’t know how to explain it in better terms. If you don’t believe in Absolute Truth, then well, everything I just said will make me seem closed-minded I suppose.

  • http://- Catherine

    @ 14
    That’s assuming you don’t believe in Absolute Truth. I do believe in Absolute Truth, and that it was passed to us through the Bible. Of course, you do have a few good points, but only if you look at everything subjectively, i.e. that there is no one Absolute God.

    I believe in God because, yes, I do feel that Jesus Christ is the one true way to salvation. But I also believe that faith in Christ is the ONLY means to salvation. So it doesn’t matter what I feel, because the Absolute Truth of the matter is that Christ is the only way to salvation.

    I’m no theologian, and I don’t know how to explain it in better terms. If you don’t believe in Absolute Truth, then well, everything I just said will make me seem closed-minded I suppose.

  • http://- Catherine

    Additionally, can I be any more redundant in that second paragraph? Sheesh, I need to remember to reread before I hit “submit.”

  • http://- Catherine

    Additionally, can I be any more redundant in that second paragraph? Sheesh, I need to remember to reread before I hit “submit.”

  • Joe

    Little Boot – If it is proof you want you will have to wait until the last day, when we are all judged. The point is faith, if we could prove it we wouldn’t need faith.

  • Joe

    Little Boot – If it is proof you want you will have to wait until the last day, when we are all judged. The point is faith, if we could prove it we wouldn’t need faith.

  • Michael the little boot

    Catherine @ 17,

    I was actually asking how you arrive at your definition of Absolute Truth, albeit obliquely. That’s the crux of it. I’m not supposing you have access to something to which none of us are privy, I’d just like to know how your decision to follow what the Bible loosely defines as Absolute Truth came about. And I’d like to see how you following your feelings and perceived logic about the Bible is any different than your friend following his own feelings and perceptions. How is it that you have come to define the Bible (and, by extension, the God of the Bible) as Absolute – i.e., what criteria do you use to escape your own feelings and perceptions ABOUT the Bible, in order to determine that, outside your feelings and perceptions, it IS the Absolute Truth?

    I don’t think my point holds only if one accepts subjective truth. Even if there is an Absolute God (especially if, actually!), one would think the followers of that God could come up with a few logical reasons why they follow him/her/it as opposed to others or none at all. If you base that on the Bible, cool. Why? That’s all I’m asking. If you base it on FAITH IN the Bible, wonderful! What is it about the Bible that has caused you to put faith in it as a testament to God over all other testaments?

  • Michael the little boot

    Catherine @ 17,

    I was actually asking how you arrive at your definition of Absolute Truth, albeit obliquely. That’s the crux of it. I’m not supposing you have access to something to which none of us are privy, I’d just like to know how your decision to follow what the Bible loosely defines as Absolute Truth came about. And I’d like to see how you following your feelings and perceived logic about the Bible is any different than your friend following his own feelings and perceptions. How is it that you have come to define the Bible (and, by extension, the God of the Bible) as Absolute – i.e., what criteria do you use to escape your own feelings and perceptions ABOUT the Bible, in order to determine that, outside your feelings and perceptions, it IS the Absolute Truth?

    I don’t think my point holds only if one accepts subjective truth. Even if there is an Absolute God (especially if, actually!), one would think the followers of that God could come up with a few logical reasons why they follow him/her/it as opposed to others or none at all. If you base that on the Bible, cool. Why? That’s all I’m asking. If you base it on FAITH IN the Bible, wonderful! What is it about the Bible that has caused you to put faith in it as a testament to God over all other testaments?

  • Michael the little boot

    Joe @ 19,

    I’m not looking for proof. Just wondering. I think my post @ 20 states things more clearly. But your post is the common cop out. I don’t agree that an Absolute God would create a universe wherein he/she/it was the most important thing in it, then give no proof of the fact. Eating is very important to our continued existence. We have proof of that. Sleeping is as well, and proof comes with that, too. All of the important aspects of sustaining life are evident – except this most important one. That doesn’t make sense to me.

    And please, in your reply, do not appeal to the “free will” argument. That’s another old and dusty problem. Or, at the very least, if you do bring it up, please also SHOW that free will exists. After you’ve done that, please give evidence that we HAVE free will.

  • Michael the little boot

    Joe @ 19,

    I’m not looking for proof. Just wondering. I think my post @ 20 states things more clearly. But your post is the common cop out. I don’t agree that an Absolute God would create a universe wherein he/she/it was the most important thing in it, then give no proof of the fact. Eating is very important to our continued existence. We have proof of that. Sleeping is as well, and proof comes with that, too. All of the important aspects of sustaining life are evident – except this most important one. That doesn’t make sense to me.

    And please, in your reply, do not appeal to the “free will” argument. That’s another old and dusty problem. Or, at the very least, if you do bring it up, please also SHOW that free will exists. After you’ve done that, please give evidence that we HAVE free will.

  • Pr B

    Michael@21… He who believes in food because he gets hungry or in sleep because he physically needs it might consider that only the physically alive get hungry and tired. The physically dead don’t get either. It stands to reason,then, that those who deny spiritual reality do so because they’re spiritually dead and the spiritually dead can’t, of themselves, believe anymore than the physically dead can eat or get tired.

  • Pr B

    Michael@21… He who believes in food because he gets hungry or in sleep because he physically needs it might consider that only the physically alive get hungry and tired. The physically dead don’t get either. It stands to reason,then, that those who deny spiritual reality do so because they’re spiritually dead and the spiritually dead can’t, of themselves, believe anymore than the physically dead can eat or get tired.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Well, now that you’ve set the parameters of the debate, and now that we know what arguments we may or may not use…
    Actually, Joe’s comment was spot on.
    But the common misconception of those who do not have the Christian faith is that individual Christians have decided on faith–that we chose to have it and then to act upon it–when, in reality, we have received it.
    And that’s it in a nutshell. Whether we’ve been Christians all our lives, or converted in later life, the faith we have was granted us.
    Those who claim they’ve ‘accepted Jesus’ or ‘decided to follow Jesus’ are not speaking of faith. I’m not saying they have no faith. But that’s not the way faith works, and that’s not the way they came to faith.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Well, now that you’ve set the parameters of the debate, and now that we know what arguments we may or may not use…
    Actually, Joe’s comment was spot on.
    But the common misconception of those who do not have the Christian faith is that individual Christians have decided on faith–that we chose to have it and then to act upon it–when, in reality, we have received it.
    And that’s it in a nutshell. Whether we’ve been Christians all our lives, or converted in later life, the faith we have was granted us.
    Those who claim they’ve ‘accepted Jesus’ or ‘decided to follow Jesus’ are not speaking of faith. I’m not saying they have no faith. But that’s not the way faith works, and that’s not the way they came to faith.

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  • http://viz.tumblr.com Tickletext

    Michael (#21),

    Two questions.

    1. Would you say that human beings are free to love or not love as they so choose?
    2. Could love conceivably exist where there was no free will?

  • http://viz.tumblr.com Tickletext

    Michael (#21),

    Two questions.

    1. Would you say that human beings are free to love or not love as they so choose?
    2. Could love conceivably exist where there was no free will?

  • Michael the little boot

    Pr B @ 22,

    If one is spiritually dead and denies spiritual reality because of this state, how is one to blame for feeling and thinking the way one does? I mean, if I (for example) have come to a place where nothing about the idea of any gods or God makes sense to me as described in any religion of which I’m aware, where is my culpability? Did I commit spiritual suicide? But how could I have done that, if denying spiritual reality means that I am spiritually dead? That’s a paradox. I couldn’t have committed spiritual suicide because I would already have had to deny spiritual reality in order to do so, in which case I would already be spiritually dead. Please explain.

  • Michael the little boot

    Pr B @ 22,

    If one is spiritually dead and denies spiritual reality because of this state, how is one to blame for feeling and thinking the way one does? I mean, if I (for example) have come to a place where nothing about the idea of any gods or God makes sense to me as described in any religion of which I’m aware, where is my culpability? Did I commit spiritual suicide? But how could I have done that, if denying spiritual reality means that I am spiritually dead? That’s a paradox. I couldn’t have committed spiritual suicide because I would already have had to deny spiritual reality in order to do so, in which case I would already be spiritually dead. Please explain.

  • Michael the little boot

    Susan @ 23,

    I was raised a Christian, so I don’t exactly fit in with your people “who do not have the Christian faith.” Not that you would’ve known that. But I need a bit of a road map to follow your idea. If one does not decide on faith but receives it, how does this happen? Does one have to ask in order to receive? Isn’t this a choice? Is faith only “granted” to those who have sought it? Or does God choose who gets faith and who doesn’t? If so, what is God’s criteria for making these decisions? I must be missing something, because this sounds like predestination, which I did NOT expect to see on this blog!

    If you’re saying no Christian has accepted Jesus, that all Christians have rather been accepted BY Jesus, what about atheists? Have we been rejected by Jesus for some reason? As you can see, I’m totally lost (no pun intended!). If you can provide further explanation of this concept I’d be much obliged!

  • Michael the little boot

    Susan @ 23,

    I was raised a Christian, so I don’t exactly fit in with your people “who do not have the Christian faith.” Not that you would’ve known that. But I need a bit of a road map to follow your idea. If one does not decide on faith but receives it, how does this happen? Does one have to ask in order to receive? Isn’t this a choice? Is faith only “granted” to those who have sought it? Or does God choose who gets faith and who doesn’t? If so, what is God’s criteria for making these decisions? I must be missing something, because this sounds like predestination, which I did NOT expect to see on this blog!

    If you’re saying no Christian has accepted Jesus, that all Christians have rather been accepted BY Jesus, what about atheists? Have we been rejected by Jesus for some reason? As you can see, I’m totally lost (no pun intended!). If you can provide further explanation of this concept I’d be much obliged!

  • Michael the little boot

    Tickletext @ 25,

    First, AWESOME name! Don’t know what it means, but sounds friendly.

    As to your questions:

    1. Would you say that human beings are free to love or not love as they so choose?

    I would first have to ask your definition of the word “free” as well as of “love” and “choose”. I’m not sure about you, but I have a very hard time defining these concepts. They seem elusive to me. Without agreed upon definitions it’s difficult to discuss any idea one to another.

    Whether we are “free” to “choose” to “love” is a question that is beyond freighted. But, using my own definitions – and remembering I have LITTLE to NO IDEA what you mean by these – I would say it is possible we have a limited freedom to make some choices which result in love. But it seems we are not free from our emotions. At this point we are not free from survival necessities (eating, sleeping, etc.). These limit our ability to choose, which leads me to think it would limit our ability to choose to love.

    2. Could love conceivably exist where there was no free will?

    I think this really depends on what you mean by free will. Do you mean absolute, perfect free will, wherein one could make any choice one wanted to make? Do you mean limited free will (i.e., the ability to choose within the parameters of available choices)?

    Depending on what parts of the will are constrained, I think it is possible for love to exist without free will. I don’t actually think I have free will, completely. In my experience, I have only a limited free will. I cannot choose to sprout wings. I cannot choose to be a tree.

    I am a vegetarian. I feel like I made that choice myself. But when I think of other animals being treated cruelly, or if I see pictures of abuse, I am overwhelmed by negative emotions. I feel unable to deny that other animals have thoughts and feelings. I am paralyzed emotionally and cannot participate in anything I perceive as cruel. Am I free in making this choice? I feel I am compelled. In fact, I feel that the choice is already made for me.

    But within the limitations of being a human – and without an agreed upon definition of love – I do think love is possible. I define that as love existing without free will.

  • Michael the little boot

    Tickletext @ 25,

    First, AWESOME name! Don’t know what it means, but sounds friendly.

    As to your questions:

    1. Would you say that human beings are free to love or not love as they so choose?

    I would first have to ask your definition of the word “free” as well as of “love” and “choose”. I’m not sure about you, but I have a very hard time defining these concepts. They seem elusive to me. Without agreed upon definitions it’s difficult to discuss any idea one to another.

    Whether we are “free” to “choose” to “love” is a question that is beyond freighted. But, using my own definitions – and remembering I have LITTLE to NO IDEA what you mean by these – I would say it is possible we have a limited freedom to make some choices which result in love. But it seems we are not free from our emotions. At this point we are not free from survival necessities (eating, sleeping, etc.). These limit our ability to choose, which leads me to think it would limit our ability to choose to love.

    2. Could love conceivably exist where there was no free will?

    I think this really depends on what you mean by free will. Do you mean absolute, perfect free will, wherein one could make any choice one wanted to make? Do you mean limited free will (i.e., the ability to choose within the parameters of available choices)?

    Depending on what parts of the will are constrained, I think it is possible for love to exist without free will. I don’t actually think I have free will, completely. In my experience, I have only a limited free will. I cannot choose to sprout wings. I cannot choose to be a tree.

    I am a vegetarian. I feel like I made that choice myself. But when I think of other animals being treated cruelly, or if I see pictures of abuse, I am overwhelmed by negative emotions. I feel unable to deny that other animals have thoughts and feelings. I am paralyzed emotionally and cannot participate in anything I perceive as cruel. Am I free in making this choice? I feel I am compelled. In fact, I feel that the choice is already made for me.

    But within the limitations of being a human – and without an agreed upon definition of love – I do think love is possible. I define that as love existing without free will.

  • http://viz.tumblr.com Tickletext

    Michael TLB,

    I call myself Tickletext after Parson Tickletext, a character in “Shamela,” which is a maniacal little satire by Henry Fielding (author of Tom Jones). May I ask about your own intriguing name?

    You are quite right to insist on defining terms.

    When I ask whether “human beings are free to love,” by “free” I simply mean whether it is in our power to love. I don’t mean to equate freedom and autonomy. In fact, I would say that while the common constraints of human necessity, such as those bodily needs you mention, or death, do limit our ability to love, they also give our love shape and form. It is impossible to love without a body. (And by “love” I mean the giving away of oneself to another person, a manifest commitment to the other’s well-being; i.e. agape). What I’m wondering is whether you would say that in spite of those limitations we contingent creatures are nonetheless capable of charitable agency? To put it another way, look back over any personal relationship you have had. Is there any possible sense in which you could say that you could not have chosen to treat that person lovingly (regardless of whether you did or not)? Is that what you are in fact suggesting when you speak of “love existing without free will”?

    Ultimately, what I am trying to get at with all this is to connect love and proof. I have found many theological discussions of free will to be frustrating and irrelevant because they do not take love into consideration. Relatively few people are persuaded to live differently by sheer argument. But what person is not persuaded by love? Is anyone truly a determinist when it comes to love? (Richard Dawkins, are you listening? I know you secretly read Cranach… Inquiring persons want to know…)

  • http://viz.tumblr.com Tickletext

    Michael TLB,

    I call myself Tickletext after Parson Tickletext, a character in “Shamela,” which is a maniacal little satire by Henry Fielding (author of Tom Jones). May I ask about your own intriguing name?

    You are quite right to insist on defining terms.

    When I ask whether “human beings are free to love,” by “free” I simply mean whether it is in our power to love. I don’t mean to equate freedom and autonomy. In fact, I would say that while the common constraints of human necessity, such as those bodily needs you mention, or death, do limit our ability to love, they also give our love shape and form. It is impossible to love without a body. (And by “love” I mean the giving away of oneself to another person, a manifest commitment to the other’s well-being; i.e. agape). What I’m wondering is whether you would say that in spite of those limitations we contingent creatures are nonetheless capable of charitable agency? To put it another way, look back over any personal relationship you have had. Is there any possible sense in which you could say that you could not have chosen to treat that person lovingly (regardless of whether you did or not)? Is that what you are in fact suggesting when you speak of “love existing without free will”?

    Ultimately, what I am trying to get at with all this is to connect love and proof. I have found many theological discussions of free will to be frustrating and irrelevant because they do not take love into consideration. Relatively few people are persuaded to live differently by sheer argument. But what person is not persuaded by love? Is anyone truly a determinist when it comes to love? (Richard Dawkins, are you listening? I know you secretly read Cranach… Inquiring persons want to know…)

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Michael the little boot asked first:
    ‘If one does not decide on faith but receives it, how does this happen?’
    Scripture tells us that faith comes by hearing the message.
    Faith comes from hearing the preaching of the Word of Christ.
    He asked second:
    ‘Does one have to ask in order to receive?’
    No, only to listen, or, more passively, to hear.
    This is not predestination.
    The reception of faith is apart from our acceptance; it does not require our active participation.
    However, the rejection of what we hear–unbelief; the rejection of faith–comes solely by our efforts of resistance and rejection.
    This is how the scriptures promise faith. We cannot, by our own reason, believe, but we believe through the work of the Holy Spirit, sent by God to reveal His will for us.
    As I said before, those who claim to have chosen Christ, while they may indeed have belief and faith in Him, did not choose Him. They may have chosen to attend church and to listen to preaching, and the preaching may have over time appeared to them as expressing and revealing divine truth, but not because of any special attention they gave it, and not because they decided it all made sense. Any sense it took on occurred because of the Holy Spirit at work as they listened [heard].
    After all, who would choose to believe in a Savior for whom one must die?
    And who, by will or choice, would see himself as a total sinner, only to find a Savior, Who simply says, ‘I’m the only way. You do not have the way to eternal life, except through me’?
    Who would rationally follow a figure who says our efforts at goodness are rags, and that it’s His goodness that saves us?
    There are lots of traps to fall into, in faith as well as out of faith. An infinite number and variety of traps. Which is why regular attendance at preaching and Bible studies is so important. To keep us from getting smug in our belief, to keep us from being tempted to sin (though we sin, indeed!), to keep us mindful of Him upon we are dependent entirely.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Michael the little boot asked first:
    ‘If one does not decide on faith but receives it, how does this happen?’
    Scripture tells us that faith comes by hearing the message.
    Faith comes from hearing the preaching of the Word of Christ.
    He asked second:
    ‘Does one have to ask in order to receive?’
    No, only to listen, or, more passively, to hear.
    This is not predestination.
    The reception of faith is apart from our acceptance; it does not require our active participation.
    However, the rejection of what we hear–unbelief; the rejection of faith–comes solely by our efforts of resistance and rejection.
    This is how the scriptures promise faith. We cannot, by our own reason, believe, but we believe through the work of the Holy Spirit, sent by God to reveal His will for us.
    As I said before, those who claim to have chosen Christ, while they may indeed have belief and faith in Him, did not choose Him. They may have chosen to attend church and to listen to preaching, and the preaching may have over time appeared to them as expressing and revealing divine truth, but not because of any special attention they gave it, and not because they decided it all made sense. Any sense it took on occurred because of the Holy Spirit at work as they listened [heard].
    After all, who would choose to believe in a Savior for whom one must die?
    And who, by will or choice, would see himself as a total sinner, only to find a Savior, Who simply says, ‘I’m the only way. You do not have the way to eternal life, except through me’?
    Who would rationally follow a figure who says our efforts at goodness are rags, and that it’s His goodness that saves us?
    There are lots of traps to fall into, in faith as well as out of faith. An infinite number and variety of traps. Which is why regular attendance at preaching and Bible studies is so important. To keep us from getting smug in our belief, to keep us from being tempted to sin (though we sin, indeed!), to keep us mindful of Him upon we are dependent entirely.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Tickletext, thanks for explaining your name. You are a fan of 18th century novels? That’s almost as good as being a fan of Milton!

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Tickletext, thanks for explaining your name. You are a fan of 18th century novels? That’s almost as good as being a fan of Milton!

  • Michael the little boot

    Tickletext @ 29,

    Hope you read the explanation of my name over on the thread you inspired.

    I like how careful you’re being, given that this is not a subject easily discussed – even with agreed upon definitions. I concure with your desiring not to equate freedom and autonomy. From my response, I’m sure you gathered that’s the direction in which I thought you were heading.

    I think it’s true that our physical selves – our limitations as well as our strengths and abilities – give our love, as you say, “shape and form”; but I think it’s more than that. I think without being human, without the strengths and weaknesses which accompany this state, we wouldn’t love in our human way AT ALL. I do believe that other animals have emotions, but I think each has emotions peculiar to it, contingent upon the animal’s physiology. Which is to say: I think that we “contingent creatures” (nice!) ARE capable of charitable agency, not IN SPITE of our limitations but BECAUSE of them.

    Now, as to whether there is any possible way I can make choices when it comes to love (i.e., can I choose to act lovingly or not toward others), that’s much more difficult to answer. My thoughts on this subject tend toward what I said in my earlier response to you: maybe. Sometimes I feel compelled, to the point where I would have to answer, no, I could make no other choice in that situation. For example: I cannot choose to be mean to my younger brother. I never have been able to do so, which has nothing to do with how nice I am – as many of you who have gotten a snarky reply from me are aware. When I have been mean it has been in that involuntary space, when my emotions have forced my hand. I do not believe I was capable of choice in those instances. My only evidence of this is that when I have had a choice, I’ve never been able to choose that option. This is what I mean when I say that love can exist without free will. Of course, that does call into question the definition of love as a thing completely based on choice; but that doesn’t seem to be germaine to this discussion.

    The final paragraph of your response is the most intriguing to me, because I think I AM a determinist when it comes to love. Most cat lovers believe their cats love them; I don’t. The reason I don’t (beyond the fact that I’ve very rarely seen a cat act affectionately when it wasn’t trying to attain something it desired) is that I’m not a cat. I can only make assumptions about a cat’s motivation with regard to interactions with humans. It seems it is DETERMINED by the limitations of catness that they do not return EXACTLY what we mean when we say love. I’m not saying they lack strong emotions (well…is laziness an emotion?), just that their emotions are based on their being cats, as our’s are based on our being human. So, since we are human, it is DETERMINED that we will have human emotions. It seems we are physically incapable of having cat emotions.

    To take this back into the fully human realm: it may even be determined by my dna that I am more attracted to a kind of person than another. I’m not just talking about hair color, sexual orientation or body type. Perhaps even a certain personality or temperament is a factor determined by my genetic code. I’m saying things like “perhaps” and “it seems” because I’m not an expert in these subjects, in addition to the fact that we don’t know much in these areas about determining factors. It could be that personalities which are attractive to someone arise from both our dna and the environment in which we are raised. Perhaps body types, as well. There is a new study that says a man who has an older brother is slightly more likely to be gay, and that, the more older brothers a man has, the higher the likelihood goes that he will be gay.

    I TOTALLY agree with you that most people are not persuaded by arguments to live differently. They change only when they are ready. This may be another determined factor. Why are we compelled by love and not by debate? Could it be we are programmed that way?

    I think Dawkins does say somewhere that he believes in love, and that it is a transcendent emotion. Not sure if he believes it is determined. He IS a determinist, to be sure; he does have some contradictory beliefs, though, as do we all. The human mind is exceedingly good at living with paradoxes when they are not perceived as such. But I’ll make sure to ask him at the next atheist meeting, if he isn’t already three sheets to the wind by the time I get there!

  • Michael the little boot

    Tickletext @ 29,

    Hope you read the explanation of my name over on the thread you inspired.

    I like how careful you’re being, given that this is not a subject easily discussed – even with agreed upon definitions. I concure with your desiring not to equate freedom and autonomy. From my response, I’m sure you gathered that’s the direction in which I thought you were heading.

    I think it’s true that our physical selves – our limitations as well as our strengths and abilities – give our love, as you say, “shape and form”; but I think it’s more than that. I think without being human, without the strengths and weaknesses which accompany this state, we wouldn’t love in our human way AT ALL. I do believe that other animals have emotions, but I think each has emotions peculiar to it, contingent upon the animal’s physiology. Which is to say: I think that we “contingent creatures” (nice!) ARE capable of charitable agency, not IN SPITE of our limitations but BECAUSE of them.

    Now, as to whether there is any possible way I can make choices when it comes to love (i.e., can I choose to act lovingly or not toward others), that’s much more difficult to answer. My thoughts on this subject tend toward what I said in my earlier response to you: maybe. Sometimes I feel compelled, to the point where I would have to answer, no, I could make no other choice in that situation. For example: I cannot choose to be mean to my younger brother. I never have been able to do so, which has nothing to do with how nice I am – as many of you who have gotten a snarky reply from me are aware. When I have been mean it has been in that involuntary space, when my emotions have forced my hand. I do not believe I was capable of choice in those instances. My only evidence of this is that when I have had a choice, I’ve never been able to choose that option. This is what I mean when I say that love can exist without free will. Of course, that does call into question the definition of love as a thing completely based on choice; but that doesn’t seem to be germaine to this discussion.

    The final paragraph of your response is the most intriguing to me, because I think I AM a determinist when it comes to love. Most cat lovers believe their cats love them; I don’t. The reason I don’t (beyond the fact that I’ve very rarely seen a cat act affectionately when it wasn’t trying to attain something it desired) is that I’m not a cat. I can only make assumptions about a cat’s motivation with regard to interactions with humans. It seems it is DETERMINED by the limitations of catness that they do not return EXACTLY what we mean when we say love. I’m not saying they lack strong emotions (well…is laziness an emotion?), just that their emotions are based on their being cats, as our’s are based on our being human. So, since we are human, it is DETERMINED that we will have human emotions. It seems we are physically incapable of having cat emotions.

    To take this back into the fully human realm: it may even be determined by my dna that I am more attracted to a kind of person than another. I’m not just talking about hair color, sexual orientation or body type. Perhaps even a certain personality or temperament is a factor determined by my genetic code. I’m saying things like “perhaps” and “it seems” because I’m not an expert in these subjects, in addition to the fact that we don’t know much in these areas about determining factors. It could be that personalities which are attractive to someone arise from both our dna and the environment in which we are raised. Perhaps body types, as well. There is a new study that says a man who has an older brother is slightly more likely to be gay, and that, the more older brothers a man has, the higher the likelihood goes that he will be gay.

    I TOTALLY agree with you that most people are not persuaded by arguments to live differently. They change only when they are ready. This may be another determined factor. Why are we compelled by love and not by debate? Could it be we are programmed that way?

    I think Dawkins does say somewhere that he believes in love, and that it is a transcendent emotion. Not sure if he believes it is determined. He IS a determinist, to be sure; he does have some contradictory beliefs, though, as do we all. The human mind is exceedingly good at living with paradoxes when they are not perceived as such. But I’ll make sure to ask him at the next atheist meeting, if he isn’t already three sheets to the wind by the time I get there!

  • Michael the little boot

    Susan @ 30,

    You answered my question by saying “Scripture tells us that faith comes…from hearing the preaching of the Word of Christ.”

    Okay. So, as I said, I was raised in a Christian home. I heard the word all the time. It made no sense to me. I did my best to understand, but my efforts did not succeed. How did I actively reject the teachings? I do not have the kind of control over my thoughts and feelings I think you’re implying I have, because I didn’t decide for these things not to make sense. They didn’t and don’t. How is it that the God who made me the way that I am could create this brain in which His teachings don’t make sense and then hold me accountable for his actions?

    I’ve asked this question in a slightly different form here before. I never got an answer, really. I’m still in an offline conversation with fw about it.

    So, if we “cannot, by our own reason, believe, but we believe through the work of the Holy Spirit, sent by God to reveal His will for us,” why can’t I believe? Must I leave it to God to change my mind? It seems you’re assuming I haven’t done this. You may not be. I spent twenty years doing (and not doing!) everything I could in order to believe, even giving up and asking God to allow me to believe. If you’re saying that by doing all of this I have actively rejected God, my arrogance can’t hold a candle to yours.

    And you misrepresent Jesus’ teachings when you ask the “who would follow” questions at the end of your reply. People do not follow Jesus because of all the things you’re saying, they follow him because they believe it makes them right, saved, okay, whatever you want to call it. Yes, the gospels show Jesus as you portray him; the Bible goes on to say that, in the end, he’s the winner. Well, if the book compells you, and if you want to be a winner (or just don’t want to be a loser), you’ll go with Jesus no matter WHAT he asks of you. If I believed in an eternal heaven – if I really had no doubt of its existence – I’d DEFINITELY give up my stupid life here to attain it. I’d go through torture, the whole nine, whatever I had to in order to get there.

    Forgive me if I am selling your faith short. I wasn’t raised Lutheran (although I did attend a Lutheran preschool, eons ago!). I’ve been chastised here before for mistaking “cookie-cutter Christianity” with Lutheran theology. If I’ve done that, please set me straight.

  • Michael the little boot

    Susan @ 30,

    You answered my question by saying “Scripture tells us that faith comes…from hearing the preaching of the Word of Christ.”

    Okay. So, as I said, I was raised in a Christian home. I heard the word all the time. It made no sense to me. I did my best to understand, but my efforts did not succeed. How did I actively reject the teachings? I do not have the kind of control over my thoughts and feelings I think you’re implying I have, because I didn’t decide for these things not to make sense. They didn’t and don’t. How is it that the God who made me the way that I am could create this brain in which His teachings don’t make sense and then hold me accountable for his actions?

    I’ve asked this question in a slightly different form here before. I never got an answer, really. I’m still in an offline conversation with fw about it.

    So, if we “cannot, by our own reason, believe, but we believe through the work of the Holy Spirit, sent by God to reveal His will for us,” why can’t I believe? Must I leave it to God to change my mind? It seems you’re assuming I haven’t done this. You may not be. I spent twenty years doing (and not doing!) everything I could in order to believe, even giving up and asking God to allow me to believe. If you’re saying that by doing all of this I have actively rejected God, my arrogance can’t hold a candle to yours.

    And you misrepresent Jesus’ teachings when you ask the “who would follow” questions at the end of your reply. People do not follow Jesus because of all the things you’re saying, they follow him because they believe it makes them right, saved, okay, whatever you want to call it. Yes, the gospels show Jesus as you portray him; the Bible goes on to say that, in the end, he’s the winner. Well, if the book compells you, and if you want to be a winner (or just don’t want to be a loser), you’ll go with Jesus no matter WHAT he asks of you. If I believed in an eternal heaven – if I really had no doubt of its existence – I’d DEFINITELY give up my stupid life here to attain it. I’d go through torture, the whole nine, whatever I had to in order to get there.

    Forgive me if I am selling your faith short. I wasn’t raised Lutheran (although I did attend a Lutheran preschool, eons ago!). I’ve been chastised here before for mistaking “cookie-cutter Christianity” with Lutheran theology. If I’ve done that, please set me straight.

  • Pr B

    Michael @26.

    “Who’s to blame for being spiritually dead?” “You are…we are…” has to be my answer. By your own admission, you were ‘raised a Christian.’ That being the case, at some time and for some reason you rejected the life connection you once had through Christ, committing –as you put it– ‘spiritual suicide,’ rejecting the life you had been given and reverting to the state of spiritual death in which we both were born.

    Regarding those who have never had the connection to Christ who is “the Life of the world:” they were Life-less by birth and nature..just as we were at birth ..spiritually disconnected… spiritually dead with no capacity to reconnect. Who’s to blame in their case? They are. Their parents…and theirs…and theirs…because someplace, somewhere –Christ– the God-provided Solution for the problem of spiritual death— was rejected. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Like it or not, children inherit a great deal of what their parents are….physically and spiritually. The world is full of both realities.

    Final note, Michael: spiritual life and death are reversible until physical death occurs. God grant you one more reversal!

  • Pr B

    Michael @26.

    “Who’s to blame for being spiritually dead?” “You are…we are…” has to be my answer. By your own admission, you were ‘raised a Christian.’ That being the case, at some time and for some reason you rejected the life connection you once had through Christ, committing –as you put it– ‘spiritual suicide,’ rejecting the life you had been given and reverting to the state of spiritual death in which we both were born.

    Regarding those who have never had the connection to Christ who is “the Life of the world:” they were Life-less by birth and nature..just as we were at birth ..spiritually disconnected… spiritually dead with no capacity to reconnect. Who’s to blame in their case? They are. Their parents…and theirs…and theirs…because someplace, somewhere –Christ– the God-provided Solution for the problem of spiritual death— was rejected. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Like it or not, children inherit a great deal of what their parents are….physically and spiritually. The world is full of both realities.

    Final note, Michael: spiritual life and death are reversible until physical death occurs. God grant you one more reversal!

  • Susan aka organshoes

    You say:
    ‘…they follow him because they believe it makes them right, saved, okay, whatever you want to call it.’
    I can’t really speak for what other people ‘get’ from ‘following Jesus.’
    For myself–for the confessional Lutheran–following Jesus is just faith in Him. It’s not about a different manner of living, or better living, or improving circumstances or even feeling like you’re right or saved or anything. So, we’re going to mean something different by ‘following Jesus’ than what others mean, and like I said, I can’t speak for what others believe about being a Christian and leading a Christian life. It doesn’t make me right in every decision I make, and it doesn’t improve my chances in anything. I don’t think of ‘What would Jesus do?’ before I decide which car to buy or which way to behave.
    Sorry, but I’m wandering. I’m almost at a loss because there’s so much to say, and I’ll take me time to form a coherent answer.
    But, as for why you don’t believe, well, maybe you do. But maybe you don’t understand what or who it is you believe. God is not vague about Himself, and He is not kind to people’s personal interpretations of Himself (and I’m not saying that’s what you’ve done, but you are quick to defend when there’s been no accusation–please don’t be defensive, and please don’t accuse me of arrogance or of misunderstanding or misinterpreting or accusing you–I haven’t accused you at all, of rejection or anything, but only answered your questions. This is not a personal criticism of you, but an answer to what you asked. And it is an honest answer. If you think that’s what arrogance is, your argument is with the scriptures and what they say, not with me.)
    God is a defined and definite being, defined by Himself for us. He is consistent throughout the scriptures through which He chose to reveal Himself to us. That is their only purpose. They don’t tell us simply how to live or what we must do to attain Him or attain holiness.
    He’s not inscrutable, insofar as we and He are concerned. Beyond what applies to our relationship to Him, He’s mysterious. But everything we need to know in order to comprehend the one in Whom we believe is there, for us.
    But the book alone does not promise to create faith. Only hearing promises to create faith. The book is not very useful in telling anyone who doesn’t already believe in God about God. And it’s just as useless where Christ is concerned, because He doesn’t make a lot of sense as He really is.
    As for what you would endure IF you believed in Heaven, well, I can’t say I look forward to physical suffering if that’s my lot on account of faith in Christ. But, a more likely and a very real and present suffering for the sake of faith is the type of conversation we are having here, where we are as divided as two humans can be, because one believes and one doesn’t. It’s all we know of one another, really, what beliefs we hold or don’t. Yet already we’re at odds because of Jesus.
    One of the hardest things to endure on account of having faith is that rocky relationship with the world, and it is day and day out. I’m sure being devoured by a lion would be harder to bear, or hung on a cross to die. But there is suffering nonetheless, in being a Christian when the world is very hostile to the real Jesus–the one who says, ‘I am the Way, the truth, and the life.’
    Don’t get me wrong: life is good. But there’s always that shadow from Jesus’ light, that the world thnks IS light.
    If you don’t attend church, I recommend that you do, since, as you’ve said, you’ve sought God. And I shamelessly recommend that you find a confessional Lutheran church–not ELCA, and not Missouri-Synod-light that doesn’t worship liturgically or confessionally (maybe they don’t have an actual clown at the altar, but maybe they have stuff in front of it they’d be better off not having, like drums, amps, and mics), but Missouri-Synod in form and content.
    Chances are there is one near you (near being a relative term. I for awhile had to drive 75 miles to the nearest confessional church. But that was near enough.)

  • Susan aka organshoes

    You say:
    ‘…they follow him because they believe it makes them right, saved, okay, whatever you want to call it.’
    I can’t really speak for what other people ‘get’ from ‘following Jesus.’
    For myself–for the confessional Lutheran–following Jesus is just faith in Him. It’s not about a different manner of living, or better living, or improving circumstances or even feeling like you’re right or saved or anything. So, we’re going to mean something different by ‘following Jesus’ than what others mean, and like I said, I can’t speak for what others believe about being a Christian and leading a Christian life. It doesn’t make me right in every decision I make, and it doesn’t improve my chances in anything. I don’t think of ‘What would Jesus do?’ before I decide which car to buy or which way to behave.
    Sorry, but I’m wandering. I’m almost at a loss because there’s so much to say, and I’ll take me time to form a coherent answer.
    But, as for why you don’t believe, well, maybe you do. But maybe you don’t understand what or who it is you believe. God is not vague about Himself, and He is not kind to people’s personal interpretations of Himself (and I’m not saying that’s what you’ve done, but you are quick to defend when there’s been no accusation–please don’t be defensive, and please don’t accuse me of arrogance or of misunderstanding or misinterpreting or accusing you–I haven’t accused you at all, of rejection or anything, but only answered your questions. This is not a personal criticism of you, but an answer to what you asked. And it is an honest answer. If you think that’s what arrogance is, your argument is with the scriptures and what they say, not with me.)
    God is a defined and definite being, defined by Himself for us. He is consistent throughout the scriptures through which He chose to reveal Himself to us. That is their only purpose. They don’t tell us simply how to live or what we must do to attain Him or attain holiness.
    He’s not inscrutable, insofar as we and He are concerned. Beyond what applies to our relationship to Him, He’s mysterious. But everything we need to know in order to comprehend the one in Whom we believe is there, for us.
    But the book alone does not promise to create faith. Only hearing promises to create faith. The book is not very useful in telling anyone who doesn’t already believe in God about God. And it’s just as useless where Christ is concerned, because He doesn’t make a lot of sense as He really is.
    As for what you would endure IF you believed in Heaven, well, I can’t say I look forward to physical suffering if that’s my lot on account of faith in Christ. But, a more likely and a very real and present suffering for the sake of faith is the type of conversation we are having here, where we are as divided as two humans can be, because one believes and one doesn’t. It’s all we know of one another, really, what beliefs we hold or don’t. Yet already we’re at odds because of Jesus.
    One of the hardest things to endure on account of having faith is that rocky relationship with the world, and it is day and day out. I’m sure being devoured by a lion would be harder to bear, or hung on a cross to die. But there is suffering nonetheless, in being a Christian when the world is very hostile to the real Jesus–the one who says, ‘I am the Way, the truth, and the life.’
    Don’t get me wrong: life is good. But there’s always that shadow from Jesus’ light, that the world thnks IS light.
    If you don’t attend church, I recommend that you do, since, as you’ve said, you’ve sought God. And I shamelessly recommend that you find a confessional Lutheran church–not ELCA, and not Missouri-Synod-light that doesn’t worship liturgically or confessionally (maybe they don’t have an actual clown at the altar, but maybe they have stuff in front of it they’d be better off not having, like drums, amps, and mics), but Missouri-Synod in form and content.
    Chances are there is one near you (near being a relative term. I for awhile had to drive 75 miles to the nearest confessional church. But that was near enough.)

  • http://viz.tumblr.com Tickletext

    Michael,

    The more I consider it the more I would have to say that love is paradoxical. As you attest in your example with your brother, love can exert an incredibly strong pull. Those who feel that pull might say like Luther, Here I stand, I can do no other. But of course, Luther could have done otherwise, conceivably. Similarly, I suspect that most people would say that you could have treated your brother badly.

    Which is not to dispute in any way the truth of what you are saying. But what I think needs further exploration is what exactly people mean when they say or feel that love gives them no choice. It seems to me that to view these kinds of sentiments as denials of free will is not quite right. And I think that is so because they are thoroughly particular and personal. That is, they are expressions which, because they are so completely bound up with the object of love, the other person (your brother or, for Luther, God himself), that to extrapolate them beyond their immediate personal context would be to make them ludicrous. In other words, you saying that you could not have treated your brother otherwise is not really a true denial of your (limited) free will, because you are not making a universal generalization. I don’t think any meaningful statement of love can be anything other than particular, whereas if I was going to deny human freedom I would have to do universally, i.e. for all of humanity. But love knows nothing of all humanity; it knows only John, Philip, Sarah, my father, my mother, God, my neighbor, etc.

    One thing I’d ask you about is the role of emotion in love. From what you’ve said, you seem to see a strong link between emotion and love. If, indeed, love is mostly emotional, then clearly we have little choice in love, since we have so little control over our emotions (notwithstanding advances in biotechnology and drugs). As you say, whatever emotions we are capable of are determined by our humanness. (And I may try to find what Dawkins says, because the idea of a “transcendent emotion” seems, well, not very transcendent). But I tend to think that emotion or passion has very little to do with true love, which has more to do with giving and receiving. So what I’m wondering is whether there is any act that you would call “loving” which is done regardless of how a person feels?

    I would imagine that everyone knows what it is like to say, “I wish I were loved.” But if someone seriously said “I wish I could love,” wouldn’t it be hard not to be skeptical, even while being sympathetic? Is there anyone who does not have opportunity to love? To me, if we say we do not we are really saying that we don’t feel like loving those certain people who are in our life. But because of our human perversity, we absolve ourselves of our obligations.

    Finally, I think I’d like to quote a radical statement about love and freedom:
    “From what should we ‘liberate’ love? True love has always been free, and even more, it is the active principle of all human freedom. Love is freedom itself. The only real obstacles to love are in ourselves: barrenness, spiritual wounds, the anxiety of pride turned into mistrust of others, and especially self-contempt. ‘You will love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself,’ say the Old Testament and the Gospels. But what happens if one does not love oneself? To liberate love, be in love! It is the only and sufficient condition.”
    –Denis de Rougemont, Love in the Western World (1983 ed., Princeton)

  • http://viz.tumblr.com Tickletext

    Michael,

    The more I consider it the more I would have to say that love is paradoxical. As you attest in your example with your brother, love can exert an incredibly strong pull. Those who feel that pull might say like Luther, Here I stand, I can do no other. But of course, Luther could have done otherwise, conceivably. Similarly, I suspect that most people would say that you could have treated your brother badly.

    Which is not to dispute in any way the truth of what you are saying. But what I think needs further exploration is what exactly people mean when they say or feel that love gives them no choice. It seems to me that to view these kinds of sentiments as denials of free will is not quite right. And I think that is so because they are thoroughly particular and personal. That is, they are expressions which, because they are so completely bound up with the object of love, the other person (your brother or, for Luther, God himself), that to extrapolate them beyond their immediate personal context would be to make them ludicrous. In other words, you saying that you could not have treated your brother otherwise is not really a true denial of your (limited) free will, because you are not making a universal generalization. I don’t think any meaningful statement of love can be anything other than particular, whereas if I was going to deny human freedom I would have to do universally, i.e. for all of humanity. But love knows nothing of all humanity; it knows only John, Philip, Sarah, my father, my mother, God, my neighbor, etc.

    One thing I’d ask you about is the role of emotion in love. From what you’ve said, you seem to see a strong link between emotion and love. If, indeed, love is mostly emotional, then clearly we have little choice in love, since we have so little control over our emotions (notwithstanding advances in biotechnology and drugs). As you say, whatever emotions we are capable of are determined by our humanness. (And I may try to find what Dawkins says, because the idea of a “transcendent emotion” seems, well, not very transcendent). But I tend to think that emotion or passion has very little to do with true love, which has more to do with giving and receiving. So what I’m wondering is whether there is any act that you would call “loving” which is done regardless of how a person feels?

    I would imagine that everyone knows what it is like to say, “I wish I were loved.” But if someone seriously said “I wish I could love,” wouldn’t it be hard not to be skeptical, even while being sympathetic? Is there anyone who does not have opportunity to love? To me, if we say we do not we are really saying that we don’t feel like loving those certain people who are in our life. But because of our human perversity, we absolve ourselves of our obligations.

    Finally, I think I’d like to quote a radical statement about love and freedom:
    “From what should we ‘liberate’ love? True love has always been free, and even more, it is the active principle of all human freedom. Love is freedom itself. The only real obstacles to love are in ourselves: barrenness, spiritual wounds, the anxiety of pride turned into mistrust of others, and especially self-contempt. ‘You will love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself,’ say the Old Testament and the Gospels. But what happens if one does not love oneself? To liberate love, be in love! It is the only and sufficient condition.”
    –Denis de Rougemont, Love in the Western World (1983 ed., Princeton)

  • Michael the little boot

    Pr B @ 34,

    So “someone” (one’s parents or grandparents, etc.) “somewhere” is to blame for my spiritual deadness. It might be me, but it might not be me. So now I have someone on this blog FINALLY saying what I’ve suspected some of you were implying – that we are responsible for the sins of our genetic ancestors. This blows my mind. Would you expect to go to jail if your parents had broken a law? Of course not. If our imperfect judicial system can understand that one should not be held liable for the “sins” of one’s forebears, one would think Almighty God should be able to see the logic in that idea.

    I said I was raised a Christian. I didn’t say that I ever connected with it as a child or teen or whatever. I always strove to do everything I could. I always tried to feel the things others said they felt, or to hear God as others said they did. None of this happened. One day, after years of being tortured by these ideas – none of which did anything but keep me up at night, brain spinning – I was presented with something that did make sense, that made everything start to come slightly into focus. Now, as you are all very fond of pointing out, I did not give myself my brain (or, if you’d rather, my MIND). If, as many hypothesize, God did, why am I to blame for his ideas not making sense to the MIND HE GAVE ME? I’m supposed to just shut off my brain and live forever in what feel like lies?

    Do any of you ever watch the show Lost? One of the characters said something that seems to me appropriate to this discussion (and this is a paraphrase, since I can’t remember exactly; so if there are any Lost Superfans out there, apologies): “Kids are like dogs: you kick one enough and he gets to thinking he deserves it.” Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but I think that pretty much describes this line of thinking. Anyone who agrees with some random “authority” that he/she should be locked up or done away with based on the alleged authority’s rules, and not on what that person actually thinks, has just been beaten too much to know better. No one – not even the Creator of this universe, if there is such a being – has the right to take your life from you without expecting to get a fight. God’s authority is just as arbitrary as any other fake authority. If he did create this universe, cool. But nothing in the act of creation gives someone universal authority. The only way someone gets that kind of power is by TAKING it.

    But you submit yourself to this authority. Why? Because a book – admittedly a very old and oft-debated one – says you should. None of you have given me any arguments based on anything other than the Bible. If you can show WHY the Bible deserves to be in this kind of position, awesome. I’ve always wanted to hear an answer to this question. Seriously. Always. (Okay, my parents didn’t become Christians until I was three years old; but since my memory starts at just after three, I’ll stick with the term “always”.)

    I wasn’t, as you said, “given a life.” My life was taken from me, and it was taken by this religion in which I was raised. You can give me all the platitudes you want – when it comes to my life, and the fact that I’ve DONE MY BEST to achieve what I later came to realize was unachievable, you are not being reasonable or cool. This is the problem most people have with the church: you don’t take people’s personal struggles into account. You just say “Wow, this is the way it is, deal with it.” It’s rude. I’m not saying none of you should be Christians. Be Christians, if that makes sense to you. I’m saying that I struggled for fifteen years to be this thing that I knew inside I wasn’t. Since I couldn’t admit to myself I had this knowledge – because to do so would not only get me in serious trouble with my parents, but would also send me to the worst imaginable torture FOR ALL ETERNITY – I had to soldier on. I had to learn this very odd way of looking at and interacting with the world. I’m still recovering. I probably always will be.

    But you act like what you’re saying isn’t smug, because it’s just how God set it up. Just because it’s on a Lutheran blog doesn’t mean there aren’t others here who might not see things the way you do. I’m not saying you should watch what you say (I am the first one to attack political correctness as ridiculous), I’m just saying you should try to realize that, no matter how certain you THINK you are, you’re not. It’s seems that uncertainty is STILL the most certain thing.

  • Michael the little boot

    Pr B @ 34,

    So “someone” (one’s parents or grandparents, etc.) “somewhere” is to blame for my spiritual deadness. It might be me, but it might not be me. So now I have someone on this blog FINALLY saying what I’ve suspected some of you were implying – that we are responsible for the sins of our genetic ancestors. This blows my mind. Would you expect to go to jail if your parents had broken a law? Of course not. If our imperfect judicial system can understand that one should not be held liable for the “sins” of one’s forebears, one would think Almighty God should be able to see the logic in that idea.

    I said I was raised a Christian. I didn’t say that I ever connected with it as a child or teen or whatever. I always strove to do everything I could. I always tried to feel the things others said they felt, or to hear God as others said they did. None of this happened. One day, after years of being tortured by these ideas – none of which did anything but keep me up at night, brain spinning – I was presented with something that did make sense, that made everything start to come slightly into focus. Now, as you are all very fond of pointing out, I did not give myself my brain (or, if you’d rather, my MIND). If, as many hypothesize, God did, why am I to blame for his ideas not making sense to the MIND HE GAVE ME? I’m supposed to just shut off my brain and live forever in what feel like lies?

    Do any of you ever watch the show Lost? One of the characters said something that seems to me appropriate to this discussion (and this is a paraphrase, since I can’t remember exactly; so if there are any Lost Superfans out there, apologies): “Kids are like dogs: you kick one enough and he gets to thinking he deserves it.” Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but I think that pretty much describes this line of thinking. Anyone who agrees with some random “authority” that he/she should be locked up or done away with based on the alleged authority’s rules, and not on what that person actually thinks, has just been beaten too much to know better. No one – not even the Creator of this universe, if there is such a being – has the right to take your life from you without expecting to get a fight. God’s authority is just as arbitrary as any other fake authority. If he did create this universe, cool. But nothing in the act of creation gives someone universal authority. The only way someone gets that kind of power is by TAKING it.

    But you submit yourself to this authority. Why? Because a book – admittedly a very old and oft-debated one – says you should. None of you have given me any arguments based on anything other than the Bible. If you can show WHY the Bible deserves to be in this kind of position, awesome. I’ve always wanted to hear an answer to this question. Seriously. Always. (Okay, my parents didn’t become Christians until I was three years old; but since my memory starts at just after three, I’ll stick with the term “always”.)

    I wasn’t, as you said, “given a life.” My life was taken from me, and it was taken by this religion in which I was raised. You can give me all the platitudes you want – when it comes to my life, and the fact that I’ve DONE MY BEST to achieve what I later came to realize was unachievable, you are not being reasonable or cool. This is the problem most people have with the church: you don’t take people’s personal struggles into account. You just say “Wow, this is the way it is, deal with it.” It’s rude. I’m not saying none of you should be Christians. Be Christians, if that makes sense to you. I’m saying that I struggled for fifteen years to be this thing that I knew inside I wasn’t. Since I couldn’t admit to myself I had this knowledge – because to do so would not only get me in serious trouble with my parents, but would also send me to the worst imaginable torture FOR ALL ETERNITY – I had to soldier on. I had to learn this very odd way of looking at and interacting with the world. I’m still recovering. I probably always will be.

    But you act like what you’re saying isn’t smug, because it’s just how God set it up. Just because it’s on a Lutheran blog doesn’t mean there aren’t others here who might not see things the way you do. I’m not saying you should watch what you say (I am the first one to attack political correctness as ridiculous), I’m just saying you should try to realize that, no matter how certain you THINK you are, you’re not. It’s seems that uncertainty is STILL the most certain thing.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Michael the little boot:
    Please stop torturing yourself with hidden meanings or impulses or , to our words. There are no hidden meanings; just the truth.
    It’s difficult *not* to appear smug when speaking of faith. But I think we’re trying hard to not present ourselves as having achieved anything, and as not having been selected for any reason to have faith. And we’re not even talking about our own individual ‘faiths.’ I can’t tell you about ‘my faith’ or ‘my awakening.’ No lightning bolts or angel choirs or voices in head or feelings in my heart.
    Faith happens, and as God says it is to happen: through hearing His word.
    I can’t tell you any way for that to happen, except that you attend a church where Christ is preached; not sermons about living a better life or becoming a better self, but simply Christ.
    I was an atheist. I *said* I wanted to believe; I *said* I envied Christians for believing; but I could not fall for it. I could not let myself become what I thought they were, which was willfully blind and, yes, smug.
    But circumstances put me into a church, and in time, there was faith, linking me to Jesus.
    Life is not any less trouble. Money doesn’t come any more easily. Decisions are just as hard to make. Past hurts still hurt. I still hurt people. I get just as mad at waiting in traffic as the next guy. I still fear calamity and disease and disability. I still grieve over the deaths of loved ones.
    But faith was given to me in precisely the way God has promised it would be: by my hearing His word. I can’t say I ever really listened, or that, even now, I could recite to you one line of Pastor’s sermon by the time we sing the last hymn. Although, I do want to say that Lutheran hymnody (and they’re not all hymns written by Lutherans, but I mean the hymns in our hymnals) have done as much to plant the Word into me as sermons and scripture reading, though only because those hymns echo and expand on the scriptures, as does the sermon.
    Don’t think we’re boasting about how moral or how fortunate we are, and, by extension, how lost and pathetic unbelievers are. I haven’t seen a word of that to you.
    But we cannot argue faith into you, nor can we fully justify the faith we have, to any unbeliever.
    All we can do is point you to a church, where a pastor speaks faithfully about Christ and His cross. We can’t do anything else, to work faith into you.
    As for our belief in what the Bible says, well, that believing only comes through having faith. As I said before, no one believes the Bible, let alone *in* the Bible, without faith. Our faith is not in the book, but in Christ, who is subject #1 of the entire scriptures.
    I will tell you, though, that we can pray for you, and that I will pray for you, and, yes, I know that sounds awfully smug of me. Sorry. I do know how that can sound to an unbeliever’s ear. But it is all I can do.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Michael the little boot:
    Please stop torturing yourself with hidden meanings or impulses or , to our words. There are no hidden meanings; just the truth.
    It’s difficult *not* to appear smug when speaking of faith. But I think we’re trying hard to not present ourselves as having achieved anything, and as not having been selected for any reason to have faith. And we’re not even talking about our own individual ‘faiths.’ I can’t tell you about ‘my faith’ or ‘my awakening.’ No lightning bolts or angel choirs or voices in head or feelings in my heart.
    Faith happens, and as God says it is to happen: through hearing His word.
    I can’t tell you any way for that to happen, except that you attend a church where Christ is preached; not sermons about living a better life or becoming a better self, but simply Christ.
    I was an atheist. I *said* I wanted to believe; I *said* I envied Christians for believing; but I could not fall for it. I could not let myself become what I thought they were, which was willfully blind and, yes, smug.
    But circumstances put me into a church, and in time, there was faith, linking me to Jesus.
    Life is not any less trouble. Money doesn’t come any more easily. Decisions are just as hard to make. Past hurts still hurt. I still hurt people. I get just as mad at waiting in traffic as the next guy. I still fear calamity and disease and disability. I still grieve over the deaths of loved ones.
    But faith was given to me in precisely the way God has promised it would be: by my hearing His word. I can’t say I ever really listened, or that, even now, I could recite to you one line of Pastor’s sermon by the time we sing the last hymn. Although, I do want to say that Lutheran hymnody (and they’re not all hymns written by Lutherans, but I mean the hymns in our hymnals) have done as much to plant the Word into me as sermons and scripture reading, though only because those hymns echo and expand on the scriptures, as does the sermon.
    Don’t think we’re boasting about how moral or how fortunate we are, and, by extension, how lost and pathetic unbelievers are. I haven’t seen a word of that to you.
    But we cannot argue faith into you, nor can we fully justify the faith we have, to any unbeliever.
    All we can do is point you to a church, where a pastor speaks faithfully about Christ and His cross. We can’t do anything else, to work faith into you.
    As for our belief in what the Bible says, well, that believing only comes through having faith. As I said before, no one believes the Bible, let alone *in* the Bible, without faith. Our faith is not in the book, but in Christ, who is subject #1 of the entire scriptures.
    I will tell you, though, that we can pray for you, and that I will pray for you, and, yes, I know that sounds awfully smug of me. Sorry. I do know how that can sound to an unbeliever’s ear. But it is all I can do.

  • Michael the little boot

    Susan @ 35,

    I’m a musician, too. I mostly play stringed instruments (guitar, bass, mandolin, uke), but I can mess around with a bunch of ‘em. College’ll do that to you! My uncle was the organist at the Catholic church he attended growing up.

    If having faith in Christ doesn’t improve your chances in anything, why do you have faith? I mean, apart from the fact that someone preached to you one time and you heard it.

    I want to make clear: I don’t believe. I’m not asking these questions because I’m seeking God or Jesus or anything like that. I’m seeking actual answers to my questions. The only logical answers to these questions (in my mind!!) seem to be avoided, because they make people uncomfortable. I do like that Pr B gave one of those unpopular answers, in saying that we are held responsible for the “sins” of our ancestors. I know most Christians HAVE to believe that in order to believe the things they say they do (like us inheriting our “sin nature” from a CHOICE made by our umpteenth-great-grandparents, and us having no ability to get out of that choice except submitting to the will of the being who gave them the ridiculous choice in the first place!!!)

    You’re absolutely right that I have a beef with the scriptures. I also have trouble with people who, lacking any other evidence of what they believe, deflect in the way you did in your reply. No, my problem isn’t just with scripture; it’s with the blind acceptance of scripture, with people who say “I’m not being rude, I’m just telling you what God said.” Well, Susan, there are a lot of books on this little rock claiming to hold the words of God. Why do you choose the Bible?

    Your accusation comes from your beliefs. You don’t make an explicit accusation, but you say has implications. You make blanket statements without seeing the nuances, without understanding that life’s not as simple as “faith comes by hearing…” I would think God would be a little more understanding of that. You obviously disagree.

    Which is sad. I don’t believe in God, but, if I did, he/she/it would be a lot NICER than the being discussed on this blog. I don’t know why God couldn’t have set things up to be NICE. I mean, life is hard. Since God made it that way, you’d think he would’ve put in a rest area every now and then.

    As to God being a defined and definite being…well, I’d love to know where you find these compelling definitions. I looked all through the Bible, and I don’t see what you see. God is definitely NOT consistent throughout the Bible. And I’m not just talking about the little details that are wrong. There are huge problems with the Bible. It does have its strong points, but consistency isn’t one of them.

    (I find it funny that you can point to the Bible for God, but that when you recommend a Church you get very specific. So, are there no other GOOD churches than CONFESSIONAL LUTHERAN churches? HA! That’s even better! Not only do you specify LUTHERAN churches; no, no, that’s not even good enough. I have to go to a subsect of the sect, because those Missouri Synod’s are too lazy, or liberal, or both! You sound confused, Susan. Which is good. Makes me think you are still a bit human under all that bluster.)

  • Michael the little boot

    Susan @ 35,

    I’m a musician, too. I mostly play stringed instruments (guitar, bass, mandolin, uke), but I can mess around with a bunch of ‘em. College’ll do that to you! My uncle was the organist at the Catholic church he attended growing up.

    If having faith in Christ doesn’t improve your chances in anything, why do you have faith? I mean, apart from the fact that someone preached to you one time and you heard it.

    I want to make clear: I don’t believe. I’m not asking these questions because I’m seeking God or Jesus or anything like that. I’m seeking actual answers to my questions. The only logical answers to these questions (in my mind!!) seem to be avoided, because they make people uncomfortable. I do like that Pr B gave one of those unpopular answers, in saying that we are held responsible for the “sins” of our ancestors. I know most Christians HAVE to believe that in order to believe the things they say they do (like us inheriting our “sin nature” from a CHOICE made by our umpteenth-great-grandparents, and us having no ability to get out of that choice except submitting to the will of the being who gave them the ridiculous choice in the first place!!!)

    You’re absolutely right that I have a beef with the scriptures. I also have trouble with people who, lacking any other evidence of what they believe, deflect in the way you did in your reply. No, my problem isn’t just with scripture; it’s with the blind acceptance of scripture, with people who say “I’m not being rude, I’m just telling you what God said.” Well, Susan, there are a lot of books on this little rock claiming to hold the words of God. Why do you choose the Bible?

    Your accusation comes from your beliefs. You don’t make an explicit accusation, but you say has implications. You make blanket statements without seeing the nuances, without understanding that life’s not as simple as “faith comes by hearing…” I would think God would be a little more understanding of that. You obviously disagree.

    Which is sad. I don’t believe in God, but, if I did, he/she/it would be a lot NICER than the being discussed on this blog. I don’t know why God couldn’t have set things up to be NICE. I mean, life is hard. Since God made it that way, you’d think he would’ve put in a rest area every now and then.

    As to God being a defined and definite being…well, I’d love to know where you find these compelling definitions. I looked all through the Bible, and I don’t see what you see. God is definitely NOT consistent throughout the Bible. And I’m not just talking about the little details that are wrong. There are huge problems with the Bible. It does have its strong points, but consistency isn’t one of them.

    (I find it funny that you can point to the Bible for God, but that when you recommend a Church you get very specific. So, are there no other GOOD churches than CONFESSIONAL LUTHERAN churches? HA! That’s even better! Not only do you specify LUTHERAN churches; no, no, that’s not even good enough. I have to go to a subsect of the sect, because those Missouri Synod’s are too lazy, or liberal, or both! You sound confused, Susan. Which is good. Makes me think you are still a bit human under all that bluster.)

  • Michael the little boot

    Alas, I must leave work, and I will have no access to a computer for the rest of the weekend. (Yes, it seems Bill Gates’ dream of a PC in every house is still yet to be realized.) So, Tickletext, just wanted to let you know that I wasn’t avoiding what you wrote, just replying in order. I’ll reply to your reply when I can, sometime on Monday.

    Also, Susan: I wrote my reply at 39 before I read your reply at 38. So it was not informed by what you said there.

    Hope everyone has a good weekend!

  • Michael the little boot

    Alas, I must leave work, and I will have no access to a computer for the rest of the weekend. (Yes, it seems Bill Gates’ dream of a PC in every house is still yet to be realized.) So, Tickletext, just wanted to let you know that I wasn’t avoiding what you wrote, just replying in order. I’ll reply to your reply when I can, sometime on Monday.

    Also, Susan: I wrote my reply at 39 before I read your reply at 38. So it was not informed by what you said there.

    Hope everyone has a good weekend!

  • Don S

    Michael TLB:

    This has been a very thought-provoking and interesting thread, due to your articulate and thoughtful posts, as well as the equally articulate and thoughtful posts of those responding to your questions and comments.

    I sense that you have not completely rejected the idea of the Christ, or that He is the only Way of salvation. The fact that you have thought about these issues so thoroughly, and have taken considerable time to engage the believers on this site is proof of that. I often wonder about the many folks who will spend years planning, working, and saving for their “golden years”, those few years of advanced age and retirement, not guaranteed to them at all, and yet spend next to no thought thinking of what comes AFTER their “golden years”. The “after” part is guaranteed, and is eternal, whether it is spent in eternal heaven, eternal hell, or eternal nothingness. Whatever your ultimate conclusion, it seems to me that it is definitely worth spending much of your brief time here on earth considering the eternal hereafter in a deliberate fashion, rather than just living day to day and seeing what happens.

    You seem disturbed by the “injustice” of original sin. You don’t want to bear responsibility for the sins of Adam and Eve, but, unfortunately, that’s the way the Bible sets it out. We are all sinners, by virtue of the sins of our forebears, and then, once born, by virtue as well of our own sins. Because of sin, we deserve eternal separation from God, but for His plan to use the sacrifice of His sinless Son to atone for our sins. I recognize that you don’t believe the Bible, so this makes no sense to you. Fair enough, but when you say you haven’t rejected Him, this isn’t true. You’ve rejected the Word, which is Christ (John 1:1). That, in itself, is sin, which entitles you, along with every one of the rest of us, to death.

    Your problem is that you are a fallible human, who thinks with human reasoning and logic, yet wants to develop a plan for God to save the world. You state: “I don’t believe in God, but, if I did, he/she/it would be a lot NICER than the being discussed on this blog. I don’t know why God couldn’t have set things up to be NICE. I mean, life is hard. Since God made it that way, you’d think he would’ve put in a rest area every now and then.” Now think about it, isn’t that a bit presumptuous? First of all, God tells us in His Word (which you have chosen not to believe) that He made life easier, but because of man’s sin, He made it hard, and introduced death into the world (Gen. 3:15-19). Second, who are we to define “nice”? We, with our limited human perspective, cannot possibly know what “nice” is from God’s perspective. We are imperfect beings who tolerate and even enjoy sin. God is a perfect Being who cannot abide sin. God is outside of time, and sees the entire history of the earth at one instant. He knew, from the moment of Adam’s sin, that we were all doomed, because of sin, and devised a plan, involving the sacrifice of His perfect Son, to justify us. We, with our limited perspective, desire the easy way, but God, with His infinite perspective, knew that the only Way that would justify us would be a hard one, involving the sacrifice of His beloved Son. When you look at things this way, it is clear that our lot is easy, compared to the sacrifice He made. We have only to believe, and be saved.

    God bless you Michael. We all take a journey to salvation, and we all require the intervention of the Holy Spirit for the faith we need to believe on the Work that He has done on our behalf.

  • Don S

    Michael TLB:

    This has been a very thought-provoking and interesting thread, due to your articulate and thoughtful posts, as well as the equally articulate and thoughtful posts of those responding to your questions and comments.

    I sense that you have not completely rejected the idea of the Christ, or that He is the only Way of salvation. The fact that you have thought about these issues so thoroughly, and have taken considerable time to engage the believers on this site is proof of that. I often wonder about the many folks who will spend years planning, working, and saving for their “golden years”, those few years of advanced age and retirement, not guaranteed to them at all, and yet spend next to no thought thinking of what comes AFTER their “golden years”. The “after” part is guaranteed, and is eternal, whether it is spent in eternal heaven, eternal hell, or eternal nothingness. Whatever your ultimate conclusion, it seems to me that it is definitely worth spending much of your brief time here on earth considering the eternal hereafter in a deliberate fashion, rather than just living day to day and seeing what happens.

    You seem disturbed by the “injustice” of original sin. You don’t want to bear responsibility for the sins of Adam and Eve, but, unfortunately, that’s the way the Bible sets it out. We are all sinners, by virtue of the sins of our forebears, and then, once born, by virtue as well of our own sins. Because of sin, we deserve eternal separation from God, but for His plan to use the sacrifice of His sinless Son to atone for our sins. I recognize that you don’t believe the Bible, so this makes no sense to you. Fair enough, but when you say you haven’t rejected Him, this isn’t true. You’ve rejected the Word, which is Christ (John 1:1). That, in itself, is sin, which entitles you, along with every one of the rest of us, to death.

    Your problem is that you are a fallible human, who thinks with human reasoning and logic, yet wants to develop a plan for God to save the world. You state: “I don’t believe in God, but, if I did, he/she/it would be a lot NICER than the being discussed on this blog. I don’t know why God couldn’t have set things up to be NICE. I mean, life is hard. Since God made it that way, you’d think he would’ve put in a rest area every now and then.” Now think about it, isn’t that a bit presumptuous? First of all, God tells us in His Word (which you have chosen not to believe) that He made life easier, but because of man’s sin, He made it hard, and introduced death into the world (Gen. 3:15-19). Second, who are we to define “nice”? We, with our limited human perspective, cannot possibly know what “nice” is from God’s perspective. We are imperfect beings who tolerate and even enjoy sin. God is a perfect Being who cannot abide sin. God is outside of time, and sees the entire history of the earth at one instant. He knew, from the moment of Adam’s sin, that we were all doomed, because of sin, and devised a plan, involving the sacrifice of His perfect Son, to justify us. We, with our limited perspective, desire the easy way, but God, with His infinite perspective, knew that the only Way that would justify us would be a hard one, involving the sacrifice of His beloved Son. When you look at things this way, it is clear that our lot is easy, compared to the sacrifice He made. We have only to believe, and be saved.

    God bless you Michael. We all take a journey to salvation, and we all require the intervention of the Holy Spirit for the faith we need to believe on the Work that He has done on our behalf.

  • Pr B

    Michael@34

    Welcome back from your computer-less weekend. Now that you’re rested, a few responses to your comments to me:

    You said: “…So now I have someone on this blog FINALLY saying what I’ve suspected some of you were implying – that we are responsible for the sins of our genetic ancestors. This blows my mind. Would you expect to go to jail if your parents had broken a law? Of course not.”
    RESPONSE: Would you expect to be addicted to drugs because your pregnant mother is a drug addict? Of course not. But, reality is…. Would you expect to have a have some other congenital disease because your parent did? Of course not, but reality is….. Would you expect to be maimed in a car accident because your father was driving carelessly or under the influence….but children are. Would you expect to be born into poverty… but children are. Reality is, Michael, that apart from what we might think ‘fair’ there’s a lot of reality that we experience because of the nature and condition of our parents and theirs. And there’s a lot of reality that your children will experience because of the nature and condition of their parents. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh…”

    We deny that reality at the peril of never knowing the Ultimate Reality who connects us with Himself by becoming what we are so that what we are by birth and nature gives way to what we become because of Him. “…that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” That’s hardly “fair” either, but it’s reality.

    You said: “I wasn’t, as you said, ‘given a life.’ My life was taken from me, and it was taken by this religion in which I was raised. You can give me all the platitudes you want – when it comes to my life, and the fact that I’ve DONE MY BEST to achieve what I later came to realize was unachievable, you are not being reasonable or cool. This is the problem most people have with the church: you don’t take people’s personal struggles into account. You just say ‘Wow, this is the way it is, deal with it.’ It’s rude.”

    Response: You WERE given life, Michael, whether you like the life you were given or not. And, it may well be that, as you say, ‘that life was taken from you by the religion in which you were raised.” Whatever it was in name, what you describe as “…the fact that I’ve DONE MY BEST to achieve what I later came to realize was unachievable…” isn’t Christianity. Christianity isn’t something that’s achievable. It’s NOT about US doing OUR best for God so that we can connect with Him. It’s about GOD giving HIS best for us…God taking our humanity onto Himself and all of our sin with it, and that of our parents and theirs…and that of the whole world. Christianity is about GOD connecting us to Himself so that we who are spiritually dead become spiritually alive. “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

    Finally, re: “…not taking into account your personal struggles?” I’m sorry about that. I didn’t carefully read between the lines of the back and forth between you and others. But frankly, Michael, anything that most of us here would have to say concerning your ‘personal struggles’ would likely be valued as little as what you called my trite and banal ‘platitudes.’ Not that we all don’t care. We do —more than you can know.

  • Pr B

    Michael@34

    Welcome back from your computer-less weekend. Now that you’re rested, a few responses to your comments to me:

    You said: “…So now I have someone on this blog FINALLY saying what I’ve suspected some of you were implying – that we are responsible for the sins of our genetic ancestors. This blows my mind. Would you expect to go to jail if your parents had broken a law? Of course not.”
    RESPONSE: Would you expect to be addicted to drugs because your pregnant mother is a drug addict? Of course not. But, reality is…. Would you expect to have a have some other congenital disease because your parent did? Of course not, but reality is….. Would you expect to be maimed in a car accident because your father was driving carelessly or under the influence….but children are. Would you expect to be born into poverty… but children are. Reality is, Michael, that apart from what we might think ‘fair’ there’s a lot of reality that we experience because of the nature and condition of our parents and theirs. And there’s a lot of reality that your children will experience because of the nature and condition of their parents. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh…”

    We deny that reality at the peril of never knowing the Ultimate Reality who connects us with Himself by becoming what we are so that what we are by birth and nature gives way to what we become because of Him. “…that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” That’s hardly “fair” either, but it’s reality.

    You said: “I wasn’t, as you said, ‘given a life.’ My life was taken from me, and it was taken by this religion in which I was raised. You can give me all the platitudes you want – when it comes to my life, and the fact that I’ve DONE MY BEST to achieve what I later came to realize was unachievable, you are not being reasonable or cool. This is the problem most people have with the church: you don’t take people’s personal struggles into account. You just say ‘Wow, this is the way it is, deal with it.’ It’s rude.”

    Response: You WERE given life, Michael, whether you like the life you were given or not. And, it may well be that, as you say, ‘that life was taken from you by the religion in which you were raised.” Whatever it was in name, what you describe as “…the fact that I’ve DONE MY BEST to achieve what I later came to realize was unachievable…” isn’t Christianity. Christianity isn’t something that’s achievable. It’s NOT about US doing OUR best for God so that we can connect with Him. It’s about GOD giving HIS best for us…God taking our humanity onto Himself and all of our sin with it, and that of our parents and theirs…and that of the whole world. Christianity is about GOD connecting us to Himself so that we who are spiritually dead become spiritually alive. “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

    Finally, re: “…not taking into account your personal struggles?” I’m sorry about that. I didn’t carefully read between the lines of the back and forth between you and others. But frankly, Michael, anything that most of us here would have to say concerning your ‘personal struggles’ would likely be valued as little as what you called my trite and banal ‘platitudes.’ Not that we all don’t care. We do —more than you can know.

  • Don S

    Michael, my post at #41 got a bit long, and I neglected two other points I wanted to make, responsive to your earlier posts. One is regarding so-called inconsistencies in the Bible. You state that the Bible has “huge problems” and God is “definitely not consistent” throughout the Bible. Well, once you realize that God is an infinite being, who couldn’t possibly be adequately represented in His entirety in a book which could even begin to be understood by mortal humans, things make a lot more sense. The purpose of the Bible is not to reveal to us the entire character of God, but rather to reveal: 1) our hopeless sinful condition; and 2) God’s redemptive plan for us. The Old Testament sets it all up, revealing our sin and pointing us to the promised Messiah, and the New Testament reveals Christ as the Messiah. The old story about six blind men touching different parts of the elephant and then trying to describe said elephant is instructive here. It’s not that God is inconsistent at all. It’s that we are seeing different aspects of God in different portions of the Bible. In truth, the more you study the Bible, the more it all fits together in a way which provides the confirming evidence of the truth of Christ which you crave.

    Another point I wanted to make was concerning evidence. I already mentioned that the consistency of the Bible, and its intricacy in telling the story of redemption, even though the Bible was written in 66 different books, over centuries, by 40 some different authors, is strong evidence of its truth. However, additionally, I will bet that every believer on this blog could tell you countless stories of the redemptive power of Christ. How God has worked in our own lives to help us overcome vices that we could never have overcome on our own. How He has redeemed friends and/or family who were hopelessly mired in harmful habits, etc., and turned their lives 180 degrees in a way no human effort could possibly have accomplished. The evidence is there, in abundance, for those that have eyes to see.

  • Don S

    Michael, my post at #41 got a bit long, and I neglected two other points I wanted to make, responsive to your earlier posts. One is regarding so-called inconsistencies in the Bible. You state that the Bible has “huge problems” and God is “definitely not consistent” throughout the Bible. Well, once you realize that God is an infinite being, who couldn’t possibly be adequately represented in His entirety in a book which could even begin to be understood by mortal humans, things make a lot more sense. The purpose of the Bible is not to reveal to us the entire character of God, but rather to reveal: 1) our hopeless sinful condition; and 2) God’s redemptive plan for us. The Old Testament sets it all up, revealing our sin and pointing us to the promised Messiah, and the New Testament reveals Christ as the Messiah. The old story about six blind men touching different parts of the elephant and then trying to describe said elephant is instructive here. It’s not that God is inconsistent at all. It’s that we are seeing different aspects of God in different portions of the Bible. In truth, the more you study the Bible, the more it all fits together in a way which provides the confirming evidence of the truth of Christ which you crave.

    Another point I wanted to make was concerning evidence. I already mentioned that the consistency of the Bible, and its intricacy in telling the story of redemption, even though the Bible was written in 66 different books, over centuries, by 40 some different authors, is strong evidence of its truth. However, additionally, I will bet that every believer on this blog could tell you countless stories of the redemptive power of Christ. How God has worked in our own lives to help us overcome vices that we could never have overcome on our own. How He has redeemed friends and/or family who were hopelessly mired in harmful habits, etc., and turned their lives 180 degrees in a way no human effort could possibly have accomplished. The evidence is there, in abundance, for those that have eyes to see.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Here I have to add a caution to what Don S wrote at #43.
    Lots of people overcome addictions, vices, etc., yet remain apart from faith.
    And lots of people of faith remain addicted or vice-ridden. They still battle depression, anxiety, and sadness, and harbor resentments and bear scars. We all remain tempted; we all remain sinners.
    We still have personalities, egos, strengths, weaknesses, troubles, fears of troubles, and on and on. Good days and bad days. God allows us to suffer our thorns, and to have our triumphs.
    But we can’t blame Him for our predicaments; all He’s done was to make this earth and all of life, and set us each upon it and within it, with the ability to move about in His confines in nearly complete freedom.
    Faith takes away that freedom to sin–to reject Him in thought, word and deed, without fear of consequence–but it alone gives us the knowledge of our sin and of our sinful condition, and of a remedy that often doesn’t feel like remedy as we’d prescribe it ourselves. It’s a victory that doesn’t make us feel victorious at times, because we have to concede the victory to He who won it.
    Thinking that my trials are overcome by ‘my faith’–with the accent on the ‘my’–is what makes us smug.
    No matter what has been overcome, and no matter what strong hold some sin has had on us that it now no longer has, we’re in constant need of repentence. We’re never any better, through and through, than we were when we couldn’t pass up a drug or a bottle or a vice. We may no longer harm our bodies, or others, as we once did, but we’re still law-breakers and still as imperfect in our bodies as ever.
    That may be the hardest thing for an unbeliever to swallow: that one is redeemed and changed–inwardly and outwardly–but that one is still a sinner who still sins and who needs to repent and to be forgiven.
    But it’s just as hard for Christians to swallow. That’s why something like liturgy is so important: it does the saying of what we should say for us–and to us–because we’d much prefer to celebrate ourselves.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Here I have to add a caution to what Don S wrote at #43.
    Lots of people overcome addictions, vices, etc., yet remain apart from faith.
    And lots of people of faith remain addicted or vice-ridden. They still battle depression, anxiety, and sadness, and harbor resentments and bear scars. We all remain tempted; we all remain sinners.
    We still have personalities, egos, strengths, weaknesses, troubles, fears of troubles, and on and on. Good days and bad days. God allows us to suffer our thorns, and to have our triumphs.
    But we can’t blame Him for our predicaments; all He’s done was to make this earth and all of life, and set us each upon it and within it, with the ability to move about in His confines in nearly complete freedom.
    Faith takes away that freedom to sin–to reject Him in thought, word and deed, without fear of consequence–but it alone gives us the knowledge of our sin and of our sinful condition, and of a remedy that often doesn’t feel like remedy as we’d prescribe it ourselves. It’s a victory that doesn’t make us feel victorious at times, because we have to concede the victory to He who won it.
    Thinking that my trials are overcome by ‘my faith’–with the accent on the ‘my’–is what makes us smug.
    No matter what has been overcome, and no matter what strong hold some sin has had on us that it now no longer has, we’re in constant need of repentence. We’re never any better, through and through, than we were when we couldn’t pass up a drug or a bottle or a vice. We may no longer harm our bodies, or others, as we once did, but we’re still law-breakers and still as imperfect in our bodies as ever.
    That may be the hardest thing for an unbeliever to swallow: that one is redeemed and changed–inwardly and outwardly–but that one is still a sinner who still sins and who needs to repent and to be forgiven.
    But it’s just as hard for Christians to swallow. That’s why something like liturgy is so important: it does the saying of what we should say for us–and to us–because we’d much prefer to celebrate ourselves.

  • Don S

    Yes, Susan, I certainly was not saying that Christ’s gift of redemptive salvation makes us sinless creatures, or allows us to overcome, without pain or setback, all of the struggles of life. By no means. We live in a fallen world, and within fallen bodies, with sin natures. But, Christ’s transforming power can take one who is purposeless, empty, hopelessly addicted to drugs, alcohol, promiscuous sex, whatever, and give that person a purpose and direction and a new start that is utterly amazing. I’ve seen it more times than I can count, and it is an evidence indeed that Christ is alive and working in the world today.

  • Don S

    Yes, Susan, I certainly was not saying that Christ’s gift of redemptive salvation makes us sinless creatures, or allows us to overcome, without pain or setback, all of the struggles of life. By no means. We live in a fallen world, and within fallen bodies, with sin natures. But, Christ’s transforming power can take one who is purposeless, empty, hopelessly addicted to drugs, alcohol, promiscuous sex, whatever, and give that person a purpose and direction and a new start that is utterly amazing. I’ve seen it more times than I can count, and it is an evidence indeed that Christ is alive and working in the world today.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    I realize you were not promising only a life of glory and triumph to the believer.
    That being said, you cite such transformations as evidence that Christ is alive and at work. I agree, but they are evidence only to the believer. To a non-believer, they might only stand as evidence of a person’s inner strength and resolve, or of a particular program’s effectiveness.
    Evidence is not very evident to the non-believer. Such evidence is not likely to draw a person to Christ, or even to attend church.
    What a non-believer needs to believe, more than any other thing, is that he can’t do it; that he is lacking; that he’s a sinner who can’t atone for all his own sins. Not without a lot of apologies and atoning acts, that will only see him to the grave.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    I realize you were not promising only a life of glory and triumph to the believer.
    That being said, you cite such transformations as evidence that Christ is alive and at work. I agree, but they are evidence only to the believer. To a non-believer, they might only stand as evidence of a person’s inner strength and resolve, or of a particular program’s effectiveness.
    Evidence is not very evident to the non-believer. Such evidence is not likely to draw a person to Christ, or even to attend church.
    What a non-believer needs to believe, more than any other thing, is that he can’t do it; that he is lacking; that he’s a sinner who can’t atone for all his own sins. Not without a lot of apologies and atoning acts, that will only see him to the grave.

  • Don S

    Well, Susan, you may be right on that, but I felt like a response to Michael’s plea for evidence was in order, and it is not really for us to dictate what nonbelievers can or can’t see. It’s up to him whether he sees it or not. I have known non-believers who believed on the Lord because they observed the transforming power of Christ acting in a friend of their’s who had become a believer, so I would never discount how the Holy Spirit may work in a particular instance.

  • Don S

    Well, Susan, you may be right on that, but I felt like a response to Michael’s plea for evidence was in order, and it is not really for us to dictate what nonbelievers can or can’t see. It’s up to him whether he sees it or not. I have known non-believers who believed on the Lord because they observed the transforming power of Christ acting in a friend of their’s who had become a believer, so I would never discount how the Holy Spirit may work in a particular instance.

  • Michael the little boot

    I’ll answer everyone thoroughly later. Just wanted to say to Susan and Don: you guys are confusing me! And I don’t mean in an “eternal salvation” way. I just don’t know how to have two different discussions about the same thing on the same page! I can’t do anything on my own to be saved, but it’s up to me whether I see the reality of faith in Jesus? Which I can do nothing on my own to attain. And it can’t be done actively. It’s a passive thing. But I must DO IT myself. Wow. Unpack THIS for me, if you would. I’ll digest the rest and get back after my lunch break.

  • Michael the little boot

    I’ll answer everyone thoroughly later. Just wanted to say to Susan and Don: you guys are confusing me! And I don’t mean in an “eternal salvation” way. I just don’t know how to have two different discussions about the same thing on the same page! I can’t do anything on my own to be saved, but it’s up to me whether I see the reality of faith in Jesus? Which I can do nothing on my own to attain. And it can’t be done actively. It’s a passive thing. But I must DO IT myself. Wow. Unpack THIS for me, if you would. I’ll digest the rest and get back after my lunch break.

  • Don S

    Michael:

    Yes, we got a little sidetracked there, and semantics come into play a bit as well. As has, I believe, been fairly well described above, the Holy Spirit draws us to Christ and enables us to believe on Him for our salvation. However, we can choose to reject the Spirit’s promptings, and, in that sense, to reject Christ’s gift. So, it would probably be more accurate to say that you can choose NOT to see the evidence for Christ around you.

    I am not a confessional Lutheran, but rather an evangelical Christian with Baptist leanings. So I have a bit of a different way of looking at these things than Susan does. But, we really do end up in the same place — salvation is by faith alone (there is nothing we can do in our own strength) in Christ alone (there is no other way to salvation than through Christ’s gift). The language choices can make things confusing.

    God bless.

  • Don S

    Michael:

    Yes, we got a little sidetracked there, and semantics come into play a bit as well. As has, I believe, been fairly well described above, the Holy Spirit draws us to Christ and enables us to believe on Him for our salvation. However, we can choose to reject the Spirit’s promptings, and, in that sense, to reject Christ’s gift. So, it would probably be more accurate to say that you can choose NOT to see the evidence for Christ around you.

    I am not a confessional Lutheran, but rather an evangelical Christian with Baptist leanings. So I have a bit of a different way of looking at these things than Susan does. But, we really do end up in the same place — salvation is by faith alone (there is nothing we can do in our own strength) in Christ alone (there is no other way to salvation than through Christ’s gift). The language choices can make things confusing.

    God bless.

  • Michael the little boot

    Tickletext @ 36,

    I don’t really feel a need to do the thought experiments regarding what “could have been,” since what was WAS, and – so far as we know – we can’t change it now. It’s not important to me that Luther FELT he could do nothing but stand accused; it’s only important that he DID stand there. I don’t think we can speculate as to whether he could have done otherwise. If we can think of a time wherein we could have taken either of the steps with which he was presented, that is immaterial. Luther was Luther, not any one of us. He made the choice he made because he was not able to make another. Nothing within him would allow it.

    I would suggest that his “unableness” is sufficient for him to say he could not do otherwise. While most people would say that I could treat my brother other than how I treat him, my brother would beg to differ, as he knows me and has interacted with me for 25 years. And none of those people are me, anyway, which means they are only speculating. None of us are equals (although this should not keep us from TREATING each other equally). We all have different strengths and weaknesses. None of us can say what another can do, especially not by comparing the other to ourselves. While Luther may have had many options, it is not within us to make any determination as to his ability to weigh those options and make any decision other than the one he made.

    I don’t think one has to show a universal denial of free will. If you do show it is limited on a personal level, this is sufficient for expecting it to be in other personal contexts. Once there is an expectation, one can make some observations, and extrapolate from there. A bit of experimentation is in order here, I think. Then one can verify these things and start again. After a long time, one may begin to see where certain things might seem compelling, but can ultimately be avoided – whereas others are compelling because they are a force to which one must succumb. This is the lover of the scientific method in me, though. I’m always down for the slow, long haul. If there are answers to be gotten this way, they don’t seem to be easy. They don’t come quickly, either way!

    I do agree that in a personal context things aren’t so easily separated. It’s fine to say all these things we’re saying here, but put them in the real world and they’re not so cut and dried. But one doesn’t need a universal denial of free will to start looking at reasons why it may possibly be limited. These could be used to go further, possibly finding something one could describe as “universal.”

    I have a problem disentangling love and emotion. It does seem that to limit love in this way, to say that it is “merely” an emotion, doesn’t completely capture it. I can’t figure out if this is actually a function of love’s expansiveness, or if it is a failure of language. The thing we use the word love to describe may be bigger than the word itself. The word could also be something that has taken on a life of its own, describing now an imaginary ideal rather than a literal state.

    I think it could also come from the catch-all nature of the word. We use it to describe too many things. We also fail to recognize it in other words – as in the word “like” – and so diminish it.

    But, yes, I do think love is a feeling. An emotion. I think that there are many aspects of our interaction with others and with ourselves that can widen its application. When we are caring for someone, we say we are loving them. Are we? Or are we just caring for them? There are nuances here which seem to preclude easy dissection and, consequently, practical discussion. I mean, what is commitment? Is THAT an emotion? Probably not, but it IS an aspect of love, at least SOME of the time, yes?

    So perhaps “love” is not an emotion, but a conglomeration of many things. Some are actions; some are feelings. Sometimes, yes, loving another may compell us to do something without regard to how we are feeling.

    Maybe it’s the fact that my mother is a psychotherapist, but I wouldn’t find it hard at all to take someone seriously who said “I wish I could love.” I agree it would be hard to imagine someone who hadn’t had the opportunity to love; it is not difficult to think of someone who is without the emotional machinery, or the practical tools, and is therefore cut off from any such interaction. (One need only think of a person with bipolar disorder, or, perhaps more immediately, autism.) In this context it has nothing to do with human perversity, as you suggested. It has only to do with the physiology – which is deficient emotionally – or with the person’s upbringing, or a combination of the two. So we’re left with the old “nature, nurture, or a bit of both” standby.

    I would say that what we’re all looking for, moreso than love, is acceptance. One could say acceptance is another aspect of love – this would make for another intriguing discussion. The obstacles that are in us (and I agree with your last quote on that one) could still, possibly, exist, and we may yet have love but not acceptance. I think we all long for the time wherein we could do whatever we wanted – even NOTHING AT ALL, the cardinal sin of the post-industrial age – and find at least ONE PERSON who would still accept us, not in spite of, but because of it.

  • Michael the little boot

    Tickletext @ 36,

    I don’t really feel a need to do the thought experiments regarding what “could have been,” since what was WAS, and – so far as we know – we can’t change it now. It’s not important to me that Luther FELT he could do nothing but stand accused; it’s only important that he DID stand there. I don’t think we can speculate as to whether he could have done otherwise. If we can think of a time wherein we could have taken either of the steps with which he was presented, that is immaterial. Luther was Luther, not any one of us. He made the choice he made because he was not able to make another. Nothing within him would allow it.

    I would suggest that his “unableness” is sufficient for him to say he could not do otherwise. While most people would say that I could treat my brother other than how I treat him, my brother would beg to differ, as he knows me and has interacted with me for 25 years. And none of those people are me, anyway, which means they are only speculating. None of us are equals (although this should not keep us from TREATING each other equally). We all have different strengths and weaknesses. None of us can say what another can do, especially not by comparing the other to ourselves. While Luther may have had many options, it is not within us to make any determination as to his ability to weigh those options and make any decision other than the one he made.

    I don’t think one has to show a universal denial of free will. If you do show it is limited on a personal level, this is sufficient for expecting it to be in other personal contexts. Once there is an expectation, one can make some observations, and extrapolate from there. A bit of experimentation is in order here, I think. Then one can verify these things and start again. After a long time, one may begin to see where certain things might seem compelling, but can ultimately be avoided – whereas others are compelling because they are a force to which one must succumb. This is the lover of the scientific method in me, though. I’m always down for the slow, long haul. If there are answers to be gotten this way, they don’t seem to be easy. They don’t come quickly, either way!

    I do agree that in a personal context things aren’t so easily separated. It’s fine to say all these things we’re saying here, but put them in the real world and they’re not so cut and dried. But one doesn’t need a universal denial of free will to start looking at reasons why it may possibly be limited. These could be used to go further, possibly finding something one could describe as “universal.”

    I have a problem disentangling love and emotion. It does seem that to limit love in this way, to say that it is “merely” an emotion, doesn’t completely capture it. I can’t figure out if this is actually a function of love’s expansiveness, or if it is a failure of language. The thing we use the word love to describe may be bigger than the word itself. The word could also be something that has taken on a life of its own, describing now an imaginary ideal rather than a literal state.

    I think it could also come from the catch-all nature of the word. We use it to describe too many things. We also fail to recognize it in other words – as in the word “like” – and so diminish it.

    But, yes, I do think love is a feeling. An emotion. I think that there are many aspects of our interaction with others and with ourselves that can widen its application. When we are caring for someone, we say we are loving them. Are we? Or are we just caring for them? There are nuances here which seem to preclude easy dissection and, consequently, practical discussion. I mean, what is commitment? Is THAT an emotion? Probably not, but it IS an aspect of love, at least SOME of the time, yes?

    So perhaps “love” is not an emotion, but a conglomeration of many things. Some are actions; some are feelings. Sometimes, yes, loving another may compell us to do something without regard to how we are feeling.

    Maybe it’s the fact that my mother is a psychotherapist, but I wouldn’t find it hard at all to take someone seriously who said “I wish I could love.” I agree it would be hard to imagine someone who hadn’t had the opportunity to love; it is not difficult to think of someone who is without the emotional machinery, or the practical tools, and is therefore cut off from any such interaction. (One need only think of a person with bipolar disorder, or, perhaps more immediately, autism.) In this context it has nothing to do with human perversity, as you suggested. It has only to do with the physiology – which is deficient emotionally – or with the person’s upbringing, or a combination of the two. So we’re left with the old “nature, nurture, or a bit of both” standby.

    I would say that what we’re all looking for, moreso than love, is acceptance. One could say acceptance is another aspect of love – this would make for another intriguing discussion. The obstacles that are in us (and I agree with your last quote on that one) could still, possibly, exist, and we may yet have love but not acceptance. I think we all long for the time wherein we could do whatever we wanted – even NOTHING AT ALL, the cardinal sin of the post-industrial age – and find at least ONE PERSON who would still accept us, not in spite of, but because of it.

  • http://viz.tumblr.com Tickletext

    Michael, I wanted to mention that I didn’t raise the issue of love as it relates to free will merely tangentially. I do believe it is directly related to some of the theological matters you’re discussing with the others. However I thought it might be interesting to look at things from a non-theological starting point.

  • http://viz.tumblr.com Tickletext

    Michael, I wanted to mention that I didn’t raise the issue of love as it relates to free will merely tangentially. I do believe it is directly related to some of the theological matters you’re discussing with the others. However I thought it might be interesting to look at things from a non-theological starting point.

  • http://viz.tumblr.com Tickletext

    (FYI, I posted that before noticing your #50)

  • http://viz.tumblr.com Tickletext

    (FYI, I posted that before noticing your #50)

  • Michael the little boot

    Susan,

    You wrote a few things, so, rather than respond to a specific numbered post, I’ll just do ‘em all right here.

    “There are no hidden meanings; just the truth.” As you see it. Which sounds like relativism. It’s not, though. I’m not saying anyone’s viewpoint is just as valid as any other’s; I AM saying that we all have different views of things, and that, when we’re expressing those views, to call them “the truth” is counterproductive. You don’t have to proclaim so loudly that you know that you know that you know. Just because you believe, just because you feel, doesn’t mean you KNOW.

    I do respect your right to have your beliefs. They are based on many things, and, since I’m not you, I have a flawed view of that context. Mine are also based on many things of which you are unaware. While I agree it’s difficult not to appear smug when discussing faith, one way to attempt it is not to use phrases like “the truth” only in the context of your personal beliefs. You sound like a very nice person; when you write about some of this stuff, you also sound arrogant. Considering your own beliefs to be “the truth” without any doubt is not at all humble.

    You do not say that you’ve acheived anything, or that you have better lives than nonbelievers. But there are other places on this blog where things are discussed with an “us and them” mentality. So there is something in that “Christians aren’t saved, just forgiven” which is utterly condescending. How do you know that? Oh, right, a book. (Okay, sixty-six books, all bound as one.) Can you see how this can be construed as arrogant? I mean, it’s words on paper. Hard to believe it’s different than all the other words on paper.

    The worst part, though, is when you started talking about having been an atheist. I’ve heard so many of these, I have a recurring dream! “I was an atheist. I *said* I wanted to believe; I *said* I envied Christians for believing; but I could not fall for it. I could not let myself become what I thought they were, which was willfully blind and, yes, smug.” I mean, it’s almost like we’re supposed to believe that the ONLY people who have EVER converted to Christianity were once atheists. I must point out: just because this was your experience, doesn’t mean it’s the experience of every atheist. Some of us actually HAVE tried to believe. I know many people on this blog NEED to believe that the only people who are not Christians are those who have actively rejected it. If not, their faith would be shattered. But I did try. I did want it. You are being kinda mean in implying otherwise. You sidestep that by saying that it’s just “the truth,” as if that absolves you.

    Please don’t think I envy you, or any other believers. If I seem unhappy or frustrated here (I’m not the angry atheist every believer wants to think we ALL are), it is only in trying to discuss these things with people who are unwilling to remove themselves from their worlds in which they have found “the truth” and think of other people as having possibly valid viewpoints as well. I want to have a discussion, while you guys are trying to save my soul – or, you know, introduce me to Jesus so’s he can do it. I’m not trying to make atheists out of ANYONE here. Just having a discussion, trying to understand some of your points.

    Susan, I don’t think most people on this blog think belief in Jesus will make their lives easier as far as money, or jobs, or trouble in general. As I said, I was raised in the church. I was never taught to view Jesus as Santa Claus. I don’t think I’ve given you any evidence that I DO think that. It sells what I’m saying short to put it in that context.

    I do wonder, though: how am I not supposed to hear boasting about how moral you are in some of Dr. Veith’s posts? And in some of the replies to those posts? When you talk about homosexuals being immoral, without any evidence to that effect other than a belief, and all the while talking to fw as if he’s simultaneously one of you and NOT one of you? (I’m not calling you out personally here, as I haven’t seen you talk to fw that way – just that I have seen it happen. I’m not referring to a post you made.) You may not say TO ME that unbelievers are lost or pathetic, but it’s MORE than implied all over this blog. Not that this isn’t one of the more tolerant of the Christian blogs I’ve visited. I have to hand it to Dr. Veith that he’s never asked me to stop, nor removed me from his blog. Though I don’t see that anything I’ve said would’ve warranted this, I’ve said less on other blogs and gotten worse.

    And, also being Jewish, let me remind you that not everyone believes Jesus to be the focus of the entire scriptures. There are millions of people all over the world who find that to be the highest of insults. Some of them are my relatives living in New York.

    I wanted to respond to more of what you said below, but work has come to an end once again. Hope everyone has a great night!

  • Michael the little boot

    Susan,

    You wrote a few things, so, rather than respond to a specific numbered post, I’ll just do ‘em all right here.

    “There are no hidden meanings; just the truth.” As you see it. Which sounds like relativism. It’s not, though. I’m not saying anyone’s viewpoint is just as valid as any other’s; I AM saying that we all have different views of things, and that, when we’re expressing those views, to call them “the truth” is counterproductive. You don’t have to proclaim so loudly that you know that you know that you know. Just because you believe, just because you feel, doesn’t mean you KNOW.

    I do respect your right to have your beliefs. They are based on many things, and, since I’m not you, I have a flawed view of that context. Mine are also based on many things of which you are unaware. While I agree it’s difficult not to appear smug when discussing faith, one way to attempt it is not to use phrases like “the truth” only in the context of your personal beliefs. You sound like a very nice person; when you write about some of this stuff, you also sound arrogant. Considering your own beliefs to be “the truth” without any doubt is not at all humble.

    You do not say that you’ve acheived anything, or that you have better lives than nonbelievers. But there are other places on this blog where things are discussed with an “us and them” mentality. So there is something in that “Christians aren’t saved, just forgiven” which is utterly condescending. How do you know that? Oh, right, a book. (Okay, sixty-six books, all bound as one.) Can you see how this can be construed as arrogant? I mean, it’s words on paper. Hard to believe it’s different than all the other words on paper.

    The worst part, though, is when you started talking about having been an atheist. I’ve heard so many of these, I have a recurring dream! “I was an atheist. I *said* I wanted to believe; I *said* I envied Christians for believing; but I could not fall for it. I could not let myself become what I thought they were, which was willfully blind and, yes, smug.” I mean, it’s almost like we’re supposed to believe that the ONLY people who have EVER converted to Christianity were once atheists. I must point out: just because this was your experience, doesn’t mean it’s the experience of every atheist. Some of us actually HAVE tried to believe. I know many people on this blog NEED to believe that the only people who are not Christians are those who have actively rejected it. If not, their faith would be shattered. But I did try. I did want it. You are being kinda mean in implying otherwise. You sidestep that by saying that it’s just “the truth,” as if that absolves you.

    Please don’t think I envy you, or any other believers. If I seem unhappy or frustrated here (I’m not the angry atheist every believer wants to think we ALL are), it is only in trying to discuss these things with people who are unwilling to remove themselves from their worlds in which they have found “the truth” and think of other people as having possibly valid viewpoints as well. I want to have a discussion, while you guys are trying to save my soul – or, you know, introduce me to Jesus so’s he can do it. I’m not trying to make atheists out of ANYONE here. Just having a discussion, trying to understand some of your points.

    Susan, I don’t think most people on this blog think belief in Jesus will make their lives easier as far as money, or jobs, or trouble in general. As I said, I was raised in the church. I was never taught to view Jesus as Santa Claus. I don’t think I’ve given you any evidence that I DO think that. It sells what I’m saying short to put it in that context.

    I do wonder, though: how am I not supposed to hear boasting about how moral you are in some of Dr. Veith’s posts? And in some of the replies to those posts? When you talk about homosexuals being immoral, without any evidence to that effect other than a belief, and all the while talking to fw as if he’s simultaneously one of you and NOT one of you? (I’m not calling you out personally here, as I haven’t seen you talk to fw that way – just that I have seen it happen. I’m not referring to a post you made.) You may not say TO ME that unbelievers are lost or pathetic, but it’s MORE than implied all over this blog. Not that this isn’t one of the more tolerant of the Christian blogs I’ve visited. I have to hand it to Dr. Veith that he’s never asked me to stop, nor removed me from his blog. Though I don’t see that anything I’ve said would’ve warranted this, I’ve said less on other blogs and gotten worse.

    And, also being Jewish, let me remind you that not everyone believes Jesus to be the focus of the entire scriptures. There are millions of people all over the world who find that to be the highest of insults. Some of them are my relatives living in New York.

    I wanted to respond to more of what you said below, but work has come to an end once again. Hope everyone has a great night!

  • Susan aka organshoes

    I think we’ve begun to talk past one another.
    You’re not refuting anything I say, but only expressing how what I say makes you feel.
    Sorry to have made you feel badly.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    I think we’ve begun to talk past one another.
    You’re not refuting anything I say, but only expressing how what I say makes you feel.
    Sorry to have made you feel badly.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Michael, the little boot, and you are one of the more irenic of atheists, which I appreciate. We do need to understand each other. Would you be willing to, as they say, tell us a little about yourself? You allude to a very interesting background. You were (are?) Jewish, but you were raised in a church? At one point, you did believe, but did so no longer? I picked up that you were disillusioned or mistreated in some way in the church, or did I get that wrong? At what point did you become an atheist, and what precipitated that?

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Michael, the little boot, and you are one of the more irenic of atheists, which I appreciate. We do need to understand each other. Would you be willing to, as they say, tell us a little about yourself? You allude to a very interesting background. You were (are?) Jewish, but you were raised in a church? At one point, you did believe, but did so no longer? I picked up that you were disillusioned or mistreated in some way in the church, or did I get that wrong? At what point did you become an atheist, and what precipitated that?

  • Michael the little boot

    Susan,
    How have I not addressed what you said? I thought I spoke to a number of issues you raised, and in a rather straight-forward manner. I don’t feel we’re talking past one another. You haven’t made me feel bad. I stand by what I said about your attitude, but my feelings are my own, and I take responsibility for them. If I feel bad, that’s a feeling I’m having as a result of many factors. I’m actually enjoying this discussion. I was hoping you’d speak to some of the points I made in my last post; if you don’t feel I made any points, or if you feel I was just blathering emotionally, I guess that’s how you see it. Wish I could’ve phrased it better so that you would wish to continue. Perhaps my response to Dr. Veith will prompt more discussion…

  • Michael the little boot

    Susan,
    How have I not addressed what you said? I thought I spoke to a number of issues you raised, and in a rather straight-forward manner. I don’t feel we’re talking past one another. You haven’t made me feel bad. I stand by what I said about your attitude, but my feelings are my own, and I take responsibility for them. If I feel bad, that’s a feeling I’m having as a result of many factors. I’m actually enjoying this discussion. I was hoping you’d speak to some of the points I made in my last post; if you don’t feel I made any points, or if you feel I was just blathering emotionally, I guess that’s how you see it. Wish I could’ve phrased it better so that you would wish to continue. Perhaps my response to Dr. Veith will prompt more discussion…

  • Michael the little boot

    Dr. Veith,

    I’m always willing to share. Get comfortable!

    My parents come from different religious backgrounds. My mother was raised Catholic, my father was raised Jewish. They later rejected both and began to float around. By the time I was born they were into Scientology. Thankfully, they gave that up, as they are not rich and could not keep up with the endless “requests” for money. After I was born we ran into a number of bad-luck issues (sister was born with spinal meningitis and almost died, father had his thumb cut off in a plumbing accident, etc.). My mother decided things were bad enough that we should start attending the local Baptist church with our neighbor. Father wasn’t down, but later relented to save his marriage (although now he considers himself born-again).

    Don’t know what type of Baptist church it was (I wasn’t that savvy at the age of four); but here I was introduced to really uplifting ideas that make a child feel safe. Some of those are 1) eternal hell, full of fire and brimstone and this really scary dude called Satan; 2) that I am a wretch, and the closest I come to “righteousness” is the equivalent of a filthy sock; 3) that I have free will to choose whatever I want to do, although there is only one choice which will make me truly happy (which begs the question “How is that really a choice?”), even if I don’t “feel” happy when I make that choice; 4) original sin, or “Why I am responsible for a choice made millennia ago by people I will never meet (on Earth, anyway)”; 5) that the things my body tells me to do – other than eating, sleeping, or using the restroom – are bad, dirty activities, and really come from Satan as a result of The Fall…

    Okay, so I got on a roll there. That was a bit indulgent.

    I was what is referred to as a very compliant child. I did what I was told, when I was told, mostly without question (I’m human, after all, and did assert myself on rare occasions). So when I was told about God and Jesus and what they did and do, and what I should do for them, I dove in head first. Of course, I was still yelled at by adults, because you just can’t ever do enough right for some people – regardless of religion. I questioned things that made no sense to me, but only out of a sense of curiosity, and did so respectfully. But I was raised at the tail end of the era wherein children were not treated as people, so the fact that I had the audacity to question an adult AT ALL was not well-received. I, like many children of that time, was stifled, to put it mildly. It taught me that I was worthless, a point driven home by the things I was learning in church.

    As far as being wronged or hurt by the church, that came in high school, mostly – apart from the seriously detrimental things I was learning in Sunday School and from reading the Bible personally, which I would say have proven to be worse for me in the long run than the times I was hurt. I don’t blame that on Christianity as a whole, or God in general. It was the responsibility of the people who were adults at the time and made some really big mistakes. I won’t go into the specifics. It had to do with the hiring of a wildly inappropriate youth pastor. Suffice it to say it was not sexual in nature, nor physically abusive. In fact, most of the people in the church still think they were correct in their choices. There have been no apologies.

    I continued in my church and was very active throughout high school. Then I got to college. It was there, at a small, Christian, liberal arts school that I learned about a different Christianity. I was taught about evolution; comparative religions; philosophy of religion; and the history of the Church as well as the history of Theology. I was also introduced to devout instructors who were co-pastors of a local church, and who didn’t believe in the inerrancy of scripture. This blew my mind; but the way they taught this idea was so compelling, and opened my mind to possibilities of which I had never dreamed. So I decided to attend this church.

    But it was in a course entitled “The World of the Bible” where I would read a book which would change my perspective completely. That book is The Source by James Michener. It was such a vivid description of how the evolution of religion may have occurred, and I couldn’t deny it. Suddenly I was faced with a shocking discovery: if religion HAD evolved in this way, or in a similar way, how could all the religions other than Christianity be wrong? I mean, if they were all related (not in exactly the same way as DNA, but in a similar way, at least metaphorically), if they had simply diverged because of cultural or environmental pressures, how could I point to a reason why one was absolutely right and all the others wrong?

    I worked at a library then, as well, so I got to work requesting books from Interlibrary Loan (before there was an extra cost!). I got so many books on the topic I couldn’t finish them all. Then I came upon A History of God by Karen Armstrong, and I was faced with an even more horrible problem: if all of the monotheistic religions were valid, what do I do with Jesus? Either he was God, which seemed to make all the other religions at least LESS THAN Christianity, if not completely wrong; or he was NOT, which left the door open to the other religions. The latter was rapidly overtaking the former as more reasonable, in my mind. By the time the summer between my jr and sr years was over, so was my belonging to Christianity.

    I still believed in God. But the whole world, which had formerly been closed to me, opened like a library that had been shut for centuries. I learned about all sorts of new things, which, for someone who is insatiably curious, is like, well, opening the door to a Costco or Sam’s Club and giving a free pass to someone who’s been starving since birth. I got really into Buddhism (hence my nickname “Little Buddha” as I mentioned over on the “secret identity” post).

    This continued for years. At some point I realized that I wasn’t sure whether I even believed in God anymore. I read a lot of science – NOT Dawkins – and began to fall in love with the “grandeur in this view of life.” I saw myself as related to all living things, and then the universe opened even more. I looked into the eyes of a dog or cat and saw myself. I saw them as alive for the first time, rather than the robots I had always believed them to be. With this came an enthusiasm I had never had in the church.

    I can’t really say when I became comfortable with calling myself an atheist. Actually, I’m still not very comfortable with the term. I don’t like naming things in general. I think names usually diminish the thing they’re supposed to describe. There are two real reasons I call myself an atheist: 1) I don’t believe in God or anything that can be construed as a being or consciousness or energy which is in charge of our universe; and 2) it gives me a group to which I can belong.

    That’s one of the biggest problems I’ve had since I left the church. For anyone who has never left a church, you couldn’t begin to understand. To you – and I’m definitely generalizing here – it is the person leaving the church who is responsible for the rejection. But for someone like me, I was simply being true to myself. I came to a point where I could no longer honestly say I believed. It was not something I sought, but it came, ironically, simply by hearing. Once I heard, once the seed took root, what followed felt natural. It was like a liberation. It felt the way I had always heard the “conversion experience” described. I had never felt it, throughout my life. I had never experienced a feeling like it. As you know, the feelings are powerful, and very difficult to deny.

    For this reason, I felt the rejection come FROM the church, even as they felt that I was rejecting Christ. But I wasn’t! I was ACCEPTING MYSELF, and finally feeling what I had been seeking, what everyone in the church told me they had felt before. I had been mistaken in my faith, because it wasn’t me. My path was elsewhere; in order to recognize this, however, I was forced to let my family – the church – in on my secret. And they rejected me.

    I know this seems a crazy way to put it. How can someone who no longer believes the things for which the church stands expect to be accepted by the church? But that reduces the church to little more than a club. It wasn’t that, for me. It was my family. My friends. Everything I had ever known. In order to be true to myself, in order to be honest, I had to leave all of this, not because I chose to, but because they would not accept me as the changed person I had become. Ironically, I did this because I had faith IN GOD that I was doing the right thing. I know! Even crazier.

    Hopefully this sheds a little light on who I am. It’s kinda rambling. It’s too long. But that’s me! Are we opening up to share now? Do I get to be filled in on each of you, why you believe what you believe, and how you got to where you are today? That would be awesome.

    Thanks for the opportunity, Dr. Veith. I appreciate it. Hope it answers some of your questions! Please ask more if it is not adequate.

  • Michael the little boot

    Dr. Veith,

    I’m always willing to share. Get comfortable!

    My parents come from different religious backgrounds. My mother was raised Catholic, my father was raised Jewish. They later rejected both and began to float around. By the time I was born they were into Scientology. Thankfully, they gave that up, as they are not rich and could not keep up with the endless “requests” for money. After I was born we ran into a number of bad-luck issues (sister was born with spinal meningitis and almost died, father had his thumb cut off in a plumbing accident, etc.). My mother decided things were bad enough that we should start attending the local Baptist church with our neighbor. Father wasn’t down, but later relented to save his marriage (although now he considers himself born-again).

    Don’t know what type of Baptist church it was (I wasn’t that savvy at the age of four); but here I was introduced to really uplifting ideas that make a child feel safe. Some of those are 1) eternal hell, full of fire and brimstone and this really scary dude called Satan; 2) that I am a wretch, and the closest I come to “righteousness” is the equivalent of a filthy sock; 3) that I have free will to choose whatever I want to do, although there is only one choice which will make me truly happy (which begs the question “How is that really a choice?”), even if I don’t “feel” happy when I make that choice; 4) original sin, or “Why I am responsible for a choice made millennia ago by people I will never meet (on Earth, anyway)”; 5) that the things my body tells me to do – other than eating, sleeping, or using the restroom – are bad, dirty activities, and really come from Satan as a result of The Fall…

    Okay, so I got on a roll there. That was a bit indulgent.

    I was what is referred to as a very compliant child. I did what I was told, when I was told, mostly without question (I’m human, after all, and did assert myself on rare occasions). So when I was told about God and Jesus and what they did and do, and what I should do for them, I dove in head first. Of course, I was still yelled at by adults, because you just can’t ever do enough right for some people – regardless of religion. I questioned things that made no sense to me, but only out of a sense of curiosity, and did so respectfully. But I was raised at the tail end of the era wherein children were not treated as people, so the fact that I had the audacity to question an adult AT ALL was not well-received. I, like many children of that time, was stifled, to put it mildly. It taught me that I was worthless, a point driven home by the things I was learning in church.

    As far as being wronged or hurt by the church, that came in high school, mostly – apart from the seriously detrimental things I was learning in Sunday School and from reading the Bible personally, which I would say have proven to be worse for me in the long run than the times I was hurt. I don’t blame that on Christianity as a whole, or God in general. It was the responsibility of the people who were adults at the time and made some really big mistakes. I won’t go into the specifics. It had to do with the hiring of a wildly inappropriate youth pastor. Suffice it to say it was not sexual in nature, nor physically abusive. In fact, most of the people in the church still think they were correct in their choices. There have been no apologies.

    I continued in my church and was very active throughout high school. Then I got to college. It was there, at a small, Christian, liberal arts school that I learned about a different Christianity. I was taught about evolution; comparative religions; philosophy of religion; and the history of the Church as well as the history of Theology. I was also introduced to devout instructors who were co-pastors of a local church, and who didn’t believe in the inerrancy of scripture. This blew my mind; but the way they taught this idea was so compelling, and opened my mind to possibilities of which I had never dreamed. So I decided to attend this church.

    But it was in a course entitled “The World of the Bible” where I would read a book which would change my perspective completely. That book is The Source by James Michener. It was such a vivid description of how the evolution of religion may have occurred, and I couldn’t deny it. Suddenly I was faced with a shocking discovery: if religion HAD evolved in this way, or in a similar way, how could all the religions other than Christianity be wrong? I mean, if they were all related (not in exactly the same way as DNA, but in a similar way, at least metaphorically), if they had simply diverged because of cultural or environmental pressures, how could I point to a reason why one was absolutely right and all the others wrong?

    I worked at a library then, as well, so I got to work requesting books from Interlibrary Loan (before there was an extra cost!). I got so many books on the topic I couldn’t finish them all. Then I came upon A History of God by Karen Armstrong, and I was faced with an even more horrible problem: if all of the monotheistic religions were valid, what do I do with Jesus? Either he was God, which seemed to make all the other religions at least LESS THAN Christianity, if not completely wrong; or he was NOT, which left the door open to the other religions. The latter was rapidly overtaking the former as more reasonable, in my mind. By the time the summer between my jr and sr years was over, so was my belonging to Christianity.

    I still believed in God. But the whole world, which had formerly been closed to me, opened like a library that had been shut for centuries. I learned about all sorts of new things, which, for someone who is insatiably curious, is like, well, opening the door to a Costco or Sam’s Club and giving a free pass to someone who’s been starving since birth. I got really into Buddhism (hence my nickname “Little Buddha” as I mentioned over on the “secret identity” post).

    This continued for years. At some point I realized that I wasn’t sure whether I even believed in God anymore. I read a lot of science – NOT Dawkins – and began to fall in love with the “grandeur in this view of life.” I saw myself as related to all living things, and then the universe opened even more. I looked into the eyes of a dog or cat and saw myself. I saw them as alive for the first time, rather than the robots I had always believed them to be. With this came an enthusiasm I had never had in the church.

    I can’t really say when I became comfortable with calling myself an atheist. Actually, I’m still not very comfortable with the term. I don’t like naming things in general. I think names usually diminish the thing they’re supposed to describe. There are two real reasons I call myself an atheist: 1) I don’t believe in God or anything that can be construed as a being or consciousness or energy which is in charge of our universe; and 2) it gives me a group to which I can belong.

    That’s one of the biggest problems I’ve had since I left the church. For anyone who has never left a church, you couldn’t begin to understand. To you – and I’m definitely generalizing here – it is the person leaving the church who is responsible for the rejection. But for someone like me, I was simply being true to myself. I came to a point where I could no longer honestly say I believed. It was not something I sought, but it came, ironically, simply by hearing. Once I heard, once the seed took root, what followed felt natural. It was like a liberation. It felt the way I had always heard the “conversion experience” described. I had never felt it, throughout my life. I had never experienced a feeling like it. As you know, the feelings are powerful, and very difficult to deny.

    For this reason, I felt the rejection come FROM the church, even as they felt that I was rejecting Christ. But I wasn’t! I was ACCEPTING MYSELF, and finally feeling what I had been seeking, what everyone in the church told me they had felt before. I had been mistaken in my faith, because it wasn’t me. My path was elsewhere; in order to recognize this, however, I was forced to let my family – the church – in on my secret. And they rejected me.

    I know this seems a crazy way to put it. How can someone who no longer believes the things for which the church stands expect to be accepted by the church? But that reduces the church to little more than a club. It wasn’t that, for me. It was my family. My friends. Everything I had ever known. In order to be true to myself, in order to be honest, I had to leave all of this, not because I chose to, but because they would not accept me as the changed person I had become. Ironically, I did this because I had faith IN GOD that I was doing the right thing. I know! Even crazier.

    Hopefully this sheds a little light on who I am. It’s kinda rambling. It’s too long. But that’s me! Are we opening up to share now? Do I get to be filled in on each of you, why you believe what you believe, and how you got to where you are today? That would be awesome.

    Thanks for the opportunity, Dr. Veith. I appreciate it. Hope it answers some of your questions! Please ask more if it is not adequate.

  • Michael the little boot

    Wow. A book. I did not even realize. Have fun! Hope I didn’t bore you all…

  • Michael the little boot

    Wow. A book. I did not even realize. Have fun! Hope I didn’t bore you all…

  • Michael the little boot

    Also, Dr. Veith, thanks for the compliment. Irenic. Nice.

  • Michael the little boot

    Also, Dr. Veith, thanks for the compliment. Irenic. Nice.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Thanks, Little Boot. I hope everyone reads this. I think I’ll post it separately.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Thanks, Little Boot. I hope everyone reads this. I think I’ll post it separately.


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