How to Believe in God: Brain First, THEN Emotion

God designed us with absolute and inviolate free will so that we could choose to be in relationship with him; the fidelity of a person who has no choice but to give it is worthless. God desires a real relationship with us, not one of zombie automaton to controlling master.

Granting us absolute and inviolate free will means granting us absolute and inviolate autonomy. That’s why God arranged for us to come into this world from nothing, and to leave it again into nothing (that we know of). That’s the only way for us to remain truly, permanently, organically autonomous.

It’s also why God doesn’t ever, in any objective, empirically verifiable way, “prove” he exists to anyone. Because then whomever he proved that to would have no choice but to believe in him—meaning their free will had been severely compromised. Which would render them unsuitable for a relationship.

Again, we’re meant to choose to be in relationship with God.

People are forever getting their relationship with God backwards. It’s supposed to be brain first, and then emotion.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://rachelatfirstchurch@blogspot.com Rachel Cabal

    I've visited congregations where I look up at the pulpit and hear someone speaking. Then I look to my left, to my right and see nothing but a bunch of parrots waiting to be fed their belief for the week. They suck in the words and stack them on their nice neat little pile of beliefs so they can later take them out as weapons to be used against those who aren't just like them. The brain is amazing and God knew what God was doing when we were 'let loose' to THINK. I wonder if there would be more compassion if people were free to explore their inner kindness…

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      Hippie!

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    No, but seriously. Yeah, if there's one thing that's certain, it's that it's easier to feel than think. People–ESPECIALLY "religious" people, are HUGE on feeling. But not so much, usually, with the thinking. Cuz that's sooooo much harder, and is sooooo much more likely to end up genuinely challenging.

  • http://kansasbob.com/ kansasbob

    I liked this John.. good theology here.. of course I think when you say brain I think you mean the brain of our heart ala Proverbs 3:5.

    What do you think of bible folks like Moses who seemed to have God appear to them? Do you think God appeared before they had faith?

    Happy 4th!

  • Julia Wilson

    So would it be appropriate to say that I feel God since I can't see Him?!!

  • http://mymenandme.wordpress.com Janelle

    While I agree with the brain first idea, I'm curious about a couple of things. First, how do you reconcile this post with your own personal experience of meeting God in the supply closet? And second, why do you use the words "from nothing" and "into nothing" in the second paragraph, as opposed to "with nothing"?

  • linzeebinzee

    How is this using your brain? There's no evidence for a god, so choosing to believe in one is not rational. I wouldn't call that using your brain. Choose to believe in god seems like an entirely emotional decision. You believe in a god because you like the idea, and then you use your brain to rationalize your irrational belief.

    Sorry if I'm being harsh, but when I saw the thread title I espected to see an actual rational reason why there might be a god.

    • Matthew Tweedell

      First, "God is" is true like "dancers dance" or "workers work"!

      Second, how can one deny the evidence for the existance of Truth (which is God)? And what other word than God is used to describe where any evidence comes from in the first place?

      Third, the fact that something can even BE rational or irrational implies some sort of standard, some sort of Divine Reason, by which to judge it!

      Fourth, the fact that today you are and yesterday also were implies some underlying conservation law (which must correspond to some sort of symmetry of the universe), and so your life and corporal substance are sustained, and "Sustainer sustains" is also like "workers work". If someone asks you what sustains, you know that the answer is–basically meaningless if no other information is provided, since this is obvious by definition–a sustainer. Any self-sustaining sustainer, it seems to me, must be a god!

      Fifth, why is there that symmetry in the universe at all? What is this thing? What is it that divides above and below? I do suggest the normative answer is God. So if you are suggesting a lack of evidence for God (as traditionally understood), you are suggesting a lack of evidence for any meaningful distinction between up and down, which implies a lack of evidence for the law of gravity—which I guess you're already aware of, as it is one of God's laws that you see no evidence of).

      Sixth, I could go on indefinitely, creating not just the sixth point, but an infinite number of points, but only if I could shed my human limitations and myself converge on the infinite. All infinites converge to a single point of infinity. That point I will designate God. And no, it doesn't have any particular location when mapped on Cartesian coordinates (to which it is the inverse of the zero point), but yes, it does exist. Indeed, it is infinitely close to every point, though not actually ON any of them.

      • Matthew Tweedell

        Note: #6 was not particularly rigorous mathematically, so before some smarty-pants atheist jumps all over me: I speak of an absolute infinity, and assert that it is actual in two specific dimensions: over time, for one, and the other being imaginary (mathematically speaking, while in an intuitive sense, I mean that it consists in the minds conceptualization (i.e. "image") in such a way that as time is a phenomenon pertaining to the physical realm, this is a phenomenon that pertains to the spiritual).

  • benjdm

    So, when another person allows me to see them instead of hiding from me, they are depriving me of my free will? It becomes 'severely compromised'?

    And that's not even getting into the obvious falseness of 'absolute' autonomy. The decision to write this comment is partially dependent on your writing of the post I'm commenting on, for example. If my decision was made with 'absolute' autonomy it would not be affected by changes outside of me. In other words, if you had not decided to write this post, I would still have decided to type this exact comment. That's obviously incorrect.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Hi, guys.

    I've written a lot on this matter. The posts are gathered under the category heading of "Christianity and Atheists"—and can be found all together here:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/category/christianity/atheis

    A few of those posts that just might barely a little probably not at all be of any interest to anyone might be:

    We Can't Argue It: There's No KNOWING If There's a God or Not

    Atheists of America Agree: Christianity Makes Eminent Rational Sense!

    Why Doesn't God Just Prove He Exists?, and

    Evil: Surprise! It's a Good Thing!

  • http://makingmyway.org Robert

    The argument is bogus. There is much the Christian god can do to practicially prove his existence while preserving our free will. Consider the evidence for heliocentrism, a round earth, a billion-year-old universe, or evolution. The evidence for these things is tremendous and vast, far beyond by huge orders of magnitude that which exists for the Christian god's existence, yet millions of individuals nonetheless freely decide to reject it.

  • http://megaloi.blogspot.com Redlefty (Michael)

    Hm, this post vexes me. I am quite vexed, for two reasons:

    1) On rationality, I have to side with the atheists. Just because a supposedly free-will-loving God is indeed living up to His required invisibility doesn't mean He's there.

    2) Jesus mostly seemed to stay away from the brainy stuff with his teaching. He spoke in metaphor, mystery and healed hearts with his words and actions. Maybe my perception of the New Testament is skewed? Maybe I'm just seeing what I want to see.

  • http://www.myspace.com/whitenoisemetalpodcast Brian Shields

    >God desires a real relationship with us, not one of zombie automaton to controlling master.

    If this is so, why is so much of the jargon surrounding Christianity so feudal? Why do you speak of him as "Lord"? "King of Kings"? Why does so much of organized Christianity consist of obsequious flattery? It seems to me you wouldn't have to spend so much time blowing smoke up the ass of someone with whom you have a real relationship.

    To me this is a much more interesting question than whether belief in God is "rational."

  • Julia

    John, do you believe in annihliation?

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    You'd have to define what you mean by that word.

  • Julia

    John, you said: "That’s why God arranged for us to come into this world from nothing, and to leave it again into nothing."

    Which seems to suggest that if you do not choose god then your soul will simply non-exists upon death. IOW's annihilation of the soul.

    Is that what you believe?

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Gotcha. Your question made me go back and look at that quote–which is when I saw that it was missing, at its very end, the parenthetical I thought was there. it's there now. None of us KNOWS knows what's going to happen to us after we die. Even Christians—or, at least Christians who believe in heaven and hell–can never say for sure to which they're headed. What happens to us after we die is a mystery, period. No amount of passion can alter that MOST basic fact of the human experience.

  • Julia

    Thanks for the clarification. However, sadly, it still heavly suggests annihilation to me. Which of course narrows the 'choices' down to: better believe than to end up in hell or non-existing.

    Which realy are not choices at all…

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    How does asserting that it's virtually impossible to know either way "heavily suggest" one option or another is more likely? It's not … even almost saying that. I'm saying (the insanely obvious), which is that no one knows, has ever known, or will ever know what happens to anyone after they die. That's … not heavily suggesting anything but that.

  • Julia

    John, which god is going to be in charge of heaven?

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    I don't care about that question. It's so … binary.

  • Julia

    I've read the link. I happen to agree with the athiest: Unless non-Christian gods and their followers are also in heaven, then all in heaven will be Christian.

    So, we're back to the 'choice' of being with the Christian god or damnation/annihilation….

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    (by the way, I don't mean to be rude. just busy. what I mean is that question has virtually no relevance to anything I understand as true or … interesting. It has no PREMISE, no defined terms, no stipulated definitions. It just … can't mean anything. I have no idea what you mean by the words "which" "God," "in charge," or "heaven." So … there's virtually no way to even begin to formulate an answer to that non-question.)

  • Greta Sheppard

    John, how can believing and trusting be solely 'emotional'……I see them as choices that produce emotions.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    That's exactly, precisely the point I've made, Greta: first you CHOOSE (being a function of the brain), and THEN you get the emotions. Hence … well, the title of the piece.

  • Julia

    Which god as in charge of where your soul ends up once you die:: Is it Yahweh? Is it Wakan Takan? Is it Allah? Is it Woten? Quan Yin? Unelanvhi?

    Which god is in charge of ultimately where you end up? The Christian one? Or is it one of the non-Christian ones…?

    Who is running the show?

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Well, good luck with that.

  • Greta Sheppard

    …ummmm . . . . am I missing something? . . . has anyone mentioned ‘believe’ . . .faith . . .trust? . . . from where or what do they initiate?

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Greta: That would be the “emotion” part of the title.

  • Julia

    I’ts the whole ‘choice’ thing, John.

    You either choose god, or you dont, which is the gist of your post. Your bible is chuck-full of dire warnings of the consequences of those who dont. To ignore them and say ‘Well, I think I’ll just take my chances and go a different (non-Christian) way’ is equivilant to flipping your god the bird and walking away. Do you honestly think your god would want such a person in his heaven with him?

    To say ‘we simply dont know’ is to say that god may indeed take non-Christians into heaven. If you take the bible literally then that will never happen. One MUST believe and choose the god of the bible or pay the dire consequences of damnation or annihilation.

    So, again, ‘choice’ here is not really a choice, but something akin to blackmail were failure to believe will get you damned.

    For me, I’ve never understood such a view or ever believed that is what god intended.

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      Julia: There are all kinds of Christians who interpret the Bible in all kinds of ways. I don't think I've ever known three Christians who would absolutely agree on the same five points of the Bible.

      Anyway, so as to avoid repeating myself: You might want to see a piece of mine called, "Jesus the Decider: Who Gets Into Heaven?"

  • Lynn

    Romans 10:14-15…"But before people can ask the Lord for help, they must believe in him; and before they can believe in him, they must hear about him; and for them to hear about the Lord, someone must tell them; and before someone can go and tell them, that person must be sent… "

    One person chooses to go and tell another person. Then the recipient chooses whether or not to listen, chooses whether or not to hear, chooses whether or not to believe, chooses whether or not to ask…these are all brain functions.

    I am in favor of brain first. Thanks John for getting the stagnant thought processes moving again. You can always be counted on to do that.

  • Julia

    What you believe you make real…

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Wrong. I can believe until my arms fall off that I can fly. Won't change a thing.

  • Julia

    Have a safe 4th, John.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    You, too!

  • mm

    Robert: I think the reason why those who don't believe in god would so heartedly reject the notion that god created the universe is because up until a certain point those who "represent" go on earth spent so much time denouncing scientific evidence that the earth is round, the unvierse is billions of years old, etc. There are those of faith who still can't acknowledge the earth is 3 billion years old.

    Granted, I try to seperate the "faith" from the person who would make such ridiculous comments, but, nevertheless, it gives everyone of faith a bad image, just like Russian Communism gave a bad rap to atheism as if they were one in the same idea.

    John: If the global representatives of the respective world religions shared that same view of god, the world would be a better place

  • benjdm

    chooses whether or not to believe

    How in the heck can you choose to believe? Can you choose to believe that I'm a squid? If you can, you have an ability I lack.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    I can look at you and see you’re not a squid. There’s nothing I can look at that proves to me there’s not a God. You look inside yourself and outside at the world, and see no God. I look inside myself and outside at the world, and see nothing else.

    One of us is wrong. So? We’ll know soon enough. I won’t mind at all if I’ve spent my life with the belief system I have and it turns out I’m wrong. How would that have hurt me?

  • benjdm

    I can look at you and see you’re not a squid…

    That’s fine. I don’t think you’ve claimed an ability to choose beliefs, which is what I’m questioning. You seem to be agreeing – that you can’t choose to believe something either. If I type like a person, look like a person, etc., you can’t choose to believe I’m a squid upon hearing the message.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Right. But I can choose to believe in (in my case) the truth of Christian theology. And I do. And I see no evidence to dissuade me that I’m wrong in that choice.

  • benjdm

    But I can choose to believe in (in my case) the truth of Christian theology.

    Then you, like Lynn, have an ability I lack. I cannot fathom choosing beliefs.

  • benjdm

    Thinking about it some more, aren't you contradicting yourself? You claim you have absolute, inviolable free will and that you can choose to believe something. When I asked if you could choose to believe I was a squid, you seemed to indicate that you couldn't, though you weren't explicit: "I can look at you and see you’re not a squid."

    Actually you cannot see me. All you can see are words on your screen. So you might not have answered the question at all.

    I will tell you "I am a squid" as outlined in Lynn's comment above. If you do have absolute, inviolable free will and an ability to choose your beliefs then you can choose to believe I'm a squid – even though your understanding of squids is that they don't know english, or know how to type, etc. Can you actually do that? I'm being serious here. For myself, I can try and fancifully imagine a squid typing out a message, or pretend a squid typed out the message, but I can't believe it. I can't ignore all the other reasons to think that a human wrote the message instead of a squid. The weight of the evidence points at a human author and I cannot choose to believe otherwise.

  • OldStuff1835

    With all due respect; EVERYTHING you describe is in the brain, so the title reference "Brain First, THEN Emotion" makes little sense. If you mean to intimate "Reason First, THEN Emotion", then there might be a basis for discussion.

    My contribution to that discussion would be that 'Reason' can mean many things…and there are good reasons and there are bad reasons. In the apologetic's vernacular (as on display here); 'brain' and 'reason' are shorthand for their their muddled understanding of things like 'evidence' and 'empiricism'. The reality is that there is no 'evidence' for the apologist's deity of choice, nor can their deity be empirically supported…even a little bit.

    The 'reason' that the believer has is that their belief seems to answer questions that they don't understand nor care to answer properly. It does not mean that that there is any truth to their belief…just that it makes things 'work' for the believer. But which is worse? ….knowing that you don't have the wrong answer? …or thinking you have the right answer and being wrong?

    It is pretty safe to say that believers in deities are in the latter group.

  • http://www.webstarts.com/SarahMackensie Sarah

    Sometimes, when people write these comments, I wonder if they have had a Spiritual experience at all. You are so “book learned”.

    The Calling can be of 2 forms. There is a Calling of the Lord God Almighty, Himself, as of the Prophets in the Old Testament. There is a Calling of "Jesus Christ", as He is called by the present day christian church, as He Called His Disciples.

    The Calling of the Almighty God, Himself, is both a mind and a heart issue. You definitely Know that God Himself is Calling. He Calls you by Name. You have Biblical description to back the Calling. And… the Voice that is Calling is NOT that of your own earthly father. Or mother for that matter, as some people have tried to state has happened.

    The Calling of "Jesus Christ" is a heart issue. He pulls at your heart and it is emotion that takes over. "Jesus" soothes your sadness, He Comforts your grief, He Heals your illness and Loves you Unconditionally. He is Always at your side, although you may not See Him. The Holy Spirit is the generator of the Knowing Information. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell with you to keep you safe, Knowing and in Peace.

    Any good christian pastor will confess he/she wants to see crying and a person who is completely emotionally distraught and traumatized so they can “mold” that person into the “christian” they want that person to be. "Jesus" would never do this to anyone. He would never publicly humiliate His "sheep". He would never knock you over so you could hit your head on the ground. He is Kind, Loving and Compassionate. He Protects His Own. Just as He Protected His Followers (from the priests and other religious fanatics of the time) while He was alive, He Protects His "sheep" today from those who are not yet Saved or of Understanding.

    The Calling of God or Jesus Christ is a Private CALLING. It is not meant to be public, although it may occur in public. The Calling of God is to a nation, through a single person. The Calling of "Jesus" is to a single individual through their heart. "Jesus" does not "speak" to a person; it is a Knowing that is there in your mind. You will Know what He is saying to you without Hearing a Voice. God, however, Speaks Clearly and cannot be denied. God doesn't change. He continues to deal with the world as He did in Old Testament days.

    How do I Know? I Know because I am the True Prophet for these United States. I received my Calling from the Lord God Almighty, Himself, at the age of 9 years old. He Spoke Clearly in the night, Calling my name.

    Be careful praying for people who are Saved of God. You will not Know who they are. Your Spiritual Attack will come back to you like a boomarang, only BIGGER. This is the same Message I gave pastors in the State of Georgia in the late 1990s. There is so much Spiritual Attack generated because of prayer for the salvation of those who God Himself has Saved. "Jesus" Saves no one. Scripture tells you that He was Delegated Authority from the Father. The Saving Grace comes from God Alone, through "Jesus". Prayers for Salvation generate Spiritual Attack. A person will unknowingly go to the source of Spiritual Attack and try to appease the generator by making that person "happy" so the Spiritual Attack will cease. The “altar call” is a man generated event. "Jesus" never performed an altar call… He Called to people to Join Him in talking about and appreciating the Words of God, to Join Him in Living out Godly lives, to Join Him in Living Eternal Life.

    Love Always and God Bless, Sarah

  • OldStuff1835

    ….. so…. how about them Cubs?

  • benjdm

    Sometimes, when people write these comments, I wonder if they have had a Spiritual experience at all.

    There IS a lot of variation in people's brains. I've had experiences I thought of as sort-of-religious, in the sense of extraordinary joy and feeling 'spread out.' Those experiences were almost all while listening to music. One other was a foos-ball game in Georgia during a port call.

  • OldStuff1835

    It is pretty safe to say that EVERYONE has [what some describe as] 'spiritual' experiences. Nobody denies the experience; just some people just think there are actual 'spirits' involved. I prefer the term transcendent…and I have them as often as anybody…no 'spirits' involved.

    • Matthew Tweedell

      What is the word for an essence transcendant? Is it not a spirit? like the American spirit, or a spirit of thanksgiving, or a generous spirit, or the spirit of the law, or YOUR spirit? What else is there about you that anyone could describe as spiritual?

  • Tim

    Hmmm….so, you say that if God 'proved' he exists, then this would compromise our free will. So, all the things that I believe based upon scientific and mathematical proofs undermine my free will? Interesting, but, of course, nonsensical, argument.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Sigh. No, it's not nonsense, Rude Boy. You have no choice but to believe that a square has four equal sides; in that sense, your "free will" relative to that matter is, in fact, eradicated. But that eradication ONLY pertains to the truth about squares; it reaches no further beyond that. The reason that having God proven to you with equal conclusiveness would automatically eradicate your will is because so much (if not all) of your will is ABOUT trying to find answers to a trillion questions about you and life that, at the moment of God's being utterly known to you, would be a mystery no more. You'd slump to the ground like a spineless automoton before you could say, "Oh, so that's what happens to people after they die."

    And could you at least TRY to be a little gracious in your comments. Why present your perfectly legitimate questions as, above all, an insult?

  • Pat

    The most interesting thing about this to me is along the lines of Janelle's first question – put more broadly, your own personal doubt in the existence of God is an essential aspect of your relationship with God, and in fact you are arguing it should be an essential aspect of anyone's faith. In fact, presumably many (most?) times, apologists could preface their arguments against doubt with some statement like "Yes, that bothers me, too, and maybe there isn't a God. But here is why it make more sense to me that there is one…." But I wonder how many people here would agree with this concept of faith.

  • OldStuff1835

    @Pat

    Doubt should be an essential aspect of belief. It is the lack of doubt that creates all the nastiness that theistic belief too often does. If the 9/11 hijackers weren't quite sure of their 72 virgins, they maybe we would still have the World Trade Center. If some weren't so sure of the divinity of the bible, then segments of society may not be unjustly demonized or or subjugates.

    Doubt (at least in this context) is a very good thing. Certainty (at least in this context) is almost invariably a bad thing.

  • OldStuff1835

    typos… they=then…..subjugates=subjugated

  • benjdm

    @OldStuff1835:

    Doesn't the Bible advocate against doubt in Hebrews 11:1?

    "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."

    Not unsure or uncertain, sure and certain.

  • OldStuff1835

    @benjdm

    If you are promoting certainty, then you are promoting extremism…they correlate directly.

    If all believers demonstrated a little humility and doubt in what they claimed to know, then you might not see non-believers feeling the need to engage in discussions such as this. Unshakable (and unjustified) certainty afflicts a minority of the believing population, and it is those that I speak against and unabashedly ridicule. If that ridicule offends or challenges the vast majority of moderate/pragmatic believers…well…there is not really anything that I can do about that until the moderate demonstrates the truth of their system of belief. Failure to do so while demanding respect for their beliefs is tacit protection of the extremist.

    "Nothing but free argument, raillery and even ridicule will preserve the purity of religion." – Thomas Jefferson

    "Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. " – Thomas Jefferson

  • Here4Years

    Sarah, seek professional help!

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Sarah: Here4Years is right. Once you say, "I Know because I am the True Prophet for these United States," you've officially marked yourself as crazy. Which means you won't listen. So never mind.

  • benjdm

    "Once you say, “I Know because I am the True Prophet for these United States,” you’ve officially marked yourself as crazy."

    (grin) Wouldn't that be an argument for the Lunatic horn of the trilemma? Jesus said many things more out there than that.

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      Well, ben, when Sarah starts raising people from the dead, she can make any claim about herself she wants to. It's all about the proof.

  • OldStuff1835

    It is most definitely about the proof. Sarah has the disadvantage of claiming divinity after the Enlightenment when such claims were put under the scrutiny of empiricism. There were plenty of 'miracles' from plenty of 'prophets' back in the first century.

    You two missed her the most obvious failing of her claim…why would God send a prophet specific to some silly thing like a man-made state border (the U.S.)? If anything; her delusion is too restrained!

  • Matthew Tweedell

    Sarah didn't say she was divine, just a prophet. As I recall, most prophets don't raise people from the dead, and most are in fact prophets to a particular people, such the nation of Israel, or the Lenape nation, or whatever else. How is she any less sane than many Old Testament prophets (such as Samuel or Isaiah, for example)? God is (according to the Bible) eternally unchanging in his divine nature, so why would there cease to be such prophets? Also, what if she IS raising people from the dead (in at least the same sense as Jesus)?


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