L.B.: Buck’s soul searching

Left Behind, pp. 356-357

Most of the end of Chapter 19 is taken up with Buck’s taxi-cab suspicions about Nicolae Carpathia. In the midst of his pondering, Buck also takes a page or so to reconsider his suspicions about God.

The loss of his sister-in-law and niece and nephew tugged at his heart almost constantly, and something made him wonder if there wasn’t something to this Rapture thing. If anybody in his orbit would be taken to heaven, it would have been them.

Here again is a bit of retroactive correction. We’ve been privy to Buck’s every waking thought for the last 350 pages, and this is the first time he’s remembered his missing family members even in passing. He flew halfway around the world to investigate Dirk’s death, but he hasn’t even placed a follow-up phone call to his brother to ask about three people whose disappearance, we’re now supposed to believe, has been a source of “constant” pain. I’m not buying it.

Buck’s observation that his niece and nephew were more deserving of heaven than anyone else he knew is also interesting. One wonders what it is that Buck knows about, say, Marge Potter, that makes him feel she’s deserving of hellfire and brimstone.

What Buck seems to mean here is that his brother’s children were young and innocent, which points to a strange undercurrent in Left Behind’s interpretation of the idea of an “age of accountability.” LaHaye and Jenkins have placed their cut-off for childish innocence at roughly the point of puberty. Consider that alongside the sexless Millennium of the later books in the series and you get a picture of humanity in which sexual=sinful and vice versa. L&J aren’t the first to mangle the meaning of sin in this way. Origen did it too, and of course, as a consequence, that’s not all he mangled.

But he knew better than that, didn’t he? He was Ivy League educated. He had left the church when he left the claustrophobic family situation that threatened to drive him crazy as a young man. He had never considered himself religious, despite a prayer for help and deliverance once in a while. He had built his life around achievement, excitement, and — he couldn’t deny it — attention. He loved the status that came with having his byline, his writing, his thinking in a national magazine.

Well there it is: Buck was “Ivy League educated” and therefore “knew better” than to believe in God. Education and book-learning and the intellect are all in the service of pride. They are stumbling blocks, obstacles to faith, to be viewed with suspicion if not avoided altogether.

L&J have provided a stark illustration of what Richard Hofstadter describes in Anti-Intellectualism in American Life:

One begins with the hardly contestable proposition that religious faith is not, in the main, propagated by logic or learning. One moves on from this to the idea that it is best propagated (in the judgment of Christ and on historical evidence) by men who have been unlearned and ignorant. It seems to follow from this that the kind of wisdom and truth possessed by such men is superior to what learned and cultivated minds have. In fact, learning and cultivation appear to be handicaps in the propagation of faith. And since the propagation of faith is the most important task before man, those who are as “ignorant as babes” have, in the most fundamental virtue, greater strength than men who have addicted themselves to logic and learning. Accordingly, though one shrinks from a bald statement of the conclusion, humble ignorance is far better as a human quality than a cultivated mind. At bottom, this proposition, despite all the difficulties that attend it, has been eminently congenial both to American evangelicalism and to American democracy.

This seems, at first glance, to be an odd situation. Hofstadter, the Pulitzer-Prize winning intellectual, seems to be wholly in agreement with LaHaye and Jenkins about the incompatibility of faith and learning. But look again and notice the distinction: What Hofstadter presents as a diagnosis; L&J present as a prescription. Hofstadter describes what he regards as a mistake, a misapprehension, an unnecessary wrong turn taken by “American evangelicalism and American democracy.” But L&J don’t regard this as a mistake, they see it as how things ought to be. They point to the serious of dubious wrong turns that Hofstadter describes and see it as a road map to the Promised Land. L&J prove Hofstadter right just as he proves them wrong.

The above passage from Hofstadter is quoted, mostly approvingly, in Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Noll adds, however, that, “The question for American evangelicals is not just the presence of an anti-intellectual bias but the sometimes vigorous prosecution of the wrong sort of intellectual life.” In particular, he points to the way that dispensationalists like Darby, Scofield and Ryrie — LaHaye’s (anti-)intellectual ancestors — regarded their approach to biblical interpretation as “scientific.”

(Instead of doing what I’m tempted to do here — quoting the entirety of Noll’s chapter on “The Intellectual Disaster of Fundamentalism”* — let me just again say that if I could recommend only one book to explain American evangelical Christianity, it would be The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.)

And yet there was a certain loneliness to his existence …

Having shown us why Buck has thus far resisted conversion — his Ivy League schooling and his worldly pride is getting in the way — the authors then aim to show us that Buck still longs for it, that he needs to fill the “God-shaped hole” in his life. That’s what they start to do, at least, but then they take a weird turn:

And yet there was a certain loneliness to his existence, especially now with Steve moving on. Buck had dated and had considered escalating a couple of serious relationships, but he had always been considered too mobile for a woman who wanted stability.

Side-stepping the slashfic bait there, I think this is intended as a lead-in to the following chapter, in which Buck meets Chloe and instantly falls in love. The juxtaposition of his existential loneliness and his lack of a romantic partner might have led to a potentially interesting consideration of the way that romantic love is sometimes pursued as a surrogate for separate questions about the meaning of life. If that’s what the authors intended here, then they cut short and confuse the issue in the pages to come by having Buck find God and romance (chaste, sexless romance) at the same time. What I suspect they intended here, instead, was to emphasize Buck’s unspoiled innocence. Sure he’d had “a couple of serious relationships,” but he had never “escalated” them (nudge nudge, wink wink) so he remains pure and deserving of Chloe’s love. But since, again, Buck yields his heart to Chloe and to God almost simultaneously, this also confuses the issue. It seems to suggest that Buck’s chastity somehow made him worthier and more deserving of God’s love.

All of this soul-searching and pondering might be somewhat plausible in some other book, with some other character, it’s screamingly implausible with this character in this book. In this context it reads a bit like Moses casually saying to the burning bush, “I’ve never considered myself religious …” The authors want to treat Buck’s dawning faith as a typical representation of a typical conversion experience, but Buck is far from typical. The game here is rigged. Unlike those of us here in the real world, Buck has already seen proof of God’s existence — the Babel Fish itself. He has seen the hand of God swatting aside nuclear missiles like snowflakes. Buck’s report on that undeniably, unambiguously supernatural event, the authors say, won him a Hemingway Prize. It would also have won him a $1 million check from the Amazing Randi.

The authors acknowledge this, but still try to suggest that Buck would have room for doubt:

Since the clearly supernatural event he had witnessed in Israel with the destruction of the Russian air force, he had known the world was changing. Things would never again be as they had been. He wasn’t buying the space alien theory of the disappearances, and while it very well could be attributed to some incredible cosmic energy reaction, who or what was behind that? The incident at the Wailing Wall was another unexplainable bit of the supernatural.

This parallels Buck’s worries about Carpathia. We’re supposed to see that, too, as evidence of his skeptical, cautious journalist’s mind, but both cases just make Buck look dimwitted. He knows, he has seen with his own eyes and heard with his own ears, that Nicolae has been involved in at least three murders, that he is complicit in a criminal conspiracy to game the international monetary system, and that he is a megalomaniac seeking unchecked absolute power. Given that he knows this, his reluctance to reach any conclusions about Carpathia seems impossibly obtuse.

But Buck also knows that God exists. The “clearly supernatural event he had witnessed in Israel with the destruction of the Russian [and Ethiopian] air force” is also something that he saw with his own eyes and heard with his own ears. His reluctance to reach any conclusions about this also makes him look impenetrably dim.

That “clearly supernatural event” doesn’t only change the context for Buck, it changes the entire world of this story. Left Behind does not take place in a world like our own. It takes place in a world in which the existence of God — of a very particular, sectarian notion of God — is a settled question. It has been demonstrated, verified, televised.

That undercuts all of these soul-searching pre-conversion and conversion scenes. These are meant to lead the reader to ponder their own relationship with God, but what they actually do is cause the reader to consider how they would respond to the “God” of this story if they lived in the fictional parallel universe of this story. If the question is “What would you do if you were in Buck’s shoes?” then the only answer that makes any sense is, “If I were Buck, living in that world and under those rules, I would convert to Tim LaHaye’s brand of PMD Christianity. Duh.” But since that world is not this world, and its rules are not the rules we live under here, it seems strange for the authors to consider this a persuasive basis for evangelism.

(This rigged game also allows the authors to take some unwarranted cheap shots. Having created a fictional world in which you would have to be an idiot to be skeptical about the existence of God, they then turn around and portray all skeptics as idiots.)

It’s odd to be reminded of the Babel-Fish incident this late in the story. Like Buck and everyone else in the book, I had nearly forgotten about it. That forgetting is necessary if almost anything else in LB is to make any sense. The context of “clearly supernatural event” No. 1, the injury-free nuclear war, would necessarily shape the interpretation of clearly supernatural event No. 2, the disappearances. A thousand possible scenarios suggest themselves from such a sequence of miraculous phenomenon,** but the events of this book are not one of them.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* Here’s a relevant, somewhat abridged, excerpt, from pages 126-129:

Simple anti-intellectualism, however, was not the major problem in fundamentalism for the life of the mind. More serious damage was done by the way in which the fundamentalist movement reinforced 19th-century assumptions about the conduct of thinking itself.

A major impediment created by fundamentalism for a doxological understanding of nature, society and the arts was its uncritical adoption of intellectual habits from the 19th century. Especially dispensationalism was heavily dependent upon 19th-century views of the goals and systematizing purposes of science. This overwhelming trust in the capacities of an objective, disinterested, unbiased and neutral science perhaps was excusable in the early 19th century, but by the early 20th century it was indefensible. Fundamentalist naivete concerning science was matched by several other 19th-century traits that undercut the possibility for a responsible intellectual life. These included a weakness for treating the verses of the Bible as pieces in a jigsaw puzzle that needed only to be sorted and the fit together to possess a finished picture of divine truth; an overwhelming tendency to “essentialism,” or the conviction that a specific formula could capture for all times and places the essence of biblical truth for any specific issue concerning God, the human condition, or the fate of the world; a corresponding neglect of forces in history that shape perceptions and help define the issues that loom as most important to any particular age; and a self-confidence, bordering on hubris, manifested by an extreme antitraditionalism that casually discounted the possibility of wisdom from earlier generations. …

The difficulty perpetuated by the objectivist language of 19th-century Baconian science is not with the notion that theology must proceed carefully, systematically, and by giving thorough attention to all relevant evidence — that is, in “scientific” fashion. The difficulty is rather that the lack of self-consciousness characteristic of the 19th century’s confidence in science continued in full force among some of the most influential popularizers of evangelical theology well into the late 20th century.

** Let’s run with the “space alien theory.” If we’re going to consider this as a possibility for event No. 2, then we must also consider it a possibility for event No. 1. The first case would suggest that the space aliens were acting on behalf of Israel. Given that, the disintegration of the world’s children would likely have been interpreted as somehow also occurring at Israel’s behest. That would give the rest of the world someone to blame, thus making the need for Nicolae’s peace treaty a bit more credible.

Stay in touch with the Slacktivist on Facebook:

NRA: Everyone dies, rocks fall
NRA: A threat to the GIRAT
NRA: A church without a plan
NRA: A grief ignored
  • DonaQuixote

    For what it’s worth, there are concepts in Hinduism generally translated as “heaven,” they just mostly aren’t permanent heavens. Also, reincarnation is not seen as a positive ultimate outcome in most Hindu traditions, but rather release (moksha) from the cycle of death and rebirth (samsara). There are a lot of different ideas about what that release would look like, some of which are quite a lot like more abstract Christian conceptions of heaven, and most of which involve some concept of blissful immersion in awareness and experience of the divine. Not saying the two notions of afterlife are the same, just that Gandhi probably wouldn’t be quite so shocked or concerned in the hypothetical Gandhi-shows-up-in-heaven scenario as you might think.

  • not_scottbot

    My belief is, when I die, I’m dead. Beyond that is absolutely unknown. But I’m still dead, no question.
    Another belief is that anyone who thinks they know what happens after death are merely deluded – which is not the same as wrong. Merely totally, simply, absolutely, and completely deluded. And that there is no polite reason for me to mention that fact.
    On the other hand, I do believe in the soul, without placing any conditions on that fact, apart from it being a belief. There is no reason to believe it is immortal, exists apart from my earthly existence, has anything to do with a larger cosmos etc. Merely that the ‘soul’ is the part that is not machinery, the same way that beauty is not merely the vibration of air or arrangement of color on a surface.

  • http://jesurgislac.greatestjournal.com Jesurgislac

    DonaQ: Not saying the two notions of afterlife are the same, just that Gandhi probably wouldn’t be quite so shocked or concerned in the hypothetical Gandhi-shows-up-in-heaven scenario as you might think.
    I’m making a joke based on the idea that Christians have that of course Gandhi would end up in the Christian heaven because he was a good man even though not a Christian. Gandhi recognised the good in (some) white colonialists who genuinely and sincerely had come to help – the Christians who weren’t just preaching but working. It is a frankly colonialist idea, only one taking over the afterlife, too.
    Gandhi was a very excellent man. I would not dream of attempting to colonialize his afterlife by claiming him for the Christian heaven.

  • not_scottbot

    But are you worried about Mormons baptizing you after your death?
    In one of the more bizarre religious turf wars on the Abrahamaic playing field, apparently a time out has been called after a brazen foul. From http://www.jewishgen.org/InfoFiles/ldsagree.html
    ‘In their missionary zeal, Mormons continue their wrongful baptism of Jews, attempting to convince people (dead or alive) from other religions to convert. It is insulting for a Christian denomination to perform their religious ritual on deceased Jews.’
    The article title is fun – ‘Mormons Hijack Dead or Alive Jewish Souls In The Name Of Christ’
    I think we will need to develop an entirely new branch of the insurance industry to prevent souljacking and to preserve the right to reincarnate in the face of government regulatory regimes.
    And America is just the place for such an industry to flourish – unless Romney is elected, and then you can throw your right to after death baptism protection straight out the window.

  • Fraser

    When I was a kid, I realized that if animals went to heaven, the dinosaurs were probably already there, which would be way cool.
    Neil Gaiman had a story on “The Problem of Susan” in which he pointed out that even if she wises up and makes it Narnia eventually, her penalty for liking makeup and girly clothes is that she has to identify her entire family’s bodies in the aftermath of the train crash.
    Though I must admit when I reread Last Battle recently for the first time since childhood, it wasn’t as monumentally horrible as I remembered.

  • bulbul

    We interrupt our regularly scheduled flamewar programming to bring you this announcement.
    Also, snow. Woo-hoo!

  • DonaQuixote

    Jesurgistac, I’m not “claiming” him for anything. I used a hypothetical example in a discussion about a particular religious system as a way of challenging the idea of what salvation is and what faith means for that tradition. It is interesting to explore how Christian theology would change, for better or worse, if we ponder an afterlife that is not simply a reward for happening to have rooted for the right team in the cosmic superbowl – if, in fact, heaven is not a Christian heaven at all. How that becomes an act of “colonizing Gandhi’s afterlife” is beyond me. Questioning and doubt don’t tend to have that kind of power. It’s great that you are sensitive to issues of cultural hegemony, and I applaud you for articulating concerns when they arise, but you sound to me as if you are reacting to something I didn’t say.
    I agree that “claiming” Gandhi, whatever that means, can be an odd and ignorant thing for Christians to do. For example, I’m not a fan of the paintings at the Episcopal church up in San Fransisco that include “saints” from other religious traditions (including Gandhi and Malcolm X, I believe) who were certainly not consulted about said depictions and probably would not have been particularly thrilled about it. There is definitely something ignorant and appropriative about saying that all religions are the same and we get to borrow from whatever we want without really trying to understand it outside of our own cultural framework or examine the context of our very troubled historical relationship with it. If I had stated with surety that I expected to meet Gandhi in heaven having tea with Jesus, I’d definitely have been doing him a disservice.
    This is why I’m not a Unitarian Universalist. In fact, one of the main reasons I chose Christianity (after a year living in India and four years studying Hindu traditions and learning Sanskrit) is that I felt a need to participate in and contribute to the dominant religious tradition of my own background and be part of a church coming ever-so-slowly to terms with the evils done in it’s name and in the name of my culture and people. But part of that process has to involve the ability to think critically about the way our theologies dehumanize and dismiss other people and their beliefs, and one of the ways we do that is by rethinking the concept of afterlife in the Christian tradition to acknowledge that all people are children of God and God’s grace is a gift freely given to all, not just the ones who guessed right. That we use the language of our own tradition to describe a humanistic and ecumenical approach to theology is not, ipso facto, an act of imposing our beliefs on others. It’s an acknowledgment that we must be able, not only to step out of our own cultural framework in order to understand other worldviews, but also to engage these issues critically and substantively with our own words and from within our own theological heritage.
    So how would you suggest a Christian approach this challenge? Is the only acceptable answer that everyone gets what they believe after death, or that nobody gets anything after death? That seems a bit all or nothing. Is there a compassionate and appropriate way for Christians to critically examine the exclusivism of our traditional notions of the afterlife that will not seem like colonizing to you?

  • not_scottbot

    Not to be disrespectful, DonaQuixote, but ‘If I had stated with surety that I expected to meet Gandhi in heaven having tea with Jesus, I’d definitely have been doing him a disservice.’ seems to be doing a disservice to both of them, assuming that Heaven is a place where properly prepared tea is found after death. Given an afterlife, personal souls, etc. as a prerequisite, among the people most likely to be in heaven must be included Jesus and Gandhi, people whose beliefs in peace and treating all humans equally cost them their lives.
    If you meant an exclusively Christian heaven – well, that doesn’t exist anyways, so why worry about a hypothetical?

  • sophia8

    Sirius (the dog who died looking for people trapped at Ground Zero) Sirius wasn’t searching for people when he died. An explosives sniffer dog, he was in his basement kennel when the tower collapsed.

  • http://mikailborg.livejournal.com/ MikhailBorg

    Assuming for the sake of argument that there are multiple Heavens, I wonder if a soul must only occupy one of them at any given time.
    Being restricted to a single point in paradisical space-time seems an awfully Material Universe concept.

  • Lila

    1982_Cygni on Nov 10: I once saw a cartoon of the Pearly Gates with a doggie door, with a small dog zipping through.
    It brought tears to my eyes.
    Theologically speaking, I try not to concern myself with “the factual details of the afterlife” as Lewis called them, but I can’t believe that God doesn’t love all of his creation at least as much as we’re able to. Wherever the animals end up, they’re going to be OK.
    Come to think of it, I feel the same way about God’s attitude towards people. Julian of Norwich, not a Pollyanna type, was told “All will be well”; I continue to make an effort to believe that.

  • Tonio

    I’ve always thought that the answer “We don’t know” was not only perfectly acceptable, but was at certain stages the only acceptable answer – because it’s from the dread “We don’t know” that all science arises. Because after “We don’t know” comes, “How can we find out?”
    Well said, Cactus Wren. That was my point.
    In other words, if the Red Sea parts before us, and we can rule out all the explanations besides God, then God becomes an active participant in the Universe and, by definition, part of it; though a part we might never be able to explain or understand.
    Ruling out all other explanations doesn’t prove that there is a supreme being taking conscious actions to make events happen. You might have a point if you’re talking about some concept of God other than the Abrahamic version, perhaps “God” as a metaphor for the non-sentient universe.
    Clicking the link to see what these “new ideas” confirmed my fear that, yes, “Intelligent Design” (better known as “Creationism in a lab coat,” or if you want to be less polite, “STEAMING BULLSHIT”) was one of the subjects.
    Some creationist rhetoric seem to invoke anti-Semitic stereotypes about science and academia. I haven’t seen the movie, and I hope Stein hasn’t become a Michael Medved.
    In fact, physicists are annoyed at how well our best models (the Standard Model of Particle Physics and General Relativity) predict the outcome of experiments (something absurd like 12 to 20 decimal places of accuracy).
    Why would they be annoyed? Wouldn’t they jump for joy?
    And why are you rubbing your hands with glee at knowing that no one knows what dark matter is? That sounds like the reaction of a Genesis literalist who wishes to discredit science, not the reaction of a physicist who relishes the challenge of exploring the unknown.

  • Lila

    Tonio, there’s a clue in your phrase “relishes the challenge of exploring the unknown”–running out of “unknown” to explore would be a scientist’s worst nightmare.

  • Anonymous

    Dark matter, ether, phlogiston – real physicists know the difference between fudging, and generally disprove the what everyone accepts with an elegant experiment. I suspect ‘dark matter’ will be the 20th century equivalent of the other two.

  • Tonio

    When you’re constructing a scientific model, at some point you’re going to either implicitly or explicitly make use of an assumption about how the universe works that may not be empirically testable (though it may be rationally justifiable)
    So does metaphysics refer to the assumptions themselves or the making of such assumptions? Mikhail made the point about new measurements changing or eliminating many assumptions. Isn’t the goal to replace assumptions with information?
    My perspective is panentheist, meaning I believe that God is both within the world and transcendent, so for me there’s no contradiction between God being inherently natural and supernatural. I have no problem identifying everyday events as miraculous. On the other hand, I tend to shy away from miracle stories that involve self glorification, as the “isn’t it great that God made my brother give me some money so I could eventually wind up being such an awesome minister?!” story seems to do.
    My own idea of pantheism is simply having reverence for nature and the universe, but not regarding them as conscious entities since there’s no evidence to support that idea.
    I don’t see how one can define an event as a miracle without logically concluding that the event is part of some being’s agenda. If a supernatural being caused the miracle, why did the being choose to do that? I suspect people first thought of miracles to explain not just unexplained events, but to answer the theodicy question.
    My own answer to theodicy is simple. Suffering happens. It’s not a punishment – people suffer regardless of the good or bad they’ve done in their lives. We will never be able to prevent or cure all suffering. We have no control over the universe. Our challenge is to simply accept suffering rather than rationalize it or deny it.

  • Tonio

    I admit I’ve never heard of a “Chick tract.” But as soon as I read the description in Wikipedia, I realized I had seen one years ago on a sink at a Christian-owned restaurant. It was open to the ending where the sinner was burning and sweating in Hell after the Second Coming, desperately regretting not accepting Jesus.

  • Tonio

    running out of “unknown” to explore would be a scientist’s worst nightmare
    Lila, I don’t know if this is your intention, but your sentence sounds exactly how a creationist would rationalize a scientist’s “unbelief.”

  • Fraser

    Tonio, whatever creationists think of Lila’s statement, I think it’s accurate. And it’s not as if they won’t rationalize unbelief anyway.
    Not scottbott, of course there will be tea served in heaven. Otherwise how could it be heaven?

  • Ember Keelty

    Point being faith doesn’t have to be about belief (which is a one-sided, subject-object proposition) so much as desire (which goes two ways and is intersubjective, in other words, a relationship).
    Okay, but doesn’t there have have to be an element of belief in order for the “desire” you’re talking about to constitute a “relationship”? As an agnostic, I’m constantly struggling to be better, braver, kinder, but I leave God out of it entirely. Although I will confess that if there’s any validity at all to what faith I do have – my faith in the human individual’s ability to overcome humanity’s own inherently selfish nature – it would seem to indicate the existence of something like a soul.
    As for the afterlife, I can only say that, if it exists, most of what we are now won’t make it there. Too much of what we consider our personalities is demonstrably dependent on our brains, and our brains are as mortal as any other part of our bodies. The way I see it, even if a small part of me – my “soul” – lives on, I’m still going to die.

  • sophia8

    I don’t believe in Heaven. But if there was a Heaven, I’d want it to be like the one that Alice Sebold dreamed up for Lovely Bones. There, everybody who dies goes to their own personal Heaven, which is a place where they are happiest and they can do what makes them happy. You do meet other people in your personal Heaven, if their idea of Heaven is close to yours. For instance, if your particular heaven includes playing the trumpet, you’ll get together with other trumpet-players for jam sessions. Everyone with similar ideas of what is good finds their Heavens intersecting.
    There are children and animals in this afterlife as well, as all sentient life forms have their intersecting personal heavens. So the kids get to play endlessly with dogs and ponies in sunlit meadows.
    Sebold doesn’t show us what sort of personal heaven evil murderers get, but presumably it’s one in which they get to play endlessly with willing victims.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    My take on the Afterlife: “We didn’t exist before we were born, and it didn’t last then, either.”
    It works for me, usually.

  • Tonio

    I see no reason to treat the existence of an afterlife as factual since there is no evidence for it. But I don’t reject the possibility of the afterlife either. The burden of proof is on those who claim that an afterlife exists.
    And my personal feelings about an afterlife is that it would be too good to be true. If I believed in an afterlife, and I found out at the moment of my death that it didn’t exist, my last emotion would be deep betrayal.

  • http://mikailborg.livejournal.com/ MikhailBorg

    Tonio, there’s a clue in your phrase “relishes the challenge of exploring the unknown”–running out of “unknown” to explore would be a scientist’s worst nightmare.
    Considering that there’s around 13.7 billion light years worth of Universe to explore in any direction, running out of unknown doesn’t seem to be a big worry.
    Ruling out all other explanations doesn’t prove that there is a supreme being taking conscious actions to make events happen. You might have a point if you’re talking about some concept of God other than the Abrahamic version, perhaps “God” as a metaphor for the non-sentient universe.
    I didn’t mean to imply consciousness. A tree, the planet Jupiter, and the Andromedan galaxy are all active participants in the Universe, though we have no reason to believe they are sentient or directed by their own will.
    My point stands, though. If the Red Sea parts, than something moved the water. Our own eyes, the dryness of our skin as we walk though the parting, and the lashing of the waves at the sides, are all measuring devices. (I suppose we could all be sharing the same mass hallucination, but that in itself is suspicious, and would end abruptly with our drowning.) If God is responsible, than he is a natural part of the Universe.
    Among Trek fans, there is a famous problem in what is otherwise a pretty good Next Generation episode: two Starfleet officers have been placed “out of phase” with the universe and pass right through walls, equipment, and people. Somehow, however, they don’t “phase’ though floors, don’t “phase” though the air they need to breathe, can communicate with each other through sound vibrations in the air (though not with their comrades), and their retinas stop light waves just fine when they wish to see something, even though the same light waves pass right through them when their worried shipmates search about.
    Fun story, but you just can’t have it both ways. You’re there or you’re not.

  • http://jesurgislac.greatestjournal.com Jesurgislac

    not_scottbot: But are you worried about Mormons baptizing you after your death?
    No. Why would I be? (Unless their doing so upset friends and family I care about. But obviously I couldn’t care once I was dead.)
    DonaQ: So how would you suggest a Christian approach this challenge?
    How is it a challenge? It only becomes an issue if you believe that there is only one God and only one Heaven and cannot accept the possibility that you could be wrong. If the only option after death is to go to the Christian Heaven or to purgatory or hell (or Limbo, if that still exists) then you have a problem with Gandhi, since he wouldn’t go to the Christian Heaven.
    If, on the other hand, you believe that God is much larger than any human can possibly comprehend, there’s no problem at all: you believed in God in your way, Gandhi believed in God in his way, and you have no reason to suppose that your way is privileged over Gandhi’s way.

  • http://mikailborg.livejournal.com/ MikhailBorg

    Oh, and “dark matter” really means nothing more than “something seems to be there, but we don’t know what it is yet other than it acts like a form of matter we don’t understand”.
    Needless to say, no self-respecting newspaper editor is going to put that in the story.

  • inge

    Mabus: These days I pretty frequently come across atheists arguing that, faced with a miraculous event, they would rather doubt their senses and assume they were hallucinating than conclude that something supernatural was happening.
    Considering the things I have seen when suffering from sleep deprivations or bad migraines, and the frequency that happened, it’s statistically much safer the assume that the middle line of the street wrapping itself around the car, and the giant grey shapes prowling outside of the window are hallucinations instead of supernatural events. Because even my religious friends do not claim that supernatural miracles are as common as migraines…

  • burgundy

    Heaven is a city. Like San Francisco?

  • Alger

    RE: Footnote **.  No need for space aliens when you have the Jews.
    I would argue that since none of the faithful Jewish residents of L&J’s world would have gone a’Rapturing I suggest that the world reacts to the death-free nuking of Israel and the mysterious disappearance  of 2,000,000+ people by re-visiting those old tropes of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Plague-Causing/Baby-Killing Jews.
    Really how long would it take the super crazies of this world to put together a theory that the Jewish Illuminati have finally arrived at the technology to stop atomic weapons and vaporize all the world’s children and uberchristians for the greater glory of Zion?

    But then again, all the people who would be quickest to come up with that theory were raptured… damnably clever those Semites.