[abridged significantly, since the original dialogue was about 35,000 words: almost book-length; now it is about 11,500 words]
I wrote that article, but it was not written in the way in which you read it. What you took to be generalizations and attacks were mostly first person happenings or things that I have observed, or both. It was not intended to be a scholarly treatise, but a personal, accessible, article. . . . You’re trying to parse it out like a graduate school study of Ulysses and in comparison all my little article is, is a first person “what I did on my summer vacation” story.
First of all, your article was written for a magazine, ostensibly for the purpose of persuading others or dissuading Christians from their position (just as you were in ways which the article describes). Otherwise, why write it? This idea that it is merely private, and befuddlement as to why I have critiqued it in some detail is very curious and even, I think, a bit odd. If your experience and intellectual odyssey has no relevance at all to anyone else, then by all means, don’t write it for public consumption.
If this is your experience and yours alone, and has no relevance whatsoever to anyone else: whether Christian or atheist or three-toed, green-eyed Rastafarian moth catcher, then again, why does it exist “out there” on the Internet to be read at all? Either these things have an objective basis, in which case others can enter into the discussion and dispute your factual and philosophical / experiential / religious claims, or they do not.
It would be like writing an article about how one loves chocolate ice cream rather than vanilla. Who else cares about that? It is not “newsworthy” material. It’s not something to discuss or ponder. Or you could write a purely “personal” account of how you like to wear purple pajamas, stand on your head, and munch cinnamon raisin bagels while watching Jeopardy every night. That’s fine and dandy, but no material for any public magazine, let alone one on so important an issue as whether God exists, and how we order our own existence and behavior in relation to others who differ from us.
Secondly, if the article is “simplistic”, as you describe it (and you as the writer would be in a position to make such a judgment), and the intellectual or persuasive equivalent of “what I did on my summer vacation” stories, it seems to me that this would disqualify it as worthy of a magazine of this type, which routinely deals with the question of the truth or falsity of Christianity and other religions.Thirdly, you claim that your article contains hardly any “generalizations” or”attacks”. But you did not in fact (consciously or not) abide by this characterization and lofty goal of your own writing. Your article is filled with such things.
Thank you for responding to my inquiry. I think to begin with, before I would enter into an actual point by point defense of my Skeptical Review article or a generalized dialogue on the subjects raised therein, I should let you know where I’m coming from in general regarding my view of religion.
As you certainly could tell from the article in question, I came from a background of fairly fundamental religion, though not nearly as severe in interpretation and insinuation into people’s lives and psyches as many of the more fundamentalist cults indulge in today. From a normal childhood beginning and basis in things religious, I progressed toward religious maturity through my teens and into my young adulthood. I majored in theology in college, searching for answers to many questions by which I was troubled about this religion. Under the tutelage of men who had spent their lives devoted to these studies and the issues they raise, I found that opinions and beliefs among these “experts” were varied and often turned on the slightest of evidence or premise.
Well sure, you will find a lot of contradiction. That gets into the issues of legitimate religious authority and epistemology.
For twenty or so years after college I continued my search as time and energy allowed. I examined in depth many source materials from the first and second centuries, both secular and religious. I read the works and studied the opinions of theologians from the earliest of the so called ‘church fathers’ down to those with whom I was contemporary.
There was no sudden epiphany. No opening up of the sky or shaking of the earth to signal my realization that for me there could be no god, no devil, no heaven, no hell. Just a slow, gradual, point by point realization that I could not believe in my heart what my head found to be false. For me god shrunk away and disappeared over this twenty years or so of profound research and reflection. Maybe that journey started much earlier than my active search for answers began. Maybe I had my first doubts when I realized a biblical contradiction for the first time at the age of twelve or so. Maybe even before that time for some reason I no longer remember.
Maybe you could be convinced of the Christian view in some of these areas by an apologist like me. :-) I appreciate your honest report of your “journey.” A lot of times, I think that people get only one kind of information, rather than seeing both sides. We all make decisions as to what we are gonna read and study. And they can shape our intellectual and spiritual destinies. That may or may not have been true in your case. But your willingness to dialogue is a sign to me that you remain open-minded on the overall issue. And that makes for good dialogue.
With my realization that to me there could be no god and that I could no longer pretend to believe, I found peace and ease and comfort in my life that I had never had before. No longer burdened by doubts, no longer having to sublimate my thoughts so as to fit into a mold that others expected, I became a better husband, father, neighbor, brother, son, and friend to those around me. I found liberation in my new worldview that I had never found anywhere else.
This is one big reason I am an apologist. I recognize that (as you say) one cannot follow what their mind rejects as false. I certainly couldn’t do that, nor would I ever wish to. I’m here to try to demonstrate that Christianity need not involve such aconflict, and that unbelief, on the other hand, ultimately does become burdened by such intellectual difficulties.
Still, I am not an evangelical atheist, nor a militant in the cause. Atheism to me is a distinctly personal decision based on my own personal journey of seeking truth and finding answers.
Understood. Yet by dialoguing at all, you will be making your personal opinions “public” to some extent. It goes to an objective ground that is something more than mere subjectivity and personal preference (like a favorite color or flavor of ice cream). Propositions will be debated as to their truth or falsity.
I believe that each of us is personally responsible for whatever we believe. I believe that we should each be able to delineate what and why we believe, and not by resorting to tautological arguments such as “I believe the bible because the bible is true.”
Yes; I agree.
I am most concerned about your excessive generalizations about, and portrayals of, what Christianity is supposedly about. I think they are greatly in need of qualification and tempering. In many cases, I would readily agree, if your criticisms were only directed towards smaller (often sectarian, in the worst sense of that term) Christian groups (such as your own former Church of Christ) and/or those individuals who distort the actual nature of our religion in one way or another, and take it in an unhelpful, problem-laden direction. But you insisted on generalizing almost everything (while recently denying this) and doing a sort of “cynical psychoanalysis” or “psychology of religion.” I am here to present a more balanced picture of what Christianity is about.
I will now start in the point-by-point discussion of your critique of my article that was printed in the Skeptical Review. I am largely a ‘stream of consciousness’ sort of writer, so will respond as naturally and conversationally as I can.
That you felt compelled to write a point-by-point critique of this article in the first place gives the simple message of my deconversion a sense of much more importance than it deserves.
I must clarify that this article was originally written at the urging of Farrell Till, and I tried to honor his request to keep it in the vein of my own personal experience rather than present it as a theological treatise. I feel that your critique of my article missed this fact and that in many places you tried to hold me to account for things that were not said nor intended.
If you didn’t intend to make many many generalizations about Christians and go far beyond merely your own experience, then I must say that your view of the nature and function of language must be explained to me, because I don’t get it.
Far too many religionists of every faith keep one foot in the playground of their childhood religious views and all too often default to the tautology of childish reasoning instead of ever gaining that maturity or sophistication of which you speak. This statement should be understood as a generalization and as a personal opinion based on a significant number of theists I know, and have known, and is not an attack upon them, nor upon the general population of Christians.
I agree that it is a big problem for a significant number of Christians, who have not been taught to integrate their rational thinking with theology and spirituality, and to synthesize faith with culture (both goals being a major purpose and function of my own apologetic endeavors). What I objected to was your overly generalized language, and the predictable attempt to proceed onto a “psycho-babble” analysis of religious faith.
Note that this went far beyond your own personal experience in a sort of fundamentalism that I have never been a part of — nor have many millions of other Christians –, to what can only be seen by Christians as insulting, just as it historically has been, when attempted by people such as Feuerbach, Marx, and Freud. If I had my way, we would all get beyond that and discuss the objective issues that divide us, not subjective states of mind, emotions, wishes, motives, judgmentalism, projection, supposedly widespread, epidemic infantile or anti-intellectual mentalities, etc.
I think that Christianity can, indeed, be a childish, unsophisticated diversion from reality. At least Christianity as practiced by some of those within the circle of my personal knowledge.
Well, of course it “can” be (and often is, sadly, due to ignorance, sin, cultural influence, and many other factors), in the sense of sectarian diversions and corrupt practices, but this is a different proposition from asserting that it is intrinsically so, as a belief-system. Christianity is a set of beliefs, after all. That’s why we have creeds and systematic theologies.
I posit in my original article, that this childish image of Christianity will always be a part of our being, and may be the hardest thing we have to shake off when we grow to question and doubt this religion.
Yes, it may have been for you, because you were raised in a certain fundamentalist environment that didn’t foster a rational approach to theology and culture and matters of the mind.
You say that being a misinformed or underinformed Christian does not disprove Christianity, and I concur with those words. Christianity was quite capable of disproving itself to me with little help from misinformed Christians.
That may be (that is, you may think that it does), but you have given me exactly no reason to accept such a perspective, by this “psychological” reasoning you have adopted. If you have reasons for believing that Christianity is disproven, then by all means produce them. But this kind of analysis is wholly insufficient for that task. All you have proven was that you yourself adopted an infantile understanding of God and theology in your own past. Again, I say (I hate being so repetitious) “so what”? What bearing does this have on anyone else?
A thing can be wrong and be believed by a vast majority, or can be right and only be grasped by a small number of people. Truth is not democratic nor is error the sole dominion of subgroups or minority opinion.
Absolutely. As we have no disagreement there; we have no need to discuss that point. I am objecting to your particular arguments against Christianity as invalid or irrelevant or equally applicable to atheists, or all of the above.
While you’re trying to read it as a thesis, it is but the honest, personal ramblings of a simple man who has lived life on both sides of the border between religion and reality.
Note how religion is set in opposition to “reality.” How would you feel if I said that “I was an atheist, and then I discovered reality and became a Christian,” as if atheism were merely fantasy with no rational basis whatsoever? I assume that you know that one of the most basic definitions of mental illness is a denial of reality. So are you proposing that all Christians are mentally ill, having lived in an “unreal” world?
I was not trying to elucidate the reasons why religion in general, and Christianity in particular, are unworthy of belief by rational human beings.
That doesn’t follow from your excessive language.
I will leave that up to each who makes the journey of discovery for himself.
If you were really doing that, then you would leave out all the sweeping condemnations, and implications that many or most Christians are ignoramuses and simpletons, wouldn’t you?
As to my gross intellectual deficiencies and ignorance in religious matters, I had hoped that I had put those aside when I stopped believing in old men in the sky
Technically, God has no age, as He had no beginning and will have no end. He is outside of time, in orthodox Christian understanding. Therefore, it is illogical to refer to Him as “old” since that is a strictly temporal understanding of a being who progresses from youth to old age. This isn’t the case with God at all. Without time, there is no relative progression of a living being. God doesn’t change. He simply is. Maybe you thought God the Father had a long beard and sat in a rocking chair, too, or that He looked like Michelangelo’s representations of Him?
and angels and saviors and all other fairy tales.
That’s a nice touch. All Christian belief is “fairy tales.” More infantilism . . .
I am not saying in inference that those who still believe in such things are intellectually deficient or ignorant,
Oh, of course not. Who would ever get that impression?
only that I would personally have to be disingenuous and intellectually dishonest to go on professing belief in something which my own personal path of rationalism has convinced me is untrue.
Of course, but that doesn’t give you a license to mock the beliefs of others as infantile, mere wish projections, “fairy tales,” “old men in the sky,” and so forth. If you really think Christians are so gullible, infantile, and irrational, then it stands to reason that you have a desire to persuade them to reject that position. Yet you claim that you’re not trying to do that. I confess that I am out to sea trying to understand how this all fits together in your mind.
When one has a truly personal belief, arrived at through his own unique yearning, searching, studying, and has endured tears and laughter, doubt and certainty, acceptance and rejection in the journey of acquisition, he doesn’t need, nor want, converts to his way of thinking.
But you seem to have a great need to go on and on about how rational your belief is, and how silly and irrational Christian belief is. You go after psychological tendencies (real or imagined) rather than discuss the actual philosophical issues at stake.
My main argument is that we are each responsible for our own beliefs. I will not allow my beliefs to be a carbon copy of someone else’s, and for that reason I reject all affiliations with atheist or humanist groups or individuals. Their journey is their own and mine is mine.
Yet you argue precisely as many many atheists have through the centuries. You may claim that you are relatively or exceptionally unique in your thought-processes, but virtually no one is. There’s nothing new under the sun. You and I are both recycling ideas that have been held by many before our time, and will be held by many after we die. We’re no more unique than one grain of sand on an ocean shore.
I can see from your confusion that you do not recognize the literary license which I used in many places in the article, writing in second and third person while thinking in the first person. Again, you are trying to read it as a condemnation of others while it was an explanation of what I had seen, felt, believed, and from the shadows of which I had escaped. The other error which seems to have you confused since you mention it so frequently, is that the article was written for a specific audience, and not intended for a broad audience, much less a Christian one. That is why it was in the Skeptical Review, which you yourself observe, “The non-Christian audience (which makes up probably at least 80% of the readership of Skeptical Review, if not far more) will eat this stuff up, and love it.” Like almost any writer, I wrote to the audience, not to convince, not to unduly ruminate, but to share with those who could relate, just as others had shared their stories with me.
You asked, “So why write it? For what purpose does another human being read this article of yours?”
I really have no idea why anyone would read it. I really don’t care why they would or wouldn’t. I wrote it because I had been asked to write it and I suppose was somewhat flattered by that fact. I wrote it because I felt like doing it. I wrote it because I like to write. There are probably a lot of reasons, but converting anyone to my viewpoint was not among them.
If I had written this article about how I decided not to be a fan of the Chicago Cubs any longer, it wouldn’t have been with an idea to convert other Cub fans away from this brand of quasi religion. I might have pointed out the futility of having been a Cubs fan and of coming to the conclusion that I could no longer support their ineptitude nor those who reveled in the fandom of that futility. I am sure that those who read it and were never Cub fans would have agreed with the end premise but could not have related to the journey that led to that decision. I am likewise sure that those who had fallen away as Cub loyalists after their own personal journeys of discovery would have seen common ground between my article and their experiences, and undoubtedly would have noted many differences as well. Those who would have screamed the loudest would have been those who still worshipped at the altar of Wrigley Field. How dare I attack their intellect, their maturity, etc.
Hoping that I have not overdone or oversimplified the sports analogy, this is largely parallel to the article which I did write, and with the strength of your own personal convictions, you attack what I have written just as a good Cubs fan would have attacked the hypothetical article. It’s part of our human nature to pick those things in our lives about which we feel passionately and then to defend those passions against any attack or perception of an attack, no matter how slight the actuality of that attack might be.
In my original article, I next laid out a little more sophisticated view of god. As one matures in age, he should likewise mature in intellect and understanding. Within that paragraph I am merely delineating the fact that this god often takes on the role of a grandfather-like presence in the lives of those who are raised in the faith. This was certainly true in my case and the cases of many others with whom I grew up.
I don’t deny that. I maintain that this is not necessarily a bad thing, and to the extent that it is in some cases, the same sort of deficiency is equally applicable to atheists. I don’t see much use for this “pop psychoanalysis.” You obviously do, so you keep using it.
I wrote, “We also become aware of God’s propensity for wrath, and we are told not to tempt him or displease him.” Here again I am laying out an incremental growth of belief and understanding that was part of my own early nurturing and rearing. Your response is somewhat convoluted and tautological in its presentation. It is also so full of holes that I don’t know where to begin.
I know the feeling, believe me . . .
In an attempt to keep it brief, I will say your analogy of your god and a father whose son wreaks havoc with his property is an interesting one. I suppose it depends on one’s point of view as to whether chaos was visited upon the property by the wayward son, personally, or by a set of circumstances beyond his control, such as “acts of nature” or “acts of god”. It would also be interesting to know if you believe that one who acts as an agent for your god, such as a pope or minister, or powerful world leader who professes belief in your god, always, sometimes, seldom, or never, acts in good faith with this god’s property.
People fall short and play the hypocrite all the time. It’s called sin, and original sin. It’s called the flesh, the world, and the devil. It’s called the fall. Does this surprise you? It’s been said that original sin is the most manifestly demonstrable and proven of all Christian doctrines. :-)
If you wish to think that my philosophy is the result of prejudice or faulty thinking, that is your prerogative. When, however, you announce that premise to the world, I take exception with your doing so under the guise of an intellectual dissertation. I, and I alone, know how deep, how broad, how lengthy, and how exhaustive my search for truth has been.
When you start speaking about my beliefs and my worldview (beyond just yours), then you have the ethical and intellectual responsibility to do so accurately. Your journey is your own. I haven’t judged your character or motivations, only your ideas. I can only criticize your stated viewpoint insofar as it is based on demonstrable falsehoods, such as (especially) how you have mischaracterized Christian beliefs in various ways. There are factual matters which can be debated, after all.
As for “faulty thinking,” I’ve shown over and over how your thought is incoherent and illogical (i.e., at those points where I criticize it). Readers can draw their own conclusions. If something is persistently incoherent and illogical, it ought to be rejected, as far as I am concerned. At the very least, some warning flags ought to come out. It’s your side which is making flat-out stupid, entirely prejudicial statements like:
If we could just get more Christians to study this book that they claim to believe in so much, the inevitable result would be fewer Christians. The Christian religion thrives on ignorance of the very book that is its foundation. (the editor’s remark at the end of your article; emphasis added)
You either agree with this or not. If you do, I say you are being quite patronizing and condescending insofar as concerns Christianity. If not, then you can say so here, and render an objection to your editor, for having such a remark associated with your piece, as if you agree with it. You, too, have made similar remarks not much less prejudiced.
And that search brought me answers completely at odds with my subjective wishes at the start of this journey. I began my study to find the truth, and I thought the truth existed in the religion with which I was raised. I fought against the contrary evidences and put off the conclusions as long as I could. I finally had to give in to intellectual honesty and admit that god does not, never did, and probably never will, exist.
So you say. Others disagree. Nothing you have written leads me to accept this on a purely rational basis. In my opinion, you’ve provided no reason whatsoever for someone to believe that God doesn’t exist. Granted, you have other reasons you haven’t written about, but in what you have written, I don’t find the slightest reason to overturn my belief in God. I don’t deny that you sought truth, according to your own motivation and internal perception. I don’t get into that. I assume people are operating in sincerity and good faith unless and until massive evidence to the contrary forces me to think otherwise. So that’s not at issue.
That all which I held dear in those regards from my earliest youth was a fairy tale just like those written by the Brothers Grimm, or the Norse folklorists, or the African shamans.
Again, I’ve seen nothing in what you have provided us that would compel one to adopt such a conclusion.
You can think that it is the result of unclear thinking, but you did not pour over the thousands of books, articles, manuscripts, etc. that I read until my head hurt and my eyes burned from lack of sleep and reading in light unfit for the task.
You can read all the atheist and liberal Christian books in the world, but unless you can rationally defend that which you believe, it means little or nothing to anyone else.
Smugly think what you will, but I rest easy in the knowledge that you are wrong in your assumptions, and am even more comforted by the fact that I don’t really care what you or anyone else thinks, or why.
For not “caring,” you are sure putting a lot of effort into this; far more than I wish to myself, and I am a Christian and Catholic apologist, who certainly wants to persuade others of my viewpoint.
I next mentioned the concept of the trinity as it is understood by a young person, and unfortunately, all too many adults who likewise cannot grasp the concept. You go off trying to make it all seem so simple and my mention of it so trite and so non-understanding.
I didn’t say the concept was simple (of course it isn’t, neither is nuclear physics, calculus, or any number of true things), but that your breezy dismissal of it (showing very little comprehension of the doctrine) was.
Then I wrote in my original article, “Belief becomes a habit driven by fear of the unknown or the fear of rejection if we doubt or question, so our questions are internalized, and we begin to feel guilt.”
To which you reply with more long distance psychoanalysis, “More pop-psychological pablum; unworthy of serious attention, as it is again merely assumed as some grand explanation for religious belief.”
Not assumed, but lived.
Sure, you lived this, but it doesn’t follow that all other Christians did, or that, furthermore, this is one reason of many to reject Christianity, or “religion,” as your article describes it. Your past or present problems in emotion or belief are strictly your own. They have no bearing on the truth of falsity of anything, let alone Christianity, except as matters of fact about your own experience and past belief-system.
A lot of people, most people in fact, think a thing from time to time that if committed would be a crime, or immoral, or hurtful, but if they don’t do the thing and the thought passes on, no harm is done. Some Christians would have us believe that this thought is equivalent with the actual act. It isn’t and no amount of nattering on your part will change that fact.
I see. Why, then, does the legal system require a greater penalty for a premeditated crime, than for one that wasn’t planned beforehand? Why is manslaughter punished even less? For what reason? Have such laws also “held the social order back for centuries”? Obviously, an evil act committed is a greater sin that thinking about such an act only and not acting upon the thought or desire; yet the essence of the evil act is in the will to commit it, which precedes the act. That was Jesus’ reasoning when He stated that to lust after a woman in your heart was to already commit adultery. And this is precisely because human beings are far more than mere animals. We think about things and have a will. We’re not just robots who have no choice but to do what we do.
As to this whole subject, again, it is from my personal experience and my recall of how things came to fall into place for me as a young man searching for answers to my questions about faith and belief. If I have not adequately thought them through, it may be because I didn’t have to do so. I did not write a thesis which made assumptions and offered proofs. I did not write a scholarly study of these topics too quickly discussed and passed over, nor was that the intent.
Okay; so you admit that your article does not offer solid reasons to be an atheist, or “proofs.” That’s a major concession; thanks. I could hardly ask for more, for my purposes! You didn’t “have to” think things “through” in any “adequate” sense. Glad you said it, not me . . . Suddenly now, at least your own path to atheism doesn’t strike one as all that reasoned or rational. Not that this surprises me . . . but for the many folks brainwashed by our school system and higher academia into thinking that secularists and atheists are always so sharp and smart and reasonable and that Christians are not (and indeed, supposedly opposed to reason, by nature), perhaps this comes as a great awakening (no pun intended).
My statement, “Theists base their belief on faith, belief based on emotion and culturalization,” is, again, based on my own life experiences and observations.
Exactly. Then please refrain from repeatedly projecting your own unique experience onto Christians en masse.
What I had lived, and what I’d seen, and what I’d known others to live through.
See, now there you go. You want to have your cake and eat it, too. On the one hand, you keep appealing to this as your own experience, and so you object (several times now) when I interpret your arguments as applying to others. Yet you can’t even object to my supposed irrational, mistaken interpretation without stumbling into the fact that you also had others in mind. And so it turns out that I wasn’t that far off, after all. You are generalizing and trying to speak to more Christians than just yourself.
But why should I care about one circle of Christian friends, anyway? If they were mostly Church if Christ (Christians usually hang around those in the same denomination), they will all tend to approach this matter in the same general way (itself not a conventional Christian one, as Church of Christ is highly sectarian and exclusivistic, and far out of the mainstream of Christianity, and grossly heretical in some areas, such as in its denial of original sin). So the experience of 10 or 100 or 1000 of your fundamentalist friends still does not prove a general reality about Christians (though I readily agree that many Christians are quite scandalously ignorant and unsophisticated in their faith; I simply deny that the nature of Christianity is such that such things are intrinsic to it — as argued earlier).
Though I do agree with your statement that everyone believes in some things they don’t understand, my agreement is so full of caveats and exceptions that I won’t go into them unless you want further elucidation on these matters. Suffice it to say, as an example, I don’t know how or when the universe came into being, but I do believe that it did so without any outside intervention from some pre-existent cosmic magician.
Oh, I see. So you have made atoms your god(s). They can do everything that the Christian believes God can do. But somehow that is more “rational” and “believable” than theism. I wrote an entire paper about this, partially tongue-in-cheek, called The Atheist’s Boundless Faith in Deo-Atomism (“The Atom-as-God”). Instead of believing in one God, you (much like primitives in many cultures and their idols) believe in trillions of them: each capable of the extraordinary things that the Christian God can do.
But see, instead of inventing a story to explain it, or grabbing hold of some millennia old folklore to explain it,
Or (to return your polemical favor) some Johnny-come-lately atheist mythology and fanciful thinking . . .
I’m perfectly o.k. saying, “I don’t know, and I really don’t care.”
Back to that, again. If you cared so little, then you wouldn’t “care” enough to make garden-variety swipes at Christianity (“cosmic magician,” “folklore,” etc.), as if we have no rational basis other than adoption of ancient old wives’ tales and children’s fairy tales for what we believe. This gets old. It’s more of the smug, “smarter-than-thou” atheist mentality that is so prevalent. You don’t “care” about this and that, so you say, yet you insist on making fun of Christians and our supposed sublime ignorance at every opportunity.
Actually much of my rejection of religion in general, and Christianity as my particular brand of religion, came from the bible itself and required little or no outside proponents at all. That the bible is the basis for our knowledge of what Christianity is makes it central to the argumentations as to its content. More about this if you want to pursue this as a separate and seminally important issue.
I then quote the Maxim of Freethought and write of how it helped free me to look more objectively for the truths I sought: “He who cannot reason is defenseless; he who fears to reason has a cowardly mind; he who will not reason is willing to be deceived and will deceive all who listen to him.” This struck home to me personally, even though I am sure it does not move you in any appreciable manner.
It doesn’t? You’re “sure” it doesn’t? That’s strange you would think that, since I agree entirely, wholeheartedly with this sentiment. You are the one who has discovered it and changed your mind. I’ve always believed similarly, as long as I thought about anything at all. The thinking Christian has no objection to reason. It’s what is considered reasonable and what isn’t, and why, that the disagreement with atheists (and other non-Christians) comes in. In other words, the argument isn’t over the validity and goodness of reasoning itself, but over the truth and falsity of particular premises.
I find any religion to be basically lacking in reason.
Like I said: atheists always have to judge basically all Christians and their religions as unreasoning, irrational ignoramuses. I’ve always marveled at this, because of how uncharitable and condescending it is. But apparently it is part and parcel of atheist self-understanding. Atheists seem to have a great need to put down the reasoning capabilities of those who differ from them. I submit that this might perhaps suggest a bit of intellectual insecurity and lack of confidence in one’s own position.
so would concur in your assessment that the denomination in which I found myself lacked reason, but then I go a few steps further and say that, in my opinion, your denomination also lacks reason, as do all others.
Of course . . .
You say that I fall back to non-rational emotionalism which I have previously criticized. You say that while I tout reason, I am being nonrational in my explanation. I agree with your assessment to a degree after rereading what I wrote at that time. When I wrote this article I wasn’t all that far removed from having still been a theist. Old habits are hard to break and I fell back somewhat on one of theism’s major defenses of itself, emotionalism. I apologize for backsliding by using this form of argumentation.
Thank you. No offense, but frankly, I don’t see how you have progressed all that much in the interim . . .
I mentioned the eccentricities of the Amish, the snake handlers, and those who refuse medical treatment as conditions of faith within their particular sects. And what I said about these sects, or cults if you will, is that they are based in literal interpretations of what their adherents believe to be an inerrant bible. That statement is true.
I think there is a great deal of truth in it. I only object (as always) to a broad judgment of the Bible or of Christianity-at-large, because of sectarian excesses of relatively small groups. It’s simply fallacious reasoning. And there are much larger issues of exegesis, hermeneutics, etc. that need to be dealt with. Snake handlers and those who refuse medical treatment comprise only a tiny, tiny amount of the whole of Christians (and Jehovah’s Witnesses, who refuse blood transfusions, are not even correctly classed as Christians, as they deny the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and other orthodox Christian doctrines). No generalization based on such dinky groups carries much weight or force at all. Nor can the Bible itself be blamed for stupid interpretations of it.
I have personal history with people with these and other beliefs, all of which come under the banner of Christianity, and their eccentricities and sometimes foolish behavior and beliefs made clear to me that religion can twist those who are vulnerable by extolling the empowerment that one can gain by believing in some particular versions of biblical literalism.
Sure, some false tenets in the religious arena can twist some people gullible and foolish enough to believe them; of course. I’ve made it my life’s work to oppose these kinds of false ideas. I wrote an article against the silly notions of “God always heals” in 1982; it’s on my website. I’ve attacked biblical literalism in interpretation, and defended the traditional fourfold method of biblical exegesis (hyper-literalism is largely a Protestant fundamentalist error). I haven’t written about snake-handling, but certainly utterly condemn that as an excess and sad misapplication of one biblical passage. None of this, though, has the remotest relevance to the larger questions of whether the Bible and Christianity are true.
I could not write an attack on Roman Catholicism, nor Anglicanism, for I did not live inside their cloister and had little knowledge about their methods of mind control over their supplicants.
“Mind control”? Interesting choice of words . . . So do you maintain that all Christians are victims of brainwashing?
I also have always thought it to be a bad practice to attack those who believe differently than I do, for that only confounds the real arguments without really accomplishing any positive result.
Funny that you have repeatedly done so throughout this “dialogue,” then (particularly the rational capacities of Christians). For heaven’s sake, in your sentence immediately previous to this last one, you have made yet another of your ridiculous, condescending claims which attacks Christians en masse as mind-controlled (i.e., literally brainwashed) dupes.
You at least thought for yourself and that’s the center of what I believe about religion. Each of us must do our own search and come to our own conclusions. I have and you have, and we differ in our conclusions.
This is good, but I think a lot of your rhetoric is inconsistent with this high ideal.
I then wrote in the original article. “To be human means we are doomed to explaining our world, not simply and directly, but only indirectly, through these interpretations. We dwell in our interpretations. In explicating a phenomenon, we always put it in terms limited by our ability to understand, always based in our own prejudices and preconceptions. This means that we will understand things partially and inadequately, through language rather than a godlike omniscience.”
Your response was: “I agree. This is true for atheists and theists alike. Theists; however, claim to be in possession of revelation: which is God explaining the world and spiritual truth to us. It is an additional source of knowledge. If it exists, it is supremely important; if it does not, then it is a big joke and a farce.”
I am glad that you agree, for this paragraph, to me, is the most important one that people understand, and upon which there is some shared agreement. I believe, as you say, that it is true for theists and atheists alike. We are not all that much different after all. As you point out, the theist has the added baggage of revelation that rounds out their world view beyond that of human reasoning. You say that it is an additional source of knowledge, but I would say that, in my viewpoint, it is a delusion of knowledge.
But as the reasons I have seen atheists produce for that negation are at worst (and I say, usually) ludicrous, and at best questionable (certainly not compelling), your claim does not carry much force with me.
I agree that this disconnect between faith and reason need not be true, but in my case, and the case of many others, the putting away of reason is the only way in which this type of faith can exist.
Then you need to make that clear in the article itself. You did not, so the reader is left with a general sense. The problem started in the very title of the piece [“Religion and How I Lost It”]. And of course atheists will be predisposed to generalize the comments to all religion (which might explain — I suspect — why the article has the title it has in the first place).
Anecdotally, I would add, I have received several dozen communiqués from others who have put away their faith, or were struggling with the conflict between faith and reason, who wanted to share with me their fellowship on this point.
Of course. We all want to be with kindred spirits, with similar experiences. Hence, Catholic converts and other apologists often contact me.
I next go out on a limb of sorts, and do abandon my primary caveat in writing this article, though I stand by it nonetheless. I wrote: “No reasonable person can believe that the guesses of preliterate man, upon which the myths of gods and the supernatural are based, were true. The beliefs of these primitives, however, were more reasonable in terms of their limited and insignificant knowledge, than the beliefs of today’s religionists who have masses of information available to them.”
You replied: “Biblical revelation (in the Old Testament) is not “preliterate.” Moses could write. The question is whether God revealed Himself or not, to the Jews, the chosen people. If He did, when it happened is irrelevant. The knowledge revealed would have relevance for all time.”
First of all, whether Moses could write or not, or whether Moses even existed or not, is a moot point within the context of what I said above. Writing is not the only sign of literacy, there is also comprehension and understanding of what is said or written. My point here was not about Moses nor the writing of scripture, per se. It was about how religion came to be in the first place, even before the time of Moses.
The definition of “literate” in my dictionary is: “able to read and write.” So we again clash on the simple meaning of words. My interpretation — beyond coinciding with the dictionary — was not out of place, seeing that not long ago, many liberal “Bible scholars” contended that in the time of Moses, the Israelites were illiterate (in the dictionary sense). Subsequent archaeological discoveries blew that out of the water (not that we Christians — or observant Jews, for that matter — were at all surprised). It remains arguably prejudiced and condescending to describe the Bible-era ancient Israelites as “preliterate” or “primitive.” But this is standard atheist fare. Any condescension is permissible as long as it is directed towards Christians or the ancient cultures which form the backdrop to Christianity and the Bible. Quite “tolerant” and open-minded, isn’t it?
Secondly, the statement that a god revealed himself to a people four or five thousand years ago must be taken by faith
Not entirely. There exists legal-type eyewitness evidence of various miracles. There is an enduring culture to be accounted for (whereas most other ancient cultures are either extinct or vastly different from what they used to be). We have prophecies in the Bible that this culture produced, which can be verified as accurate or false. Even messianic prophecies provide great evidence that some super-intelligent being was behind the Bible, as there were so many true predictions about Jesus alone, written hundreds of years prior to His birth. The first two evidences are not particularly compelling to a skeptical sort; I agree, but the last is worthy of a serious consideration that it is rarely given.
and has no relevance at all as to the knowledge endemic in, or the knowledge bestowed as a result of, such a revelation. Within a world of reason there is not room to supplant that reason with revelation unless the revelation is real and can be demonstrated in much the same way that reason can be called to testify on its own behalf.
Fulfilled prophecies and extraordinary factual verification from archaeology and historiography testify to the inspired nature of the Bible. Obviously, you reject all that, but it remains untrue that the Christian can stand only on simply blind faith, in order to accept the Bible as inspired revelation.
If preliterate man, before Moses, invented gods out of their miscomprehension, simplistic view of the world and its natural order, or other externalized stimuli, we cannot today call that a revelation from those gods.
But you presuppose that Abraham (who was no more “preliterate” than Moses was) “invented” monotheism, which, of course, is the very matter in dispute. You can’t simply assume something is false without argument and act as if that is a rational argument.
We can contend that it could have been, or that such might have happened, but we cannot rationally make that claim in such a way as to make believers out of those who doubt. That is more or less what I was trying to say in that paragraph.
You usually can’t convince an atheist with reason, because that is often not the basis upon which his atheism is based (when it is closely examined). Your own case is illustrative. You yourself admit that your basis was largely emotional and a reaction against fundamentalism. You claim to have reasoned through things, too, and I don’t deny that, but we know from your own report that emotion (which is non-rational, technically-speaking) also played a key role, since you converted before having gotten such emotionalism out of your system, as you say.
Our world and how we know it is a complex thing with many sides to some issues of defining truth. There is absolute truth, such as ‘the sun rises in the eastern sky in the morning’, with the caveat that at some points on earth, at or near the poles, there are exceptions to this truth. There is perceived truth which can be fraught with errors of human emotion, observed evidences, etc. It is within this area of’truth’ that the vast majority of what we call ‘truth’ actually exists. And there may even be revealed truth, though I think it is but a subset of perceived truth. Revealed truth has no burden of proof upon one claiming to have received it, and no way in which that proof would be universally accepted anyway.
To the contrary, it is both falsifiable and verifiable, in ways that I (and others) have detailed: prophecy and factual verification as to accuracy in reporting various details. Accuracy doesn’t prove inspiration, of course (not at all); yet if something is inspired, it will be accurate, so this removes one objection to the possibility that the Bible is indeed inspired. It’s a “minimum requirement,” in other words. If biblical prophecies were shown to be habitually false, and none could hold any water, then I would agree that this would cast serious doubt on the divine inspiration of the Bible (or else on the manuscript that we have, as corresponding to the actual historic Bible).
The perception of truth, even when it is in error, can be explained logically and will lead few thinking people astray. Revealed truth, on the other hand, in the minds of many who believe in it, supersedes any and all other forms of truth if that revelation falls within the parameters of being an article of faith. That can be delusional, and can lead others astray who are pliable enough, or well enough conditioned, to believe by faith rather than reason.
That may be your experience. It has not been mine, among those Christians who think to any significant degree at all about their faith. You’ll always have non-thinking Christians, just as with any other massive group. So what? I continue to urge you to go back to the thing itself rather than the worst examples of it. All the major groups in historic Christianity would vehemently deny that there is an inherent dichotomy between faith and reason. They all believe that the two exist harmoniously, as ordained by God, and are not in conflict. You can always find fideists and so forth, but they are not the mainstream, and that’s my point.
So I again reiterate for our readers that what you are talking about does not — repeat, NOT — represent mainstream historic, orthodox Christianity. To the extent that you make out that this is so at all, you are deceiving your readers, and being most unfair to the viewpoint that you seek to critique. You had several chances to clarify this in your article, but never did, to my knowledge. You continue even now to make unqualified, extremely sweeping statements about the intellectual and rational deficiencies of Christians en masse. This is not right, from any fair-minded ethical perspective, because it misrepresents.
My next statement is a simple one. “It is apparent that such faith is based upon emotion, rather than reason.”
Your answer is nearly as simple. “This is not apparent at all. It is only apparent that some folks pit reason and faith against each other, as if they were fundamentally hostile.”
Well, to me it is apparent, and to many others with whom I have corresponded or spoken with on this point, it is apparent.
Whether it is “apparent” to you or not is irrelevant. There are facts here to be ascertained. The fact remains that you moved in fundamentalist, quasi-cultic circles as a Christian, and now you are in atheist circles. As far as I know (you can correct me if I’m wrong), you have not spent significant time with (committed, informed, educated, orthodox) Catholics or Orthodox, or even Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans, Reformed, or other forms of mainstream Christianity.
Thus, your former circle of acquaintances does not represent a firsthand knowledge of that which you purport to critique. In fact, you were a preacher in a sect which habitually blasts all those other groups, so you were hardly in a place to consider them fair-mindedly or dispassionately at all. Thus it appears to me that you have pretty much simply projected Church of Christ errors upon all Christians. I’ve been a Protestant and am now a Catholic. I moved in the circles of many of the Protestant traditions when I was there (Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Reformed, non-denominational “Jesus Freak,” messianic Jews, etc.).
I have many friends, from virtually all the major categories of Christianity. So I (as a published, professional Christian and Catholic apologist) know what I am talking about. I (despite my Bible-reading) know my subject, and I am claiming that you don’t know what you are talking about, because you insist on bringing up, over and over, your own former small, fringe group and extrapolating that onto other Christians. You say you don’t do this, and don’t intend to, but by your language you do nonetheless, as I have shown again and again.
At best, all you can say is that “many [or, too many] Christians dichotomize faith and reason.” As I would readily agree with that, it is not at issue between us. It’s a big reason why I am an apologist: I try to show Christians how to synthesize what ought to be synthesized, and what all major Christian groups believe ought to be in harmony, not at war. It’s only when you use that as a launching point to a wider critique of Christianity and the larger category of theism or non-materialism that I must vehemently object.
On the other hand, I do think that faith and reason, if not actually anathematic of one another, are certainly polar opposites to many who have escaped the bonds of religious faith.
For them, they are, because they obviously never learned to properly practice their Christianity, nor (most relevantly to our discussion) “how to think Christianly.” That’s why they’re no longer Christian! If they had thought it was reasonable, they would have presumably stayed. I contend that they had a woefully insufficient understanding of their faith and the issue of reason, faith, and revelation in the first place. They (and you) left for the wrong reasons, in other words.
I think we are lot more alike than either of us may understand.
Good. But I don’t think atheists as a whole are nearly as stupid and gullible as you seem to think most Christians are. That’s a major difference. I think they have flawed thinking, based on false premises. That’s far different from the charge of stupidity, irrationality, infantilism, “fairy tales” and all the rest of the usual contra-Christian charges. I think atheists have not properly thought through the issues; therefore have arrived at wrong conclusions. And various other factors extraneous to pure reason enter in also, just as with all human beings.
Your agreement with my above statement shows a kindredness of spirit and intellect, at least to some degree. I certainly would not claim that reason has not led you to your viewpoints, nor would I want it said that reason did not lead me to mine. Even though we are diametrically opposed in our view of religion and theism, we have arrived at these opposites through our own journey of examination. We can only suppose that differences beyond intellect then have played a large part in our assimilation of what we have as divergent views of truth.
Or that one or both of us have accepted false premises along the way, and built a flimsy castle on a foundation of sand.
The atheists and agnostics with whom I converse and communicate are mostly of the sort who came to atheism or agnosticism through thorough examination of religion, theology, and philosophy, and nearly to a person they are well informed and knowledgeable in these and other fields of study.
They think they are so informed about Christianity, but they are not; I’ll guarantee that. I’ve yet to meet one who didn’t suffer from several basic miscomprehensions concerning Christianity. I realize that both sides will always tend to say that those who left never really understood what they left. It can only be demonstrated on a case-by-case basis.
It is not a negation of scruples or morals, only another vantage point from which to view morality. Morality did not spring from the mind of a god, but is a collection of societal constructions which work in a civilized framework. It is not only wrong to murder from a religious viewpoint, but is wrong from nearly all societal standards that apply under any social construction. The same is true of all other moral laws and guides of social propriety, and it is these upon which civil law is based and upon which personal morality should be judged.
I agree, by and large, and I understand the perspective. I’ve known many atheists whom I consider fine, upstanding, moral people of integrity (including one who used to attend monthly discussions in my home). That doesn’t negate the observation that atheists are rather more free than Christians to do and believe as they wish. After all, what ultimately constrains them? You may have many internal “checks” and guidelines of various sorts, but they are nothing like the belief in a God Who oversees and judges and is all-powerful (and all-Good).
But that’s a huge discussion (one I have had with atheists before). There are the actual ethical beliefs of atheists and also what I would argue are the logical consequences of atheism as pertains to ethics. Sometimes I am referring to the latter, and I get accused of charging atheists in practice with what I think is a logical conclusion or reductio ad absurdum of their views.
Next I wrote: “Few Christians can delineate the reasons and evidences for their faith. Almost any attempt to elucidate qualitative responses on the subject elicit catch phrases and incoherent babbling.”
You wrote in response: “I am an apologist, whose field is defending the Christian faith and giving reasons for why we believe what we do. I have had no problem offering sound answers to atheists. They are a challenge, but by no means an insurmountable one.”
Reading that paragraph of mine now makes me wince just a little. The spirit of what I said is correct, in my experience, but I think that equating the speaking of theists about their religion to babbling was a bit too strident, and certainly too generalized.
I agree with you that ‘biblical literalism’ is not the whole of biblical interpretation within Christianity as a whole. I do suggest, however, that it is central to the belief system of a large number of Christians.
It’s large, but it is still a small minority. It’s a minority of a minority: of Protestantism. There are about a billion Catholics and 300-400,000 Orthodox. Neither system accepts this kind of biblical interpretation. Protestantism contains maybe 500,000 people, if that much. Fundamentalism is a relatively small sub-group (probably no more than 15-20% of Protestants, if that much). You do the math. By any estimate, it’s a very small minority among all Christians. This is even more so if you approach it from an historical perspective.
And it is from that wellspring of theological reasoning
What reasoning? That was the problem . . . Church of Christ and fundamentalism in general not only glory in anti-intellectualism; they are also almost completely a-historical. They care little or nothing about Church history, which I would argue is directly contrary to the historic self-understanding of Christians and the biblical worldview, which is overwhelmingly of this mindset (and opposed to Bible Alone, or sola Scriptura). Christianity is in essence an historical religion. Yet these kinds of Protestants (not all Protestants, by any means) act as if history has nothing to do with it at all.
that I began my journey to finding truth in such matters. I do believe, however, that literalism of interpretation of the bible is endemic of nearly all denominations, cults, and sects.
Here I thought we were making progress, and then you say this. It’s not true, my friend. The Bible is to be interpreted as any other literature is: in some places it is poetic; in others, it utilizes legal-type language; in others it is a narrative; in others it is philosophical, or nearly so (Paul’s epistles; especially Romans and the two letters to the Corinthians, Ecclesiastes); then there is apocalyptic and prophetic literature. There is allegory, parable, metaphor, sarcasm, hyperbole, and other sorts of language and literary forms. When it is intended to be taken literally, of course it should be, just as any article in the daily paper should be, if it is a literal account.
And I’m not going after your term, hyper-literalism here, but just plain, “the bible says it, so it must be correct,” literal interpretation.
The inspiration and divinely revealed nature of the Bible is a different proposition from “literalism” — let alone the stupid, anti-intellectual, culture-rejecting fundamentalist variety.
Was the universe created in six days? The bible says so. If it is not so, then the bible is in error or it has been misread and misinterpreted by all of those who believe in a six day creation.
But then the question immediately becomes, what does the Hebrew “day” (yom) mean, or I should say, what can it mean; what range of meanings can it have? And of course, it is not restricted to a literal meaning of 24 hours. This is also true in English. We say, for example, “in this day and age,” or “in my day, things were different,” or “it’s a new day” (in a wider, metaphorical sense). The same was true in ancient Hebrew. So the hyper-literalist is ignorant right off the bat. St. Augustine in the 4th century understood what I wrote above. This is nothing new.
Of course this is a hypothetical question and serves only to illustrate one example of biblical literalism that is widely believed simply because it says so in Genesis. I could as easily have used examples such as the resurrection of Jesus or the theology of Paul.
This is entirely different ground. All orthodox Christians must believe in the Resurrection, because it is an article of faith, and why we are Christians in the first place (Jesus rising from the dead was the proof that He was Who He claimed to be: God). We must believe that God created the universe. But we aren’t at all required to believe that it was in six literal days.
Christians who believe in the resurrection do so as a result of literally interpreting the bible and making this point an article of faith upon which they base their beliefs in a messianic being who they choose to follow.
Yes, because that miraculous event was reported as a literal historical event, and it was and is verified through various evidences of history and legal-type evidences. If Jesus wasn’t God, and didn’t rise from the dead, Christianity would utterly collapse, as Paul himself said. In this case, the Bible was supposed to be interpreted literally, because it was historical narrative. In the case of the creation, that is not required by the language or type of literature. The divinecreation itself is literal, but the times involved have a leeway.
They do not get this story anywhere else, and if they did, would they believe it if the bible was silent on the issue?
Sure, just like we believe in, e.g., the theory of relativity or chemistry or algebra or classical logic or any number of things that the Bible does not address.
They are not rooted in cultural differences, but are simple contradictions within a book which is believed by faith, and part of that faith is to believe in the truth of that book and everything that it says. When it says two things, and one contradicts the other, then a reasonable mind will make note of that discrepancy. A reasonable mind does not throw out the whole book on the basis of one such contradiction. And a reasonable person will want to try to rectify the conflict, to find a common ground upon which both scenarios can be inclusive rather than exclusive.
But then a reasonable mind will begin to add up those contradictions which stand the test of further evaluation and which demonstrate an
inability to reconcile.
As many more recent philosophers have shown, the larger frameworks of belief-systems often predispose one to see a “contradiction” where there may not be one at all. No one (not even know-nothing fundamentalists) exists in an intellectual vacuum. The atheist or “biblical skeptic” approaches the Bible the way a butcher approaches a hog, or a lumberjack approaches a tree. That is hardly conducive to an objective, fair analysis. If one is to err in interpretation, it stands to reason that we can likely better trust one who respects and loves his subject matter, as opposed or compared to one whose motive is strictly a negative enterprise: to show how rotten and culturally and intellectually destructive something is.
So, for example, would anyone think that a racist would be able to do as accurate and worthwhile study of black culture and history, as one who loves that culture (whether black or white) would be able to do? Of course not. Yet we Christians are irrationally, arrogantly asked by atheists to accept the “fact” that they understand the Bible far better than we do: we, who have studied and revered it our entire lives, and devoted (in a case like my own, as an apologist) countless thousands of hours reading, studying, and defending it. It’s just not plausible. Use a little common sense . . . And this severe bias and negative approach produces some truly ludicrous opinions, as I have shown in my dialogues on the subject with atheists. That’s the bottom line.
At some point, if enough of these contradictions come to light, and if they are egregiously enough in error, individually or collectively, then a reasoned mind must begin to wonder what sort of foundation for the faith the bible really is.
At some point, if enough of these alleged atheist-produced “contradictions” are refuted and revealed to be the non-examples that they are, and if they are egregiously enough in error, individually or collectively, then a reasoned mind must begin to wonder what sort of foundation the atheist zeal for chasing after imaginary biblical “contradictions” really rests on, and what causes otherwise intelligent people to adopt such obviously deficient and desperate “reasoning.”
Thanks for your participation and willingness to share your viewpoint in an overall cordial, courteous manner. You have been a gentleman, and that is rare enough in Christian-atheist dialogue, and a great thing in and of itself. That has allowed us to present an exchange where both sides have been fully presented without rancor and acrimony, which is wonderful for our readers’ sake. So I appreciate your participation in that worthy enterprise. I sincerely hope I have been a civil gentleman also, and apologize beforehand for any offense I may have caused. It was not my intention at all.
There is a place for rational defense of religious faith, yes. It’s precisely your own inability to synthesize faith and reason that is, in my opinion, probably a primary factor in your abandonment of the Christian faith. The more reasoned a faith is, the less likely a person will reject it.
I’ve been on both sides of this issue, so I know how it felt to be a smug, self-righteous purveyor of religious intolerance.
I’ve never been a “purveyor of religious intolerance” that I’m aware of, let alone a “smug, self-righteous” one. But I have no reason to doubt your self-report. If you were that, then you were. It doesn’t mean all of us Christians were or are the same way you were. And now, ironically enough, it is you who talk about “sides,” whereas you disagreed with me when I did. And for you, the Christian side is, of course, explained in these patronizing way: “smug, self-righteous purveyor of religious intolerance.” Yet you continue to deny that you have a strong irrational prejudice against Christianity.