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Why aren’t you a Christian?
Posted: 19 October 2009 06:29 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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Today I was teaching a voice lesson at the Christian university where I work.  We were working on “My Lord, What a Morning!” - a well-known spiritual.  I was trying to get my student to be expressive, so I urged him to consider the words - the trumpet sounding, the “nations under ground” rising to be judged, the stars falling as the world is destroyed, the yearning to be at right hand of God, etc.  He asked me “Are you a Christian?”  Without delay I answered “No.”  Without even missing a beat he said “Why not?”

That really surprised me.  Not the question itself, but the attitude that being a Christian is the default, and to not be a Christian one must have a really good reason.  It’s almost as if he thinks that one is a Christian or one is a rebel against Christianity.  Or maybe I am over-thinking this…

He said that from the way I speak I could be a preacher - since clearly I understand the Christian dogma.  And so I guess maybe he is thinking that it would be one thing if I just had not spent much time thinking about Jesus or if I were Jewish or a Muslim or something.  But I understand it - so why I is it that I am not a Christian?  Have I deliberately turned away from Christianity?

I have worked with this young man for several years.  I have genuine affection for him and his talent.  It saddens me that he might think that after I die God will send me to damnation, where I will be incinerated and destroyed in the lake of fire.  Does he really think I deserve that? 

Anyway, if you were in my position, what would you have answered?  I did not want to get into a discussion with him about my personal beliefs, which could lead to my losing my job.  So I just told him that I am not a Christian for several reasons, but that I find Christianity fascinating and that I know my stuff (meaning, I know what Christians believe).  On the way home I kicked myself for not answering his question with “Why aren’t you a Muslim?”  How would you have answered his question?  Once he graduates, I will have this conversation with him.  So, I’d appreciate ideas on what to say to him.  Thanks.

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Posted: 19 October 2009 08:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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It may be that he will not press you further.  I have found on a couple of occasions that theists will eagerly engage you in conversation on this subject when one’s atheism is newly discovered by them.  And they’ll tell you they are eager to continue the conversation, but somehow they never do.  I think there are two primary reasons for this.  The first is that it’s a little uncomfortable for them.  It forces them to examine their own beliefs when you draw them deep into a discussion on these matters, and that may not be something they are eager to do when they reflect on it a little, especially if they are comfortable in their beliefs.  The second reason is that if you seem to know your stuff, that is to say, know a little bit about the Bible, as well as well as knowing the arguments theists most commonly advance to support their beliefs, I think a lot of theists my not be eager to open up a detailed discussion on the matter with you because they know you’ll get the better of them in the debate.  That also makes them uncomfortable, both because it bruises their ego, and again, makes them confront their beliefs in ways they are not used to doing.  So don’t be surprised if the subject simply doesn’t come up for discussion again.

But if it does, there is one point I would be at pains to make with him if I were in your shoes.  If he is really honest with himself, it’s going to be a hard one for him to answer, and support his current belief system with.

You say you have known this young man for a number of years.  I presume that he then knows you well also, and has a good overall impression of you.  Ask him what he thinks is going to happen to you when you die.  If he says he fears that you will end up in hell, then you have him in a trap of sorts, albeit one of his own making.  I had this same discussion just a while ago with a colleague who is religious, as well as another woman I only know slightly, but who shares my colleague’s faith, and I asked him that same question.  Both he and she expressed their regret that if I died in my state of unbelief that I was, sadly, doomed to hell.  I then pointed out that I must then, in their eyes, be a pretty despicable person.  They were taken aback by that retort (I guarantee the theist won’t see where you are going with this yet), and both protested that they didn’t think any such thing.  But you must, I replied, for how else can I deserve to go to hell, where I remind you, I will be writhing in agony, tortured in fire for all eternity? 

But no, said my male colleague, he doesn’t think that, because he doesn’t presume to judge me.  The woman beside him nodded her head in agreement.  No, I said, you can’t get off the hook that easy, and then changed tack slightly.  Do you believe God is perfect, I asked.  They both said yes.  Do you believe God is just?  Again, they both said yes.  Do you believe that God, being both perfect and just, is capable of perpetrating an injustice?  Of course not, they said.  Then, I replied, it must follow, that if God is just, and condemns me to hell, then I MUST deserve to go there.  If that were not so, God would not, could not send me there, because that would be unjust.  If God is both perfect and just, I deserve to go to hell, and if you believe that’s where I will go, and that God is not capable of sending me there unjustly, then that means I deserve it, and you have to think I deserve it because God can’t be wrong.

But, you know me.  You’ve known me for years.  Do you think I deserve to be tortured?  I didn’t give them time to answer, I asked if they thought I deserved to get locked up for the rest of my life in prison.  They said what for?  I said, oh, anything: murder, rape, armed robbery, take your pick.  Of course not, they said, I hadn’t done any of those things.  And yet, I reminded them, what they believed was in store for me after death was literally infinitely worse.  If I don’t deserve to spend life in prison, because I’ve never done anything in my life that would earn me such a punishment, how can I possibly deserve eternal torture?

They clearly didn’t like this, but fell back on the argument that I was violating God’s command, and he could punish me that harshly if he wanted, and that the sin would earn me hell was the sin of pride, for presuming to set my judgment above the creator’s.  I didn’t let them off the hook that easily.  I asked how that could possibly justify infinite punishment for a finite crime—and a victimless crime at that, after all, who is harmed by my not believing in God?  Is God harmed by my unbelief? (If you ask a Christian this, and he says yes, ask him how that is possible, if God is perfect—an ability to be hurt directly implies a weakness or vulnerability, which is not a quality compatible with perfection.)  How can that crime be worse than murder or rape or robbery?  Not just worse, infinitely worse.  Did this really make any sense to them?  A central principle of justice is that the punishment must fit the crime.  Can eternal torture possibly fit any crime?  Again, I said, you know me. Deep down, do YOU think I deserve that?  I told them not to answer, just think about it.

I won’t claim that I managed to convert anyone with this, but you could see that I had made both of them very, very uncomfortable.  I rubbed their noses in the fact that that their supposedly perfect and just creator has set up a scheme of salvation/damnation that is almost impossibly to reconcile with any decent person’s sense of morality and justice.  Most Christians just don’t think much about this issue (and no wonder!), and if you rub one’s nose in it, it isn’t pleasant for him.

This all supposes he is basically rational.  Many Christians are not, and will simply evade and dodge and rationalize their dogma and even engage in outright denial for all their worth, and they won’t seriously confront the issue, but if you can get one to do it, it may actually, literally give him some sleepless nights.  After all, it was doubts of just this exact sort that led me away from my faith.  The Christian scheme of salvation and damnation is just so fundamentally opposed to any standard of justice I just couldn’t believe it.  And once I started doubting, I didn’t stop believing in God altogether (that didn’t happen for many more years), but I did stop believing the Christians had an accurate concept of him.

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Posted: 20 October 2009 04:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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My usual response has been “You sure you wanna get into that?”

It usually gives pause if the person asking has spent more than a few minutes time with me.

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“We say, ‘Love your brother…’ We don’t say it really, but… Well we don’t literally say it. We don’t really, literally mean it. No, we don’t believe it either, but… But that message should be clear.”—David St. Hubbins

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Posted: 20 October 2009 03:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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Billy, thanks for your thoughtful post.  Beautifully done!  I agree with you 100%. 

But you are forgetting their favorite dodge.  According to Christian dogma, none is worthy of the Kingdom of God.  All fall short - simply because we inherit the stain of sin from Adam and Eve.  “In Adam all die.”  No one actually deserves to go to heaven; the only reason why anyone actually goes to heaven is because of God’s grace.  So your friends probably believe that they too deserve to go to hell for eternity - because they are wicked to the core.  But they are forgiven.  They have accepted God’s grace.  And so, they may enter the Kingdom.  You are no more wicked that they, they are equally undeserving of Paradise as you - but they have accepted the free gift of salvation; you have not.

So how do you deal with this argument?

Also, I neglected to mention that my student is a Seventh-Day Adventist.  SDAs do not believe hell to be a place of eternal torment; they believe that those who are not allowed to enter heaven will be thrown into the lake of fire and annihilated in an instant - they will cease to exist.

Thanks for the post.  How well you write!

Rami

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Posted: 20 October 2009 03:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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Rami - 20 October 2009 07:09 PM

Billy, thanks for your thoughtful post.  Beautifully done!  I agree with you 100%. 

But you are forgetting their favorite dodge.  According to Christian dogma, none is worthy of the Kingdom of God.  All fall short - simply because we inherit the stain of sin from Adam and Eve.  “In Adam all die.”  No one actually deserves to go to heaven; the only reason why anyone actually goes to heaven is because of God’s grace.  So your friends probably believe that they too deserve to go to hell for eternity - because they are wicked to the core.  But they are forgiven.  They have accepted God’s grace.  And so, they may enter the Kingdom.  You are no more wicked that they, they are equally undeserving of Paradise as you - but they have accepted the free gift of salvation; you have not.

So how do you deal with this argument?

You can make two points:

First, unbelief is still, regardless of their argument, a “victimless crime” that harms no one.  How can it be worthy of eternal punishment?  We wouldn’t even take a convicted multiple murderer like Charles Manson and torture him with red hot irons applied to his body every day for the rest of his life; we would consider this to be unbelievably cruel and horrifyingly out of proportion even to his offense.  Yet mainstream Christian doctrine holds that the damned will be punished far, far worse, for a crime that’s far, far less.  In what way could that possibly be just?  The punishment must fit the crime, and this clearly doesn’t, by any stretch of the imagination.

Second (and this directly addresses the concept of original sin), how can we have inherited sin from Adam?  Not only is the idea of being punished for a crime someone else committed barbaric, but how, if you believe the story in Genesis was it even just to punish Adam and Eve themselves for it?  Think about it.  Remember the story: Adam and Eve were placed in the garden, and were completely innocent.  God told them not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and they disobeyed and ate of the tree, after which, they gained knowledge of good and evil.  So that means that Adam and Eve disobeyed before they knew the difference between right and wrong!  How is it just for God to punish them for disobeying him when they did not know that disobeying him was wrong?  How is it just to punish someone when they can’t tell the difference between right and wrong?  We don’t.  If you commit a crime and a psychiatrist certifies that you could not tell that what you were doing was wrong at the time, you can’t be held responsible.  Well, God, if he’s as omniscient as he’s cracked up to be, should certainly be able to tell better than any psychiatrist if a person couldn’t tell the difference. Christians invariably assert that God is perfect and just, and he has a higher standard of morality than that of flawed, imperfect humans.  But why is it then that if a human judge did exactly the same things God does in the Bible, that those same Christians would immediately stand up, point, and accuse that judge of acting unjustly?  Why is something that would be immoral or unjust if we did it, considered something moral or just merely because God does it?  What would God have to do before a Christian would blanch and call it immoral?

Rami - 20 October 2009 07:09 PM

Also, I neglected to mention that my student is a Seventh-Day Adventist.  SDAs do not believe hell to be a place of eternal torment; they believe that those who are not allowed to enter heaven will be thrown into the lake of fire and annihilated in an instant - they will cease to exist.

Thanks for the post.  How well you write!

Rami

Well, this is a slight improvement on the mainstream idea of hell.  But it’s still a punishment far out of proportion to the crime, and as such, the argument still basically applies.

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I am the very model of a Christian Evangelical
I’ve no need for courtesy when fighting things heretical
I know the bible word for word; you’ll find me pedagogical
I have my faith so I’ve no need for ideas that are logical
Atheists and Pagans fall before my wit satirical
They’ll burn in hell just as they should; their cries will be so lyrical
I’m always right, you’re always wrong, my reasoning’s dogmatical
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Posted: 21 October 2009 07:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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Because I would rather think than hope, and I would rather be curious and skeptical than absolute.

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‘Every reflecting mind must acknowledge that there is no proof of the existence of a Deity’

‘If ignorance of nature gave birth to gods, knowledge of nature destroys them’

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Posted: 21 October 2009 11:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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eudemonia - 21 October 2009 11:19 AM

Because I would rather think than hope, and I would rather be curious and skeptical than absolute.

I know.

I just think there was something very arrogant in his question as to why I wasn’t a Christian.  And he is not an arrogant person, so I am not blaming it on his character; rather I think it is his beliefs that produced this kind of arrogance.  It was the same as saying “what’s the problem?  Why don’t you believe?”  Maybe he was just surprised that I actually new the Bible and the Christian doctrine, yet was not a Christian.  It would be one thing if I was simply ignorant of the Bible and Christianity and therefore simply lacked Christian faith.  But since I clearly have read the Bible and understand Christian beliefs - what’s the problem?  How could I not believe?  Why?  Is the *truth* of Christianity that much of a no-brainer for him?  Do Christians really think that their beliefs are as good as facts, that there is nothing debatable about them, that the only reason why one would not be a Christian would be downright rebellion against God? 

Or am I, as usual, overthinking this?

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Posted: 22 October 2009 12:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Rami - 19 October 2009 10:29 PM

  …why is it that I am not a Christian?

My favorite retort…

“I outgrew it. Personally, I don’t think any of us should have to settle for Christianity any more. I think we can do a lot better.”

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Posted: 22 October 2009 05:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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Rami - 22 October 2009 03:47 AM

I just think there was something very arrogant in his question as to why I wasn’t a Christian.  And he is not an arrogant person, so I am not blaming it on his character; rather I think it is his beliefs that produced this kind of arrogance.  It was the same as saying “what’s the problem?  Why don’t you believe?”  Maybe he was just surprised that I actually new the Bible and the Christian doctrine, yet was not a Christian.  It would be one thing if I was simply ignorant of the Bible and Christianity and therefore simply lacked Christian faith.  But since I clearly have read the Bible and understand Christian beliefs - what’s the problem?  How could I not believe?  Why?  Is the *truth* of Christianity that much of a no-brainer for him?  Do Christians really think that their beliefs are as good as facts, that there is nothing debatable about them, that the only reason why one would not be a Christian would be downright rebellion against God? 

Or am I, as usual, overthinking this?

No, not at all.  That’s fairly typical for Christians.  I’ve lost count of the theists I’ve argued with who absolutely will not accept the reasons I give them for my loss of faith at face value (that I simply became rationally convinced the Bible was not accurate, and was not God’s word, and that there is no evidence that God exists).  No, it has to be because I hate God, or am angry at God, or want to live a life free of God’s moral laws, or that I was never really a Christian in the first place, etc.  And inevitably, always, ALWAYS, they tell you that your lack of belief is a religion that requires just as much faith as Christianity, and you have no good reason to reject the Bible, and are doing so on faith too, since you can’t prove God doesn’t exist.  And it doesn’t matter how often, and how carefully you explain to them that the burden of proof is on them to prove that God exists, not on us to disprove it.

There is something about faith that just completely short circuits their critical faculties.

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I am the very model of a Christian Evangelical
I’ve no need for courtesy when fighting things heretical
I know the bible word for word; you’ll find me pedagogical
I have my faith so I’ve no need for ideas that are logical
Atheists and Pagans fall before my wit satirical
They’ll burn in hell just as they should; their cries will be so lyrical
I’m always right, you’re always wrong, my reasoning’s dogmatical
For I’m the very model of a Christian Evangelical

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Posted: 22 October 2009 07:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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I’m often asked that question.  I simply reply that “I do not recognize conspiracies.”

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Posted: 24 October 2009 01:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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Billy Shears - 22 October 2009 09:00 AM
Rami - 22 October 2009 03:47 AM

I just think there was something very arrogant in his question as to why I wasn’t a Christian.  And he is not an arrogant person, so I am not blaming it on his character; rather I think it is his beliefs that produced this kind of arrogance.  It was the same as saying “what’s the problem?  Why don’t you believe?”  Maybe he was just surprised that I actually new the Bible and the Christian doctrine, yet was not a Christian.  It would be one thing if I was simply ignorant of the Bible and Christianity and therefore simply lacked Christian faith.  But since I clearly have read the Bible and understand Christian beliefs - what’s the problem?  How could I not believe?  Why?  Is the *truth* of Christianity that much of a no-brainer for him?  Do Christians really think that their beliefs are as good as facts, that there is nothing debatable about them, that the only reason why one would not be a Christian would be downright rebellion against God? 

Or am I, as usual, overthinking this?

No, not at all.  That’s fairly typical for Christians.  I’ve lost count of the theists I’ve argued with who absolutely will not accept the reasons I give them for my loss of faith at face value (that I simply became rationally convinced the Bible was not accurate, and was not God’s word, and that there is no evidence that God exists).  No, it has to be because I hate God, or am angry at God, or want to live a life free of God’s moral laws, or that I was never really a Christian in the first place, etc.  And inevitably, always, ALWAYS, they tell you that your lack of belief is a religion that requires just as much faith as Christianity, and you have no good reason to reject the Bible, and are doing so on faith too, since you can’t prove God doesn’t exist.  And it doesn’t matter how often, and how carefully you explain to them that the burden of proof is on them to prove that God exists, not on us to disprove it.

There is something about faith that just completely short circuits their critical faculties.

Did you read the article on this website about religious belief?  From what I understand, for the religious, at the level of the brain their religious beliefs are equivalent to their knowledge of any fact.  They KNOW that God exists in the same way that they know 2+2=4.  At least that is the impression I got from the article from a somewhat casual skimming…

So yes, I agree that faith does alter one’s ability to think critically, in a fundamental, physical, biological way…  Does that mean that debating with theists is a hopeless endeavor?  After all, sometimes people do change their minds.  Clearly, you did.  Why is it that your critical faculties were not short-circuited by faith?  Were you indeed a *weak* believer?  Were you a fundy?  Were you zealous in your belief?  Or were did you just kind of go with the flow and simply professed what everyone around you professed to believe?  I am curious.  I was never a believer.  There was a time what I wanted to be a believer, but I just could not make myself belief BS.  So I never experienced what it is like to believe, and consequently I never had to de-convert. 

Rami

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Posted: 24 October 2009 04:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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Rami - 24 October 2009 05:05 PM

Did you read the article on this website about religious belief?  From what I understand, for the religious, at the level of the brain their religious beliefs are equivalent to their knowledge of any fact.  They KNOW that God exists in the same way that they know 2+2=4.  At least that is the impression I got from the article from a somewhat casual skimming…

So yes, I agree that faith does alter one’s ability to think critically, in a fundamental, physical, biological way…  Does that mean that debating with theists is a hopeless endeavor?  After all, sometimes people do change their minds.  Clearly, you did.  Why is it that your critical faculties were not short-circuited by faith?  Were you indeed a *weak* believer?  Were you a fundy?  Were you zealous in your belief?  Or were did you just kind of go with the flow and simply professed what everyone around you professed to believe?  I am curious.  I was never a believer.  There was a time what I wanted to be a believer, but I just could not make myself belief BS.  So I never experienced what it is like to believe, and consequently I never had to de-convert. 

Rami

Why did I lose my faith?  Well, the short answer is that I’m smarter than most people.  I’m serious, and I don’t mean that arrogantly.  I took two different IQ tests, some years apart, and scored 135 on one, and 141 on the other.  And I realize that IQ tests are very far from perfect measures of intelligence, but I’ve always done well in school, learned new information relatively easily, and, I believe, displayed an ability to think—which is different from merely having a lot of knowledge.  All my life people have regarded me as smarter than average, and without either arrogance or false modesty, I think I am.  I’m no genius, certainly, but I am a pretty smart guy.

Admittedly though, while many studies have shown there there is indeed an inverse correlation with high intelligence and religiosity, high intelligence, by itself, doesn’t explain it.  After all, there are lots of truly brilliant people—for real geniuses even—who are religious.  Look at Sam Harris’ article “The Strange Case of Francis Collins” for just one example.  The man’s religious beliefs are, quite simply, irrational.  And yet he’s a leading figure in genetic research, and even taking cronyism, personal charisma, office politicking, and other possible factors into account, there’s no way he could have come as far in his career as he has if he weren’t truly a highly intelligent man.  And yet despite hisundoubted brainpower, he’s still religious. 

So there has to be something else.  Some psychological factor at work here.  Call it a need to believe, for lack of a better term.  It causes even highly intelligent people to assume a certain frame of reference by a leap of faith.  Once they have committed themselves to what they wish to believe, they adopt that frame of reference and and all of the assumptions that go with it, and within this framework they then apply the full range of their intellects and resources.  Classic case of “garbage in, garbage out,” unfortunately.  But I think it stems from a psychological need to believe in something. 

I think people have this need for various reasons.  One is complacency; people get indoctrinated early, and are comfortable in their belief, and simply lack the desire or the moral courage to critically examine their beliefs.  Another is that they feel that we must be here for a purpose. The universe and this world cannot all be a pointless accident, and God is the best explanation.  Another is that they find it comforting to believe in an afterlife—not only that Grandma is free from pain now, up in Heaven with Jesus where she’s waiting for us to join her for eternity, but that we ourselves will go there one day and not only see all our loved ones again, but go on living ourselves.  That, perhaps, is the most seductive aspect of faith, and the easiest to latch onto in the face of one’s doubts.  After all, it’s actually hard to imagine non-existence—total oblivion.  Sensation and awareness are so much a part of our existence that it is extremely difficult to imagine no longer having it, and it can be daunting to imagine that if there is no soul, then once you die, and your awareness is extinguished, from your personal point of view, it will be no different whatsoever from never having existed at all.

So to shake off faith, once you’ve been indoctrinated with it (and perhaps even to resist succumbing to it, even if you haven’t been before), I think one almost has to be at least average or above average in intelligence.  But it also takes a certain independence of mind—an ability to do without comforting fictions, and a willingness to forgo wishful thinking.  It probably also helps to have and to cultivate a skeptical nature, and an unwillingness to accept things without carefully, critically examining them.

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I am the very model of a Christian Evangelical
I’ve no need for courtesy when fighting things heretical
I know the bible word for word; you’ll find me pedagogical
I have my faith so I’ve no need for ideas that are logical
Atheists and Pagans fall before my wit satirical
They’ll burn in hell just as they should; their cries will be so lyrical
I’m always right, you’re always wrong, my reasoning’s dogmatical
For I’m the very model of a Christian Evangelical

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Posted: 30 October 2009 12:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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Billy Shears - 24 October 2009 08:54 PM

[
So to shake off faith, once you’ve been indoctrinated with it (and perhaps even to resist succumbing to it, even if you haven’t been before), I think one almost has to be at least average or above average in intelligence.  But it also takes a certain independence of mind—an ability to do without comforting fictions, and a willingness to forgo wishful thinking.  It probably also helps to have and to cultivate a skeptical nature, and an unwillingness to accept things without carefully, critically examining them.

I think it is pretty obvious that you are of above-average intelligence.  Wasn’t an IQ score of 130 and above considered “gifted”?  “Genius” was, what, 140 and above? 

Clearly, intelligence makes a difference.  But I think that the skill of critical thinking is of even greater importance.  One does not need to be particularly intelligent to learn how to think critically.  Critical thinking should be a required course in high school and college.  I just happened to take it because the class happened to have an open spot and a whole bunch of other classes were full.  Perhaps the Reason Project should lobby school boards to make critical thinking a required course?

I agree with you that wishful thinking has a lot to do with belief.  And I can understand why one would wish to believe in God.  But at the same time I can see the wishful thinking in the belief in no God.  I would not want to live my life under the ever-vigilant eye of a celestial dictator who is keeping score and who plans to reward or punish me - for eternity - one day.  I would not want to be at the mercy of a Deity that created a world in which animals have to devour each other to stay alive, a world in which tsunamis, volcanoes and earthquakes kill countless innocent people and animals every year.  I would hope that a God who could not find it in his heart to forgive mankind except through the deliberate torture and murder of his own Son does not exist.

Are Christians ever unsettled by such considerations?  And if they are, are they simply willing to pay the price of believing in such a cruel god simply because they do not want to give up the comforting belief in immortality?

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Posted: 02 November 2009 07:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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Rami - 30 October 2009 04:37 AM

Clearly, intelligence makes a difference.  But I think that the skill of critical thinking is of even greater importance.  One does not need to be particularly intelligent to learn how to think critically.  Critical thinking should be a required course in high school and college.  I just happened to take it because the class happened to have an open spot and a whole bunch of other classes were full.  Perhaps the Reason Project should lobby school boards to make critical thinking a required course?

I could not possibly agree more.  I think that even a simple week’s instruction in what all the logical fallacies are, and how to spot them would be invaluable, but in my dreams, I can envision yearly instruction in logical thinking all through secondary education.  The dividends this would pay down the road…  Ah, if only.”

Rami - 30 October 2009 04:37 AM

I agree with you that wishful thinking has a lot to do with belief.  And I can understand why one would wish to believe in God.  But at the same time I can see the wishful thinking in the belief in no God.  I would not want to live my life under the ever-vigilant eye of a celestial dictator who is keeping score and who plans to reward or punish me - for eternity - one day.  I would not want to be at the mercy of a Deity that created a world in which animals have to devour each other to stay alive, a world in which tsunamis, volcanoes and earthquakes kill countless innocent people and animals every year.  I would hope that a God who could not find it in his heart to forgive mankind except through the deliberate torture and murder of his own Son does not exist.

This is a very good point as well.  I suppose it all comes down to two factors more than any others: first, what you were indoctrinated with, and second, what you fear the most.  If what you fear more is an arbitrary, capricious being ruling over all, and possibly punishing you simply for entertaining honest doubts, then atheism would be more attractive.  If, on the other hand, you fear nothingness, and a lack of “divine” purpose in life, you may be drawn to religion.  It is a mistake to regard all atheists as rationalists.  I hate to admit it, but there are some who are as dogmatic as theists.

Rami - 30 October 2009 04:37 AM

Are Christians ever unsettled by such considerations?  And if they are, are they simply willing to pay the price of believing in such a cruel god simply because they do not want to give up the comforting belief in immortality?

For some, that is undoubtedly the case.  For others, the reasons may be different.  People have very different reasons sometimes even for believing the same things.

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Posted: 03 November 2009 05:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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Rami:

Are Christians ever unsettled by such considerations?  And if they are, are they simply willing to pay the price of believing in such a cruel god simply because they do not want to give up the comforting belief in immortality?

Hey Rami, its been awhile. 

I’ll answer your questions from my perspective, as far as that goes.  Yes, I certainly have been unsettled by the doctrine of Hell, and I don’t know a Christian that has not.  Yet the Christian affirmation of Hell actually goes against the anti-theist accusations of too much wishful thinking.  The point is that the doctrine of Hell does not create unbelief in the Christian just the same as the knowledge of ultimate physical death in this life does not elicit suicide.  It doesn’t matter what we wish or think about something true, it just simply is true.  We don’t, as you say, “pay the price of believing”...we just believe God, on His own terms.  Do you understand what I mean? 

Now, as a caveat, the doctrine of Hell and eternal punishment has been so difficult for many religious people that they’ve attempted to dumb it down or alter it into some lesser form.  And, of course, I would say to the Christian that attempts to do this that he or she must also dumb down the Gospel and good news of Christ.  If God is “the God who is there”, then it matters not what I wish of Him or from Him, He just simply is.  And it follows that his commands, His will, and His redemptive purposes are true and ultimately just. 

Contrary to atheist musings, it also follows that the Christian does not only accept the reality of eternal damnation and therefore live in fear.  We also affirm the life, death and resurrection of Christ, therefore, there is peace of mind for the believer who has actually accepted the truth of God as it is revealed.  Hell, in other words, is only “scary” for the unbeliever, not the believer who has taken hold of God’s promises.  The myth that Christians maintain their faith out of mortal (err…immortal?) fear does not fit with the Christian worldview.  Therefore, if Billy Shears really wanted to be accurate in his critique of Christian belief, he would have to say that Christians have an irrational joy, not an irrational fear.  The Christian who fears God’s judgment, doesn’t really believe the Christian premises.

Decent articles from a Christian perspective on this subject can be found here and here

[ Edited: 03 November 2009 05:14 PM by clayforHim648]
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Posted: 04 November 2009 12:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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“clayforHim648” date=“1257314407”]

Hey Rami, its been awhile.

Hi Clay; it sure has.

I’ll answer your questions from my perspective, as far as that goes.  Yes, I certainly have been unsettled by the doctrine of Hell, and I don’t know a Christian that has not.

How so?  What specifically unsettled you?

Yet the Christian affirmation of Hell actually goes against the anti-theist accusations of too much wishful thinking.  The point is that the doctrine of Hell does not create unbelief in the Christian just the same as the knowledge of ultimate physical death in this life does not elicit suicide.  It doesn’t matter what we wish or think about something true, it just simply is true.  We don’t, as you say, “pay the price of believing”...we just believe God, on His own terms.  Do you understand what I mean?

Yes and no.  Your explanation would make sense if the existence of hell was a matter of fact.  It doesn’t matter how I feel about the idea of, say, plate tectonics - it simply IS true, regardless of how it makes me feel.  But the existence of hell is not a matter of fact.  It is a matter of belief - and more to the point, it is a matter of acceptance or rejection of a pre-packaged idea.  And in the absence of any evidence in support of the existence of hell, the potential believer’s emotion on the subject is very relevant indeed. 

Now, as a caveat, the doctrine of Hell and eternal punishment has been so difficult for many religious people that they’ve attempted to dumb it down or alter it into some lesser form.  And, of course, I would say to the Christian that attempts to do this that he or she must also dumb down the Gospel and good news of Christ.  If God is “the God who is there”, then it matters not what I wish of Him or from Him, He just simply is.  And it follows that his commands, His will, and His redemptive purposes are true and ultimately just.

That’s kind of circular, though, Clay, isn’t it?  You are presuming that God is indeed just and good and therefore concluding that hell must serve a purpose that is just and good.  When unsettled by the horror of the idea of torturing anyone for eternity, you quell this discomfort with the circular reasoning that it MUST be OK, good and just because God is just and good - by definition!  Or more to the point, by fiat!  Is this how you justify the God-ordained genocide of the Amalekites?  The slaughter at Jericho?  God, whom you declare a priori to be good and just, ordered it, therefore it IS good and just?

With all due respect and deference to your intelligence, Clay (and I am not being sarcastic here), this is simply an act of refusing to actually practice discernment, to really think about this issue.  It is giving up by saying God wants it this way, it MUST be good and just.

Contrary to atheist musings, it also follows that the Christian does not only accept the reality of eternal damnation and therefore live in fear.  We also affirm the life, death and resurrection of Christ, therefore, there is peace of mind for the believer who has actually accepted the truth of God as it is revealed.  Hell, in other words, is only “scary” for the unbeliever, not the believer who has taken hold of God’s promises.

Yes, I get that.  And the difference between a believer and an unbeliever is a matter of how much doubt one is able to carry around.  Doubt has turned many a believer into atheists - just look at this forum.  Even though I have heard plenty of sermons on how we should not feel bad for doubting, that doubt only strengthens one’s faith, you can’t deny the fact that doubt actually weakens faith.  And what happens when one’s faith is weak enough?  What happens to one’s salvation when one loses one’s faith?  Hell is indeed a threat for the believer as well, especially the believer who doubts.  Hell is a way of keeping the faithful faithful.

Also, let’s for the sake of argument say that the thought of hell does not frighten the faithful.  Fine.  Does it cause you to feel unsettled at all that God is going to send me to hell, where I will be tortured for eternity?  How can you worship somebody who would do this to me - for me a mere lifetime of crime, and the crime of unbelief, at that.  Or do you simply stop the thinking process by telling yourself that God is good and just and if he throws me in hell, it MUST be a good and just thing. 

I hope your reasoning is more sophisticated than that. 

The myth that Christians maintain their faith out of mortal (err…immortal?) fear does not fit with the Christian worldview.  Therefore, if Billy Shears really wanted to be accurate in his critique of Christian belief, he would have to say that Christians have an irrational joy, not an irrational fear.  The Christian who fears God’s judgment, doesn’t really believe the Christian premises.

Even if it were irrational joy and not irrational fear, it is still emotion.  The way one feels about the idea that one will live forever in a place of bliss certainly has an influence on whether or not one will be inclined to accept the proposition as true.  Wishful thinking.

But again, the fear creeps in when doubt creeps in.  Faith is the means by which one is saved.  When doubt erodes faith, salvation is in jeopardy.  Doubt leads to hellfire, basically.  And the Bible is full of passages that teach that one must not doubt, but trust and obey. 

And one last time, how can you worship a God who, for a mere lifetime of sin, would send anyone to hell for eternity?  And consider the fact that hell is not a place where one is redeemed or rehabilitated.  One does not come out of hell purified of sin.  One does not come out of hell, period.  One is sent there and stuck there to be tortured for eternity.  Pure vengeance.  Pure sadism.  Yet you worship Him?

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