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Observations from a recovering Christian
Posted: 23 February 2005 02:43 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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First off, I have been reading this forum (Christianity(specific issues)) for the past couple of hours, and have enjoyed it tremendously.

I have not read Mr. Harris' book yet, but will hopefully locate a copy later today.

That having been said, I find the premise of this book to be refreshing, and it resonates with thoughts that have been forming in my mind for some time now.

I was raised a fundamentalist Christian, and was very gung ho about my faith until well after high school.  My life experience, however, started to cast doubts on certain aspects of my belief system, and when I finally dared to seriously question it, it largely evaporated.

What strikes me the most about the debate here (and in other forums where the same debate rages) is how often both sides square off without stopping to truly appreciate the exact nature of the divide, and why "debate" in the classical sense is likely to be an exercise in frustration for participants on either side.

I'll happily stipulate that there are probably as many variations of Christianity as there are Christians, and the same can no doubt be said for non-Christians.  For the purposes of the rest of my comments, however, I will be specifically be addressing people who either: believe in the God of the Christian Bible, or those who either do not believe in any god, or feel that the evidence is not sufficiently conclusive to warrant proceeding as if there is a god or gods.

Observations:

1.  The assumption (inasmuch as it is made by either side) that they can reliably convert those of the other side by force of argument is flawed.  The world view of the believer is simply too different from that of the non-believer.  The believer is, at the core, a dogmatic creature, for without certain things, their faith would break down.  The non-believer (or perhaps I should say purposeful non-believer) demands that the things they believe in be subject to verification, and (at least in theory) are willing to discard a belief should it be shown to fail this verification.  As someone who has been on both sides of this divide, I believe that change must come from within, rather than from without.

2.  Many people talk about mankind as being "rational".  I would rather say that mankind is capable of learning to be rational.  Our minds do not "do" logic, but rather do fuzzy pattern matching that is both a lot faster, and a bit less precise than what you find in a math textbook.  The problem then, is that while logic holds that two contradictory facts cannot both be true, the human mind is not bound by this, and in fact has no problem holding multiple contradictory beliefs at the same time.  Unless someone has been taught (or taught themselves) to think rationally, they are more or less "immune" to rational arguments, especially if the rational argument calls for them to discard a cherished belief.

3.  There is nothing like experience to help change someone's mind.  For me, one of the major turning points involved my work.  I am a working computer programmer (meaning that my work is generally more pragmatic hackery than artful science), but in one of my earliest jobs, I encountered a set of problems that were difficult to solve.  I hadn't studied genetic algorithms in school, but had heard of them, and after consulting with a few others, decided to see what they might be able to do for my problems.  I banged out a primitive set of "genes" and rules, and set the thing to working to see if I could "evolve" a solution that I would have been hard pressed to design.  The results were good, much better than I had hoped for, in fact.  Over the next couple of months, I went through a radical realignment of thought, as I realized that the process which I had exploited (quite crudely) was, in essence, a kind of law of the universe, which quite obviously applied all over the place.

4.  Adversity tends to strengthen extreme human beliefs.  I find it darkly amusing that, at this precise moment in time, Christians and non-Christians are having two eerily similar, yet very different conversations amongst themselves.  The Christians are bemoaning the "rise" of secularism, and feverishly working to slow the process.  The non-Christians are bemoaning the rise of a modern theocratic trend.  I believe that, to some degree, both sides of this polarized issue are feeding off of each other, and becoming more pronounced in the process.  Chrisitians have long said that the church thrives on adversity, and they are essentially correct, but the same holds true elsewhere.  The biologist who uses evolution in his or her daily work might not, normally, be compelled to tell other people about evolution, but when they hear that someone is trying to ban the teaching of it in school, they sound the battle cry!

5.  Building from point 4, I believe that a frontal assault on those who persist in fundamentalist religious beliefs will likely only produce stronger fundamentalists.  This is rather like antibiotic resistant bacteria.  Instead, a less direct approach (where possible) might be desirable.  There are people who believe in God, but manage to be (mostly) reasonable.  The question, really, is whether or not they believe that policy should come from God (I.E. the Bible) or not.  I have found that, in advocating a secular government to Christians, it is effective to remind them that there is quite a bit of argument amongst Christians, and that, throughout history, when Christians run the government, things invariably get bad for other Christians who don't quite see eye to eye on every last detail.  Thus, when the founders of America decided to seperate church from state, seperating theology from public policy, they killed two birds with one stone.

So there it is.  People can change, but it is a rare and difficult thing.  Best to not beat them over the head, but to embrace them until they see the truth, all the while, however, refusing to accept the unproven in public venues.

-psi

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Posted: 23 February 2005 02:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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[quote author=“psiconoclast”]So there it is. People can change, but it is a rare and difficult thing.  Best to not beat them over the head, but to embrace them until they see the truth, all the while, however, refusing to accept the unproven in public venues.


I think accentuating the humanistic/positive aspects of religion (community and such) while ignoring or marginalizing the religious nonsense is a good approach, but I’m not sure a small minority can have much influence that way (works on a personal level fairly well though).

Byron

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Posted: 23 February 2005 03:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Hello Psiconoclast ...

From the title of your post, I get the idea we should start a recovery program for ex-Christians, me, you, BeenThere ... 

I confess to beating certain posters over the head and understand that adversity tends to strengthen fundamentalism, but I also see that pain is a great motivator for change.  Pain plays an important role in evolution.  If we didn’t experience pain, we would have no reason to look beyond our experience, what we already know, and therefore would not evolve.  Not that I’m out to cause Christian posters ‘pain’ necessarily, just a small poke to hopefully send them into a new direction.  I owe my leaving the Church to a fundamentalist pastor whose views were so extremely opposite to mine, even inside of Christianity, that we argued continuously for a period of two years.  They weren’t stalemate arguments though.  Each one lead me to a new understanding of things and eventually I thought my way out of the Church.  He may just be the best pastor I ever had ! 

So while I understand and commend you for your sense of compassion towards Christians still stuck inside the doors of the Church, I see that a little intellectual aggravation can be a good thing.  For both sides of the argument.  I think of it more as a catalyst, if you will.  That after the adversity strengthens each position, it will inevitably and necessarily require of the individuals to reorganize their thoughts.  In the process of reorganization, new thoughts emerge and improve the chances that actual progress towards freedom is made.

Thanks for posting.  Doesn’t hurt to be reminded to be kind ...

Susan

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Posted: 23 February 2005 04:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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So there it is. People can change, but it is a rare and difficult thing. Best to not beat them over the head, but to embrace them until they see the truth, all the while, however, refusing to accept the unproven in public venues.

Couldn’t agree more!  In the case of our christian brothern (and sisteren?) I would rather not meet them head-on, As you said, it does not work.  They have a very strong, fear-based response that has just the effect you spoke of. 

I have always been a firm “believer” in the principal that contempt prior to investigation is the best way to remain in everlasting ignorance.  What the christians who come to this site just dont “get” is that most of the people here believe in the same principal.  I am 59 years old, and have learned much in a very short time from the posts here.  The christians such as jesusfreak and champion have learned nothing, and that is unfortunate.  They have not investigated as we have, and if they did, they have demonstrated a profound lack of open-mindedness.

one of our christians read 18 pages of Sam’s book, and ran here to point out with great glee where Sam went wrong, according to scriputue.  If he read one of the many books by promenant biblical scholars questioning the origin of specific portions of the bible, he would quote scripure to refute passages that were questioning the validity of the very source he was using to refute it!  It is impossible to fight that, so why bother.

I concentrate my efforts in the schools, for I feel that is the best use of my time/resources.  You are obviously enjoying the journey you are on, as I am as well.  Thanks for posting.

Pete

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Posted: 23 February 2005 04:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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[quote author=“Rasmussen”]From the title of your post, I get the idea we should start a recovery program for ex-Christians, me, you, BeenThere ...

. . . SkepticX, and I’m sure many others . . .

Byron

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Posted: 24 February 2005 07:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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From the title of your post, I get the idea we should start a recovery program for ex-Christians, me, you, BeenThere ...

Yes, a recovery program might be a good idea.  As human beings, community is an important part of identity, and thus support becomes very important.

I confess to beating certain posters over the head and understand that adversity tends to strengthen fundamentalism, but I also see that pain is a great motivator for change. Pain plays an important role in evolution. If we didn’t experience pain, we would have no reason to look beyond our experience, what we already know, and therefore would not evolve. Not that I’m out to cause Christian posters ‘pain’ necessarily, just a small poke to hopefully send them into a new direction. I owe my leaving the Church to a fundamentalist pastor whose views were so extremely opposite to mine, even inside of Christianity, that we argued continuously for a period of two years. They weren’t stalemate arguments though. Each one lead me to a new understanding of things and eventually I thought my way out of the Church. He may just be the best pastor I ever had !

What is funny is that I wasn’t particularly commenting on anything said on this board, but rather the global dialogue on this subject in general.  Given the nature of Sam’s book, I think that anyone posting here should have some idea of what they are getting into.

So while I understand and commend you for your sense of compassion towards Christians still stuck inside the doors of the Church, I see that a little intellectual aggravation can be a good thing. For both sides of the argument. I think of it more as a catalyst, if you will. That after the adversity strengthens each position, it will inevitably and necessarily require of the individuals to reorganize their thoughts. In the process of reorganization, new thoughts emerge and improve the chances that actual progress towards freedom is made.

Certainly the aggravation can be good.  I suppose that I would argue for being careful not to make a Christian feel “persecuted”.  A curious artifact of the Christian mindset is to assume that non-Christians will seek to persectue Christians, which leads to a “circle the wagons” response.

Maybe this is just me, but one of the things caught me a little by surprise when I “left the fold”, was the lack of organization amongst the unbelievers.  Christians (certainly those in my church) had such a battle mentality for converting people, that it was hard to stop thinking of it in those terms.

-Matt AKA psi

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Posted: 24 February 2005 08:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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I read all the remarks in this specific forum and while I’m not surprised to hear all the negative experiences people have had in the church (it happens way too much), it seems that certain pastors and church experiences pushed many over the edge.  I am a believer and I’m saddened there are so many of us out there who are unkind.  I don’t think to be a believer you have to be stupid, uncritical, or closed-minded, but I would rather be those than unkind, hurtful, or arrogant.

I want to touch on your first point, psi.  You say,

The assumption (inasmuch as it is made by either side) that they can reliably convert those of the other side by force of argument is flawed. The world view of the believer is simply too different from that of the non-believer. The believer is, at the core, a dogmatic creature, for without certain things, their faith would break down. The non-believer (or perhaps I should say purposeful non-believer) demands that the things they believe in be subject to verification, and (at least in theory) are willing to discard a belief should it be shown to fail this verification. As someone who has been on both sides of this divide, I believe that change must come from within, rather than from without.

I must confess that I have met some pretty dogmatic, closed-minded atheists/secular people.  Not just the believer’s system, but all systems require dogmatic assertions or they will break down.  I could think of a host of dogmatic assertions that must be true, otherwise atheism would break down.  It’s almost as if your saying my faith system requires me to be exactly what I don’t want to be.  And I don’t think I am.  Yet, the worldview of the “non-believer” is inherently objective and rationale.  This is certainly not my experience.  You don’t seem to be making comments based on experience, “my experience is…”.  You are saying, “This is the way it is…”.  Is that the case?

I guess what I want to reject is that belief-systems themselves form either openness or closed-mindedness.  As a believer, I am willing to dialogue with people about pretty much anything (as long as I can speak intellegently about it, which isn’t always the case).  We may disagree, but that’s ok.  If your theory is true, what do you say about all the arrogant, closed-minded atheists who simply call names and run behind clever quotes from atheists in the past.  I don’t say this to mean believers don’t act the same way.  Sadly, they do.

All this said, while I don’t reject that “conversion” can’t come by force, I do reject the notion that faith systems require closed-mindedness and dogmatism and secular systems don’t.

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Posted: 24 February 2005 08:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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[quote author=“Ordinary”]I must confess that I have met some pretty dogmatic, closed-minded atheists/secular people.  Not just the believer’s system, but all systems require dogmatic assertions or they will break down.  I could think of a host of dogmatic assertions that must be true, otherwise atheism would break down.  It’s almost as if your saying my faith system requires me to be exactly what I don’t want to be.  And I don’t think I am.  Yet, the worldview of the “non-believer” is inherently objective and rationale.  This is certainly not my experience.  You don’t seem to be making comments based on experience, “my experience is…”.  You are saying, “This is the way it is…”.  Is that the case?

There is rather large gap between beliving emphatically in no god, and believing in a specific god or God.  Without bothering to discuss the relative merits of the strong verses weak forms of atheism, the key here, I think, is that people of faith believe in specific gods, and if those beliefs are found to be untrue, then the faith breaks down.

There are certainly atheists who are also dogmatic in their beliefs, but the only person that I can reliably speak for is myself, so I will summarize my thoughts on this matter:  I believe that cosmology and biology have demonstrated sufficiently well the notion that all that we see around us can be explained by natural means.  This does not mean that there is not a god, but, in the absence of compelling evidence, I choose the simpler explanation.  There is, of course, the question of how everything started, that moment from nothing to something, and many would argue that this is a good case for God, but I would argue that the same would apply equally to God, and therefore, his presence makes for a more complicated explanation than needed.

As far as what your faith system requires of you, without knowing more, I can only speculate, but consider:  For the sake of argument, I will assume that you believe that God created the universe, and that he created mankind, either directly, or by directing evolution to produce a desired result.  So far so good?  Furthermore, I will assume that you believe that mankind is doomed to hell unless he believes in, and accepts this God in some form or fashion.  So, with one’s eternal life in the balance, how does one truly approach the subject in an open-minded fashion?  On the other hand, a secular atheist scientist would certainly stand to lose something, should God be proven scientifically, but this is true of any scientist who is devoted to any scientific theory, they stand the risk of being wrong.  Sometimes it takes a generation or two for an old idea to die out, and a new one to take its place, but it does happen, as is evidenced by the fact that the scientific account of how we came to be here has changed substantially over the last two hundred years.  To me, it seems that the process works.

-Matt

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Posted: 24 February 2005 09:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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Ordinary, you say that you have met dogmatic atheists/secularists, but for the life of me, I don’t understand how that is possible?  Maybe I am being dogmatic in my reasoning (according to you) but ‘dogma’ is “opinion from authority (church/religion) that must be believed on faith alone (scripture is written faith).” So what is it about an atheist’s beliefs that qualifies him/her as a dogmatic atheist?  It really doesn’t make any sense.  Perhaps you find some atheists to be stubborn, or short-tempered, or unwilling to accept your testimony as truth-based? - but that doesn’t make them dogmatic.

Yes, Ordinary, atheists do have experiences and feelings and desires, so we can comprehend when you speak about those same emotions with regard to your faith - but we do not accept them as ultimately relevant to any argument about belief per se.  As an atheist, I can say that I can have an awesome experience just lying on the grass at midnight on a summer night looking at the starry sky, but part and parcel of my ecstacy is due to knowing the astronomical aspects of my vision the immense distances, the quantity of stars, the nebulae, and my own insignificance. But there are no nutty beliefs prompting that experience. If a believer looks out on the same night sky he may get messages from god or emotions about heavenly existences, but if we were to have a conversation afterward, I would have to dismiss most of what the believer had to say because his experiences are embedded in some kind of arrogant madness.  It would be interesting to hear exactly what he felt, but there would be little credence to his “ravings” because most of it is just a misuse of his grand imagination.  You would want us to compare our separate experiences with equal worth, but that is something I could not do.  I could perhaps compare my experience of imagining that Santa Claus was riding across the starry night with his experience of feeling the presence of god, but to say that his communion with god is the same as my communion with scientific facts is just plain ridiculous.  He is imagining a strange mythological world while I am trying to appreciate my place in light of the facts about the universe.  Both have equivalent feelings, but they cannot be compared with equal value.  Now if that makes me dogmatic, either you don’t understand the meaning of ‘dogma’ or you want me to accept your mythology as reality, and if I don’t then I’m being dogmatic.

You said that you could give examples of atheists being dogmatic - please give a few, it would help immensely - maybe I’m just too dumb to think of any myself.

Bob

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Posted: 24 February 2005 04:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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Bob and Matt,

I will touch on both of your remarks together as they blend together.  As we all know, one word can be used to convey many different meanings.  Concerning Matt’s use of the word ‘dogma’, I was taking him to mean, ‘to hold firmly; to be sure of one’s belief.”  Certainly, Bob, there are other ways this word is used and understood.  It seems you want to chalk up a score for your team by claiming I don’t know what dogma means.  If thats your desire, that’s fine.  I don’t think its helpful to the discussion.  Matt, who originally used the word, didn’t castigate me about my poor understanding of dogma, giving me the impression that we are at least in the same ballpark about the use of that term.

Bob, you may be right.  I don’t know how much we could dialogue about some of these things.  Since you come to me and label my experiences (before hearing them) and beliefs as ‘imaginary’ and ‘nutty’, we certainly can’t have dialogue because you won’t even say, “ok, ordinary says he has these experiences.  I will hear him out.”  After the discussion you may still have those thoughts, but at least you gave a fair hearing.  I find it interesting that so many atheists like to slam those who believe as being ‘unwilling to think hard about these issues’ or ‘closedminded to other possibilities’, yet that’s exactly how you come in dialogue with someone like me.  I think I can get a witness that regardless of your system of belief, the issues that really matter like joy, peace, love, truth, forgiveness and hope (which are all virtuous) are incredibly weighty, complex and demanding much thought and inquiry.

Matt, I appreciate your comments and you say a lot, but let me touch one area.  As you try to describe (with a broad brush) where I’m coming from, so many of the terms you use have been so tainted by rhetoric and (I confess) terrible use and abuse by religious people.  For example, being doomed to hell gives many the impression (and yes, because religious zealots clearly speak this way) that hell is this really hot place where there’s no water.  But hell (to me, and yes, from scripture) is more about living with the absense of love, peace, and hope.  Eternal life isn’t about living in mansions in the sky and being reunited with your favorite pet (as some believe), it has more to do with living in the perfect community where love, peace and joy never end as humans live in perfect harmony with each other and, yes, their God, who’s the source of all that is Good, True, and Beautiful.  These things might not make a difference in your argument, but they are very important to me as a person of faith.

For the sake of the discussion, I will accept some of your premises, yet I still don’t think this necessitates closed-mindedness on the part of the believer.  As a matter of fact, I believe it should produce (though it may not in many) more openness.  Some of the fathers of the faith recognized that if some things were not in fact true (I speak now of Christian faith) then our faith is in vain.  The Apostle Paul said if Jesus did not raise from the dead, our faith is in vain.  So believe me, if Jesus really didn’t, I am a fool.  And that’s absolutely the case.  But I don’t want to believe what is false.  So this makes me very dilligent in my efforts to make sure what I believe conforms to reality.

You say that, on the other hand, secular scientists don’t stand to lose that much if they are wrong.  I beg to differ.  Because loss is measured in the value we place in something.  Suppose a woman invests decades in a certain secular scientific theory that turns out to be false.  This woman stands to lose an enormous amount.  Decades of work; desires for success; blood, sweat and tears; the hoped-for accolades of collegues.  I guess I would argue that with that type of investment (regardless of what it is) there will be a temptation to safeguard all that and resist hearing ‘new ideas’ that challenge that.

Again, as I have said in other posts, I think the Atheist is not critical enough at her own belief system and quite possibly could be committing some of the same sins she accuses the believer of.

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Posted: 26 February 2005 01:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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Building from point 4, I believe that a frontal assault on those who persist in fundamentalist religious beliefs will likely only produce stronger fundamentalists. This is rather like antibiotic resistant bacteria. Instead, a less direct approach (where possible) might be desirable. There are people who believe in God, but manage to be (mostly) reasonable. The question, really, is whether or not they believe that policy should come from God (I.E. the Bible) or not. I have found that, in advocating a secular government to Christians, it is effective to remind them that there is quite a bit of argument amongst Christians, and that, throughout history, when Christians run the government, things invariably get bad for other Christians who don’t quite see eye to eye on every last detail. Thus, when the founders of America decided to seperate church from state, seperating theology from public policy, they killed two birds with one stone.


I generallly agree but would suggest that you might be a bit overly moderate. My view is that the religious right is trying to move us closer to theocracy so a new and stronger antibiotic is needed. This would have to be reason coupled with (as Sam suggests) a level of intolerance. It is important to remember that religions are about power, conformity and submission. The religious call this evangelism. You might continue to remind your religious friends the the founding fathers formed our country as a secular nation to protect both the individual and the churches and we are indeed a secular nation, independent of what they might think.  The current coalitions of the religious attempting to influence the government remind me of the story of the frog and the scorpion.

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Wot

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Posted: 26 February 2005 04:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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Hello Ordinary ....

I find it quite telling that you, a seemingly open-minded Christian, refer to yourself as Ordinary.  Whereas, another Christian poster here, who is obviously closed-minded, refers to himself as TheChampion.  The callnames we each choose are very telling ... SkepticX, Advocatus Diaboli, Iisbliss, BeenThere, CanZen ... and then we have TheChampion.  Now maybe he did just win an oldtimers hockey tournament, but chances are he thinks himself and his ideas above and beyond the rest of us, or atleast that’s the image he’s projecting.  A callname such as TheChampion immediately puts other readers on the defensive.  We’re working from a defensive position to begin with as many of us have just recently left the church and are hypersensitive to any statements that represent, in our minds, all that was wrong with believing.

You wrote:
I read all the remarks in this specific forum and while I’m not surprised to hear all the negative experiences people have had in the church (it happens way too much), it seems that certain pastors and church experiences pushed many over the edge. I am a believer and I’m saddened there are so many of us out there who are unkind. I don’t think to be a believer you have to be stupid, uncritical, or closed-minded, but I would rather be those than unkind, hurtful, or arrogant.


Your words remind me of my own process out of the Church.  It began with a fundamental pastor who would fit well into the category of arrogant and stupid, and I focussed on that for a long time; that the whole problem with our little church, was him.  If we just got one of those nice liberal, openminded pastors, we’d be all right.  To make a long story short .... I moved from blaming everything on my dimwitted pastor to realizing that he was just regurgitating what he had learned at seminary.  My focus then became the Church and what it teaches and why.  Reason took over ... and voilà!  I found myself out the door.  So while I do still see that it is possible to live out one’s life as a devote Christian and still be a decent person, it is the extreme exception and not the rule.  I don’t think the problems with the Church lie with individual arrogant pastors and church goers; they lie with the Church’s theology and doctine that teach the arrogance.

If I read all your posts together, I get (my perception is ...) that you are in fact critical yourself of the Church in some respects, but your belief in Jesus’ message overrides all your criticism.  Although you see that the Church isn’t perfect, it still teaches a lot of important lessons.  I am perceiving you in this way because the things you write remind me of my father who is also an open-minded Christian.  (He’s the one who bought Sam’s book and suggested I read it ... )  Since I have left the Church, he has actually been supportive of my change of philosophy of life and he agrees with many (not all, for sure ...) of my criticisms of the Church.  Where he and I have had to agree to disagree is that he views church as an elementary school for spirituality, that once we get the ‘basics,’ we can then choose as adults what to believe.  I don’t view church as elementary school, I view it as the wrong school.  I not only see that what the church teaches as fairytale, I see it as harmful, psychologically as well as spiritually, not to mention just plain wrong in many cases. 

The other impression I am left with from reading your posts is that you define ‘believer’ as one who believes in Christianity.  I consider myself a believer, as I do believe in some creative force/energy that is at work in the world, but my understanding of ‘god’ does not fit into any of the organized religions.  My concept of ‘god’ is far from dogmatic.  I have no use or interest in rituals, sacraments, creeds, or the bible at this point.  I leave room for my understanding to change and evolve.  Science may one day discover that ‘god’ is just another law of nature.  My concept of ‘god’ may not follow Church doctrine, but I still count myself as a believer.  I haven’t thrown out the notion of ‘god,’ just the notion of Christianity ...

Susan

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Posted: 26 February 2005 07:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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Susan,

Thanks for giving me an idea of where you come from.

You make a good distinction.  I guess its normal for someone like me to call myself a ‘believer’ to distinguish myself from many who post on this site.  But you are right; we are all believers in something.  Even a hard-n-fast atheist believes and—dare I say—has faith.

I certainly am critical of vast segments of the chruch and so-called leaders.  Many certainly don’t represent the Jesus I know—and yes, the Jesus of scripture.

I think your post illustrates something very important to mention.  There is a huge difference between the ‘Christianity’ and ‘Church’ the world experiences from what a guy like Jesus intended from his followers and his Church.  Many so-called churches aren’t real churches.  They are places of propoganda where many are simply looking to hold onto power.

What I hear almost exclusively is that many wonderful people like yourself didn’t come from a church environment that was a true representation of the Jesus of scripture, but a gross distortion.  And I can’t help but wonder, “how Susan would see the world if it wasn’t for this fundy pastor who lorded authority over others?  What if she had a pastor who didn’t base love on performance or appearance?  What if she experienced a faith community that was fervent in their attempts to help those who couldn’t help themselves?”  I wish you would of had that experience and I’m tempted to believe maybe you would have a different opinion towards the system of faith I believe and it sounds like your are familiar with.

I strive to make my faith community that is accepting, loving, honest and joyful, which is I believe God’s true desire. 

Yes, naming is interesting, isn’t it?  My third child is expected in 3 weeks and my wife and I are laboring to find a suitable name.  We have a two-fold criteria.  1) we both must like the name and 2) the meaning of the name must be significant to us.  For example, my second son’s name is Owen, which is a form of John meaning, “God is good.”  (Funny I’m telling this cyber-community that, but I truly believe it and I want my son to grow up believing it also, contrary to the views of others here—but that’s ok).  the meaning of names means little to Americans.  I have a cousin who named their kid “Brody”, which means “ditch”.  The truth is, Susan, I am ordinary.  I gave myself that name to remind me to enter into dialogue with folks like you with humility.

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Posted: 26 February 2005 08:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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Hey everyone, great posts.

Interesting to see the spectrum of belief here, from no, to maybe, to yes. Also enjoyed your personal stories of transition. To join the conversation I’d like to give you mine as well, if only to give me the pleasure of talking to someone who might listen. I was raised a Roman Catholic by a very unquestioning father who strangely enough never really spoke about religion in any way except to make it clear that I was going to church with him every Sunday. That seemed to be enough for him. For me, soaking up all the dogma and ritual, as well as all the not so subtle prejudices against other faiths was a problem by the time I was about thirteen, largely because my mother was left out of “the one true faith” because she was raised Baptist. Could have been the reason there wasn’t much religious discusion in the house? Well, it just never made sense to me that whether you made it to heaven or not really depended on who your parents were, and whether one at least followed the “right” god and worshiped in the “right” way. Well, long story short, by sixteen I couldn’t see that any organized religion had any better claim to the the “true” way than any other, and they all seemed to be in a grand power play. Even this newborn agnostic still had an emotional attachment to the idea that there must be a god, however, as ” I didn’t put myself here”.  I always took a certain satisfation when things went well for me that whoever was up there approved of the way I was living my life. Even years later in medical school, I felt a certain pity for my roommate who was an avowed atheist. Another long story short, after fifteen years of college, graduate school in chemistry, medical school, and residency the old scientific method of requiring proof seems to have won out. I can no longer accept even a probabilty that there is a god, and strangely enough I feel more free to explore the true wonder of the world and ideas than ever.

It’s weird that now I feel that pity, if not antagonism, that I once gave my roommate, now that I’m floating in the sea of religiosity here in the south. It’s interesting how often some god got the credit when things went well for my patients, but I was the only one there when they didn’t.

Isn’t it so much more satisfying to deal with others when we all have to take the responsibity for our actions, and we have to deal with people on the basis of what they do and not who they are, i.e. believers, infidels, atheists, fornicators, homosexuals, and the list goes on. May I submit that not one of those labels tells me of the true character of the person. But, why would anyone in this day and age let a 2000 year old book tell you how to treat them. Not that we can’t judge others, for we need to do this all the time for our own protection…thieves, con artists, etc., but how does it benefit me to harass anybody for for what they think or do as consenting adults. I hope I’m hearing a “yes, but” right about now if Sam’s premise caught on. We’ve got a problem here since the christian believer is almost defined by what they are compelled to think and do and it’s not always benign. How do we get them to leave consenting adults alone in the bedroom and in society. How do we get them to leave people alone who have decided an abortion is preferable to unwanted children. Do we continue to let them make policy on stem cell research?  I’m not playing favorites here though, I can’t think of any faith I’d want in charge of me or social policies. Can you believe that over half the population of or country does not accept evolution? That the world is a little older than 6000 years?  Had to laugh today watching Newt Gingrich on c-span whining over the poor performance of US students in science right after he argues for bringing religion back into everything.

Well gang, thanks for your time. What do you think?

Rod

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Posted: 26 February 2005 09:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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[quote author=“Ordinary”]Even a hard-n-fast atheist believes and—dare I say—has faith.


It’s interesting that adjectives like “hard and fast” are so often used in this sense, because when it comes to religious faith it’s an issue of closed-minded dogmatism rather than given articles. The idea that everyone has faith requires equivocation and/or redefinitions of faith.

If you avoid those errors you’ll find it’s not true. Not everyone forms conclusions without basis, or believes things based upon insufficient reason and evidence. Some (very few it seems) accept even uncomfortable unknowns for what they are rather than trying to pretend reality is something other than it is—more comfortable.

Byron

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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: 26 February 2005 01:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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Byron,

The definition of faith is very important and I was going to start a new post just on that issue, but will address it here since you bring it up.

I use the word faith in a pretty general sense, but certainly it includes religious (I hate that word, but don’t know what else to use) faith.  When I hear people speak of making decisions on ‘sufficient evidence’, its often assumed that faith then is not necessary.  I don’t think that is the case at all.  Let me give you an example.

Most of us drive automobiles everyday and for the most part, do it relatively safely.  When I approach an intersection where I have a green light, consequently the cross traffic has a red light.  As I approach, I have sufficient evidence that I will be safe as I go through the intersection.  The people in cross traffic (I’m assuming) have licenses in good standing with the state and are not impaired in their ability to operate an automobile.  Am I guaranteed though?  No, I’m not.  Maybe the person driving in the cross traffic isn’t paying attention, or is impaired, or incompetent.  That certainly can (and has) happened.  So, in reality, my driving through the intersection is an exercise of faith.  I am trusting, believing that I will be safe.  But I can’t be certain of it.  Everyone of us exercise faith everyday.  Walking in a building is an exercise of faith, believing the engineers who designed the structure did there job.  Am I certain the roof won’t cave in?  No, I can’t be.  I can be relatively certain (so certain I don’t even think about it), but not absolutely certain.

Religious faith is not unlike this at all.  I have, what I believe to be, ‘sufficient evidence’ to put my faith, trust, belief in concerning God.  Whether you and I agree that the evidence is sufficient is not the immediate point.  The point is that my exercise of faith in that evidence is not unlike my faith in the drivers of other cars.  Consequently then, I make a judgment on the evidence.

I think some atheists think people of faith contemplate like this: “I really want axiom A to be true.  I can’t find any compelling reason to believe axiom A, but I’ll believe it anyway because I want it to be true.”  That may be the way some people reason, but (I would argue) not the majority of people of faith.  Very much like you (I’m guessing) with humanism or secularism, I was confronted with truth claims that compelled me to believe a certain way.  The way you even stated your post is a perfect example.  You say, “Not everyone [You, the atheist] forms conclusions without basis[me, the person of religious faith], or believes things based upon insufficient evidences.”  Consequently then, you hold positions based on facts/sufficient evidence; I hold positions based on wishful thinking.  But I guarantee you, there are a host of positions you hold to be true that you can’t prove with certainty.  Certainty is an incredibly tall order (too tall in my opinion).  And if anyone of us holds to a position that we can not prove, we hold it (in some way) in faith.

I’m curious on what others may think about this.

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