Monday, October 23, 2006

Out of Fundamentalism

I have received an essay by a man who has recently come out of fundamentalism. I include his essay sharing the reason for his change in beliefs at Out of Fundamentalism.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

"You only threw up your hands in the air "

I received an email telling me that I have only thrown my hands up in the air.
I read your website. I understand your feelings. You encourage your readers to continue educating themselves. How about you? All of those so called discrepancies you found in the Bible, did you ever bother asking a theologian or researching for an answer? Because if you did, you would have found the answers. Instead, you only threw up your hands in the air and came to your own narrow conclusions.
He asks if I researched the matter, and then declares authoritatively that I did not. Excuse me, but how does he know that I did not? Shouldn't he have waited for my answer before reaching his conclusion? I can assure this man that I have indeed researched the Christian answers, including reading many books, visiting a pastor, and spending many hours in debate. My conclusions are not based on giving up and accepting whatever narrow conclusions were presented to me.
How long do you think, you can remain in your own Godless world where now you are god?

Me god? Seriously? If I am god, why does this world often seem different from what I want?
In other words, after all has been said and done, you still have to contend with the condition of your heart.
And what exactly is the condition of my heart? According to the old school of Christian thought, I am a worthless sinner with nothing good inside my heart, and I need to feel shame for my rottenness. According to the new school of Christian thought, I am a worthy person needing to develop my self-esteem and start realizing my own goodness. Which of these two schools of Christian thought is this man supporting? Unless he tells me, I don't know whether he thinks I should increase my self-esteem or decrease it.

I don't mean to accuse you or judge you, I am just making a point. I once found myself as you did and there are millions of spiritually lost people in such a state.
He found himself like me? Had he at one time adopted humanism after a thorough study of the options? If so, what caused him to change his mind and abandon humanism?

And if he was a dedicated humanist that changed his mind, did he just throw his hands up in the air when he found a new philosophy, or did he study humanism diligently to see if it had answers to the challenges?
About 2 years ago, I found answers to many of your questions, emotions, reasoning, and feelings. I wrote a book about it. I also entered the christian ministry. I've been a pastor close to 2 years. I have found peace, joy, and love like I never imagined and I would like to take you into my spiritual journey (Maybe I should set up my own website). If you email me your PO box number or address, I will give you my book.
I am grateful for the offer, but perhaps he is not aware how much I have read from Christian apologetics. Perhaps if he would share one of the arguments in his book with us, we could determine if he has indeed made a new and convincing case.

I have written him an email asking him to respond to this blog entry. We will see if he can indeed provide us with a convincing argument, one that can be ignored only by those who throw their hands up in the air.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

When our world view changes

Sometimes we make radical changes in our world view. Sometimes we think we have life all figured out, and then we find facts that are inconsistent with our view of the world, and we find that we must look at the world in a whole new light. If this change occurs in an area in which we are deeply committed, such as religion, the effect can be devastating. A reader shares his experience.

First, I don't quite know if I should thank you, or not. Since I first happened on your site in December 2004, I have really, really changed my worldviews concerning the way I was taught. I was raised to believe in young earth creation, etc...and have spent the last two years off and on realizing that I have been utterly lied to by well-intentioned folks who were ignorant of science. The young earth view is demonstrably wrong. Since this is true, I seriously wonder what all else that I have taught is wrong.
Here we have a major change in this man's views. Sometimes mainstream scientists have difficulty understanding how drastic this change is. When one is fully convinced that the fundamentalist package, including the belief in a recent creation of the entire universe, is the one message of truth and hope in this world, the tiniest crack in this belief system can be devastating. And yet there are the realities of starlight and the fossil record that make it obvious that the earth is indeed very old. When we face that fact, suddenly the fundamentalist view is no longer seen as infallible. Could there be other problems with that view? I can understand why this man's change in view is difficult.

I am currently an old-earth creationist, who unfortunately teaches in a Baptist church school that is a fundamental young earth church. I even teach a senior high Bible class! I do not seem to experience anything miraculous, in fact, I have become quite cynical, lonely, angry, bitter, toward life in general. If I happened to die, it would be no great loss, since I don't particularly enjoy living anyway; I am a burned out teacher that kids think is great; but really, I feel that I am a fool for doing what I do for the money at a Christian school.

I pause when I read this paragraph. I do not want people to feel lonely, angry and bitter. And I certainly don't want people to feel that if they died it would be no great loss. What? Lose a mature human mind with all the knowledge, feelings, emotions and drives that make human minds such wonderful things? That would be a great loss. So how do we keep people from feeling this way? How do we prevent people from drifting into cynicism when their faith is questioned? How can we keep people from feeling like a fool.

Some would suggest that we leave well-enough alone, and not help people see where their beliefs are outdated. Should we abandon evolution, since some object to it? Should we abandon self-esteem, since some still hold to the view that we are inherently worthless with no good inside us? Should we abandon astronomy, since some still hold to a young earth? That would only be a step backwards.

Although struggling with the new ideas is tough, the end result is very refreshing. I believe this man has taken the first step to a great exuberance in his life. He has taken the time to write down his thoughts, and to indicate that they are different from the party line. He has validated his thoughts. He needs no longer subjugate his thoughts to the status quo. He has given free expression to words that differ with the way he was taught. If he continues down this road, I am quite sure that his path will lead to joy, not sorrow.
I am "serving God" who doesn't apparently care about anything in my life - I have lost almost everything that I fervently believed in - in fact, I am keeping a prayer journal, with my prayers listed in the left column with the date, the "result" listed in the right column with the date. After keeping this journal for around one year, there has not been even one prayer answered out of the 6 or so that I have been tracking.
He is putting the claims to a test, and finds the claims to be faulty.

Recently I was at a NASCAR race at which the weather forecasters predicted a chance of thunderstorms. When the day turned out to be clear, I overheard one man announce that his prayers had been answered. That's odd. Are we to believe that God ignored the prayers of millions during the Holocaust, and allowed many Christians to starve in spite of their prayers, but thought it important enough to hold the rain back from this race?

The absence of rain that day does not impress me as an answer to prayer, and it appears that the writer of this email is not impressed with it either. After all, the forecasters had only said there was a chance of rain. Our correspondant and I are looking for something a little more meaningful.
I hang on to the concept of God primarily, I think because of my job situation, and my wife and kids, but if it was me, I could easily become agnostic.
The change of views is not easy. Many hold on to the old views because of the social pressures. This man is on the right track, and needs only admit what his mind is telling him.

Okay, the real reason I wrote is because in your debate on your blog with under the heading "A New Train Has Left the Station", you state the following: "That is the point where I stop also. What caused the universe? If someone were to claim that the universe cannot exist without a creator, then how could God exist without someone to create him? It strains the credibility both to believe in a self-existing universe or a self-existing God. If we must conclude that either the universe or God was self-existing, then I find a self-existing God to be no more likely than a self-existing universe. And I leave it at that." I believe that you have committed a category error in your argument insofar as God, by His very nature, is self-existing. So to ask "Who created God?" is like asking what does the color red sound like? God, by His nature has the attribute of being self-existing, else He wouldn't be in the category of being God.

We seem to be discussing semantics here. What should we call an omnipotent being that possesses all the attributes commonly attributed to God except that he was brought into existence by some force that no longer exists? I would call that being "God." The writer apparently thinks this being would not really be God, since he is missing an important attribute of God. I see no reason to argue about that difference in our choice of words for such a being (if he exists).

Whether the universe was self-existing or self creating, or whether a self-existing being started it all, is not that significant unless one claims that the self-existant creator has communicated or intervened in human affairs. It is that intervention for which I see no evidence. Without that intervention, the existance of a self-existing creator is merely an academic discussion, from which I refrain from getting involved.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A debate challenge on the Olivet Discourse

A reader writes that I am wrong about Mark 13. Here I address (in black) his comments (which are in red).


You write:
I ran across your site while researching for something to do with the written years of the Gospel. I found your site interesting but honestly very sad. It is not my intent to bash you or make you feel in an inferior way since I truly believe that nothing is gained this way. Please do not take my criticism this way cause it surely is not my makeup. With that said I will tell you though that I am a strong thinker, I am an avid reader of the word and a self –educator of learning, and am up for any debate.

I am sorry that you see my site as sad. I wrote it to help others see the joy of discovery that I have found.
To start off I would like to say that by your own admission your journey through life and religion seemed to always want to just fit in so the discomfort of your conscious feelings would be alleviated with any works program designed to take care of this.
Apparently you have me confused with somebody else, because this doesn't even look close to anything I have written. I don't think I ever said anything about wanting to fit in so the discomfort of my conscious feelings would be alleviated with a works program. What I did say is that I have been a follower all my life, but certainly not for the reasons you mention.
Look Merle, Although I would agree that you can make the Bible say anything you want (kind of like your point about getting somebody to substantiate your point of view when needed) Truth has to be grounded in some sort of system that deals with the rules of how and what the basis of that argument is built on for a foundation. The Church today (meaning in our day in age) has done a piss poor job in getting the congregation to think on their own. I agree with you a lot when you talk about to learn how to ask questions and not just agree on “faith” alone. To me this is a cop out (meaning to accept on the basis of faith alone) if you haven’t done all the rest of the homework. But on the flip side of that, truth is truth regardless of mine or your opinion on it, henceforth truth prevails without faith. What we need is the right kind of faith in the right source of substance, but only for our benefit not because if we don’t believe it than it doesn’t exist. Truth is independent from us. We need it for many reasons, it doesn’t need us.
Yes truth is independent of us, and we should ask questions to find the truth. I agree.
Look, I would love to share with you some of your errors in your perception in theology. My forte happens to be eschatology. You in your critique of Marks gospel of the “Olivet Discourse” are way off. For one your assuming that Mark is portraying all of that chapter as Jesus talking about 70 AD’s Great Diaspora. Totally wrong. I really would love to talk more indepthly on this subject and a few more but would rather do it over the phone. You do seem to have a open mind so this is why I will invite you into a controlled debate with me if you would like. I do not propose to have all answers but I do believe that we might do each other good in challenging each others faith.
In my essay, "When Were the Gospels written?" I mention that Mark 13 predicts things that would happen in the disciples' lifetime. I give many references to support my point, and spend considerable time developing my argument. And you call it an assumption? No, it is not an assumption. It is a conclusion I have reached based on the text and the arguments I gave. Do you think my arguments are wrong? Fine. What do you propose as an alternative? What arguments do you have to backup your view? What is wrong with my arguments? So far all you did was tell me I was wrong, but you did nothing to establish an alternative view.

You invite me to a controlled debate, and you suggest we do it by telephone. I have a better idea. Why don't we do it as comments here in this blog? That way we can study the other's views and look up the references before responding. And other people could see what was said and benefit from it also. And others could join in and add additional information and views. Would you welcome such a debate?

And what exactly is a controlled debate over the phone? I never heard of such a thing.
Merle, I do not believe in all sincerity that you were ever a Christian, any more than I believe that wearing a uniform makes a person that particular organization. Churches all through History has been hindering Gods word.

You don't think I was a Christian? Why not? I accepted Christ as my savior, and then set out to live in close fellowship with my savior for years. Why do you think I was not a Christian? Was God's grace not sufficient to save me when I accepted it by faith? If God in his grace did not respond to my faith, how can you be sure God responded to yours?
I am blessed that God taught me at an early age in Christendom what the most vital tool I needed beside the Holy Spirit which was a correct Hermeneutic. I have been a Christian for almost 17 yrs and much of what you’ve said I can identify with. I didn’t say agree, because I don’t , but really I understand.

Okay, you value a correct hermeneutic. Hermeneutics is the branch of philosophy concerned with determining the correct meaning of texts. Here is my hermeneutic. I study the words in context and consider also the context of the times in which the document was written. Do you have a better hermeneutic?
Well any way….Looking to here back from You. I will give you my phone number and set up a time if you would like to join.

Thanks for the invite, but wouldn't a written debate be better than a debate by telephone?

I look forward to hearing from you.


A new train of thought has left the station.

A reader writes about his new life:
Just a note to let you know I have enjoyed your site. I was raised Baptist and Pentecostal, and it's taken many years to undo the programming. Then I had a drinking problem and fell in with very fundamentalist variety of Alcoholics Anonymous. I'm still de-programming from that experience, as the motivation to make fundamental changes in my lifestyle drove me deep into the "AA" way of life, which in retrospect looks (and feels) like belonging to a cult.
I have heard that AA can be very cult-like, and that it shares much in common with religion. See 12 Steps to Destruction for a Christian condemnation of AA. Unfortunately, the writers of that book do not seem to be aware that the same criticisms they hurl at AA could be spoken of their own religion.
I wish there were a God, but agree with you that there is no evidence for one, either within me or the world around me. I've had many experiences that I attributed to God but I wouldn't stake my life on it now. On some level, to me, it also takes faith to believe that matter and energy sprang out of nothing, so I guess I'm not a die-hard atheist. I just don't believe that I'm supposed to seek and incorporate "God's will," whatever that is, into my daily life. Whether or not there is a God really doesn't matter that much.
That is the point where I stop also. What caused the universe? If someone were to claim that the universe cannot exist without a creator, than how could God exist without someone to create him? It strains the credibility both to believe in a self-existing universe or a self-existing God. If we must conclude that either the universe or God was self-existing, then I find a self-existing God to be no more likely than a self-existing universe. And I leave it at that.
I'm wondering if you've ever read any of the books in the Conversations with God series by Walsh. He posits that God does not intervene because no matter what harm befalls our bodies and psyches, the important part of us, our soul, is always safe. We return to earth again and again, each time trying to better express our true nature, which is made out of the same stuff that God is made of. This is a somewhat comforting paradigm, but unfortunately his books also contain a lot of stuff that makes no sense or is just off the wall (for example, that our bodies were designed to last forever and that a man who eats and drinks better and achieves better emotional/mental health would in fact live forever).
Well, I am sure that is interesting reading, but I see no evidence for a soul that survives for another pass. This basically sounds like reincarnation, which I find no evidence for.
My "descent" into near-atheism has wreaked havoc on my marriage. My wife is no fanatic, but she does believe in god and Christ and attends nearly weekly. It's just something we don't talk about very much. My views and beliefs were changing when we met and married, and I had no idea how much more they were going to change. It is like you said, there is no stopping a mind set free. A train of new thought has left the station, and it has plenty of momentum.
I understand the experience. The first steps of skepticism are regarded simply as doubts, and one is taught to have faith in spite of those doubts. So one learns to speak in faith, and not fully express the doubts. But when the reasons for skepticism are deeply ingrained, it soon becomes obvious that the effort to keep them in check through faith is deceptive. When one comes to the realization that the doubts are stronger than the faith, and that any show of faith is deceitful, and therefore decides to come out of the closet, it can come as a shock to loved ones who find themselves suddenly learning that they are in a close relationship with an infidel. That can be very stressing. I think that many de-converts keep an outward show of faith simply because the strain of telling the truth can be so stressing on a relationship. But somehow, it seems best to me to speak the truth.

I hope that your new train of thought will lead to a wonderful world.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The faith not to ask "Why?"

A reader writes that, after a tragic event, she found that faith sustained her. She recommends that I too need such faith. Here are excerpts from her email:

Like you I have these burning questions- they all tend to begin with ‘Why?’

Two months ago my mum committed suicide in the most tragic of circumstances. My parents were happily married for 30 years; we still are and were incredibly close. I miss her...Only a year ago she was the fit and healthy women that I always knew, never any history of problems. Suddenly bang, mental illness (incredible anxiety, psychosis was the root cause) struck her down like a cancer in the brain.

My sister, my dad and my mum are born again Christians and active church goers. I wasn’t. I quit Sunday School when I was 14. Like you I saw too many holes in the supposed theory.

I sat on the fence for a very long time over the last 14 years. Decided it was a comfortable place to be, that way I didn’t have to commit to anything.

Then this happened.

I can only describe in laments terms the prayers and support I have received from my friends and Jesus over the darkest two months of my life have impacted me.

And I would argue that this was the very time I could question ‘Why?’ and completely turn my back on Him, forever. Don’t I have circumstances that warrant that?

I still have the questions, I always will. It keeps me awake.

What stops me going crazy? What really keeps me going? What eventually helps me get to sleep and stop asking the Whys?

All I can say is FAITH. FAITH I never knew was possible. And I know that FAITH will eventually bring me peace to all the Whys.

Brainwashing, perhaps. The fact that I am so desperate, perhaps.

I used to laugh at people like me. I used to think they were so needy, in times of crisis they could cling on to the false hope of a God.

You are intelligent, I can see that from your writing, you are probably far cleverer than myself and I am not going to try and pick points in your site I could argue with. You would win and I would come back to the same answer. FAITH.

I have no doubt you have done some incredibly deep soul searching; you are seeking peace and clarity which is why you wrote this site. God has perfect timing- that I believe. But I will be asking Him all the whys when I get there before I have chance to drive myself round the twist on this Earth!

I hope you find what you are looking for, I really mean that.

I could be patronizing and pray for you. I could put God to the test and ask him for fires from the sky. But when you are hammering on the door asking for it to be opened I don’t think it will be- it’s just not the way it works. Trust me, I know.

The world is a terrible place; you only have to switch on the news. I weep.

What makes me keep going, and not just keep going, but even now have a little joy in this life? Him.

I can’t do it justice with an email, it comes from inside me that I think non- believers don’t want to or can’t get.

I can only tell you that when you find it, that in itself is a miracle.

Take care and may you be truly happy.

First let me express my sympathy for this woman in the tragic loss of her mother. That surely must have been a difficult time for her.

She admits that she has questions about her faith, questions that keep her awake. She says she could argue with points on my site, but admits that I would probably win. And she asks rhetorically, "What eventually helps me get to sleep and stop asking the Whys?" She answers, "All I can say is FAITH." And so we find that the questions and arguments against her faith matter little to her. Somehow she has learned to stop asking why, and has turned to faith. She has learned to believe in a particular theism, and has learned a technique--FAITH--that allows her to shut out the questions at night and get some sleep.

Is she brainwashing herself? Even she admits it may be brainwashing, and may be caused by the fact that she is desperate. And yet she finds a peace in faith that is very real to her. She clings to it, even if it means forcing the Why questions out of her mind.

She is telling me that she can't answer the questions, but faith keeps her going, so therefore this faith is good.

Now I understand the need to find hope, a need that is so great that many turn to an ersatz hope. Faith, positive thinking, "name it and claim it", are just some of the ways that people have learned to force a hope into their minds regardless of reality. But I find that forcing hope into one's mind while ignoring reality is not good. Eventually reality comes crashing in.

Let me illustrate: Years ago I was involved in an engineering project in which a new team was convinced that they could update our large factory. Blind enthusiasm filled the meetings, as they discussed their grandiose plans to rebuild the factory. Those who had experience with such rebuilds in the past, and warned of problems and questioned the unproven technology were regarded as negative. There was no room for questioning the plans, or testing the new concepts before installing them. "Of course they will work! Don't be so negative." And then I watched as the factory was brought to its knees, the old equipment having been removed, and the new equipment dysfunctional. I watched as the old equipment was retrieved from the garbage dump and put back together again to get the factory working.

Now you tell me: Was this blind faith good? Was all of the positive thinking that ignored reality a good idea?

There is a problem with a blind faith that ignores reality. There is a problem with the person who recklessly goes into debt, runs roughshod over the feelings of others, and takes needless risks, all the while forcing himself to believe that all will end up well, for God is on his side. Such faith is asking for trouble.

The gambler who recklessly borrows and wastes his money while maintaining the false hope that he will win it all back has a faith that is not grounded in reality. The terrorist who intentionally flies an airplane into a building in the hope that God will honor the martyrdom has a faith that is not grounded in reality.

So I find that faith and confidence must be grounded in reality. To do that, one must ask, "Why?" One must open her mind to all sides of the issue, and to all questions, to firmly establish herself in reality.

I can have confidence, not because I ignore the questions, but because I find so much to be confident in. There is indeed something marvelous about the human mind. I have a human mind, and I know many people that possess marvelous human minds. (And yes, there are a few around me that surely must also have a marvelous human mind, but sometimes it is hard to tell!) Seeing the wonders of the human mind, I can have hope in what we can accomplish. The hope does not ignore the evils that can be present in humanity, but it sees a reason for hope in spite of the troubles.

So I prefer a confidence based on reality and an honest look at the hard questions. I see no need for a faith that forces away the "Why" questions.