Saturday, 14 August 2010
Monday, 19 July 2010
Here's the latest book causing a wee stir amongst the Atheist/Agnostic/ex-Christian scene:
|By||Ken R. Pulliam (Atlanta, GA)|
Chapter One is written by anthropologist David Eller and discusses how Christianity is a phenomena that can be understood purely on cultural and sociological grounds.
Chapter Two is by psychologist Valerie Tarico who examines the concept of belief (or faith) as it is presently understood by neurologists and shows that it is rarely based on evidence or arguments.
Chapter Three is by pharmacist Jason Long who deals with how religious ideas develop in people and how they hold on to them regardless of the evidence.
Chapter Four is by former Pastor and Christian apologist John Loftus who explains his Outsider Test for Faith. He invites people to "step outside" of their belief system and evaluate their religion in the same way they would evaluate a religion that they do not hold.
Chapter Five is by librarian Ed Babinski who has studied Young Earth Creationism extensively. He clearly presents the pre-scientific understanding of the cosmos as held by biblical writers and shows that it is impossible to reconcile that understanding with what is currently known in science.
Chapter Six is by author (The Rejection of Pascal's Wager: A Skeptic's Guide to the Bible and the Historical Jesus ) Paul Tobin who shows that the historical criticism of the Bible reveals that it contains errors, inconsistencies, myths, legends, and forgeries.
Chapter Seven has John Loftus returning to demonstrate how the Bible fails to communicate clearly. He shows how interpretational conflicts over the meaning of Scripture has led to millions of deaths as well as untold suffering through the ages. He argues that one would expect an omniscient God to be able to communicate his will in a much better fashion.
Chapter Eight is by biblical scholar Hector Avalos and discusses why the God of the Old Testament is a cruel and monstrous tyrant in spite of Christian apologists attempt to justify him.
Chapter Nine is my favorite chapter in the book. In it John Loftus returns to lay out the problem of animal suffering and examine 8 different ways Christians have tried to reconcile that suffering with a good God. He shows convincingly that each Christian answer fails and that there is no reconciliation possible.
Chapter Ten is by NT scholar Robert Price who, in his own unique and sarcastic way, demolishes the attempts by evangelicals to wiggle out of the implications of biblical criticism.
Chapter Eleven is by historian Richard Carrier who applies the Outsider Test of Faith to the "historical evidence" put forward by Christian apologists for the resurrection. He demonstrates conclusively that if one treats the NT as historians treat every other ancient document, the teaching that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead is untenable.
Chapter Twelve brings John Loftus back again to show that Jesus of Nazareth is but one in a long list of failed apocalyptic prophets. He demonstrates that Jesus taught the world would end in the lifetime of the disciples and that all of the first century believers including Paul thought Jesus would return at any moment. He goes on to show how Christians have had to rethink their eschatological ideas in light of the failure of Jesus to return.
Chapter Thirteen is a repeat performance by David Eller in which he explodes a commonly held myth that morality must be based on a divine being. He proves that morality is merely an expression of one's culture.
Chapter Fourteen has Hector Avalos returning to deal with the argument put forward by Christians that the holocaust and the other atrocities committed by Adolph Hitler were a result of Darwinian or atheistic ideology. He shows that instead Hitler's motivating factors were actually the example of the Roman Catholic Church and the teaching of Martin Luther about the Jews.
Chapter Fifteen is another essay by Richard Carrier in which he shows the absurdity of the Christian claim that modern science is based upon the precepts of the Christian worldview.
Once again, this is an excellent volume and I highly recommend it to anyone who is willing to examine the evidence and think seriously about the Christian faith. I am sure many Christians will be afraid to read it or even advised by their leaders not to read it. But as Socrates is reported to have said: "The unexamined life is not worth living."
Thursday, 15 July 2010
I have been reading Dan Barker's book, Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists. I found a great portion that deals with basing an argument on authority or consensus. I liked what he had to say.
This quote comes from page 81,
I started, and have been heavily involved with, a discussion concerning the return of Jesus (or lack thereof) on a forum I am co-moderating.
Some good issues have been raised and I have actually learned a lot as the discussion had unfolded. There was a lot about Preterism that was new to me.
Thursday, 22 April 2010
Why should I be concerned with what other people believe, as long as they aren't causing any harm, or as long as their beliefs lead to admirable acts of charity? I have heard this objection from a number of Christians, an objection I find surprising in light of the Apostle Paul's view:
And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men (1 Corinthians 15:14-18).
Paul goes on to assert that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead, but if his assertion is mistaken, then according to these verses, my intention to bring that to light should be seen as a noble endeavor. I don't quite concur with Paul that Christians are to be pitied more than all men if their faith is baseless. After all, knowing the truth is not a precondition for happiness; there are happy and unhappy members of every religion. But Paul does make a valid point: devoting our life to an illusion is not the best use of the only life we have.
One of my best friends that year was a Mormon, so I read extensively on Mormonism from an evangelical perspective, finding numerous faults in the Latter Day Saints' scriptures and discussing them with my friend into the wee hours of the morning. After I pointed out a number of historical and theological flaws in Mormonism, he confided in me, "Religion is a bitch." I responded that no, it was clear the universe was created by a personal being, and so it was a no-brainer that we needed to give him our allegiance. I never did convince him to leave his faith, but I became more confident in the moorings of my own faith. I did agree to read an apologetic book he gave me entitled A Marvelous Work and a Wonder (Richards 1950) and was able to find enough faults in its reasoning to dismiss it quite readily. It did not occur to me to apply the same level of criticism to Josh McDowell's Evidence that Demands a Verdict (McDowell 1979), a popular evangelical apologetic work I read during that same year.
Often when I had been tempted to doubt earlier, I would remind myself of the many fulfilled prophecies of the Bible outlined in Evidence that Demands a Verdict (McDowell 1979) and other apologetic works. But I was confused as to why on the one hand the Old Testament seemed so ugly while at the same time it seemed to have amazing predictive ability. The prophecy of the 70 weeks of Daniel particularly impressed me because of its accuracy in predicting the time of the messiah's coming. Subsequently I found arguments on both sides of the issue on the Internet, but the skeptical explanations began to look increasingly plausible
Why does the Old Testament incessantly violate my idea of right and wrong? Why does it regard women in such a poor light? Why are the people of Yahweh supposed to wipe out men, women and children but are allowed to take the virgins for themselves [Deuteronomy 21:10-14; Numbers 31:17-18]? Why are the sacrifices offered in the tabernacle called food for Yahweh [Leviticus 21:21-23]? Why does Yahweh need sacrifices anyway? Can't he simply forgive those who ask for his forgiveness, just as we humans forgive each other? Why do some people get zapped instantly for touching the ark inadvertently [2 Samuel 6:1-8] while Aaron, Moses' brother, gets off scot-free after making a golden calf for the people to worship [Exodus 32], and then he becomes the leader of the priesthood and the recipient of the best of all the offerings of the people? Why do women suspected of adultery have to go through some bizarre ordeal of drinking bitter water and seeing their womb swell and thigh waste away, while no provision is made for women to test their husbands for the same offense [Numbers 5:11-31]?
God, the weight of all these troublesome passages, and many more, add up in my mind to foolishness. Or at least an attribution of ancient cultural ideas on the God of all creation. The list goes on: the Bible's endorsement of polygamy [2 Samuel 12:8], the magic of the striped sticks causing sheep's offspring to be striped [Genesis 30:31-43], the assertion that camels don't have split hooves [Leviticus 11:1-4], the mixed use of round numbers and exact numbers in Numbers [3:39-51] to justify paying redemption money to Aaron's family, Yahweh's command to hamstring the horses [Joshua 11:6], the barbaric brutality of the Israelites in their holy wars, the contradictory teachings on divorce [Deuteronomy 22:19, 29; Ezra 10:2-3; Malachi 2:16; Mark 10:11-12], the many little historical contradictions, the attempt to explain language diversification through a "how-the-leopard-got-its-spots" Tower of Babel story [Genesis 11:1-9], the conception of a young earth which is clearly unattested to by the facts [Genesis 1-11], the inability of Christians to agree on so many doctrines while reading the same Bible that seems to say one thing in one place and another in another place, the long process of canonizing the Bible, the vengeful attitudes ascribed to Yahweh when his wayward people are attacked by their enemies, the sacrifices in Ezekiel's temple that has yet to be built [Ezekiel 40], the vengeance Samson took on his betrayers under the influence of the Spirit of Yahweh [Judges 14:19], the exclusively physical punishments and rewards promised for the Israelites [Deuteronomy 28] with no mention of heaven until late in the writing of the Old Testament, and on and on and on.
Not wanting to give up the faith that had been so dear to me for so long, I searched the Internet for some helpful apologetic articles. I had heard that Clark Pinnock was an apologist of a more scholarly caliber than Josh McDowell, so I searched for his name. Instead of finding anything written by Pinnock, I found an online book referencing him entitled Beyond Born Again by Robert M. Price (Price 1993). Price spent his youth as a fundamentalist, attended Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary as an evangelical, transitioned to liberal Christianity, then went on to earn two doctorates in New Testament studies. He was still a liberal believer when he wrote this book, but he later became a humanist after some 20 years as a liberal Christian. In any case, his was the first book I had read specifically attacking evangelicalism, and it was compelling, throwing my already fragile faith into a tailspin. I don't believe I would have been willing to listen to anything he had to say had it not been for my prior misgivings about the Old Testament. Having devoted my life to the calling of Bible translation, it was devastating to realize that the Bible probably is not God's word after all. You can only imagine the knot in my stomach and the beating of my heart with every new discovery I made confirming my suspicions that the Bible is man-made from start to finish.
The Bible seems so conditioned by the ideas of the times in which it was written and to me bears no evidence of divine authorship. Must I be eternally damned because I can't believe that Samson, under the influence of your Spirit, avenged himself on his personal enemies by killing 1,000 of them with the jawbone of a donkey? Or because I see inconsistencies in the accounts and viewpoints of the biblical authors, such as whether Jehu was justified in killing the household of Ahab (Kings) or not (Hosea)? Or because I see many of the ethics of the Bible (for example, polygamy, taking virgins as war captives and slaughtering the rest, and slavery) as objectionable? Or because I see innumerable parallels between the myths of the Ancient Near East and those of the Bible, leading me to believe that they are in fact mere myths? Or that I can't see why you couldn't just forgive truly penitent people for their sins without requiring a blood sacrifice, just as humans forgive each other? Or that I can't see any fundamental reason to choose Christianity over Islam except for evangelical Christianity's emphasis on a personal relationship with you (but there are sects within Islam and other religions that do emphasize such a relationship)?
In short, it seems quite clear to me that Christianity is just another religion like the others, perhaps a little more advanced than others, but a human creation nonetheless.
In this final crisis it was not only the Old Testament that drove me to doubt, but increasingly the New Testament as well. While the Old Testament can seem cruel in its advocacy of genocide and capital punishment for Sabbath breakers and rebellious sons, all these punishments are limited to the present life. By contrast, the New Testament suggests (at least, as I understood it; evangelical leader John Stott and Seventh-Day Adventists would disagree) that unbelievers will spend an eternity of conscious torment in hell, an infinitely worse proposition than being stoned to death. I could no longer believe that a god who enjoins us to love our enemies and to turn the other cheek could be capable of subjecting his own enemies to endless punishment with no further offer of mercy or reprieve (Hebrews 9:27). Why not simply annihilate his rebellious subjects and put them out of their misery?
The Failed Return of Christ
Other objections to the New Testament I began to consider at this time were the failure of Jesus to return in the generation of his disciples as promised and the significant discrepancies in the Resurrection accounts of the Gospels. I discuss both of these matters in chapters 10 and 11.
Lack of Miracles
Though I wanted a world in which God was active, my personal observations during my relatively well-traveled life had never encountered an unambiguous supernatural event. Experience seemed to be at odds with the belief that God is at work in the world. I will expand on this issue in chapter 13.
The Presence of God
During my years as a Christian (and even afterward), every now and then I would sense what I thought was God's presence: a warm, beautiful sensation flooding my soul as I talked to God (or sometimes when hearing a patriotic song or stirring classical music, but that's another category, or so I thought). One day in 2002 I prayed, as I had prayed many times before, "God, if Jesus is your Son, I accept his sacrifice for my sins, and I ask you to help me believe." Immediately this same wonderful sensation flooded my soul. I was thrilled. But wanting to know whether this was a unique confirmation of the gospel, I prayed, "God, if you are Allah, and if Mohammed is your prophet, please let me know." And the same sensation came over me! What was I to make of that, if as I had always been taught, Islam and Christianity are incompatible?
I cannot doubt that Mormons and members of other faiths experience this same phenomenon when they talk about a "burning in the bosom" as a way of authenticating their faith. Given this reality, I don't think it's unwarranted to ask for more than a sense of God's presence, a satisfaction with the doctrines of a particular faith, a sense of joy, the fellowship of believers, or a "could be" miracle to authenticate the kinds of claims that are made by many religions. If God truly intervenes in people's hearts, why did he allow this real sense of peace, what seemed like God's presence, to flood my soul in both cases, rather than in just the first case or in neither case? If God, being able to intervene in any way, had prevented any sensation at all, I would have been left much less confused. Though I continued to pray occasionally for God to make himself known to me were he to exist, this experience marked a turning point, a loss of expectation of ever hearing from God after years of seeking him.
What's Really Wrong with You?
Some of my readers might wonder, "Why did he do it? Why did he leave the riches of his faith for the despair and danger of unbelief? It couldn't be that he sincerely believes Christianity to be untrue; there must be some deep underlying issues he's dealing with, some flaw, some hidden agenda, some dashed expectation." I have been asked this question directly, and my response has been this: you can dig as deeply as you like, and when you get to the bottom of it, you'll find I believe what I believe because I think it's true. There may indeed be some hidden issues that have driven me to this point, but if so, they are as hidden to me as to anyone else. I have shared freely with others and with God the matters I consider relevant to the question, but nothing definitive has turned up.
What is the source of Christians' reluctance to accept the above simple explanation for my unbelief? I cannot speak for all, but as a former Christian, here is how I might have internally processed a story like mine:
He appears to be sincere, and he seems to have been a genuine believer, but he has now rejected God, so despite appearances, it may be that he never experienced a true relationship with God. According to Hebrews 10:26-27, the penalty for rejecting Christ after having followed him is divine judgment with no further hope for redemption, so Ken must be in danger of this fate. He claims his motives are pure, and that he truly perceives Christianity to be untrue, but there must be some fundamental flaw in him, something that marks him off from other believers who remain faithful to the faith, or he could not justly be subject to the judgment described in Hebrews 10. I don't know what it is, but I trust God's word over Ken's. His willingness to embrace something as problematic as evolution and to believe that the universe could have formed by chance must indicate an underlying desire to disbelieve despite the evidence for God and the Bible. At times he displays an argumentative, arrogant spirit, which may reveal a willful rebellion against God. Perhaps his motives are not as pure as he claims.
On the other hand, he does seem to be aware that he's putting the eternal fate of his soul in jeopardy if he turns out to be wrong, so he must have a high degree of confidence in his belief that the gospel is not true. What could possibly have motivated him and driven him to such a degree of certainty that he would be willing to invite the disapproval of his friends, family, supporters and mission board, to live without the hope of a hereafter, to abandon his calling and sense of purpose, and to risk divine judgment? Perhaps 2 Thessalonians 2:10b-11 pertains to him: "They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie ..." This could mean he truly does believe what he says he believes, but God has brought this on him because of his rebellious spirit and his failure to acknowledge God for who he is. Only God knows his heart; it may be that Ken will ultimately recognize his error and return to God, refined by fire and more useful to God than before.
I invite Christian readers to consider the possibility that my apostasy is a result not of divine or diabolical deception but of a simple weighing of the evidence. It would be impossible for me to relate here the volumes of arguments I have considered on both sides of the question. It is my hope that those who are unable or unwilling to read skeptical works extensively will consider the possibility that there might be legitimate reasons for taking the position I have taken, given my willingness to risk my eternal destiny as a result of what I have come to believe.
Sunday, 7 June 2009
I was listening to an audio book recently, God’s Problem by renowned Biblical scholar and former Evangelical Christian, Bart D. Ehrman. As I listened to his words I felt such a resonance with what he wrote. He captures how I felt, how I sometimes still feel, and the issues I face(d) having left Christianity behind.
To my Christian readers, I don’t share this to try to convince you of anything, or to try to deconvert you from your faith. I share it with you just to share it with you.
"People who have gone through a kind of “deconversion” experience like mine understand how emotionally wrenching it can be. It may be easy to have a good sense of humor about it now that I’m well on the other side of the crisis (a friend of mine says that I went from being “born again” to being “dead again”), but at the time it was extremely traumatic. I went from being a hard-core and committed evangelical Christian who had spent his young adulthood in a fundamentalist Bible college, an evangelical liberal arts college, and a number of Bible-believing churches, to being an agnostic who viewed the Bible as a book produced entirely by human hands, who viewed Jesus as a first-century apocalyptic Jew who was crucified but not raised from the dead, and who viewed the ultimate questions of theology as beyond a human’s ability to answer.
"I don’t know if there is a God. I don’t call myself an atheist, because to declare affirmatively that there is no God (the declaration of atheists) takes far more knowledge (and chutzpah) than I have. How would I know if there’s a God? I’m just a mortal like everyone else. I think what I can say is that if (IF!) there is a God, he is not the kind of being that I believed in as an evangelical: a personal deity who has ultimate power over this world and intervenes in human affairs in order to implement his will among us. It is beyond my comprehension that there could be a being like that—in no small part because, frankly, I don’t believe that interventions happen. If God cures cancer, then why do millions die of cancer? If the response is that it is a mystery (“God works in mysterious ways”), that is the same as saying that we do not know what God does or what he is like. So why pretend we do? If God feeds the hungry, why are people starving? If God takes care of his children, why are thousands of people destroyed by natural disasters every year? Why does the majority of the earth’s population suffer in abject poverty?
"I no longer believe in a God who is actively involved with the problems of this world. But I used to believe in a God of that sort with all my heart and soul, and I was willing and eager to tell everyone around me all about him. My faith in Christ made me an amateur evangelist, one determined to convert others to belief as well. But now I’ve deconverted. And I have to say, the deconversion process was not easy or pleasant. As I pointed out in an earlier chapter, I left the faith kicking and screaming.
"But what can else could I do? What can you, or anyone else, do when you’re confronted with facts (or, at least, with what you take to be facts) that contradict your faith? I suppose you could discount the facts, say they don’t exist, or do your best to ignore them. But what if you are absolutely committed to being true to yourself and to your understanding of the truth? What if you want to approach your belief with intellectual honesty and to act with personal integrity? I think all of us—even those of us who are agnostics—have to be willing to change our views if we come to think they were wrong after all. But doing so can be very painful.
"The pain for me was manifest in lots of ways. One of the hardest things was that I was now at odds with many of those who were near and dear to me—members of my family and close friends—people with whom I had once shared an intimate spiritual bond, with whom I could, before, pray and talk about the big questions of life and death with the full assurance that we were all on the same page. Once I left the faith, that no longer happened, and friends and family started treating me with suspicion, wondering what was wrong with me, why I had changed, why I had “gone over to the dark side.” Many of them, I suppose, thought that I had learned too much for my own good, or had opened myself up to the snares of the devil. It’s not easy being intimate with someone who thinks you’re in cahoots with Satan.
"Probably the hardest thing for me to deal with personally involved the very core of what I had believed as an evangelical Christian. I had become “born again” because I wanted “to be saved.” Saved from what? Among other things, from the eternal torments of hell. In the view that was given to me, Christ had died for the sins of the world, and anyone who accepted him in faith would have eternal life with him in heaven. All those who did not believe in him—whether out of wilful refusal or sheer ignorance—would necessarily have to pay for their own sins in hell. Hell was a well-populated place: most people went there. And hell was a place of everlasting torment, which involved the spiritual agony of being separated from God (and hence, all that is good) and the physical agony of real torment in an eternal lake of fire. Roasting in hell was, for me, not a metaphor but a physical reality. No wonder I was so evangelistic in my faith: I didn’t want any of my family or friends to experience the fires of hell for all eternity, and so I did everything I could to make sure they accepted Christ and received the free gift of salvation.
"This view of hell was driven into me and deeply burned, so to say, onto my consciousness (and, probably, my unconscious). As a result, when I fell away from my faith—not just in the Bible as God’s inspired word, but in Christ as the only way of salvation, and eventually from the view that Christ was himself divine, and beyond that from the view that there is an all-powerful God in charge of this world—I still wondered, deep down inside: could I have been right after all? What if I was right then but wrong now? Will I burn in hell forever? The fear of death gripped me for years, and there are still moments when I wake up at night in a cold sweat.
"All of this is rooted in a sense of suffering, of course. The evangelical theology I had once held was built on views of suffering: Christ suffered for my sins, so that I would not have to suffer eternally, because God is a righteous judge who punishes for all time those who reject him and the salvation that he has provided. The irony, I suppose, is that it was precisely my view of suffering that led me away from this understanding of Christ, salvation, and God. I came to think that there is not a God who is actively involved with this world of pain and misery—if he is, why doesn’t he do something about it? Concomitantly, I came to believe that there is not a God who is intent on roasting innocent children and others in hell because they didn’t happen to accept a certain religious creed."
Taken from chapter five of God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer by Bart D. Ehrman, published by HarperCollins.
Thursday, 26 April 2007
This website makes an interesting assertion. What would happen if all Christians started praying for amputees to regrow lost limbs?
No matter how many people pray. No matter how sincere those people are. No matter how much they believe. No matter how devout and deserving the recipient. Nothing will happen. The legs will not regenerate. Prayer does not restore the severed limbs of amputees. You can electronically search through all the medical journals ever written -- there is no documented case of an amputated leg being restored spontaneously. And we know that God ignores the prayers of amputees through our own observations of the world around us. If God were answering the prayers of amputees to regenerate their lost limbs, we would be seeing amputated legs growing back every day.