No surprise to regular readers that I have semi-regular discussions with atheists and agnostics on this blog and at others. I don’t try to covert them, because I’m not clinically insane nor masochistic, but I think it’s great to make sure we all understand each other. Much better than one side calling the other a bunch of superstitious idiots, while the other side is calling them narrow-minded secularists.
In fact, TitforTat and The Word of Me have probably been my most frequent foils lately (and I mean that in the nicest recreational fencing/dueling way possible). In terms of longer dialogs, though, TWOM had a conversation with me here with regard to a Mrs. Blue post here, and I’m trading thoughts with him over at one of his postsover at his blog right now.
It’s good stuff, and I like the conversations. As long as no one gets to calling me an out-of-touch looney-toon, all’s good (that hasn’t happened often, and most of those people I don’t even try to engage again). But I have been thinking a lot lately about what divides a spiritual believer from a non-believer, and it strikes me that as much as we intellectually can appreciate each other, it is hard to truly explain ourselves to each other. For both sides, it seems self-evident that our position is the correct one, and it troubles us on some level that the other side hasn’t broken through to our way of thinking.
This struck me in particular when TWOM recently posted in one of his comments something to the effect of “I’ve read the Bible and I’ve tried to understand it and believe.” I’m probably misquoting him a bit, but that was the gist as I recall. And it’s been said to me before by other agnostics and atheists that they have tried to read the Bible with an open mind and “just don’t get it.”
And this is precisely where the rubber meets the road: Faith vs. concrete facts. Intellect vs. surrender.
This is not to say that the faithful lack intellect nor that the doubters and atheists lack any kind of “spiritual” or moral core. Far from it. But here is the best example I can come up with as a person of faith:
Imagine a person who decides to go skydiving. There are a few likely scenarios.
She completely freaks out with fear and doesn’t go to the skydiving takeoff point at all. This would analogous, I believe, to someone who says “Yes, I’ll consider your points and/or read that Bible thing” but never really tries.
She goes to the site, freaks out, and just cannot get on the plane, or she gets on the plane but cannot get herself out of that seat until it lands again. She never jumps, but she at least went to where it would all start. I liken this to the person who does give some consideration to it, but never really turns off the literal/concrete parts of their brain. I mean, I personally enjoy and respect (and use) critical thinking, but you cannot think your way to faith.
She makes it to the door of the plane while it is in midair, but she cannot make the jump. She sees all that open sky beneath her and feels the excitement and fear in her gut. She has a visceral and emotional reaction, but making the leap is just too much. She goes back to her seat. Here we have a person who has managed to open their heart and might see a glimpse of what the faith believer sees, but on some level, the thought of letting go is too much. Whether because of fear that it might be true, and a desire not to find out and have to consider answering to a higher power, or whether fear that faith will lessen them somehow; reduce their intellect or spin them too far away from provable reality perhaps.
She jumps out of the plane and goes for the ride. This would be the person who does make the leap from purely temporal and rational thought to faith. It is a wild and scary ride sometimes, and the person might regret it in some ways. The person might even decide one day to reverse course and deny that faith she tasted or decide not to embrace it fully, but the leap was indeed made, whether for a short time or a lifetime.
None of this is to suggest that atheists or agnostics are cowards. Fear isn’t altogether a bad thing. And they, in turn, could accuse someone of me of being fearful of considering that there isn’t anything beyond this life; that there isn’t any intelligence guiding the universe. They would argue that I am afraid to let go of a comfortable superstition.
Myself, I don’t feel fear at the possibility there might not be a God. I have considered it. Hell, I spent most of my life ignoring spiritual things and the church and might as well have been an agnostic or even atheist, despite having been a baptized Catholic who occasionally went to church. I still find myself at a crossroads at times when I ask, “Am I spiritually delusional?” In the end analysis, having made the leap and feeling the swell of my spirit and sensing things beyond the physical and intellectual, I simply cannot conceive of there not being a God.
It is, to me, as clear and as unassailable as the existence of gravity. That doesn’t mean I don’t doubt some of the specifics of the Bible or wonder if my spiritual path is the right one. But for me, taking the leap wasn’t simply a transient thing. I live in a world where God exists, and I can no more deny Him than I can deny myself.
I find it hard to believe that you could read the Bible with an open mind and not recognize the wisdom it contains. Sure, you might not get converted, but if you’ve read teh Bible with an open mind it would be impossible for you to categorize Christianity a some nutty superstition. To truly read and study the Bible is to be amazed at how easily it deals with so many aspects of life. Books like Psalms, Proverbs, James and many others are just beautiful expressions of life. If you can read those words and then scoff at people who have read them and seen God, then I question whether your heart was ever open.
Like you, I’ve considered the possibility that this whole faith thing is a charade, that I’ve been duped. I just don’t think it’s true. I don’t know if all of my beliefs are correct, but I believe that the core of what I believe is true.
I find it hard to believe in retrospect, too, now that I’ve made the leap AND read the entire Bible a couple times in totality.
But I look at it like this: When I talk with people who don’t believe, it’s kind of like a pair of guys who used to be committed bachelors. I’m the one that went and found “true love,” and the other guy is scratching his head, saying, “What are you thinking, man? Your life before was waaaaay better.”
because I’m not clinically insane nor masochistic, (Deacon)
Really? I thought you were Christian? 😉
I find it hard to believe that you could read the Bible with an open mind and not recognize the wisdom it contains. Sure, you might not get converted, but if you’ve read teh Bible with an open mind it would be impossible for you to categorize Christianity a some nutty superstition.(Bigman)
Surely you jest. Like come on Man, the bible may have some wisdom in it, but it also has tons of Nutty stuff. Me thinketh you only read with one eye open.
Numbers 31: 17-18 ESV
Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him. But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves.
Yep, I would have to say that sounds pretty sane and wise. 😉
I wonder if they are related to the Taliban?
I’ve never received an official diagnosis of Christianity from a qualified health professional. 😉
As for your comments to Big Man, there are things in the Bible that make a person take pause. Even some “nutty” stuff. But still, overall, I would have to agree with Big Man that it holds up awfully well.
As to the specific quote you pulled out, that’s one of the harsher ones, but I seem to recall reading something about that and the fact that there was possibly some relevant context to that…my memory ain’t what it used to be, and historical stuff dribbles out my brain damn near as fast as it goes in, so I can’t really respond to what the context might have been.
I would have to agree with Big Man that it holds up awfully well.(Deacon)
Actually, no it doesnt. If you choose to be a “Cherry Picker” then it holds up great. Butttttt, if you actually read a little deeper you will find “TONS” of stuff that dont sit well in the pit of your stomach. Now with that said, there is also “TONS” of stuff that you would consider the word of G-d. I suggest you take the time to see the difference. Hey but like me, dont take someone elses word for it. Actually go read and study the book. You might be surprised.
Actually, I won’t find TONS of stuff that doesn’t sit well. There may be “many” situations in the Bible that are disturbing, but they are still FAR in the minority compared to the things which are positive (or nuetral, for that matter).
I’ve read the Bible. I’m not taking someone else’s word for whether it holds up. Because it was in reading the Bible all the way through…finally…some years back that I gained a lot of understanding and appreciation for why God has done the things He has, why humans are in the mess they’re in, and how God works in the world.
Are there things I don’t understand as to why God did things a certain way? Sure.
Are there things I think are symbolic more than they are literal? Sure.
Are there places in which the Bible record doesn’t always agree with itself? Yes, but frankly, modern history is fraught with inconsistencies in the record, so I’m surprised the Bible is as consistent as it is given the time and place and centuries over which the content was generated.
If you are going to go full intellectual on the Bible, sure, you can pick it to hell. If I were to go into Mr. Spock mode on human relationships I could make love and the quest for it seem like pure, useless idiocy, too. There are places and times with the Bible and with Christianity in general when intellect serves well and when it can be used to bolster an argument or position. But if one only approaches the Bible with logic and not with any kind of open heart and spirit, there is NO way it will make sense. It’s like trying to approach intimate human relationships in the fashion of a scientific experiment. It just doesn’t work.
And that, again, goes to my point about why the two sides strike each other as having blinders on. The skeptic will say that I have put intellectual and/or critical blinders on. I will say that he or she has put spiritual and/or emotional blinders on.
tit… an important thing to keep in mind is that we tend not to notice what doesn’t bother us. For every offensive, misunderstood, or mistranslated verse we flinch at, many sensible, intuitive truths have slid by underneath our radar. For instance, when I read that nailing another man’s wife will make him angry, that he will never forgive me, well my reading consciousness accepts this and that particular snippet is not flagged in my memory for rebuttal or further consideration… after I violate someone else’s marriage, this becomes more relevant, and I may notice it next time around.
I have to be able to accept and apply some things that I do not completely understand or else I cannot fly in planes, drive cars manufactured after 1979, post html tags, or use birth control.
I gotta go with the guy that rose from the dead. Like Deke, I believe you cannot think your way to faith, but you can at least think your way into an open mind.
Thanks, Chris, for the input.
You know, I really respect the conviction and thought process that goes into refuting faith-based things, in particular the Bible. I really understand the impetus for even WANTING to deny that there is an intelligence behind the universe and someone to answer to.
But once again, getting on that thinking vs. feeling thing that’s nagging at me, I often have the sensation that many folks who challenge my beliefs believe, on some level, that I gave something up for faith. I think that somewhere inside, many of them think that in embracing faith, I somehow had to give up common sense, or intellectual rigor, or something else vital.
Whereas I feel I’ve simply added something to what I already had.
In fact, I think the only thing I’ve “given up” in taking the faith walk is the notion that whatever I do is OK, as long as it doesn’t directly hurt someone and no one sees me do it.
I think you have a mistaken idea that I dont believe in a creator. I do. The point I try to convey is the “fact” that none of us have a clue what it is. Now if you choose to have “faith” that Jesus is/was G-d, that is your prerogative. The “truth” is, if you make that claim as absolute, the burden of proof lies on you. And sorry to say, there aint no way youre going to be able to do that. I just find it interesting how people can make things “fit” just so they can jump through their hoops of faith.
“I gotta go with the guy that rose from the dead. Like Deke, I believe you cannot think your way to faith, but you can at least think your way into an open mind.”(Chris)
The only way you can have your “faith” is to think about what you believe. So why dont you think about how or why your idea is more relevant than, lets say, unicorns?
People who pull random passages from the Old Testament and tell me how “nutty” the Bible is, don’t really want to have a true discussion.
So, I’ve learn to avoid that argument. A true student of Biblical history and context would know the relationship between the New Testament and the Old Testament and would understand better the context and importance of Mosaic Law. Somebody seeking to prove that the Bible is idiotic would ignore that.
And I’ve never understood why people who don’t believe in Jesus get so bent out of shape that other people do believe in him and think their beliefs are absolutely correct.
Everybody thinks their beliefs are correct, that’s part of what makes them beliefs. It doesn’t bother me that billions of people do not believe Jesus was the son of God and do not believe that he rose from the dead. Why would they bother me?
Yet, for many unbelievers, it seems to be a real problem that I DO believe those things, and more importantly, that I believe that my belief is necessary to get into heaven.
I’d like Tit to explain why he is bothered by my absolute belief? It’s not because I’ve tried to convert him, or because I’ve tried to make him live according to my beliefs. I could understand being upset at that. He seems to simply be bothered that I believe, which I find very strange.
Why would they bother me?(Bigman)
Geez so much for being a loving Christian I guess. It should bother you because your idea of “faith” is that those billions will end up on the short end of the stick.
By the way Im Tat, its the wifes Tit. 😉
PS. It doesnt bother me, I just like the discussion. You never know when someone will actually throw out some very useful information during a discussion.
As a child I heard a unicorn legend that a man copied the markings on said unicorn’s back and they were the basis for the chinese alphabet. At ten or eleven, that was heavy and interesting. There is a little more evidence on Jesus, much of it outside the bible. IMO, this makes him more relevant.
As to the burden of proof, You don’t need faith for anything that can be proven. I don’t have faith that I will bleed if you cut me, I know I will.
You do have to have thought to have faith, just as you must “think” to relax a voluntary sphincter, or to take a leap, be it into a fledgling relationship with Christ, or a friendly difference of opinion on someone else’s blog. This is not quite the same as the thinking that goes beyond simple awareness of self into a deeper introspection. That kind of “thinking” can get you to the edge of the cliff, but to actually jump off is more like relaxing that sphincter. It’s a split second choice, not to be confused with the lengthy cognitive exercise that may precede it.
BTW, I am curious about the G-d thing… I figure you’re not Jewish… what’s up with that, if you don’t mind me asking?
I’m not sure they will get the short end of the stick. I’m kinda heretical. After all, Jesus took away the sins of the world (that would be everybody), and there are cryptic verses (I think in Peter) of Jesus preaching to people after death. I dunno.
I just find it interesting how people of faith can be so certain of their “belief” system. I have a hard time believing my job will stay the same even though that is much more likely and logical. If youre faith works for you and makes your life and other lives better. Go for it. My challenge is when I see peoples faith ultimately as a divider. Anyone who says they “know” Jesus is G-d in the traditional sense is basically a divider.
I like the mystery aspect when using this way of spelling G-d.
Actually, I haven’t made any assumptions about your beliefs, which is why I’ve been referring to atheists/skeptics/agnostics in a more general form, and not you by name. Because I don’t know your belief structure, and didn’t want to make it appear that I was assuming anything.
If you got the impression I was trying to paint YOU in a certain way, it was purely unintentional.
I don’t believe you can say that belief in Jesus is the son of God is inherently divisive. There are always ways for peoplet to come together. Hell, even the GOP and Democrats can work together when they try. 😉
My faith that I know the truth doesn’t make me judge anyone else differently. I may have suspicions or fears of how a person’s life (or afterlife) may go without Jesus in their life, but I don’t KNOW what will happen to them. There are too many mysteries for me to make any assumptions. I don’t put myself on a pedestal; my “knowing” the truth (and I put that in quotes because I understand how silly it seems to you that I would know…and again, that’s faith). In fact, far from putting myself on a pedestal, I actually have a lot of doubts about my motivations and actions and a greater sense of personal responsibility about certain things. Fact is, I’m harder on myself becasue of my faith than I am on other people. It’s a personal journey and a personal thing.
Yes, I believe in evangelism, but I believe it is my duty to inform and educate more generally, as I do in this blog, about who I am, what I believe and why…and to share Jesus more directly with people as they seem to show interest or have a need to find a spiritual path. I’m not into thrusting Jesus on anyone…just in case you were wondering.
Hi Deacon, and all the others in the discussion.
Just wanted to say that this is an interesting group and discussion.
Im curious but what state do you live in? Who knows maybe the wife and I will stop in from Canada for a pint. ;0
You strike me as a pretty reasonable human being, in fact I think we would have quite the chuckle over your delusions about G-d.
Ok answer me this. What do you emotionally get from your belief in Jesus as G-d?
If you’re heading into the Northeastern United States sometime, feel free to drop me an e-mail (it’s in my sidebar to the right), and I can let you know which state I’m in and if you’re anywhere near, I can suggest a good place to get something cold with head on it (beer or ale, that is). That’s about as specific as I want to get about my location publicly, though, since I’m trying to maintain a certain sense of anonymity for the time being on this blog.
I don’t get anything emotionally from Jesus or God, for the most part. What I feel is spiritual, and it’s hard to define that. It isn’t physical, it isn’t clearly emotional, but it’s something important. I also receive mental fortitude and emotional strength. My faith has actually helped me endure, deal with and weather all sorts of things that would have reduced me to rubble before. Or allowed me to stick with things I would have washed my hands of in my previous life.
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