Who, really, is a Christian?

December 31, 2007 at 8:28 am 40 comments

Cross and BibleAnyone who has struggled through leaving Christianity cannot help but be aware that those still in the faith often have trouble categorizing us. Regarding their belief system as overwhelmingly desirable and, moreover, obviously true, they seem compelled to try to explain this anomaly that we represent, apostasy. And we all know the answers: generally, either we weren’t really Christians in the first place or, the minority view, that it is somehow impossible to de-convert (“once saved always saved”), so we’re still Christians despite ourselves.

Or, sometimes we see them declare that we never really understood Christianity – again, obviously, because if we had, we wouldn’t have left! No amount of elegant theological exposition on our part will convince them that we really did, in fact, understand it – and freely, knowingly reject it – because there are an endless number of hairs that can be split to prove we got this or that wrong.

So I, like most former Christians, have had to think a lot about this issue. Who, really, is a Christian? Was I really one? How do I respond to this criticism? After some study, and some thought, I will here suggest an answer.

Ludwig Wittgenstein was a philosopher from the first half of the twentieth century who had a lot to say on the topic of language, words, and meaning. Among the wealth of observations he produced was this one: we generally conclude someone understands a new word when they can use it, correctly, in their everyday language, not when they can give a definition of it. This is, after all, how we teach children. We don’t sit down with our toddlers and tell them “a pencil is a writing implement, cylindrical, usually made of wood, with a graphite core”; we show him a pencil and say “this is a pencil”, and then we show him what you do with it. When he can point to it and say “I want to draw with a pencil”, we know he has learned the word, and knows what it means.

Wittgenstein then went even further: not only do we not require of someone that they divine the “inner essence” of a thing before we think they correctly understand it, he suggested that often there may be no inner essence to some things in the first place. Consider his example, the word game. Can anyone give a single definition of “game” that includes all instances of what we consider to be games, and only such instances, perfectly? Is there any single criterion or set of criteria that unites baseball, chess, 20 questions, solitaire, peekaboo, military war exercises, “chicken”, and World of Warcraft into a single concept?

His point was that all the things picked out by the word “game” are united only by the fuzzy, loose, somewhat arbitrary human use of the word “game”, what he called a “family resemblance” – not by any deep, inner essence. Games are, in a sense, not “out there”, in the world, to be discovered. They are not like chemical elements, what philosophers call a natural kind, in which nature itself tells us what the essential characteristics are – i.e., what makes gold, gold (its atomic number). “Game” is a human designation, not a natural one.

What I suggest, then, is that the word “Christian” is more like the word game, and less like element or gold. It picks out a real but poorly defined, fuzzy, overlapping set of groups that by common (but not unanimous) assent are called “Christians”. They are so designated by humans, reflecting human identity, for human classification purposes. Thus, there is no essential meaning to the word “Christian” beyond the uses to which it is put.

Another way to approach this, from a slightly different angle, is the following: rather than asking “how can we know who is a Christian?”, ask “how could we settle disputes about who is a Christian?” This, I think, can help clarify the matter somewhat, and get to what I am gesturing toward. It is obvious, I hope, that there is nothing like a physical test we can run that will give us our answer, so this question is not an empirical one. As an alternative, we could potentially, as some evangelicals often suggest, appeal to an authority, such as God or the Bible. While I would concede that God, if God exists, could settle the question for us, unfortunately no one seems to agree on just what it is he said. There does not exist agreement as to whether the relevant authority is a text, such as the Christian Bible, or a person or institution, such as the Pope, or something else entirely. Moreover, there are many who do not accept the Christian Bible as any kind of authority at all, or perhaps not as a full authority, or not the only authority. And even among those who do believe it to be an authority, there is no agreement as to exactly what conclusion it reaches. So, empiricism is a non-starter, and disagreement reigns in the appeal to authority. Clearly, then, this dispute is not a resolvable one.

So, following these two strands of thought, then, I think a conclusion begins to suggest itself. Since there is no higher authority to appeal to, and no test to run, and we have good reason to think that the word “Christian” (like the word “game”) is not defined by something “out there” in the first place, but rather by its use, then it seems inescapable that there simply is no larger answer to question of who is a Christian. In other words, there is no ultimate metaphysical fact to the matter as to who is, and who is not, a Christian.

The question can, however, be answered in more particular contexts: we can specify our reference group, the group whose smaller, more “local” criteria we are willing to adopt, and answer it in conscious light of those criteria. We can say, “I was a Christian, as American evangelicals use the term”, or “He is a Christian according to his (liberal) Episcopalian church”, or simply “She is a Methodist”(implying the Methodist definition). In the negative, one could say “Catholics are not Christians, according to fundamentalist Protestants.”

But are Catholics really Christian? There is no answer to this question, asked in this way! It is only in relation to a specified linguistic community that the word “Christian” has any meaning at all. In the ideal situation, you self-identify as a Christian, and you have a church or community that claims you. That way, there is no important dispute, at least not for you. That is to say, if you are in agreement with those whose opinion matters to you, and whose definition you wish to use, there is no problem (unless of course you are bothered by there being no cosmic validation to your identity, as I am arguing, and conservative believers, of course, deny that). If there is a dispute (say, between groups), one can do no better than to point to the dispute itself, and name the divergence of opinion.

As an example, Episcopalian Bishop and popular author John Shelby Spong is commonly accused of being a non-Christian, if not an actual atheist, by many more conservative believers. This is because he does not, by his own admission, believe in a literal God. According to some, who imagine there is a definition “out there”, given by God, that can determine who is a Christian, he thus fails an important criterion. So, then: is he “really” a Christian? Again, my reply is that there is no larger, final answer. According to conservatives, no. According to his own congregation, yes. That’s all we can say. But which group do you think he cares about?

And that brings it back to me and my own case, as a final example. It used to frustrate me whenever someone accused me of not “really” having been a Christian, or not having “really” understood it, or tried otherwise to pigeonhole me and explain my experience away. But after mulling this over as I have described, I am now content with my answer: according to all who knew me at the time, I was considered a Christian and accepted as a Christian. I considered myself a Christian. My church, and family of origin, were my chosen reference group, those whose opinion I cared about, and that was and is the end of the matter. No other groups views were of any consequence to me. (And of course, as I now believe, there is no God for this to have been in the mind of, so there is no larger perspective to adopt). So, by all meaningful criteria that existed and were relevant at the time, I was a Christian.

Now, I consider myself a former Christian. My current chosen reference group – my own family, my friends, my fellow traveling apostates on this board – accept this designation. That’s enough for me. The fact that current Christians, to whom apostasy is an indigestible threat, often wish to set me straight, no longer irks me, most of the time. I even can honestly say I understand it, really, because their whole world-view rests on tightly interlocking assumptions about their identity, and their self-esteem is bound up in their identity. But my identity is in my own hands, and in the hands of those I love, and whose opinion I care about. I need no better answer than that.

- Richard

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Public Prayer and Implications of Agreement The De-Conversion New Years Sermon

40 Comments Add your own

  • 1. writerdd  |  December 31, 2007 at 10:05 am

    There’s a reason that many Christians — especially evangelicals — can’t fathom that there’s really such a thing as an ex-Christian. That’s because the born-again experience is supposed to be a magical, supernatural thing that happens to you where your soul and/or spirit are literally changed. So how can that be undone? How can you not be a Christian any more? It’s really difficult to fathom if you don’t view becoming a Christian as a psychological change but as a spiritual birth. If God gave you new life, how can that be reversed?

    So by me saying now that I’ve come to realize that my own born-again experience was not God touching me and giving me spiritual life, but rather some sort of phsychological experience that I went through, is in effect admitting that I was not “really” born-again in the first place, since to be “really” born-again is to be touched by God.

    What’s the alternative? I can no longer say that I think God did anything to me, because I don’t believe that God is a real entity. So my my own admission, I am saying that I was not really ever a Christian, given the definition of “Christian” that is accepted by evangelicals.

    It’s twisted and I don’t actually agree with what I just said, but I can completely understand how people can come to this conclusion. It’s based on how we define what it means to become a Christian in the first place.

  • 2. TheDeeZone  |  December 31, 2007 at 10:43 am

    writerdd: I am one of those “evangical Christians” as you call them that has problems understanding ex-Christians. It isn’t because I believe conversion is some sort of magical thing. When I try to understand anothers point of view I try to imanigne myself in that position. I can’t understand why become an ex-Christians. There was a time in my life when I was ready leave it all but for me it was really not my faith I wanted to leave but the church. I was disgusted by the actions of so-called Christians.

    As for who really is a Christian my belief would be “Sola Scriptura, Sola Fida” or as describe in the Bible (See Romans) and by Faith in Christ alone. With that said the Bible is clear that if one is a Christian one’s actions will show it. There are many who claim to be Chrisitans but really don’t act it like it. Whether they or Christians or if you ever were a Christian isn’t for me to say. It is not my place nor do I have the ability to judge.

  • 3. The Abbot  |  December 31, 2007 at 11:26 am

    I would suggest that Christ certainly knows who is a Christian and who is not, and that His opinion on the matter would be definitive.

    I think He would also have some insight into the nature of the meaning of words, given how He is identified in Chapter 1 of the Gospel of John.

    If He exists, then He can answer you. If He does not exist, then asking Him certainly can do no harm.

    This may seem like begging the philosophical question, but I would suggest that He can indeed be known directly, and no amount of philosophical proof, or reasoning of men, will reassure you like a response from Him would. And hearing a response, no philosophical proof or reasoning of men would ever talk you out of it.

    Ask, and ye shall receive. Seek, and ye shall find.

    It really is that simple.

  • 4. JustCan't  |  December 31, 2007 at 11:36 am

    The Abbot:
    If one seeks and does not find, If one calls out but is not answered, if one falls to his needs and accepts Jesus into his heart and pleads for his presence — and still — nothing happens, then what?

    Is one not a true Christian and that is why he cannot see miracles or the laws of matter being subverted in our favor? That is what I’m being told over and over. I wasn’t worthy. I didn’t do it right. These Christians who say these things to me do have no right to judge but have no problem finding biblical scripture to tell me why they are right and why they should judge and push/force me.

    Perhaps they are not true Christians then? Why is it that they can feel his presence when I could not? I did the “ask and ye shall receive” part. I repented, changed my behavior, and yet nothing. All was as it was if there was no god. So it really isn’t that simple.

  • 5. JustCan't  |  December 31, 2007 at 11:37 am

    sorry, that should read “falls to his knees”.

  • 6. exevangel  |  December 31, 2007 at 2:23 pm

    I wonder how many people actually do undergo a “magical” born-again experience versus how many just say they do because that is the thing to say? I suspect this actually then allows people to try and do it again when it doesn’t “take” the first time… my parents were both baptized twice (some would say this is a very bad sin) and I suspect also had several different goes at the “single moment of born again-ness”… it really flies against the idea of Christianity being a pilgrimmage.

  • 7. LeoPardus  |  December 31, 2007 at 3:21 pm

    I did not have a magical born again experience. I did do the “sinner’s prayer” more than once to be sure that it “took”. I also had no magical, thrilling, etc experience with my first confession or first communion. At the time those “non-experiences” were a bit disappointing. Now of course I realize they were “non-experiences” because they were “non-events”.

    it really flies against the idea of Christianity being a pilgrimmage.

    Right. This is an area where the EOC really shines. They reject utterly the idea of a one time salvation experience, and insist that it’s all a journey. They also reject the idea of “once saved, always saved” and are accept both losing salvation and returning to the faith.

  • 8. The de-Convert  |  December 31, 2007 at 3:30 pm

    Richard,

    Great post (as usual).

    Initially, I struggled with how to define myself (in religious terms). I’m not sure I care too much at this point beyond saying that I’m human.

    I started this blog with the “agnostic atheism” theme. I realized that I no longer firmly believed in God and was in essence leaning more towards a non-belief in God (hence atheism) but then I knew I could never say there absolutely was no god (hence agnostic).

    However, Christianity has had a great influence on who I am as a person and I believe I will always in some way identify with that culture. In many ways, I am culturally a Christian and always will be. Of course, I learned that my “cultural Christianity” was only parts of what was in the Bible and we conveniently ignored much of what is there in how we defined God, Jesus, Christian lifestyle, etc. Also, I’m sure I read the Bible now more than most Christians :)

    So, just as there are “African Americans” that really only have an heritage to Africa, I’m a “Christian non-theist” based on my heritage.

    Paul

  • 9. TheDeeZone  |  December 31, 2007 at 4:13 pm

    Just Can’t: I don’t always feel like a Christian. To me Christianity is a relationship that like all relationships requires my time cultivationg. I do not expect my friends to do extraordinary things for me to prove their friendship, existance, etc. Those that tell you have to see great miracles & demand God to preform are mostly immature or haven’t really read the Bible. Yes, God has done miracles in my life & I neither asked for them or base my faith on them. I am thankful for what God did but that has nothing to do with it.

    Exevangel & Leo: My conversion expreince wasn’t magical or thrilling ary but it was real. I have had some people try to tell me that it wasn’t real or that I was missing out because I need the “Signs of the Spirit”.

    Ultimately, I know I am a Christian because just know it. Thankfully, it isn’t based on feelings or emotions because some days I don’t feel it. I know that isn’t very intellectual but in the end if I am wrong & your right I still will have benefited from the differance my faith made during my life. If I am right then I will have eternal benefits.

  • 10. Asymptosis  |  December 31, 2007 at 4:38 pm

    Hi de-Convert,

    I can identify with a lot of what you said. I’d only like to point out that many atheists do classify agnosticism as a (weak) form of atheism.

    If you don’t feel the presence of God in your life, then you are literally “without God”, i.e. “a-theist.” So stop sitting on the fence already :)

  • 11. The de-Convert  |  December 31, 2007 at 4:49 pm

    Asymptosis,

    Once you learn to balance yourself on the fence, it’s gets quite comfortable :)

    Paul

  • 12. Ardegas  |  December 31, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    Wittgenstein’s criteria can also be applied to the word “God”. I think about the demands for a definition of God that many atheists do to theists. It is therefore not necessary to have a straightfoward definition of God to be a theist.

    I also thought about this article about E-prime and metaphysics.

  • 13. Richard  |  December 31, 2007 at 6:38 pm

    Thanks to everyone for the comments.

    writerdd, you wrote:
    …”given the definition of “Christian” that is accepted by evangelicals.”

    This brings up a point I think relevant, but for space reasons didnt have time to bring out in the original post.

    My essential point is that there is no larger meaning to the word “Christian.” You must stipulate or adopt a definition in order for your use of the word to mean anything. This means that evangelicals get to do this, too. So, when an evangelical tells a de-convert that they werent really a christian, theyre right … **from their persepctive.** My argument is not that their conclusion does not follow from thier definition, but rather the authority of their definition in the first place. Authority cannot be established, I argue. The issue for me is rather, whose opinion (with its attendant definition) do you care about? Because there is no right answer.

    Abbott, I will entirely grant that God, if God exists, can establish the answer. The question is accessing his answer, not assuming that he has one.

    Your appeal to individual certainty is interesting, to be sure, somewhat in line with William Lane Craigs in regartds to the holy spirit. But what I think you miss is that you lose a lot by making such a move. For there are many, many people in the world who are just as sure as you are that God reassures them of this or that. So you have a choice: if individual certainty is the standard, then you must accept that there are many “Christians” who believe things very different from you — like John Spong, who doesnt believe in God and thinks most of what is taught about Jesus is myth. If you want instead to appeal to some more public standard, so you can exclude some wacky beliefs, then you lose the ability to appeal to certainty as authoritative. Not to mention that certainty isnt normally considered authoritative in any other context.

    DeeZone- I take issue mainly with the following:
    ” I do not expect my friends to do extraordinary things for me to prove their friendship, existance, etc.”

    Your friends dont *have* to. How much effort do you expend doing extraordinary things to convince them *you* exist? Dont you just stand in front of them and talk? Asking for some evidence of an invisible being seems to me reaonsable, not immature.

    “Ultimately, I know I am a Christian because just know it. Thankfully, it isn’t based on feelings or emotions because some days I don’t feel it”

    Actually, I suggest to you that that *is* a feeling. Just “knowing” something, with no way to back it up, is indistinguishable from feeling, at least to the rest of us.

    Thanks again to everyone for thier thoughts!

  • 14. TheDeeZone  |  December 31, 2007 at 7:09 pm

    Richard,

    I do not expect my friends to do extraordinary things for me to prove their friendship, existance, etc

    I had intended to take the part of existance out of that comment and thought I did. My thought pattern on that was focusing on the demand for miracles asspect. I have dealt with a lot of people in the “Name & Claim” it circles who believe that must always demand some miraclous sign from God. (i.e. God if you really love me give me a brand new shiny SUV). My comment was not directed to someone truly seeking proof of God’s exsistance Really, that comment wasn’t directed at you. If I offeneded you I appologize.

    Further you statemet that “knowing” is a feeling is correct. I was thinking those in the more charasmatic circles I know that emphasis always “feeling saved” and how that is important to have special magical feeling. That creates a very warped few of salvation dependent on always being happy and things going right. I guess people in that camp have read James or I Peter.

    Many comments or cricizism made here about Christians I agree with even though I am Christian.

  • 15. exevangel  |  December 31, 2007 at 8:21 pm

    I’m with Richard on feel vs. know. Two different words, very different definitions. To know is to be aware of in a factual sense; it requires direct perception. To feel is to be aware of by instinct or inference. One can only “feel” that one is saved or “born again” but one cannot know. One can believe in God but you can’t easily be sure; there is insufficient and much argued-about “proof” that does not pass over the knowledge threshold and thus belief is required.

    However, I find a dictionary definition of “Christian” as “Professing belief in Jesus as Christ or following the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus.” This is purely a self-identification and perfectly consistent with Richard’s point about the fact that there is no problem in identifying as a former Christian.

  • 16. Jersey  |  December 31, 2007 at 9:11 pm

    So where is it exactly quoted in the BIble, “once saved, always saved”? Does not Jesus give the parable of the four different locales that seeds fall into, that one of them is the person who hears and rejoices, but as soon as earthly problems arise he fades away? Or Paul – how many times has he talked about people who join the faith and then fade away and the church has to rid itself of apostates?

  • 17. Asymptosis  |  December 31, 2007 at 9:39 pm

    One can only “feel” that one is saved or “born again” but one cannot know.

    Hi ExEvangel,

    IMO, a “feeling” should refer to some physiological response. To feel something means to touch it. Feelings are visceral and without words.

    For instance, a person may identify a feeling of excitement if they have accelerated heartrate, dilated pupils, shortness of breath, and an upward turning of the corners of the mouth, all at the same time. This feeling may have some triggering thought, eg some future event keenly anticipated.

    For instance, if a person believes they have been saved and can definitely look forward to eternal paradise following their earthly demise, they may feel excited by this. The belief may have been established as a result of some revelatory experience. I conjecture that this is what you meant by “feeling saved”.

    I apologise if I have I have misunderstood. If this is the case, could you describe what the “saved feeling” actually feels like?

  • 18. LeoPardus  |  December 31, 2007 at 9:49 pm

    Jersey:

    “Once saved always saved” is not in the Bible as such. It’s one theological viewpoint developed by certain sects, notably Calvinists.

    It’s based out of verses like “I will never cast them out” and “no one san snatch them out of my hand” and others.

    Basically it’s developed and supported by cherry picking the verses you want for support. Kind of like every other theological point.

  • 19. LorMarie  |  December 31, 2007 at 10:47 pm

    Personally, I could never tell someone that they were never a christian based on their declaration of a deconversion. What the fundies are really saying is that they do not understand why you could have left the faith. But I am really having a hard time finding a place to fit in so to speak. I happily declare myself to be an ex-christian but still born-again. For the last few years I’ve gone through study of what people believe are bible contradictions, errors, pagan influences, the whole nine yards. I’ve saturated myself with readings/lectures (and radio show) from Dan Barker, Hitchens, Dawkins, etc. I had to come to admit that I am still not convinced that God doesn’t exist (or that the bible isn’t the word of God). So for me, whether it is a christian who claims that I was never saved or an atheist who says I’m in denial really doesn’t affect me one way or the other. With all of that said, I would love a community of people who are exactly where I am spiritually. But for now, I am comfortable communicating with evangelicals as well as ex-Christians turned atheists (or other worldviews).

  • 20. TheDeeZone  |  December 31, 2007 at 11:21 pm

    LorMarie,

    Don’t lump me in with the fundy becaue I’m not. DH

  • 21. LorMarie  |  December 31, 2007 at 11:31 pm

    TheDeeZone,

    I didn’t call you a fundy (especially since I have no idea who you are). Not sure where you got that idea.

  • 22. TheDeeZone  |  January 1, 2008 at 1:46 am

    LorMarie

    What the fundies are really saying is that they do not understand why you could have left the faith.

    I said something similar to the last part of that in an earlier response.

  • 23. rightsaidreverend  |  January 1, 2008 at 3:26 am

    Richard

    I really enjoy reading your blog. I am an Afrikaans-speaking reverend in the Dutch Reformed tradition living in South Africa. I visit your blog on a regular basis, because your way of thinking helps me to position myself in my current situation.

    The reason: I’m moving towards a point where I will have to greet Christianity. I’m not there yet, because there are so many permutations to take into account. I have a family that is extremely religious. I live in a community that crucifies non-believers (figuratively, of course). And above all, I’m not convinced about what is happening to me. Sometimes I convince myself that I am Christian. Mostly I’m a skeptic. And sometimes I’m downright atheist.

    But let me not sulk on your blog. I enjoy your posts and I particularly enjoyed this one. Your thoughts are helping me to define my own identity.

  • 24. Stephen P  |  January 1, 2008 at 6:53 am

    Ardegas:

    Wittgenstein’s criteria can also be applied to the word “God”. I think about the demands for a definition of God that many atheists do to theists. It is therefore not necessary to have a straightfoward definition of God to be a theist.

    But the issue in this post is a demarcation issue, not an existence issue. No-one denies that games exist, nor that people exist, nor that some people call themselves Christians. The question is which people are “really” Christians.

    With God, on the other hand, the issue is whether such a being even exists. It is an issue of fact, not of language. If a theist asserts that this being does exist, and even more so if he says that you should believe in God’s existence, and a forteriori if he insists you are morally inferior for doubting God’s existence, then it is entirely reasonable to demand of the theist a clear statement of what exactly this God actually is.

    And, particularly if he insists that there is only one god, it is equally reasonable to point out that his statement is inconsistent with what other people have to say on the subject.

  • 25. LorMarie  |  January 1, 2008 at 10:40 am

    DH,

    My post was a reply to the original post. To me a fundy (when speaking of christians) is one who jumps to religious conclusions without being aware of the facts. A fundy would tell an ex-Christian that they never really were a christian (a belief that plagues WOTM types) simply out of fear or insecurity in their own faith walk. To automatically assume that these people were not christians is to ignore the problems instead understanding them. Do I understand how someone could leave christianity or Christ in general? Absolutely yes. Do I agree with their decision to leave Christ? Absolutely not. Of course there are exChristians who never really were in the faith. The problem comes when we assume all were insincere. To me, that is a fundy. BTW, if the term is offensive to anyone, I will refrain from using it here.

  • 26. TheDeeZone  |  January 1, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    LorMarie,

    I had misread your post & thought you said the fundy not the fundys. It had been a very stressful day.

    DH

  • 27. exevangel  |  January 1, 2008 at 1:45 pm

    Asymptosis:

    Well, I don’t know what a “saved feeling” would be since I am not of that ilk. I was only trying to make a point about knowledge versus feelings based on the definitions of the words, arguing that knowing something requires an actually provable or factual event and thus is inconsistent with most things to do with faith, which are clearly feelings.

  • 28. Steelman  |  January 1, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    Richard, good post. The question of who is or isn’t a Christian is something I’ve found interesting enough to purchase a copy of Frank S. Mead’s Handbook of Denominations in the United States, just to explore all those different answers (and to better understand what my Christian friends and relatives believe, or at least what their churches purportedly teach).

    Re. Wittgenstein on the definition of games: You might be interested in Bernard Suits’ book The Grasshopper. You can find an interview with the writer of the current edition’s introduction, Tom Hurka, here on philosopher Nigel Warburton’s blog.

  • 29. Asymptosis  |  January 1, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    knowing something requires an actually provable or factual event and thus is inconsistent with most things to do with faith, which are clearly feelings.

    Hi ExEvangel,

    I’m afraid I don’t understand what you mean when you say that “things to do with faith… are clearly feelings.” To me, a feeling is something visceral and wordless. A particular feeling, say anger, fear, excitement or ardour, refers to some complex of physiological responses.

    A feeling will usually be associated with some trigger, maybe a thought or imagining – such as a belief, something you have faith in. I contend that it is a bad choice to conflate the trigger with the response.

    Thankyou for your time.

  • 30. Jon F  |  January 1, 2008 at 7:08 pm

    Richard,
    Great post. I wrestled with this a way’s abck and came up with this:

    http://jonfeatherstone.wordpress.com/2007/04/16/the-meaningless-word/

    For me, people can call themselves anything they want. It’s when a particlular group with a particular label start saying that they are right and others are wrong that I begin to break out in a nasty red rash. I have also come to the conclusion that the reason “christians” simply cannot accept that someone may become a “former christian” is because it would force them to face their greatest fear – that what they believe to be true may not in fact be true.
    Jon

  • 31. Richard  |  January 1, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    Jon F- Good thoughts. I think part of the problem is that the kind of gray thinking, the recognition that life and people are messy mixtures of good and bad, the implicit recognition of human limitation (and attendant humility) that you allude to in you post here and on your blog, are all anathema to the fundamentalist way of thinking. I think thats really what draws people to it in the first place, the rigid black and white certainty.

    But the price paid for this certainty and reassurance and disavowing of responsibility for ones life, is a rather desparate concern over identity. I.e., who is and who is not in the club, so to speak. The same split mentality (what psychiatrists call splitting) the divides their selves, into formerly-lost/now-saved, formerly-corrupt/now-regenerate, also is projected onto the world in the form of elect-vs-lost. The vehemence with which these boundaries are maintained points to the power of their need to reaffirm and maintain their identity, their specialness. If what CHristians claim is not true, as you mention, then they arent special, or at least no more special than anyone else, and thats intolerable.

    DeeZone- Thanks for the clarification. I agree with you. I think an emphasis on feeling saved can create a lot of anxiety in some believers. What if you lose that feeling? What does that mean? From what I understand historically, the main problem Calvin and other predestinationists had was not justifying the fairness of that doctrine, but rather reassuring their flock as to how one could tell if one was one of the elect!

    Richard

  • 32. TheDeeZone  |  January 2, 2008 at 12:01 am

    Richard,

    I think basing one’s faith on a certian “high” type feeling is unstable. It is impossble to maintain. Faith must be mixed with reason as well.

    DH

  • 33. LorMarie  |  January 2, 2008 at 12:08 am

    I never adhered to the whole “feeling saved” concept. Feelings and faith are not one in the same, IMO.

  • 34. formyson  |  January 2, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    I thought I was born again as well. I prayed the sinner’s prayer numerous times, I begged God for forgiveness, I was baptized as a baby and as an adult.

    I never experienced any supernational feelings. I never received an answer to my prayers. I remember how many nights I stood outside under the African sky, looking towards the stars and begging God to show him to me. It never happened. Not once did I get the feeling that there was a God anywhere, answering my prayers or caring about me.

    I had faith – I had faith that there was a God and that he cared; even though I never experienced any proof.

    I prayed, I tithed, I begged, I tried to live a clean and good life – but not once did I feel any supernatural forces near me.

    I was alone.

    Since I became an atheist, I am at peace. I don’t feel I am not good enough any more, I don’t feel guilty for Eve’s sin any more.

    I did not become an atheist because I am cross with God or with believers.

    I became an atheist after years of studying the Bible and religions.

    I came to the conclusion there is no God. It’s a very personal, conscious choice I made.

    I am happy and content with my choice.

    Lu

  • 35. karen  |  January 2, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    I came to the conclusion there is no God. It’s a very personal, conscious choice I made.

    I am happy and content with my choice.

    Congratulations, Lu! I’m very glad you’re happy and content. :-)

  • 36. M. Jones  |  January 5, 2008 at 2:09 am

    Faith does not require reason. In fact, reason only dilutes an unequivocal belief and faith in God.

    Jesus said to Thomas, “You believe because you’ve seen me. Blessed are those who haven’t … Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

    Reason accompanies doubt. Scripture clearly teaches that man, through increased knowledge would come to this place and place his own knowledge above that of God.

    Reasoning is knowledge. It’s in the mind. It’s when it drops down into your heart and becomes a reality that it becomes something no man can shake.

    If you’ve never had it drop down there in your heart and received the Holy Spirit, it’s not difficult to reason away.

    You will never know God through knowledge. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, how many degrees you have or how well you can quote and argue scripture. That’s not Gods way. You can only know Him through faith. If you can’t accept that you’ll never know him and it’s senseless to debate.

    God says, you can’t reason faith, but man still wants to. It just his nature. To know God, he must be an overcomer and overcome that nature.

    I don’t fault anyone because of this, it’s a daily battle for many Christians to overcome.

  • 37. LeoPardus  |  January 5, 2008 at 4:43 pm

    M Jones:

    So you’re supposed to divorce your brain to believe, eh? Take it out and put it in a pickle jar. God gave it to you, but it’s really an impediment.
    And, of course, when God said, “Come let us reason together.” He was only kidding.

    And if you’ve divorced your reason in favor of blind “faith”, what is it that makes you better than a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist, or a Mormon, or a Shamanist, or………… who did the same?

  • 38. exevangel  |  January 5, 2008 at 11:15 pm

    Asymptosis writes:

    I’m afraid I don’t understand what you mean when you say that “things to do with faith… are clearly feelings.” To me, a feeling is something visceral and wordless. A particular feeling, say anger, fear, excitement or ardour, refers to some complex of physiological responses.
    A feeling will usually be associated with some trigger, maybe a thought or imagining – such as a belief, something you have faith in. I contend that it is a bad choice to conflate the trigger with the response.
    Exactly. An emotional response is just that, even when accompanied by a physical reaction. Most of the current emphasis on emotional responses in religion are based on emotional reactions. And these reactions are heightened in faith sitiuations when emotional investment is proportionately large.

  • 39. exevangel  |  January 5, 2008 at 11:16 pm

    I don’t know why I managed to not un-italicize the last part from “exactly” oops!

  • 40. TheDeeZone  |  January 7, 2008 at 12:07 am

    M Jones,

    In fact, reason only dilutes an unequivocal belief and faith in God. ….
    God says, you can’t reason faith, but man still wants to. It just his nature. To know God, he must be an overcomer and overcome that nature.
    I don’t fault anyone because of this, it’s a daily battle for many Christians to overcome.

    I disagree with your post on so many levels. Faith and reason are not mutally exclusive. God gave us brains to use. Intelllect is not something to becovercome. Just because I have a brain and use it does not mean it is a battle for me to overcome. I have used my intellect to study the Bible, theology and religion as a result my faith is stronger.

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

de-conversion wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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