Defending “Doubting Thomas”

February 20, 2008 at 5:17 pm 42 comments

Doubting ThomasCarried the Cross, in his post Reasons I Remained Faithful for so Long, described himself as having felt like a “doubting Thomas” at different points in his life, wondering if some sin was keeping him from being able to accept Christianity as “Truth”.

I think about this myself, as I struggle with my faith and doubts, wondering if God exists and, if God does exist, if the Christian understanding of God has any truth to it. John 20:29 haunts me. “Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'”

Then I wonder, who are these people Jesus is referring to? According to the gospels, Jesus had told his disciples that he was going to die, then rise again “on the third day” (Mt 17:22-23, Mk 10: 32-34). The disciples had, reportedly, witnessed many miracles, including Jesus raising people from the dead. If the gospel accounts are true, there is no reason for Jesus’ disciples to doubt his claim.

Yet, if the gospel accounts are true, all of the disciples did doubt Jesus was going to rise again. Mary Magdalene went to the tomb on the third day, weeping and grieving. When she saw the empty tomb, she assumed Jesus had been taken away, not that he’d risen as he’d promised. Depending on which gospel you’re reading, others may have gone with her, prepared to mourn. They did not believe Jesus’ promise that he would rise on the third day. When they returned and told the other disciples, no one believed them (Lk 24:11), despite Jesus having warned them all this was going to happen. Peter ran to the tomb to look for himself, but I’m not sure this should count as faith as opposed to seeking evidence. Jesus later appeared to the disciples, and then they believed. Thomas, not having been there, didn’t believe until Jesus appeared to him personally.

This does not single Thomas out in any way, though. All the disciples doubted until Jesus appeared to them. Only then, did they believe.

Perhaps this is evidence against Jesus having predicted his death and resurrection, as the gospels claim. Perhaps this is evidence against the miracles the gospels claim Jesus did perform, including raising people from the dead. Surely, if both had happened, one of Jesus’ followers would have believed Jesus would rise on the third day, without Jesus having to appear to them and prove it. One of them would have waited for him, or at least expected his coming, wouldn’t they?

Perhaps none of you see the bible as an appropriate source for any trustworthy information, and consider this nothing but additional confirmation of your beliefs. However, if I want to believe in Jesus’ resurrection due to scriptural accounts, I also have to believe that not one of the twelve apostles specially chosen to hear all of Jesus’ teachings and accompany him as he performed his miracles believed in the resurrection without proof. Should I further believe that God expects me to display more faith then Jesus’ disciples did and will damn me eternally if I do not?

Thomas was not the only apostle to doubt, nor the only theist who demanded proof, or at least evidence from God. Many of the heroes of the bible who were declared righteous by their faith asked for and received evidence before they followed God’s will for them, if we are to believe what is recorded in the bible. They argued and wrestled with God. I can hold them up as role models, but I consider it unreasonable that I should be expected to surpass them in faith.

- Quester

Entry filed under: Quester. Tags: , , , , , .

Bart Ehrman, Questioning Religion on Why We Suffer (NPR) The point of Christian faith in a secular world

42 Comments Add your own

  • 1. James  |  February 20, 2008 at 5:30 pm

    Thomas was especially a very clever marketing tool to include in the whole story …

  • 2. The de-Convert  |  February 20, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    The verse that really bother me was:

    But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:6-8)

    I had doubts (as does every Christian) but never considered myself “double-minded” or “unstable.”

    This is just a wierd, whacky verse if you really think about it.

    Paul

  • 3. Brad  |  February 20, 2008 at 6:35 pm

    Quester,

    Dude. You are dead on. Thomas has been significantly redeemed in recent years by many in Evangelical Christianity (to include Reformed Theology). Fundamentalist sub-cultures (where my wife was raised) equates doubt with weakness. But yeah… that’s pretty contrary to scripture. And honestly, I get more than a little pissed when I hear my wife talk about how our time at seminary is healer her from those tragic wounds. The Patriarchs are case in point that we are to struggle, wrestle, and doubt… How else will our faith grow?

    The de-Convert,

    Contextually, James is writing to a Jewish-Christian audience who are being told by Jews/Judaizers that they must continue obeying ceremonial functions of Jewish law to attain salvation (i.e. faith + works/sacrifices/circumcision). He is pointing out the contradiction this brings to the word “faith.” In other words, it isn’t really faith if you do not believe that it alone is enough, is it?

    James is NOT saying that those who question or struggle with their faith are double minded. Again, we have the Patriarchs as an example of struggling lifelong with their faith, with God continuing to bless them. This “wrestling” or “struggling” even becomes physical when Jacob wrestles with God in Genesis 32.

  • 4. TheDeeZone  |  February 20, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    Thomas has always been an apostle I could relate to.

  • 5. orDover  |  February 20, 2008 at 6:51 pm

    “Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”

    Doesn’t that sound like an excellent verse to have in your repertoire if you are an early Christian going out and attempting to convert those around you? The apostles would have had a big problem on their hands: those they were trying to convert would surely have asked for some sort of proof for their great claims. It’s quite ingenious, really, to throw in a few verses about the merits of blind faith. Problem solved.

  • 6. OneSmallStep  |  February 20, 2008 at 7:23 pm

    The de-Convert,

    I think that verse gets even more interesting considering the rest of the chapter. The asking is in terms of requesting wisdom from God, and it seems to be connected with wisdom to endure temptation. After all, what would produce more doubt than temptation or trials?

  • 7. LeoPardus  |  February 20, 2008 at 8:27 pm

    John 20:25 reads ” The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the LORD. But he [Thomas] said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.

    Now if a guy who lived a walked around with Jesus needs that level of proof, why should I be blamed for wanting something a bit tangible, 2000 years later?

  • 8. arthur  |  February 20, 2008 at 10:44 pm

    It is my understanding that upon closer analysis of the accounts of Jesus, they appear to be written up to 300 years after his supposed death. Combine that with the well known fact that the bible is a translation of a translation, written by men who believed the sun rotates around the earth in the middle of the universe, I am not sure anything in the bible can be ‘trusted’.

  • 9. Thinking Ape  |  February 20, 2008 at 11:04 pm

    arthur,

    It is my understanding that upon closer analysis of the accounts of Jesus, they appear to be written up to 300 years after his supposed death.

    Unless you are speaking about many non-canonical Gospels, this is a gross exaggeration. The earliest written account of Jesus that we have today, Mark, has been successfully shown, by secular scholars, to be written between 65-70 CE… or approximately forty years after Jesus’ death. I recommend that if you are going to oppose sound scholarship, you thoroughly substantiate such a claim.

    For more on the early Christian texts, see Early Christian Writings.

  • 10. Brad  |  February 21, 2008 at 9:57 am

    Leo, you said:

    “Now if a guy who lived a walked around with Jesus needs that level of proof, why should I be blamed for wanting something a bit tangible, 2000 years later?”

    And ya know, I can definitely resonate with that. What I keep coming back to when I want that kind of evidence is, what is the “standard” we can expect from God in revealing Himself to us? The account with Thomas appears to be an exception by far, and served a powerful purpose: giving all the apostles the confidence and faith necessary to start the church. It was not just one individual person that benefited, but thousands (millions even) who came to believe as a result of the apostles’ ministry.

    We westerners often have an overemphasis on the individual. It is clear in this account that Jesus came not to serve Thomas, but all the apostles, and through them, the world. If Thomas could believe, then who in that room wouldn’t? We see the same 180 degree switch with Paul…

  • 11. The de-Convert  |  February 21, 2008 at 11:05 am

    I think Judas got the short end of the stick too. He was the only one who actually went along with Jesus’ supposed plan to be crucified. The story shows him being the only one who didn’t fight it but in fact helped Jesus facilitate the process. Yet, he’s the bad guy and the ones who openly fought the wishes of Jesus are painted as the good guys.

  • 12. Thinking Ape  |  February 21, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    Brad,

    It was not just one individual person that benefited, but thousands (millions even) who came to believe as a result of the apostles’ ministry.

    What evidence do you have of this? Most scholarship on the subject s the influence of the pillars of Jerusalem and the true disciples of Jesus being limited to Palestine and perhaps Syria at the farthest. For all we know, we have a perverted version of Christianity due to the influence of Paul’s missionary journeys – and even those it is impossible to say how much influence he actually had and what has been attributed to him by the author of Luke-Acts.

  • 13. Matt  |  February 21, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    We do have a corrupted version of christianity (or should I say ‘versions’?). JC would have done cartwheels at the thought of going to the gentiles with the religion. I can’t help but wonder how Christians can be so certain about their place in heaven. After all, the Jew’s were gods original ‘chosen people’, now its Christians. Seems to be a rather fickle minded god. Its ironic, the people Jesus came down to save are the ones who resist him the most.

  • 14. Brad  |  February 21, 2008 at 11:10 pm

    “For all we know, we have a perverted version of Christianity due to the influence of Paul’s missionary journeys ”

    This is the second time I’ve heard strong dislike of Paul expressed… I have a feeling you are referencing some research or opinion I am not familiar with. So I definitely can’t answer that question…

    However, regardless of what we can discern the results to be (which would probably involve a significantly longer and more tangential conversation), it is irrefutably clear through the 4 gospels and Acts that the apostles were seen by Jesus as heirs to His ministry. The point being, Jesus assuredly saw the impact of that meeting to go far beyond the individual Thomas.

  • 15. Brad  |  February 21, 2008 at 11:30 pm

    “JC would have done cartwheels at the thought of going to the gentiles with the religion.”

    Absolutely not. The entire point of Israel to be a “blessing to all nations” (Gen 12:2-3) Jesus himself SAID to “make disciples of all nations,” connecting His commission to that which was given by God in Genesis (Matthew 28:19). This theme is RAMPANT throughout the OT and in Jesus’ words as recorded in the NT.

    In short… that was the whole point: for God to redeem ALL of His creation… picking just one group of people and watching the rest of the world slide into Hell would be contradictory to a God who is both loving and just.

    … or at least the CLAIM that God exists and is characterized as such.

  • 16. Jared  |  February 22, 2008 at 11:55 am

    one thing that has really struck me about the apostles is that, up until Christ’s resurrection, they all still believed that He had come to overthrow the Roman empire and re-establish the Jewish nation.

    there are even times in scripture where Jesus seems frustrated that they just don’t get it. It’s not until he returns from the grave, ascends to heaven, and the Spirit is poured out at Pentecost that they finally understand the fullness of who Christ is and who they are meant to be.

  • 17. Thinking Ape  |  February 22, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    Brad,
    I have no dislike for Paul – I simply think he perverted (“altered from its original course) the gospel of Jesus, for better or for worse.
    Additionally, I could care less about the impact of Thomas, as I believe that this passage is much more symbolic than it is historical and was used by its author for a specific purpose – none of which that have likely been suggested by the original article or within the comments.
    Meanwhile, I agree that the 11 (the 12 including Judas in certain circumstances) were seen as heirs, there is little doubt that the number was more symbolic than the inheritance value, especially in Mark’s account. Some are redeemed in later gospels (i.e. John and Matthew), whereas Luke attempts, successfully, to redeem all of them in Acts. Paul shows very little care for these original disciples, mentioning on several by name and through the title “pillars of Israel” – which is only late assumed to mean the 11 disciples.

    I certainly agree with your refutation with Jesus doing cartwheels, albeit for different reasons. I believe Jesus would be rolling in his tomb if he found out that people worshiped him as a god and figured that they can be saved by grace alone.

  • 18. mewho  |  February 22, 2008 at 5:15 pm

    I enjoyed reading your post, Quester, and love this website. It’s a great debate forum, and I frequent it often as I’m “de-converting”, re-processing the whole FOUNDATION upon which my life has been built.

    I, too, always found it strange how Jesus’ 11 disciples found his resurrection hard to swallow after seeing all of His miracles. I heard all of the miracle stories as a kid, and they were used to declare the divinity of Jesus. “Look! He walked on water! He turned water into wine! He raised Lazarus!” And then would follow the assumed belief that Jesus must have been who he said he was.

    But his very own disciples, his home town, his family, eventually the “mob” did things and said things during Jesus’ ministry that demonstrate doubt. When he rises from the dead, we have very few testimonies when one considers the INCREDIBLE claims made of Jesus’ powers. Matthew, Mark (not a disciple), Luke (not a disciple), John, Peter and James are included as authors in the King James Bible that reportedly knew Jesus. That’s it. I would expect thousands of tiny gospels, and non-follower accounts, government accounts. If this was THE EVENT to bring the ENTIRE WORLD back to God, why such an impotent response by the Ancient world? (Paul never even met Jesus, except for in a vision, but wrote more of the New Testament than anybody else!) What testimony we DO have is filled with “doubting Thomases”.

    If the miracles were insufficient then and failed to convince many of those closest to Jesus, then what obligation are we under to believe it today? Are these accounts more convincing because they are now written in a book? I would also point out that NONE of Jesus miracles survive for us to observe today. There isn’t ONE miracle for any of us to go see and be convinced. (Here I’m simply conjecturing some miracles with properties that would survive time, like an “eternal flame” or a “floating rock” or the “oil that never runs out” kind of thing…)

    The miracles of today are lame, at best. Healings, weeping statues, coincidences, etc. No one religion has exclusive access to modern day miracles. They all declare and are convinced by their own, local miracles. We are told that we are just to BELIEVE. We are then insulted by being told that FAITH is what God really, really likes. He’s really impressed by His creations that can do that. The more I think about it, the more absurd the entire proposition sounds.

  • 19. Quester  |  February 22, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    Welcome, mewho, and thank-you.

    I enjoyed reading your post, Quester, and love this website. It’s a great debate forum, and I frequent it often as I’m “de-converting”, re-processing the whole FOUNDATION upon which my life has been built.

    That’s exactly where I am. It hasn’t even been a full week yet since I gave my last sermon as a licenced clergy member. Four years ago, I was debating atheists on online debate forums, arguing strongly for Christianity, the Christian God, and a literal interpretation of the bible. Now I’m trying to figure out who I am and what I believe, and, as you say, what foundation I shall base my life on. I’ve found this site helpful for me. I’m glad my article has been helpful for you.

  • 20. Matt  |  February 22, 2008 at 5:56 pm

    Jesus was referring to the nations of Israel. He very explicitly states that he has not come to save the gentiles, only jews. And he never revokes that statement. The tribes were referred to as nations so there is no reason to assume, given jesus’s statements, that he meant the world. He may have acted friendly with gentiles but that in no way changes his stated purpose. Jesus also never expected to be worshipped. He also, if I remember correctly, rebuked someone for calling him good, saying there is only one that is good and hes up in the sky. Furthermore, what was the point in making jews the chosen people? And how can god expect them to discard their old beliefs and follow jesus, when they know it would violate their immutable god given laws, when it involves worshipping another god which is very clearly prohibited and the consequences are deadly and much more certain than JC’s threats of hellfire. Jesus wasn’t the only miracle worker in the bible. His teachings contradicted the OT. Why would god do something that stupid? Why should the jews have followed jc?

  • 21. TheNorEaster  |  February 23, 2008 at 7:17 am

    Might be worth pointing out that, unlike Lazarus, the disciples had seen Jesus beaten, mocked, crucified, dead, and buried. And don’t forget the last temptation.

  • 22. Quester  |  February 23, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    NorEaster,

    And don’t forget the last temptation.

    I’m afraid I have forgotten it. What last temptation?

  • 23. mewho  |  February 23, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    Quester,

    I’m not only a recovering Christian, but a recovering minister as well. I was 10 years in Youth and Music ministry in Baptist churches. I was given preaching invitations, led Revival services for area churches, led Disciple Nows, and the whole gambit of ministry life. THAT is a difficult career to pull away from FAITH entirely. It doesn’t affect doctors, lawyers, road construction workers, etc. in the same way. And I always looked down on those professions when I was a minister because I thought I had THE MOST IMPORTANT job on the planet. I think most ministers who really have faith think that, too. Now I’m a teacher and I realize how hard the REAL world is.

    My curiosity is how such a LIE, a DECEPTION, a DELUSION, an IMAGINED MIND WORLD can be powerful enough to capture the human mind and run with it for 30 years? There has to be an evolutionary reason why we can so readily believe in myths and superstitions which really have no basis in reality. How can Mormons believe something so transparently fake? How do our lives become revolved around these ideas? Daniel Dennett’s great book “Breaking the Spell” starts to go there, but it is a very curious thing about our brains that so readily accept what Christopher Hitchens might call a “conspiracy theory” over no theory at all. It’s interesting.

  • 24. Brad  |  February 24, 2008 at 11:46 am

    Matt,

    “The tribes were referred to as nations so there is no reason to assume, given jesus’s statements, that he meant the world.”

    Jesus was using the same language in the OT (i.e. Genesis 12), which is beyond doubt used to refer to the nations of the world. Every contextual and cotextual element surrounding the use of those terms affirms this view (i.e. the samaritan woman at the well in Luke, who was NOT considered to be in one of the tribes of Israel).

    “He also, if I remember correctly, rebuked someone for calling him good…”

    Absolutely. The point was not to deny that he was God, but to say that, “If you are truly calling me good, you are saying that I am God. Do you understand the implications what you are saying?” He is “connecting the dots” for the audience via a common rabbinical teaching tool.

    “Furthermore, what was the point in making jews the chosen people?”

    To be a (relatively) holy agent to bring God’s creation back to redemption. The word for “holy” literally means “set apart,” but for the purpose of being a blessing. A drug addict cannot help another addict recover from their addiction. They must go through the process first.

    “And how can god expect them to discard their old beliefs and follow jesus…”

    By Jesus’ time, their beliefs had been somewhat distorted by legalism and other influences such as the Roman rule. This led them to interpret and expect a Messiah that would free them from their current slavery to Rome, which has become a more pressing problem than sin in general (legalism had helped them “cure” that). Thus, this Messiah was not expected, and was rejected NOT because of the scriptural reasons against it (indeed, the exegetical evidence overwhelmingly supports it), but because of political reasons.

    “His teachings contradicted the OT.”

    Absolutely not. They did contradict the modern (1st century) interpretations of scripture, but not the scripture itself.

  • 25. LeoPardus  |  February 24, 2008 at 4:55 pm

    Brad:

    Just now getting back to this. (Was out of town.)

    The account with Thomas appears to be an exception by far,

    I might consider it an exception as long as I as long as I consider it an exception except for other exceptions like the appearance to the women disciples, the appearance to the other disciples (more than once), the appearance to Saul of Tarsus, the appearance to John the Revelator, the appearance to Stephen, the prison earthquake, the angel-led prison escape, the rooftop manifestation to Peter, the angelic appearance to Cornelius, …… I’m surely forgetting some. And of course I’m just dismissing the whole OT. And I’m not getting into all the appearances recorded in the early Church literature. And I’m not even bothering with all the miracles.

    But yeah. Except for all those, the Thomas bit was wholly exceptional.

  • 26. Brad  |  February 24, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    Leo,

    There were an estimated 200 million people in the world at the time of Christ’s death and resurrection. Even if we included all of the individual and small group appearances Christ made throughout all of scripture (much less the ones that we may not even know about), it’s still a safe assumption that it is an exception by comparison.

    Oh yeah, and there’s also the fact that he made sure to make a lasting impact on those who wrote it down for the benefit of billions in the years to come.

    And there wouldn’t be much need for trust if He made a personal appearance to every person who ever lived, would there? That is what you are asking for, right? Or is there something that makes you special enough to warrant an “exceptional” visit? Then again, that didn’t really help Adam and Eve out very much either, did it? They kicked it with God for decades before making a decision not to trust Him. And they didn’t have the added benefit (crutch?) of radical skepticism in their worldview…

    You seem to make awfully strict demands from a God who has (or at least claimed have) already come down to our level and make it right. I wonder if a customized individual appearance would make a difference for you, or if you would in some way find it lacking still…

    (Disclaimer: I know my tone may sound sarcastic, but I truly mean it in good nature… I mean no disrespect, only trying to prove a point in a similar manner as you did)

    Welcome back, I’m glad the discussion hasn’t gotten so nuts that we couldn’t continue the line of conversation.

  • 27. LeoPardus  |  February 25, 2008 at 12:12 am

    Brad:

    Are you meaning to tell me that back in post #10, that by “exceptional” you meant ‘exceptional among the earth’s millions of inhabitants’, as opposed to ‘exceptional in the bible’? If you meant the former, I certainly didn’t detect it.

    Now about God making a personal appearance to every person: Yes. I would ask that God make a personal appearance, revelation, miracle, vision, dream, or some such for every person who asks for one. Unreasonable you say? How so?

    God has unlimited time and power. If we limited humans can get much of the world connected via the internet, it certainly isn’t too much for God. If Billy Graham can put himself out to speak for God to a billion people via television, it certainly can’t be too much to ask God to speak for Himself.

    Or do we have to do everything? And the answer is, yes, we do everything.

    God, supposedly did a bunch of miracles, sacrificed his son (himself?), and raised him (himself?) from the dead, and now He’s done. He doesn’t need to do any more miracles, or show up at all, but we have to believe in Him based on the recorded stories of a small tribe of humans who lived 2000+ years ago. Well… based also on the say so of apologists.

    Christians tell of a living and active god, who changes lives and hearts, and so on. But you never see this god acting (unless you play “Where’s Goddo?”). And there’s no evidence that he’s changing his peoples’ hearts and lives. (This bit has been pounded around here more than once.)

    So yes. I am saying that God needs to show up. I don’t care how. But based on no show at all, I’m stuck with nothing to believe in at all.

    Sorry if that’s too hard on the all powerful, all loving, personal, creator. Sorry if my mortal demands exceed his omnipotence. Guess he’s just too small after all.

    In response to your implication that an appearance would not make a difference to you, I refer you to my article “The call for miracles”. I’ve heard that objection many times. It’s hogwash.

    [ I noted the sarcastic tone. It doesn't bother me. I've said many times that I'm a sarcastic SOB. I'm also one to debate by just tossing off the gloves and bringing everything out.

    You've been around here enough to prove your mettle, your decency, and your respect. You have my respect too. So feel free to make points as you think best. Sarcasm is just fine. Insult humor is quite acceptable too. ............... Know what I mean 'beetle brain'?] :D

  • 28. mewho  |  February 25, 2008 at 1:20 am

    I’m of the opinion that EVERY appearance Jesus made supernaturally to Paul, the disciples, Mary Magdelene, and anyone today claiming such a vision is fabricated. I don’t think these visitations EVER happened. But, if they did…

    I would like one.

    Also, my lack of belief isn’t any more a rejection of Jesus than my disbelief in Baal is a rejection of Baal (which Yahweh would applaud, of course). In my disbelief, my position isn’t REJECTION but DISBELIEF. I actually LIKE Jesus. I just don’t BELIEVE the claims of Christians that I have to accept him as my Savior. I don’t believe the claims or the way Christians understand sin, death and eternity. There isn’t a rejection of Jesus as Savior because there’s not a convincing claim that he even IS one or that there’s ANY eternal “saving” to do.

    (Personal Testimony Time)
    I feel freer than I ever felt as a Christian. Being an atheist has made me aware of the preciousness of life, and I have much more time than I did as a Christian. Would you like more time? More time for the things you love? Then become an atheist. Would you like more money in the bank? Ten percent more a month? Then become an atheist. Once you’ve made the leap, you’ll not only realize there wasn’t much to hold on to in the first place, and your life will have new possibilities. It’s worth the plunge.
    (End of Personal Testimony Time)

    I’m not expecting a visit, or a vision from ANYONE. But if JESUS SAVES, then he is welcome to do so. Go right ahead. But I don’t believe that there is substance to any of the claims, and nothing to eternally “save” us from. Therefore, I accept Jesus as Savior (if it turns out to be true) but lack faith that any of the Bible’s claims are metaphysically true in the first place.
    I have attempted Pascal’s Wager the Atheist Way. If Jesus saves then he can, but I’m going to live my life as if this is the only one there is. That way,when I’m dead, this world will be a little bit better because I used my time to help humanity and not a false religion. If there is a God, then I can find one of the many loopholes in Scripture to wiggle my way out of Eternal Condemnation and into blessed Light. It’s a Win/Win situation for everybody. And, yes, there are scriptural “loopholes”, but there’s a joke here about not being able to find any lawyers in Heaven to argue my case.

  • 29. Brad  |  February 25, 2008 at 9:37 am

    Beetle Brain? Oh it’s on like Donkey Kong, monkey-lover. ;-)

    “Unreasonable you say? How so?”

    Well for starters, it certainly didn’t do adam and eve any good. They had Him right there, hanging out in the garden, and they still decided to go with the talking snake. Genesis is full of people who were confronted with the reality of God (The Patriarchs especially), and yet they still didn’t seem to get it together. They still didn’t trust Him.

    Also, assuming that there is an omnipotent and benevolent God (work with me here), who we have also chosen to reject/distrust/rebel from, does it not strike you as a little ridiculous to make that kind of demand from Him? Assuming that scripture is true (again, work with me), it strikes me that He’s done a helluva lot for us already. Not to mention the fact that… well… He’s freaking GOD. And you are… well… not.

    “…it certainly isn’t too much for God.”

    Agreed. It is not a matter of ability, but of choice.

    “But you never see this god acting (unless you play “Where’s Goddo?”). And there’s no evidence that he’s changing his peoples’ hearts and lives.”

    Oh yeah, I know it has been discussed at length. And I won’t delude myself into believing that I’m saying something new, but people have been dramatically changed by God. I’ve seen them, and am one personally. My story involves a lot of alcohol, a lot of partying, and a lot of… yeah. We’ll leave it at that. But I can assure you that it was a not-too-subtle experience that rocked me out of it. And my story is not an exception.

    And again, I know this is not really anything new and has been discussed at length in the past. We Christians can be a one-trick-pony, but it is one that has proven true (at least for us). But I’m curious, Leo, have you written a post on here about your “story,” or your experience? I’d be interested in reading it.

  • 30. mewho  |  February 25, 2008 at 10:25 am

    Brad,

    I’d like to comment on your “one-trick-pony”, if you don’t mind. It really IS the one thing that every Christian can claim: “Giving my life to Christ Changed my Life”. The personal testimony. Impossible to refute, designed to be protected from ALL skepticism. You’re right. Atheists cannot criticize what you feel your belief has done in your life. It is out of the reach of EVERYONE, including other Christians. No one can get inside your head to say it hasn’t happened. And there are probably things that you do better now that you’re a Christian. There are observable “fruits”. However…

    The claim can be also made by de-converting to Atheism. A lack of belief in any of the supernatural has helped me take this life much more seriously. I look at other people now with much MORE compassion than I ever did as a Christian. The pain we ALL experience is tragic, and when life turns sour, the ache of despair is very, very real. There are many other WONDERFUL changes I have felt, though, that have lifted me above a very narrow, privileged lense to a much more embracing vantage-point. I love this world and the life that fills it. We may be alone in the universe with a planet so amazing. I won’t say that all of the changes have all been good, but be careful of the one-trick-pony, because anybody can ride it. That would include Mormons, Muslims and Buddhists, too.

  • 31. LeoPardus  |  February 25, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    Brad:

    Monkey lover eh? Well I see it’s time for me to set you straight again, guano breath. :)

    First my story: You can read it at the de-conversion forum site. Link is: http://www.de-conversion.org/news.php?readmore=19

    Also, assuming that there is an omnipotent and benevolent God (work with me here), who we have also chosen to reject/distrust/rebel from, does it not strike you as a little ridiculous to make that kind of demand from Him?

    I would partially agree. We wouldn’t be in a great position to make demands. On the other hand, I at least would need something to convince me of that god’s existence. After that, the rest wouldn’t be so hard. Minus that, the rest means nothing.

    Assuming that scripture is true (again, work with me), it strikes me that He’s done a helluva lot for us already.

    I’ll grant that.

    people have been dramatically changed by God. I’ve seen them, and am one personally.

    Entirely true. You know though, that people have also been changed by Alcoholics Anonymous, Islam, Buddhism, de-conversion (as attested by mewho here, and by others on this blog and elsewhere), by the birth of their child, by the death of a loved one, by getting an education, by serving hard prison time, and so forth.

    I’m once again pasting in something Karen wrote about this topic because she put it so concisely and well:

    ““The bible tells us that Christians who believe in Jesus and have received the Holy Spirit have access to God’s guidance, comfort and presence. If that’s true, it seems to me that there should be some way to detect that special influence in individual lives and in the corporate “life” of the church and history of Christianity. After all, people who have a member of the trinity living in their hearts should manifest that at least somewhat consistently – right?
    And yet it seems like the history of the church, and the individual lives of believers, bears no distinctive stamp of that indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The atrocities, the horrors, the corruption, the wars fought in the name of Christ, the individual selfishness, suffering, immorality – where’s the divine spark that separates Christians from followers of other religions, or from non-believers?
    I don’t see it. There are great churches doing good, and great individual believers living sacrificial lives. There are also great secular organizations doing much good, and great atheists living sacrificial lives. There’s not a pervasive difference that I can see, and it seems if the promises of the NT are true, there should be.”

    This is strong evidence to me that there’s no reality behind the idea of “god’s indwelling spirit”. And if that isn’t real, then we really are all “on our own”, and really are just “making it up as we go along”. That explanation lines up a lot better with the reality I observe.

  • 32. Brad  |  February 25, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    “…but be careful of the one-trick-pony, because anybody can ride it.”

    Absolutely. When I say that “we Christians CAN be a one-trick-pony,” it is because these experiences have meant a lot to us (as yours has for you). It is easy to relate something that we have directly experienced.

    That said, it is not to the exclusion of rational (and even a degree of skeptical) analysis. I am a skeptic (believe it or not). I am VERY skeptical of the church, sometimes to a fault. But like with most things in life, too much of a good thing can be bad. He who sees through everything sees nothing at all, and is in fact as blind as the person he claims to see more than.

    It is not my experience alone that informs and strengthens my faith, but a rational belief that the bible explains the 5 w’s (who, what, where, when, how, and why) better than anything I have come across. This is supplemented and confirmed by my experience, a la Augustine’s statement that “I believe in order to know.”

    Check out “Science and Faith” by C. John Collins. The Christian faith need not be so diametrically opposed with the rest of the world as many would think.

  • 33. mewho  |  February 25, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    Brad,

    When you say that you are skeptical of the church, what do you mean? As a skeptic, do you doubt your salvation? What are you skeptical about? Also (because you seem intelligent and I devour these conversations of faith) what church are you referring to?

    I am very aware of a need I have for the things the church offers (Christian). I need the community. I need the enlightening that comes through worship (our church has the whole buffet of instruments and I’m a music major who won’t go to a piano/hymn church ever again.) I need the time in “prayer”, and the connection that church brings to my childhood and family. I really don’t mind going to church at all. In fact, I rather like it. (Sunday mornings is enough for me, though.)

    With all that said, I don’t BELIEVE ONE WORD of the supernatural claims made by the pastor. Last Sunday’s sermon was a “Salvation Sermon”, and I tuned it out, read the footnotes in my study Bible, and entertained myself after the music was over. I think the Biblical claims of afterlife, original sin, the Garden of Eden are ALL Ancient musings with NO TRUTH. I take the Bible’s claims as God’s Word as FALSE. No book on earth was authored by God. People can say otherwise, and the book itself might say it, but I don’t believe it.

    I think there IS something about our brains, however, that need the things that only religion provides at this point in the brief history of mankind. Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris are BOTH respectors of religion to that extent. Religions DO provide for people elements that make our brains “happier”. To hear them speak, or to read their books, you find that Dennett and Harris both admit that religions do have elements to them that satisfy some deep needs that we all have, but that religions’ claims to metaphysical truths beyond the natural world are myth. For example, prayer/meditation is deeply imbedded in the need for our brains to procees our thoughts, music is emotionally satisfying, community satisfies the need to “fit in”. These are human needs satisfied by religion’s rituals and features, not by it’s doctrines. And the religion of your father will do just fine, in most cases.

    Are you skeptical about these same matters? I’m just curious, because I may be more like you than I think. I’m not trying to be provacative. I like the rituals and stimuli provided by religion, but am whole-heartedly skeptical about all of the supernatural pronouncements. I was a minister for ten years of my life, and now I can’t stand to hear the Roman Road (it’s an old gospel tract that led you through the book of Romans). Preaching Hell is really, really repulsive and unattractive to me, and it’s all I can do to sit through when someone starts in on it. Would love to hear your thoughts.

    James

  • 34. Brad  |  February 25, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    James,

    “When you say that you are skeptical of the church, what do you mean?”

    I was not raised in the church, and most of my experience with it before becoming a Christian was not all that great. I’m sometimes critical of the church (as a whole, or many Christians in general), because we have dropped the ball on a lot of things… making battles of things that need not be (both within and outside the church), and generally not loving the world like we are called to do. I also have a great hope for the church to be what God desires it to be: a people who live their lives in such a way that it brings blessing and love to all the nations of the world.

    “Are you skeptical about these same matters?”

    Yes and no… (Hehe, as a musician myself, I HEAR you on the need to have some decent music…) I have absolutely no problem accepting that we are biologically “wired” for all the things you mention. None at all. But instead of seeing it as proof against authentic experience, I see it as God wiring us in such a way as to provide natural means to connect to Him. The important part is where we direct those means (i.e. to Him instead of to ourselves a la “spiritualism,” or towards escape a la buddhism, etc.). This opens us, practically, as an act of submission and trust for Him to do supernatural work in our hearts. Because God created us, and our world, it just makes sense that He would use many of the designs He put in place to take care of us. But He doesn’t HAVE to.

    That said, I am skeptical when Christians say that we must worship/pray/meditate THIS way or THAT way. God wired us all similarly but differently, and would say that this is an excellent foundation from which to explore relationship with God. For example, I’m sometimes mildly ADD (which is why I love blogging). I can’t sit down and pray. I have to be walking. I prefer to hike up a massive hill, or something equally physically strenuous. But that doesn’t make my prayer any lower quality, or any less heard. God works through that.

    “I like the rituals and stimuli provided by religion, but am whole-heartedly skeptical about all of the supernatural pronouncements.”

    To be honest, I am sometimes as well… I mean, it’s HARD to believe it sometimes. It’s just not as easy to verify because it is irregular (hence “super”-natural). But then there are times when God comes out of left field and I have no other explanation (and not for lack of searching).

    “I was a minister for ten years of my life, and now I can’t stand to hear the Roman Road (it’s an old gospel tract that led you through the book of Romans).”

    Puke. I don’t blame you. When handed a tract, I would argue with the person for sheer entertainment. It’s sad and amusing all at the same time.

    “Preaching Hell is really, really repulsive and unattractive to me…”

    Hell is the one thing I wish weren’t in the Bible… but it is. And while I can’t ignore it, it is also not a tool for guilt-tripping people into believing in a God that joyously sends you there unless you get your sh*t together. Christians should not preach Hell, they should preach Grace.

    That said, Hell is fundamental to understanding Grace (what is grace if we do not need it?). But the basis for our faith should not be fear, but love. I know it sounds like I’m mincing words, but it is a HUGELY important distinctive… I’d love to go into more detail on this, but I think it would take a lot more time and thought on my part to do it justice.

    Does that answer your questions? I can definitely relate to where you are coming from. Thanks for the conversation, bro.

  • 35. mewho  |  February 26, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    Appreciate it. Thanks. All thought-provoking and respectable. I’ve discovered this to be more of a journey, anyway, so I’m constantly reconsidering viewpoints. Yours is insightful. I’ll probably see you on another post…

  • 36. The Next  |  February 26, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    Ah, Time adds Doubt. I’ve seen the same in my visit to this orb. I raise the dead, kill, drop trees in patterns, heal the sick, etc. Folks are astounded during the act, but a few weeks later, their lives have muddied the waters and it isn’t so clear that it wasn’t just incredible chance. Here’s a bit from my book,
    Quantum 1004 50 2008 Magic (I’ll be publishing soon):

    The Seeding

    On October 4, 1957 the Soviet Union launched the first of humanity’s machines to reach my realm. Sputnik means “co-traveler” so I hitched a ride and waited 92 days to plummet to Earth on the burning Star of Sputnik exactly 9 months before I was born on October 4, 1958. I entered the developing egg of a random woman and waited.

    So…a new player arrives on the field. 92 is such an important number…

  • 37. TheNorEaster  |  February 29, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    “I consider it unreasonable that I should be expected to surpass them in faith.”

    With all due respect, I’m afraid I have to disagree with you on this one. Thomas only believed when he had seen Christ after the crucifixion. But if you, or anyone, has believed at all then your faith has already surpassed Thomas and The Disciples because you have not seen the risen Christ after the crucifixion (and you didn’t see Jesus feed the poor, heal the sick, or raise Lazarus, either). And this I think is made clear in John 20:29.

  • 38. Thinking Ape  |  February 29, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    TheNorEaster,

    But if you, or anyone, has believed at all then your faith has already surpassed Thomas and The Disciples because you have not seen the risen Christ after the crucifixion

    Somehow it is not comforting to know that one’ faith, two-thousand years later, supercedes that of the people we supposedly gain our only source about the religious tradition one is to have faith in.

  • 39. TheNorEaster  |  April 4, 2008 at 8:44 am

    TA:

    Juries do not testify.

  • 40. Josh (guitarstrummr)  |  February 26, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    Quester,

    I was sifting through old archives and have to say this is a brilliant post.

    I too wondered why at the end of Matthew, after Jesus rose into heaven right before the disciples’ eyes, it says that some of them still doubted.

    Honestly? How do you watch the guy fly up to heaven right before your eyes and still doubt it. This doesn’t make any sense.

    Unless the person who wrote Matthew felt they had to do one of two things:

    * Reassure readers that even if they did see Jesus rise they would have still doubted. Hence, they should not doubt.
    * Explain why some of those who supposedly were there at the resurrection now were denying it. By showing that they were doubters they could be dismissed.

    What do you think?

  • 41. Quester  |  February 27, 2009 at 8:18 am

    Ah, my first post here as a contributor. Thanks for digging this up, Josh. I’m glad you liked it.

    You know, I’ve read the Great Commission I don’t know how many times and this is the first time I noticed the phrase “but some doubted”. It was not in my mind at all when I wrote this post. I still see no mention of the Ascension in Matthew’s gospel, but your guesses at why the doubt was mentioned make sense.

  • 42. Josh (guitarstrummr)  |  February 27, 2009 at 11:33 am

    “I still see no mention of the Ascension in Matthew’s gospel”

    Haha, I pulled this from the old dusty memory banks, so it was probably a little like The Life of Christ in Stereo. But I suppose its no different than the gospel writers writing from their memory!
    :)

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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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