Until we can survive and thrive without the illusion that an all powerful and caring overseer is guiding us;
until we can accept the ups and downs of unsettling fortune without extracting meaning and message from above;
until we can address the dissonance of thanking our chosen deity for graciously granting every positive moment yet fail to apportion blame for any negative;
until we can debate and define our moral codes without reference and deference to the compromised and dated writings of the ancients;
until we can accept our mortality and that of our loved ones without the pacifying promise of eternal paradise;
until we can get by without burdening our offspring with the shackling myths we were in turn taught;
until we can stop eulogizing faith in that which we wish to be true, as a higher form of knowledge;
until we can freely re-asses our convictions without the debilitating circle of post rationalisation;…
It is common sentiment among Christians that “it’s ok to have doubts.” In fact, I have a friend who is a Presbyterian Minister who told me recently that he sees his faith as a form of agnosticism.
However, the question I’ve always pondered is – how much doubt is too much?
- I doubt that Jesus was born of a virgin. Is that ok? Am I still a Christian?
- I doubt that the bible is an accurate representation of events. Is that ok? Am I still a Christian?
- I doubt that we can really know exactly what Jesus did or said? Am I still a Christian?
I could pretend not to doubt, but I’m not sure that this is enough.
Christians tend to answer this by trying to convince me that I’m wrong. However, that completely misses the point. Is it ok to doubt or is it not?
If I doubt that Jesus is god, am I a Christian with doubts, or a non-Christian?…
My on-going experiment to ruthlessly engage with those who wish to effectively argue for Christianity has been underway for what seems like an eternity (no pun intended), but in many ways, I’m no closer to finding that killer argument (unsurprising really). Reflecting back on my days as a Christian, I wish I had come up against some of these arguments earlier so it would have resulted in a paradigm shift in my thinking – but I’m really not sure that there was ever an argument out there that could penetrate the barriers to change prior to when one is ready.
So, it seems that no argument I have submitted to a Christian has even caused them to flinch. It’s quite depressing to leave it at that, because I imagine if I carried out a similar onslaught with members of another religion, I would get the same result – and they can’t ALL be right. At least some (if not all) people of religious faith seem to be immune to reasoned argument. Maybe that’s quite obnoxious on my part.
So what have I learned? What are the arguments to which the response has been particularly weak and/or non-forthcoming but there are also lines of debate which yield absolutely no fruit?
First of all, it is completely futile trying to point out contradictions, inaccuracies and difficulties within the bible. The response is one of ‘yes, it’s difficult, we need to try hard to understand all this… our mind is small compared to god’s”…
“Belief cannot argue with unbelief, it can only preach to it.”
The above quote is by Karl Barth, a Swiss theologian who died about 30 years ago. He is revered among intellectual theologians and Popes alike. I love this Barthian quote. In fact, I find it self evident and quite enlightening.
I have a number of conspicuously un-read books on my shelf – most of which are there to make me look intelligent and learn-ed and to hide my Harry Potter books! One of these, which I bought a few of years ago during my “re evaluation,” is Twentieth-Century Western Philosophy of Religion. To be honest I no more than skimmed it, but I recently dug it out to look at this quote.
The writer expands Barth’s quote.
Religion is a matter of conversation, not argument, and there is no logical transition from unbelief to belief. Religious belief is not dependent on any philosophy it stands on its own terns. If the atheist claims that religious belief fails the test of rationality and then no rational person should accept it, religious belief can only confess its content and appeal to its authority…
I’ve heard Christians say that what one must do is look at the life of Jesus, and decide what you make of him. This is the basis of Alpha Courses and, in my experience, it’s the way many Christians approach Christian apologetics or evangelism. ‘What do you think Jesus meant when he said x?’ ‘What did it mean for the Jews when y happened?’ ‘Wasn’t the love shown by x to y a perfect sacrifice as prophesied in z?’ etc etc.
The belief is that the Bible, in this case, is reliable reportage – miraculously accurate and by its very nature irrefutable. Christians believe there is enough evidence to decide that water was turned to wine, dead men were raised and thousands of ready cooked fishes materialized from thin air. And furthermore, that there was no other important (perhaps more private) relevant statements made that were not reported in the book.
Surely the decision to believe this is at the very least a cognitive event. In the same way that I do not believe in ghosts (until convinced otherwise), I need to decide whether I accept the Bible / Koran (or 100s of other religious holy books) to be reliable…
Last week a ‘curious Christian’ asked the question, what would it take to re-convert. I think this is an interesting one, The Apostate noted that this is a little like asking a Christian what it would take to convert to Islam. It’s not an unreasonable challenge though, de-converts have shown themselves open to a change of heart, so I think they must remain open to the possibility of re-conversion.
I’ve always wanted to write a ‘treatise’, I’ve no idea what it means really but it sounds very grand and intelligent, so here we go!! What would it take?
It’s a property of the human psyche to have an interest in any claims pertaining to an afterlife or any ethereal knowledge which could answer the many unanswered questions of existence. Even if the knowledge was ‘bad news’, say that there was a chance of a less than pleasant afterlife I think the reasonable person would rather know than not. Certainly any claims of ‘good news’ opens people’s minds and makes them receptive to a well spun tale. An afterlife where we meet deceased loved ones and a god who has an overseeing and loving plan for us is very seductive.
Of course there are a thousand competing and mutually exclusive claims, so how to determine what if any deity claim is correct and deserving of attention?…
This is a true story that just missed being included in the bible by a whisker.
Herschel and Lucy Goldman are in their early 40’s living in Judea. Herschel is a tent maker and Lucy is a homemaker. They work hard all day and in the evenings when they gather as a family for a meal, they always invite local people who have no family of their own to join them. They believe this is how Yahweh wants them to treat others.
Every Saturday, they go to the synagogue to worship God and pray for a messiah. They are praying for a saviour to free them from the Romans and bring peace to the region. They hope for a king of the Jews to lift them out of their hardships. They trust god, who has brought them this far, to continue to be at their side and help them know when ‘the One’ has come.
At this time, there are regular rumours and mumblings of messiahs. People are so desperate for salvation that it seems that some are willing to fall for any old claim. Hershel and Lucy are reasonable people. They believe that god will make it clear to them who is the one, and that they should trust him. While they have an idea of what they are expecting in a messiah, they know that Yahweh moves in mysterious ways; so they tell their children to always keen an open mind.
Recently, there has been another messiah claim. This time it is about a guy called Jesus of Nazareth…