Archive for February, 2012

The Shape-Shifting of Belief

Posted in The Narrow Path on February 27, 2012 by RWZero

From a commentator on John W. Loftus’s blog (who I hope will not be annoyed that I have copied and pasted her words):

“I was raised Baptist, in a multi-generational missionary family. I’m pushing 70. The Christianity of today is nothing like the Christianity I was raised with.

In practice: the current young adult Christian generation (even evangelical missionaries) go to movies, work and shop on Sundays if “necessary”, get involved in politics (we were taught, as Baptists that the church had to keep itself separate from government or lose its liberty), drink alcoholic beverages. Divorce and remarriage is common. The women wear makeup and revealing clothes. Most haven’t read the Bible; nor would they recognize the names of most Biblical characters.Growing up, I never met anyone who participated in any of those behaviours.In doctrine: there was none of this touchy-feely “Jesus is my best friend” talk. I remember sermons, later on in my young adulthood, against that; it was considered a lack of respect. Maybe it is. Grace was not greasy; it required work and dedication. God healed, but we had no right to demand it, nor expect it. Faith by itself had no merit; it was the content of the faith, and the works based on it, that mattered. And, strangely enough, I never heard any mention of homosexuality, and rare warnings about abortion (always with the understood or stated adjective, “back-alley”.)

Christianity, these days, is a new religion to me.”

Omnipotence Paradox

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on February 26, 2012 by RWZero

The omnipotence paradox is a simple idea:

– Omnipotence is being able to do anything at all

– God either cannot make a rock he can’t move, or he can make such a rock but cannot move it

– Therefore God is not omnipotent

The initial reaction of most Christians to this argument is merely to bristle at it (imagining, perhaps, that it is the product of some proud, analytical minds who put too much stock in human reason, not realizing that God is beyond our ways, and trying to discredit him with childish word games). But after a few seconds, it becomes clear that there actually is some kind of a problem at hand. The reaction, then, is often to call the argument stupid, meaningless, or confused. If you stay the course and ask what the problem with the argument is, you will usually get a lengthy rationalization that does not clearly address the problem or provide an answer to the question that arises from the second premise.

I have never heard a Christian observe that Jesus was unable to lift certain rocks, and thus, God really did make rocks he can’t move–but I hope that I hear that one day, because I think it would be a clever response.

At first glance, it’s clear why a Christian dislikes this argument. It seems to embarrass God by demonstrating that he is not quite as powerful as we thought he was. Even though the Bible does not necessarily state that God’s powers are so limitless as to interfere with logical impossibilities, it causes the Christian some dissonance and distress if the Almighty God has trouble with rocks.

The (lazy) atheist interpretation of this argument is simply that God does not exist, because God does not make sense. The Christian interpretation of this argument (when it comes down to it) is that perhaps it does not make sense to argue that God can do “everything,” in the sense of logical impossibilities like making 1+1=3, or making rocks that he can’t move.

However, I think there is a slightly deeper interpretation to be had. I believe this argument demonstrates that necessities precede possibilities.

If you speak with a theist at length about science or the universe, you will hear everything under the sun ascribed to God. The less the theist knows, the more ascribing is done, of course. You might hear “God made X” from someone who doesn’t understand the natural processes involved, whilst a more scientific response might go: “God created Y, which created X, but that doesn’t mean God didn’t effectively create X!” At some point, however; when you get into the deep end of the pool, theists will start saying things like “God made the laws of physics, he made time, space, logic and reason; God made everything!”

The question is, do those ultimate types of assertions make any sense? Perhaps there are “laws” of physics that, so far as we are able to tell, “could have been different.” It is consistent, then, to imagine a sentient being “deciding” what these laws might be, and selecting the ones that please him most. But this is not so easy to imagine with necessities and logical impossibilities. It becomes even thornier when we consider that most of the scientific “laws” that we discover appear directly linked with rigorous, consistent logic.

If we imagine a God who begins his cosmic day in a sea of infinite possibility, only then to impose logic, reason and necessity, there would seem to be no reason to do anything at all–there would seem to be no reason that God could have, such that he could do anything. Only once you have necessities can you have possibilities. Only once you have choices can you make a choice.

In my view it is demonstrated that our world arises at bottom not from the foundational choices of a personal God, but from the foundational existence of consistent truths or necessities. Therefore if there is a God, it would appear that these things must either precede him, or constitute some aspect of his very essence, such that they would have to “be” God.

Some Christians have shown signs of realizing this. They may crudely affirm such doctrines as “without the shedding of blood, there can be no forgiveness of sin” (though this appears to be an arbitrary impossibility rather than logical impossibility, which perhaps takes us even farther in the wrong direction), or write allegory about “the deep magic,” as C.S. Lewis did in the Chronicles of Narnia (though this is only a kind rephrasing of the former, meant to explain the same thing).

But what cannot stand up to scrutiny is the commonly-imagined indistinct and omnipotent concept of God.

Girlfriend

Posted in The Narrow Path on February 24, 2012 by RWZero

There was a girl at my church who I liked for between 10 – 11 years.

She turned me down three times. The most recent time she told me not to bring it up again.

About a few months after my faith disintegrated, she spent some time with me and decided she liked me.

It seemed like something might be happening. However, I had lost my Christian beliefs, so she tried to turn me down again. This lasted about a week and she decided to date me anyway.

But my lack of Christianity is a dealbreaker so she broke up with me.

I hadn’t really ever had a girlfriend up until then, in my whole life, because I refused to date people who weren’t committed Christians.

The wonderful adventure continues.

Pastors

Posted in The Narrow Path on February 21, 2012 by RWZero

If you are a pastor, you are basically being paid to have confidence on behalf of other people. While I have heard the occasional sermon that has a modicum of insight in it, pastors are, in many cases, mere faith proxies. Rarely do they offer anything whatsoever aside from mere confidence in what everyone already has heard, and already believes.

For the latter half of my life, pastors stood up there said the things that I was supposed to believe. I agreed that they shared my doctrines–but if I had been forced to get up there and stand for them myself, it would have been an ordeal, and I might have ended up in precisely the situation I’m in now (except sooner).

Absence of a Brain

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on February 20, 2012 by RWZero

The other day I was passed this disturbing video.

I think this kind of stuff has worldview implications.

Holy is the Lord, God Almighty

Posted in The Narrow Path on February 15, 2012 by RWZero

I’ve been thinking about how a lot of the praise songs, hymns and carols that I used to know still carry the same images and feelings as they did in the past. I’ve been wondering how this can be the case, if I’m not supposed to believe the same things I used to believe.

The answer, I think, is that ideas represented by worship songs and hymns are completely abstract. What did we mean when we said “Holy is the Lord God, Almighty?”

Think about it.

You mean that there’s this powerful, invisible God up there, somewhere (yet everywhere, all around), who is “holy,” which means “sacred,” which means… it’s kind of a self-referential definition. It relies on images and feelings of bright white lights, purity, and so on. But consider the way in which this idea of “Holy is the Lord” is expressed through music: the feelings of awesomeness, the feelings of purity, the feelings of a great unknown Presence who is of greater value than oneself. None of those thoughts and feelings are necessarily Christian. They can all be felt without a belief in the Bible. In fact, many of them can be felt with scarcely a belief in anything, except perhaps the existence of something above and beyond oneself.

It’s only songs such as those that speak directly about Jesus paying the ransom for sin–or Jesus dying on the cross–that have a visceral representation that may cease to resonate with someone who is not a Christian. However, these songs never really resonated with me. I always felt strained singing about Jesus being bloodied on the cross for my sin; not because I think it’s a gruesome or primitive idea (maybe it is primitive, but I never cared so much about that) , but because the songs are supposed to resonate with emotions and actual experiences of the world.

Thanking Jesus for forgiving my sin does not resonate with my experience of life. I never felt extremely thankful that God was willing to save me from the way he made me. I never felt like God was doing me such an unimaginable favour by killing himself for the things that he made me do.  Songs about “Jesus, you’re all I need” also never rung true with me at all. Jesus was not all I needed. Certainly the people in the room needed more than just Jesus. They needed music, community, after-church cookies and pleasant songs about how all they need is Jesus.

There was also that thing about how the quality of the music wasn’t what mattered, and the mark of a Christian was that a true Christian could worship in any setting. This always bothered me, because why did I feel so much more faithful when the music was in tune, and the structure of the song moved me? Should I not feel like that all the time? Why did I have more doubts about my faith when I was listening to old people warbling to a bumbling organist? Of course, I’m a little embarrassed at ever having tried to sweep such obvious things under the rug. Though to be fair, it seems like denying the obvious (while recognizing the subtle) is a specialty of that whole frame of mind.

Ideas about an incomprehensible God or Mystery; those can resonate with me. Hoping for things…I can understand that. Someone coming to save you from a really bad situation, that resonates with me too. Surprisingly, I find that I’m able to listen to about half of the Christian songs and anthems that I used to, and feel most of the same things that I used to feel, without even feeling inconsistent; because the emotional and mental representations of these ideas (God being invisible and all) have not changed.

You’re Absolutely Right

Posted in Evangelism on February 13, 2012 by RWZero

“You know, you’re absolutely right,” says the Christian, in response to my message. “We should be acting that way, the way you say; but we’re not. I realize that the church is broken and sinful; that’s why I pray each day that God will help me be full of the precious passionate peace that passes all perception…”

Dear Christians, it isn’t good enough.

It isn’t good enough, when someone points out hypocrisy, to say “you’re absolutely right, something is wrong, and I pray that the Lord will help us fix it.”

At some point, you need to admit that it isn’t fixed. It’s never been fixed. It’s never going to be fixed. There is no evidence that it even can be “fixed.” You want to tell me that Christianity makes this particular kind of difference in people. When I look at the church, and I mainly see weird personality quirks, a sheltered subculture, and similar hierarchical quibbling as exists in society, you want me to ignore it.

Presumably, you want me to ignore this because the true faith points to something better than this. But this is just lip-service. I’m looking for whether something is actually different; whether what you’re saying and preaching actually works. It means nothing to me that “it’s supposed to work,” or that “one day it will work,” or that “we wish it worked.” It means nothing that you can dream up a scenario in which everyone is acting in such and such a way. The fact is that it doesn’t quite work, in quite that way that you think it does.

That’s what matters.

To me, at any rate.