I would love to answer any questions you have. They could be personal or philosophical or theological. Ask away!
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Dave posted a pretty long and involved comment so I’m going to copy and paste it here so it’s easier to read – and so I can do it justice in my reply. I’ll date the interactions so you can follow along.
FEBRUARY 2, 2011
Hey Bren! You know that I have been pouring over this; I like you, like to read, so as always, anything that you send my way, I read. I appreciate your willingness to be so vulnerable with your thoughts, questions and beliefs, especially in light of the circles that you’ve grown up in and your friends; I can imagine that not all have responded well (understandably?).
I have no questions for you I don’t think. You know that we love you, your husband, and the kids and your beliefs don’t change that [I edited out names]. Call me a Christian, call me a Christ follower, call me whatever you like, but I know this, in my pursuit of Christ, Heaven, eternal security the one thing that I have found constant is that in all things Christ has called us to love each other. As I see it, I have no right to judge any other, in any way, including their beliefs and views on God and Christ. This was the problem initially when Adam and Eve ate from the tree in Eden. They became judgemental; judgemental without the capacity to properly judge. We all judge one another and it is impossible to not, regardless of how much we may detest it. I too sometimes will find scripture confusing, but one thing I don’t find confusing is my experience. I guess perhaps I do have a question for you (for my own curiosity); what has been your “experience” with Christ? Not christianity, not religion, but Christ? As you know, the idea of Christianity, or of Christ himself, is based upon a personal relationship. What did that mean to you? I guess why I ask this is my personal experience is the only thing that has kept me from disregarding what sometimes confuses, and often frustrates me (truth be told). I have numerous life experiences that simply cannot be explained outside of a God that wants intimate interaction with me. I have “miracles” that I have seen and even happened to me that cannot be denied or explained through rational fact or scientific means. For example, when Rachal and I were trying to get pregnant, we were told that we never would. We saw multiple specialists, tried different fertility drugs and finally Rachal had to have surgery because of stage 4 endometriosis. After that surgery the surgeon had to tell Rachal that her uterus had not formed properly and that the right side was completely blocked off and that we was not able to get into her tubes on the right side. Of course she was devastated. What do you say to your wife when she finds that out? More importantly where is God when something like that happens? We were told to move forward with trying to get pregnant anyways and that he had taken out as much of the endometriosis as he could. Through out this we were in the middle of an adoption through Ethiopia. Needless to say, Rachal got pregnant, and you know that Camryn came 12 weeks early by emergency c-section. While the doctor was performing the c-section we asked how everything looked inside Rachal; her uterus, tubes, etc. “Fine” was his response, “everything looks normal, why?”. We relayed to him what we had been told by the last surgeon for the endometriosis surgery and he couldn’t believe it. He looked again and reconfirmed that everything he saw was normal and in it’s place, that “Rachal was developed completely normally.” From this point forward the doctors were fascinated by her case and booked an MRI to try to determine what was happening. The term they began to use was “Uterine anomaly”. To this day, after seeing numerous doctors it has not been explained.
The stories just go on and on like that. I can’t explain it other than to say that it was answered prayer for us. I wonder about your experience Brenda, an experience that would push you to such a radical search of fact to confirm truth. I can’t begin to understand I don’t think because your life and mine are completely separate lives. This to me is why judging just doesn’t work. When you look at a picture, what you see may be completely different then what I see, yet we are looking at the same image. We may both watch the same movie, in the same theatre, on the same day, sitting next to one another, and yet take away a completely different experience.
This is all me just processing what I’ve read of your questions, experiences, bookended with my life experience and personal encounters with a God that to me, obviously has a vested care, love and interest in my life.
Thanks again for allowing me to read all through this and for sharing! Thanks also for allowing others to post questions and thoughts! You are truly a fascinating person Brenda and I am always intrigued by the way that your mind works (this is a compliment)! We love you guys very much!
Boy – when I first read your comments and questions Dave, I didn’t realize I was going to have so much to say in response! When people have contacted me I try to really think through what they’re saying and give a well thought out answer. So here goes!
Response. I said right from the beginning that I did not leave Christianity due to anything Christians had done or said (to me personally or in general). They have gone and proven me right! The Christians who have contacted me have been kind and thoughtful. There are others who have contacted me (who were once Christians) and have come to similar conclusions as I have (most have been more agnostic than atheist though). So it’s been interesting to hear from people – and it’s all proven to me that I’ve had a lot of decent people in my life. I wish more had contacted me on this site so then everyone could read their questions/comments and my responses, but oh well.
My experience with Christ. I’ll be honest, here’s where my thoughts went when you asked that question. When I was a Christian and I heard about people leaving the faith, I assumed that something bad had happened to them to make them angry at God or that they cared too much about facts. You brought up another one – maybe someone who leaves the faith didn’t have the kind of relationship with Christ that I had. How could someone have that kind of amazing relationship and then turn their back on it?? Hard to fathom as a Christian. It’s so real and it infuses every part of your life. What can I say to that? How do I prove that I had a genuine relationship with the Creator of the universe? All I can tell you is that in my opinion I had a relationship with Christ that was just as real as any other Christian I’ve known. I didn’t buy into religion – I bought into Christ. He was my Saviour, Lord, best friend … I could go on. And I will be completely honest with you. I MISS it. And all the Christians are now saying ‘aha’ – she misses her relationship with Christ. That proves SOMETHING. No – I don’t think it does. For 20 years I had a best friend who knew me completley inside and out and who wanted the best for me. Whether it was real or not – who wouldn’t miss that??
I’m going to combine two things you said here. You said that you’ve had ‘numerous life experiences that simply cannot be explained outside of a God that wants intimate interaction with me.’ Later in your post you refer to the idea that two people can look at the same image and yet come away with a completely different experience. Well – that’s kind of my answer. In your life you’ve chosen to put the god glasses on. Everything that happens to you is seen through those lenses. I did that for 20 years as well. There wasn’t anything that happened that didn’t make sense through my Christian worldview. I had very few substantial doubts in all those years. I did think about things a lot and wanted to make sure that I was living the way Christ wanted to me to live. But looking back I am still stunned that I got to where I am now. Never would have dreamed it in a million years. My god glasses were firmly in place. Now I have atheist glasses on and I see almost everything differently. Experiences are subjective – how we see those is a choice. You’ve made one choice. I’ve made another.
Miracles. There’s a big one. I’m going to break this one up.
God of the gaps. I’m reading a book right now called ‘Quantum Leaps: 100 Scientists Who Changed the World.’ Fascinating book. It’s done chronologically and you can see the progression of how people viewed the world over time and how their understanding changed. When people didn’t understand how the world worked, everything had a supernatural explanation. There was a huge ‘gap.’ Over time, as their understanding grew, that gap has become smaller and smaller. This is how I view ‘miracles’ now. To me they are just things that we don’t have an explanation for. And here I’m going to quote Billy Joel of all people. “I gradually decided that just because I didn’t have or couldn’t find the ultimate answer didn’t mean I was going to buy the religious fairytale.” I can no longer think that every time we don’t yet have an explanation for something that the answer has to automatically be god. That isn’t the only option.
Miracles downgraded. The Old and New Testament are filled with miracles. Obvious miracles. What type of miracles do we see today? Nothing even close. There is a website at www.whywontgodhealamputees.com. I briefly checked it out a long time ago – but you don’t even have to check it out to think of the question. Why won’t God do something obvious like heal an amputee? I see the miracles that Christians claim on facebook all the time. Sorry – not convincing in the least. Miracles have been seriously downgraded.
Fairness. You may have experienced a miracle – I can’t know for sure. But why not someone else? In his handing out of miracles – god is pretty selective and stingy. Why not the 5 year old girl in my son’s class who is battling a rare type of bone cancer as I write this? Why not _______. You fill in the blank. “If I had the power that the New Testament narrative says that Jesus had, I would not cure one person of blindness, I would make blindness impossible; I would not cure one person of leprosy, I would abolish leprosy.” (Joseph Lewis)
And here is my final point about miracles. God gets all the credit but none of the blame. How convenient. Something wonderful happens and he is praised. But what about all the people he didn’t help? Does he have any responsibility for that? What about responsibility for creating the problem in the first place? “If indeed, there were a judgment-day, it would be for man to appear at the bar, not as a criminal, but as an accuser.” (William Winwood Reade) If there is a god he has a lot of explaining to do and I don’t think even a few true miracles would be a sufficient answer. Do you want to know what pushed me from agnostic to athiest? This quote sums it up, “I don’t know if a god exists, but it would be better for his reputation if he didn’t.” (Jules Renard)
Thanks for your questions and comments. Keep them coming if you like!
FEBRUARY 3, 2011
Brenda, very interesting. I guess I can see where you are coming from with looking at life through different lenses; makes sense to me. I would say for me you are right. Christ is central to my life and therefore the good that happens to me in life I attribute to him.
I find the concept of Christ as a Saviour very interesting to look at through the lens of western culture. How do you explain to someone who has pretty much all they want, let alone all they need, that they “need” Christ to be saved? I guess that I just find it very interesting to read writing from western culture talk about a God who is notably absent from life because of all of the “bad” that happens. It’s pretty easy to miss the abundant good, for the moments of “bad” that happen in life; this is a statement coming out of recent personal experience. People simply tend to focus on the negative or difficulties in life. Some have far more difficulty than others, and not to down play or disregard someone’s suffering, but I would say that as a whole, we in the west don’t really understand the term “suffering”. I could be diagnosed with cancer tomorrow and die in a week and truly, I would have nothing to complain about. Is it fair? What is fair? I have a 16 month old daughter and an amazing wife, so how could that hardly seem fair for me to die at this point from a disease that the God I serve, I believe, can heal? Or, I can look at this as incredible fortune that I was born in a country that gave me so many liberties; a family that loved and supported me so much; that I had the privilege to have such a wonderful wife and daughter. Honestly, I don’t know but I would say that this largely depends again, on the “lenses” or “glasses” with which you choose to view life. Is the glass half empty or half full?
In terms of miracles, there is still LOTS happening these days. Again, I would say that honestly here in the the west, there probably is not much happening at all. Not to say that there are not any, but again, we are largely a culture that simply doesn’t “need” God. Think on relationships and friendships that you have. Are there any in which it is fairly one sided? Now I am not saying that you relationship with Christ was this way, but I know that often mine is like this; it is very easy for me to disregard, or largely ignore Christ when things are smoothly sailing along in my life. When things get tough I certainly turn shouting for help in an awful hurry. I do this time and again. I try not to but for some reason my nature seems to not feel the “need” to experience my bond, or have a relationship with him unless “I” have a need you know? Funny enough, even though this is the case, I still quite often feel justified in my anger or resentment when my prayers are not answered the way that I feel they should have been; according to what is “fair”. Am I so “good” in all of my nature, all the time, behind closed doors, that I feel that things should go the “right way” all the time for me? Should I never experience suffering in anyway? I’m not so sure… What about any sort of evil in all of this. I know that you’ve touched on this but looking at everything that happens in life, good and bad, and placing everything at God’s feet saying “your fault” completely ignores three things; free will from a God that desperately wants us to choose him of our own accord; any consequence for poor choices that we or those close to us make; any existence of Satan, evil, that have any impact on daily life.
Man, my head is COMPLETELY spinning! Thank you Brenda, I am not sure that I will be able to shut down and sleep tonight (hahaha! )! All so very fascinating to turn over in my head.
Not sure that you do but if you are ever curious about some of the miracles that I am referring to I can pass along books and websites. As I have said, they are largely from other parts of the world although there are some pretty cool events (no matter how you view what has transpired) from North America as well!
Anyways, thanks for sharing your thoughts! I am sitting here listening to my daughter receive praise for putting all the pots back into the cupboard that she dumped out, so needless to say I am not sure how complete my thoughts are here but nevertheless, here they are .
Wow – a lot to cover!
Christ in Western culture. When I was a Christian there was this idea that the church was expanding in less developed countries and struggling in more advanced ones. The spin on it was that it was our fault. We didn’t have enough faith, commitment, etc. We were too complacent in our cushy, comfortable lives to really live for Christ. This ties in to miracles too. The miracles were happening elsewhere in the world because we had come to rely on reason rather than faith. Again – our fault. You said, “How do you explain to someone who has pretty much all they want, let alone all they need, that they ‘need’ Christ to be saved?” I’m going to annoy everyone here with yet another quote. I have a list of my favourites and frankly – others often say things in better words than I can. “Christianity must convince men that they need salvation … Christianity has nothing to offer a happy man … Just as Christianity must destroy reason before it can introduce faith, so it must destroy happiness before it can introduce salvation.” (George H. Smith) I’m just going to keep both issues tied together here – where Christianity is expanding (and not) and where miracles are happening (and not). Here’s a link to an article that may seem a bit off topic – but bear with me. Society Without God So I guess my question is this: Are Christianity and miracles struggling in developed countries because the people there have become too arrogant – relying too much on reason? Or are Christianity and miracles struggling there because those societies have moved beyond those things? Maybe developed societies are just less gullible? Less willing to believe second-hand information, etc.? And let me finish on this topic with a few questions. Would miracles prove God’s existence? I haven’t done any reading on this – maybe I will. I’m sure philosphers have tackled it before. Also, do miracles prove Christianity specifically? All religions claim miracles so I don’t see how miracles point to one religion over another.
Glass half-full or half-empty (and the problem of suffering). Do atheists see the glass as half-empty and then ‘blame’ god for that? (Can you blame someone you don’t believe exists?) Hmmm. Basically do atheists only focus on the bad in the world? It can seem this way. I think this is because when we are debating the existence of god – the topic of suffering is a major issue that has to be dealt with. So it gets talked about a lot. But if you were to see me and talk to me in my daily life – I’m a very thankful person. Like you – I have so many wonderful things in my life that I can never be too upset by the bad. But my personal experiences do very little to deal with the issue of suffering in the world as a whole. The best book I’ve read on the topic of suffering and God is God’s Problem by Bart D. Ehrman. He is a biblical scholar and in this book he systematically goes through the Bible and looks at how different authors explained suffering. While Ehrman has written numerous books about textual criticism of the Bible – that isn’t what turned him into an agnostic – it was the problem of suffering. I think every Christian should read this book so they can say they’ve looked honestly at how the Bible tackles the problem of suffering. I don’t think atheists always see the glass as half-empty. But we do have a problem with the concept of a god who is supposed to be all-powerful and at the same time all-loving – and yet still allows so much suffering. Get ready for some more quotes
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” (Epicurus)
“When it comes to believing in God, I really, really tried … but … the more you look around, the more you realize … something is wrong here. War, disease, death, destruction, hunger, filth, poverty, torture, crime, corruption, the Ice Capades … This is not good work. If this is the best God can do, I am not impressed. Results like these do not belong on the resume of a Supreme Being.” (George Carlin)
Should we expect no suffering? Well – not in this world obviously – but was this world with suffering the only option? Is suffering somehow necessary?
You say that “placing everything at God’s feet and saying ‘your fault’ completely ignores three things.” I’ll cover those one by one.
1. Free will. Here’s a link to one of my posts where I cover that topic. The Hiddenness of God and Freewill
2. Consequences. We agree! “In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments – there are consequences.” (Robert G. Ingersoll)
3. Satan, evil. I can’t get over the fact that God created Satan and allowed evil. If He’s all-powerful then he is ultimately responsible for these things existing. If His hands were tied, then he’s not all-powerful.
But I haven’t dealt with humanity’s role in all this. Aren’t we responsible for a lot of the suffering in the world? Isn’t our sinful nature responsible? Well this doesn’t explain natural disasters. We don’t cause those. Again, some quotes:
“We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes.” (Gene Roddenberry)
“A being who can create a race of men devoid of real freedom and inevitably foredoomed to be sinners, and then punish them for being what he has made them, may be omnipotent and various other things, but he is not what the English language has always intended by the adjective holy.” (John Stuart Mill)
Two more items for you. God’s Checklist and An Almighty Screwup. Notice in these how many times god could have made different choices. We take for granted that the world had to be set up this way – but I think sometimes we need to step out of the box and look at it impartially.
Ok – I don’t know how much green tea a person can safely drink in a morning – but I think I just broke the record! This has been a long one – but I hope everyone is enjoying all this back and forth.
February 4, 2011
Dave sent this comment:
Brenda, very well thought our and put forth. In the end, you and I both know we will need to agree to disagree (but we both knew that before this back and forth started ), however, if you have the book “God’s Problem” by Bart Ehrman, I would love to read it.
I find it very interesting how very different people are, and how differently they view minor and major topics. You have obviously read, and dug much harder than I, in a scholarly sense, to discover where the rabbit hole goes. I guess that I feel undeniably, through my life experience, that I have experienced Christ in a very personal and intimate way. Religion is a whole other topic, and where as you may not separate them, I feel that my belief in Christ is absolutely separate. While I do think that it is healthy and challenging to attend a church (where you do feel the teaching does stretch and challenge you) I can honestly do without all of the ritual, and framework that seemingly surround Christ. I have never felt like I need to work through such a systematic process in order to speak with Christ; just like I speak this to you, I speak to Christ, and I don’t use any other language. At the same time, I also think that it is healthy to speak back and forth and challenge one another, with who you disagree on your points and foundations of belief. After all, how can you be certain of what you do believe unless you allow those beliefs to be challenged? Again, I really appreciate your willingness to share so openly and candidly – I would have hated to debate against you in high school….
Let me know if you have that book!
I waited to post this response from Dave because he offered to read God’s Problem by Bart D. Ehrman. I in turn offered to read any Christian book of his choosing. He has chosen Has Christianity Failed You? by Ravi Zacharias. So Dave is getting his from the library and I’ve ordered mine from Amazon. We’ll let you know what we think of them! I will post any commentary Dave has about the book and I will likely post my views about mine. Isn’t this fun?