Hi all. First post here. And I'm a Christian. Looking forward to being welcomed with rational politeness...! :)
Having been reading a number of forum discussions, it's clear many members here were formerly Christians (or at least attended church). For anyone in that category, did you in your time as a Christian/church attender have what would be described as a 'religious experience'? That could be anything from a 'sense' of God's presence in a church meeting (something many Christians would testify to and atheists would reject as deluded group-think resulting from psychological manipulation), to seemingly answered prayer, an experience of God 'speaking' etc.
Apologies if that doesn't make sense, though I think for those here who have been in churches - especially more charismatic churches - for any length of time will get what I'm asking.
Basically I'm interested in what you think was the cause of those experiences, and how they helped or hindered your deconversion.
Hi all, thanks so much for all the responses - I've realised that I've opened up a conversation with dozens of others all at the same time so apologies for not replying to all your posts!
Dennis - I've just read your deconversion story plus all the comments. That sounds like an unbelievably tough experience. I'm glad that some members of your church remained supportive of you as a person though.
Colleen - I'd actually read that article 'When God talks back' a few days ago - a vicar I know had posted in on facebook! It makes interesting reading. Particularly so the sections about God-as-a-personal-friend. I happen to believe that myself - but not (I hope) in the sense that because God is my personal friend, that means he exists to serve my needs and make me feel good. I think human beings have a natural tendency to want the world to revolve around them, and so often faith gets bent to serve that desire - hence, for example, the prosperity gospel and claims that God never wants you to suffer a moment's pain, sickness or even mild inconvenience for the entirety of your life. This despite the Christian's claim to be following a God who (leaving aside all questions of the historicity of the gospels for the moment) lived a human life as a poor man and got brutally murdered at the end of it. Oh yes, and the people that Jesus annoyed most were the religious people, because he was hanging out with all the people that he shouldn't have been seen dead with, rather than waving placards protesting at their existence.
The most frustrating thing for me as a Christian in a number of your stories is the radical disconnect between the lives and attitudes of Christians and the life and attitude of Christ. Of course, for every finger I point there's more coming back my way, but still...
Dennis, in one of the comments on your story (by 'Jim Jones') he mentioned about religion being all about being an 'in' group defined almost solely as against the 'out' group. I don't know whether any of you have seen anything positive in Christianity (perhaps not!) but to my mind Christians are at their best when they are doing what they 'should' be doing, which is caring for the least, the poor and the broken, and not drawing up arbitrary behavioural boundary lines to define who's in and out.
Please don't misunderstand me as claiming that *only* Christians can care for those in need, I'm not that naive! It's just that that kind of behaviour - in my understanding anyway - is what should define Christianity. Sadly that is rarely the case.
Just to give an example, and I'd be interested to hear your thoughts - I was fascinated to see this video last year on the Guardian website. The Guardian is a left-wing, liberal newspaper in the UK, not renowned for its love of religion. And yet they put up this 12 minute video about the work of a church in Liverpool, made by a self-described sceptical agnostic journalist. I'd be interested to know how many of you with church backgrounds were part of churches involved in this kind of work?
Apologies to any US viewers who struggle to understand the accents of the prostitutes featured in the film, the scouse accent is pretty impenetrable to most English people as well...
I believe, Matt, that Mohandas Ghandi phrased it very well, when he said:
"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."
RE: the Guardian video:
An interesting view, certainly, but hardly earth-shattering - nothing more, really, than Christians should have been doing these past 2000 years, instead of concentrating on burning heretics and hanging witches.
Hi archaeopteryx - I'm familiar with the Gandhi quote, and it makes a fair (if disappointing) point. I also agree with your second post, in that these are the things that 'Christians should have been doing these past 2000 years' - exactly.
The word 'should' is interesting though - Christians claim to follow Jesus, who said (and again, leaving aside questions of the historicity of the gospels and whether Jesus is in fact an fictitious figure based on reheated Mithraism) things like:
- turn the other cheek, go the extra mile
- love your enemies
- give to the needy, but in secret, not for show
- do not judge, or you will be judged
and so on - Christians can and do repeatedly fall short of these ideals (I certainly do), but the fact remains that for those who believe Jesus was/is divine, his edicts therefore have the force of a moral imperative i.e. a 'should'.
I don't deny for a second that atheists are very capable of kind, ethical actions - there is a thread elsewhere on this forum discussing exactly how it is possible to be an atheist and hold to a personal morality that is tolerant, respectful of others etc. However I'm curious to know if there is a 'should' in atheist morality? Something more than 'I think / have decided that I should hold to this moral code'?
I hope the question doesn't come across as disrespectful, I do genuinely want to know...
Matt - you omitted the borrowing of "do unto others," from Confucius.
Freud gave us the Ego, the Id and the SuperEgo. In the 60's, Psychologist Eric Berne originated the concept of Transactional Analysis, in which he simplified Freud's terms by equating the Id, Ego and SuperEgo with more familiar representations, the Parent, the Adult and the Child.
Berne maintained that all Humans are psychologically comprised of these three essential elements. The Parent consists of all the admonitions and advice your parents have given you, and in this collection, you will find the "should" to which you refer. Many of our "shoulds" are beneficial to us - we don't have to make an independent value judgment every time we encounter a red traffic light - we know we "should" stop at red lights.
Hopefully, in a healthy adult Human, the adult filters through this collection of "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts," and chooses which ones he/she believes have validity for him/her in his/her own life, and discards the rest. An unhealthy adult Human is incapable of making this separation, and lives their adult life following, not their own star, but the dictates of Mom (usually) or Dad.
The Child portion of our personalities is self-explanatory, selfish, self-absorbed, impatient, irrational, wants what it wants and wants it NOW, but at the same time, full of awe and wonder observing a beautiful sunset, listening to Chopin, or watching a baby sleep.
It is the function of the Adult portion of our personalities to analyze the admonitions of the Parent and the demands of the Child, decide which are and which are not in the best interests of the personality as a whole, and act accordingly.
So your question of whether or not we hold a "should" in our moraliity, depends on how strongly we rely on the Parental portions of our personalities to make our decisions for us, and the Parent need not only be our natural parents, but any authority figure whose edicts we absorb - the Bible, significant teachers, old, weird Uncle Charlie - whomever we choose. The true sociopath is a person without a set of "shoulds" and "dassn't-do's."
So the answer to your question, which certainly did not "come across as disrespectful," nor ingratiatingly smarmy, like "Wretched Saint," (who may or may not be you under a different Username) is, of course we have "shoulds." We get them from a variety of sources, including trial and error, and you likely won't find any two of us who have an identical set, though most will agree on at least a few basic tenants. Most of us will also agree that there is little to offer in the Judeo/Christian/Islamic religion, that can't be found elsewhere, unless you're really into talking snakes and donkeys, and The Jungle Book and Shrek can give us those, in color.
As for the historicity of Yeshua (Jesus, in Greek), I really don't know, but in the words attributed to him in the gospels, he often makes reference to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jonah and Noah, and as most biblical scholars today will agree, these were not actual, historical figures, so whether or not Yeshua existed, is irrelevant, since if the words attributed to him were genuine, then he couldn't have been divine, but just another poor schmuck who had some good ideas and came to a bad end. If, on the other hand, the words he's said to have spoken are NOT genuine, then that opens up yet another can of worms, doesn't it?
Matt here, also new to the forum. I read the first page of replies and then jumped to the end as I have lots to catch up with.
I never had any religious experience, but then I was never religious, although I once pretended to be searching to impress a christian missionary girl I met, but only for a few hours. It didn't work, anyway.
As to morals, a moral code should be be adhered to, without any need for am religious backing, because it makes the world a better place to be for everyone, including the practitioner.
As an aside, and I am sure you have heard this before, but it is an argument I really like, what do you think of the following: If 'good' is what god says it is, then it makes no sense to describe him as good, and if good is independent of god then that destroys the argument that morlas need a religious backing.
Hi Matt. I guess I'd take the view that neither one of those options is correct and instead believe that 'good' is grounded in God's nature rather than his will i.e. 'good' is what God is rather than what he commands - so his commands flow from his nature, rather than his commands defining his nature as good (and thus creating a vicious circle). Similarly as you say if 'good' is defined as independent of God then it not only means morality can be established entirely independent of God, it means that God is clearly not sovereign as there is a rule of morality over him.
I'm not entirely sure I want to get into a philosophical debate when I'm outnumbered 15,000+ to 1 (he says, doing what all cowardly theists do and running away at the first sign of an intelligent argument! ;) as I'm here primarily to try and understand and explore more of the atheistic viewpoint, not confront it. I hope that's OK?
If it is - one further question on morality; if our morality is entirely determined as evolving from learning group cooperation / having empathy for others etc - how did we get to extreme examples of altruism? e.g. 'Man jumps in river to save toddlers life, dies in the attempt' - when the man and the toddler aren't related so genetically speaking the man should have no desire to preserve someone else's genetic material? I can perfectly well understand the evolutionary basis for a mother sacrificing her life for her own child, I'm interested in where you think the instinct arose from where she might sacrifice her life for someone else's child? It seems a bit of a stretch to me to suggest that that's simply empathetic conditioning - 'I'd want someone else to do this for my child so I'll do it for theirs'
Hope that makes sense
You are entirley welcome to limit the scope of discussion in a thread you started, no problem.
Your question about massively altruistic acts is interesting. First, I would postulate that in many (not all) cases where 'man dies trying to save toddler', if you told the rescuer in advance that he would definitely die, he would not do it. An obvious example where the resuer would still do it in the face of certain death is soldiers sacraficing themselves, but that I think has other circumstance that play. Anyway, I would not not argue that people would never sacrafice themselves for an unrelated person if they knew they would die, but I would argue the incidence would drop. After all, people drown saving pets from water, and I am certain they wouldn't make that choice if they knew the consequences.
I think the reason that people take great risks to help others unrelated to them, stems form the development of empathy and the ability to understand consequences in a more abstract way than other animals. Also, the value of children in general is pretty well entrenched in our culture which may well drive people to action before their ratioinal mind has a chance to mproperly compute the risks.
Matt G - I'm sure you've seen videos of wildebeasts being attacked by a lioness, or hyenas, or wild dogs. They go after a young calf as being the easiest prey, and while the mother will stay and try to protect her calf, the remainder of the herd, that certainly would have been sufficient, with those sharp horns and pounding hooves, to make short work of the threat if they had organized, determined to do so, instead keep running as though their own lives depended on it. The calf, in most cases, dies.
Somewhere, during Mankind's time on the African veldt, we learned that our individual safety depended on the safety of the group - that if we expected others to come to our aid, we needed to be willing to come to the aid of others, and that imperative became deeply ingrained within our social makeup, so that we didn't need to take the time to carefully consider the consequences, time that an emergency situation wouldn't allow us, we simply acted. All of this occurred long before Humans ever migrated to beautiful downtown Mesopotamia, where the Judeo/Christian/Islamic religion began. We brought the moral imperative to the Bible, not the converse, because we created god, in our own image.
Yep, makes sense, and I guess is really a more detailed explanation along my 'understand the consequences' point. Our longer term resoning ability led to the conclusuion that all for one was not only beneficial to all, but stemmed from one for all.
Our hypothetical volunteer certainly didn't get it from the Bible - the fictitious Abraham was willing to cut his young son's throat and barbeque him, just to save his own life.
Thanks for your responses. archaeopteryx - the Abraham and Isaac episode is undoubtedly difficult, but I don't think it's quite on topic, so I'll leave that for now if that's ok? Though I would disagree that you don't get the sort of extreme altruism I'm talking about from the Bible:
Jesus said 'My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15: 12-13)
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another. (1 John 3:16)
7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5: 7-8)
A concrete example that occurred to me is the story of Maximilian Kolbe, the Catholic priest who stood in for another man when he was condemned to die in a starvation bunker in Auschwitz. It's easy (for me at least) to see how he could believe that he was following the example of Jesus in laying down his life for a stranger, but less so to believe that his action was the result of a highly evolved sense of group welfare.
In the example of the wildebeest, surely the other wildebeest - if they were much given to reflection - would just think 'I'm glad it's not my child/calf' or 'well, he was the weakest one anyway'. Isn't that what survival of the fittest means?
I'm still not clear how we've got from a genetic impulse that purely encourages protecting your own offspring, to a group dynamic that prizes as extraordinary, the kind of sacrifice that preserves someone else's DNA?