I discovered and joined this website two days ago and started this blog that same day. In my first post, I explained that I turned away from Christianity as a boy because I came to find it "ridiculously implausible" but that I've nevertheless enjoyed discussing Christianity almost ever since. I called it "following my Campbellian bliss," even if I wasn't sure exactly why I felt this way about it.

Well, a Facebook friend read my post and revealed that, unlike my starting out Christian and turning atheistic, he had started out atheistic and later turned Christian only after he "experienced the touch of God and his miracles first hand and [has] no more doubts that Jesus and the Holy Ghost are alive and active." He said he'd pray for me that my "eyes can be opened," since "intellectual exercises" alone can't prove what only direct personal experience can.

Now many atheists might feel put off by my friend's offer to pray for me so that I might see the error of my ways and the truth of his. But I took no offense. In fact, I felt touched that someone I hardly knew would go out of his way without being intrusive to help me fulfill what he regarded as life's highest purpose: to know, love, and obey the one, true God and obtain salvation. This is how I replied:

"I guess there's no arguing (not that I want to argue :-)) with powerful personal experience. I would only offer two thoughts about what you say.

First, a lot of us haven't had these kinds of experiences, so what are WE supposed to do in the meantime? Second, if one does have the kind of experience to which you allude, I don't know that this establishes the TRUTH of the experience. Humans vividly experience all kinds of things and are firmly convinced of their truth when it's obvious or becomes obvious that they aren't true. Humans have an amazing capacity for self-deception. That being said, a part of me envies you for you comforting certitude and thanks you for your prayers on my behalf."

My friend graciously replied that he empathized with my skepticism and wondered why God didn't bless everyone with the kind of persuasive experience with which he'd been blessed, and he urged me to "stay open" to God's grace.

This is how I replied:

"I confess that it's difficult for me to "stay open" to something that my rational mind finds implausible at best. It's a little like telling someone to "stay open" to Zeus or, if you're not of Tom Cruise's or John Travolta's persuasion, Scientology. But I do what I can.

And one of the things I can do is learn more about Christian teachings. I concede that this is largely a rational undertaking. I also admit that I'm doing it primarily in order to write the best book on Christian counter-apologetics that I can. Yet, I guess it's possible that if Christianity is the true faith, the more I expose myself to it in any manner, the better my chances are of realizing its truth.

What's more, my book will be aimed not only at skeptics such as myself but also at believers. The way I figure it, if believers study the arguments I'll present against Christian teachings and they can refute them, they can quite possibly strengthen their own faith and act as more capable spokespersons for it to non-believers who engage them in dialogue and debate."

I share this correspondence here for several reasons. First, I think it illustrates the kind of respectful dialogue that atheists and theists can and should have if each is to understand the other better and this world is to become a more inviting place. I'm currently reading a wonderful book by Sean Stephenson entitled "Get Off Your But" in which he persuasively suggests that "communication is merely an exchange of information but connection is an exchange of our humanity" and that we should strive to connect with those with whom we communicate. Yet, how often do we do this with those harboring different religious or political perspective than we have? I'd rather dialogue with theists than argue with them. That way we can learn from one another and feel bonded by our core humanity instead of alienated, sometimes to the point of verbal or even physical violence, by our relatively superficial differences of opinion.

Second, I pointed out to my friend a major problem with personal experience proving religious truth. Personal experience of "the touch of God and his miracles" and all the joyful emotion and conviction that accompanies it is no guarantee that what we experience is anything more than mere happenstance and that our conviction of it being otherwise is other than self-deception. And it seems to me that the more miraculous our experiences seem and the more supernatural their origin appears to be, the more cautious we need to be about accepting them at face value, no matter how powerfully and convincingly they strike us.

Third, I raised the question of why, if these powerful experiences are necessary to bring doubters into the fold, God "blesses" so few of us with them. Doesn't this seem supremely unfair to the large number of us who wander in the sinful darkness because God hasn't "touched" us the way he has my friend?

Finally, my correspondence with my friend brings up the issue of openness to truth. My friend urged me to "stay open" to the possibility that Christianity is true, and if there's any chance that it is true, I certainly don't want to reject it and suffer the mortal and immortal consequences thereof. And how and when do we ever really know with absolute certainty that Christianity is the crock of bovine feces that most of us here probably think it is? On the other hand, how open to Christianity can we force ourselves to become and how do we do it, and how open to it should we be before we cross the line into gullibility and accept evidence and arguments for its truth that don't merit that acceptance?

These are some of the issues raised by my correspondence with my friend that I hope to consider over the course of my blogging and other forms of participation here.

Views: 6

Comment by Gaytor on July 1, 2010 at 3:06pm
You can certainly have open communication. I find that if I'm not honest with people, I haven't been myself. If I'm not myself, it's not me that they are becoming friends with and I am wasting both of our time and efforts. Along with that, I can't be open to Christianity, and I'd certainly say that. The God of the Bible's character as a being is one that I would never accept. No experience or power, or wonder would open the door to follow a god laid out as in the Bible. In order to be honest with them, I would have to say that during a keep your mind open discussion. It's not just about God's existence, I find his character repugnant. I am better than that creature and wouldn't lower myself for a reward. That being said, you don't need to insult the other person in discussions either. It serves no purpose in a discussion other than to offend.

I have to say that I don't believe people whom say that they were once Atheist but have found God. Almost universally they had an awakening encounter. I've never known someone to be a non-believer whom had that experience after I've met them as an Atheist. It's always before. I know that it's awfully cynical, but I completely shutdown and have BS alarms going off while they talk from then on.
It's become the clichéd way to get an Atheist to open up.

Good luck on those discussions. I have to say that I rather enjoy them too when they are relaxed and polite. At least you'll end up with someone across the table whom understands you better.
Comment by Steve Curless on July 1, 2010 at 4:18pm
Gaytor, you raise some important issues. Aside from the question of whether we should remain "open" to Christian teachings we find "repugnant--hell being the most repugnant of all to me--is it possible to be Christian without embracing these repugnant teachings?

In other words, what IS Christianity and what should one believe and do in order to qualify as Christian? For example, can one be Christian and NOT believe in hell or The Flood?

As for your cynicism regarding the conversion experiences of atheists into Christians, I'm afraid I don't understand your point. Are you saying you doubt anyone who claims to have had a powerful personal experience that led them to certitude that God exists and that Christianity is true?

If so, I have to say that I don't find it hard to believe that people have had these experiences. What I doubt is whether these experiences prove what those who have them claim that they prove.
Comment by Lindsey on July 1, 2010 at 5:36pm
If you're open to the idea that christianity might be the truth just because you don't know for sure that it isn't, then you have to be equally open to every other religion ever practiced, because they have just as much probability of being true as christianity does. So, if you concede the possibility that the christian god could be real, you also have to allow for the possibility that Lord Xenu could someday break free from his mountain prison. No one religion has any more evidence of its truth than any other. And then there's the problem of having to be equally open minded about every different sect or branch of every religion ever practiced.
Comment by Steve Curless on July 1, 2010 at 5:51pm
Lindsey, you make a very good point, and it's one I'm not sure how to address. In principle, I don't want to irrevocably dismiss ANY religion, and, yet, I'd be hard pressed to truthfully state that I haven't dismissed a plethora of them in practice.

So, why not dismiss Christianity as well? Because it's the world's and this nation's most popular religion at this time? Because I was raised within the auspices of a Christian church and considered myself Christian until the age of 12 or 13? Those hardly seem like rationally compelling reasons. Yet, I feel as though Christianity and all the other major religions or "wisdom traditions," as renowned religion scholar Huston Smith affectionately calls them, merit more open-mindedness than the "Lord Xenu" religion. But why do I feel this, and does my feeling embody truth?

In practice, I'm actually teetering on the brink of absolute rejection of Christianity of every denomination or sect. But I try not to fall completely into the black hole of rejection, whether I should or shouldn't.
Comment by John Nguyen on July 1, 2010 at 7:03pm
Why should you feel hesitant to reject them, when you realize that there's no rationally compelling reason not to? It's not up to you to remain indulgently "open-minded" about Christianity or its sects therein. It's up to the theists to convince you that you were wrong to reject it. If you haven't found anything in the affirmative for its case, you need to consider it nonsense until otherwise proven.
Comment by Steve Curless on July 1, 2010 at 7:11pm
John, why should I "feel hesitant to reject" religions such as Christianity? That's a great question! The short answer is that because, once I reject them, I risk forever closing my mind to any possible truths, literal or metaphorical, that they may embody.

On the other hand, I'm not the least bit "hesitant" to not embrace Christianity unless and until I have cause to, nor am I "hesitant" to relentlessly question and critique it.
Comment by Gaytor on July 1, 2010 at 7:41pm
In order to be a Christian, you have to choose Jesus as your God, spiritual and moral leader. I couldn't choose that route. Luke 19:27 "But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me." - Jesus the Christ. Matthew 15:26 "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." - Jesus addressing a Canaanite woman and he describes her as a dog compared to his followers. This is morality that I must reject.

The premise of Christianity is God has made the Mosaic Law too hard for flawed humans to follow. he's executing judgement left and right. So Jesus is brought in as atonement for those sins. His sacrifice is for all of us. Stepping back, we are talking about washing away blood with blood. I don't accept sacrifice and reject the premise. For me, I reject Christianity at it's core. Flood claims are just incidental.

I suppose as for my conversion cynicism, it's become a popular tactic. Like, "Hey, I was just like you. You'll be happier just like me if you'll just learn to think like me." It's pretty easy to say that you were an Atheist and how can I challenge it? I've just never seen any Atheist that I know make that conversion. Until I do, I'll remain cynical of conversion claims coming from those trying to save my soul. As a matter of argument, you could ask if I've ever seen a baby pigeon either. Um, no, but I'd agree that they exist.
Comment by Steve Curless on July 1, 2010 at 7:50pm
Gaytor, thanks for clarifying your skepticism regarding conversion experiences and for your tidy synopsis of Christian doctrine.
Comment by Tulshidas Singha on July 2, 2010 at 11:18am
Thank you very much, sir,for your honesty and simplicity. A large number of persons among the believers are in the same state of transition,as you are. But all do/can not express their mental conflict open and above board for their fear or embarrassment.But you have done it. But sir, excuse me if I could hurt your friend,cleaver persons take the advantage of the honesty and simplicity of a person. If I say, what your friend told you is a blatant lie ,such experience as had happened to your friend is a bull story,may hurt your feelings and would not be effective at the same time. Like the belief in God, disbelief also results from self-realization.It can never be aroused from outside.
Undoubtedly,you are in the right path sir.But I can assure you that it's next to impossible for you to stick to or go back to Christianity. How can I say that ?Because I and probably all atheists had to come through that transition. Now we have no doubt about the falsehood of the God and his omnipotence.But if we voice our views loudly to your ears,it will not work for you instantly. But sir,once the skepticism has somehow been arisen in you, and without concealing you've declared it in public, and you've come forward to know the truth,-it's my conviction that no friend will be able to take you back to Christianity.
In fine,I can assure you again,You are in the right path sir.
Comment by Steve Curless on July 2, 2010 at 12:22pm
Thank you, Tulshidas. I don't take "offense" at your skepticism concerning my Christian Facebook friend. Perhaps he IS trying to manipulate me with a "blatant lie" about his conversion experiences. However, I don't jump to the conclusion that he is, and I suspect that he's being sincere in what he says. However, as I alluded to earlier, people can take all kinds of experiences to mean or prove things that they don't really mean or prove.

For instance, a loved one can make a recovery from an accident or illness that seems positively miraculous, but this doesn't prove that any god, much less the God of the Judeo-Christian bible, was responsible for it. Yet, a believer or someone disposed by desperate longing to believe, could well conclude that God caused the recovery.

In reading your response, it occurs to me that I may have given the wrong impression of my position with respect to Christianity. I stopped considering myself Christian approximately 45 years ago and have never come close to "returning to the fold," nor do I now teeter on the brink of it. If anything, I feel more convinced than ever that the essential tenets of Christianity are nonsensical.

However, I don't claim to know with absolute certainty that I'm right about this, and I want to keep an optimally open mind to the possibility that Christianity embodies truths that I don't currently recognize. And I also want to cultivate dialogue and human "connection" with believers and non-believers alike rather than provoke alienation and discord with hostile argument. But dialogue doesn't mean not being straight with others about your beliefs and doubts concerning their beliefs. It just means being willing to listen closely and communicate respectfully with others.

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