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Tough Question Indeed January 14, 2009

Posted by caseyww in Faith, Personal.
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The beginning of each year at Coast Vineyard the pastor endeavors on a preaching series titled “Tough Questions” where he solicits questions from the congregation which are supposed to address the areas that faith is most challenging to live out in the real world.  Past flavors included: Should Christians legislate morality?  Does God work through other religions? Homosexual marriage?

Pastor Jamie sells this series as a conversation starter so I hope this week’s post will be exactly that.

How do I know God is there and that He cares for me when I don’t feel Him? was this week’s topic.  In all honesty I’m not a huge fan of the question itself.  It has two unstated major premises (both more interesting topics) which, when not seriously vetted, handicap this question from the outset.  If the first premise, ‘God is there’ and second ‘our feelings are a reliable way to detect Him’ are granted de facto, which I certainly don’t think they should be, than this question boils down to encouraging people to pursue God no matter what they’re feeling.  Not exactly the tough stuff of yesteryears.

In short, Jamie sought to reassure believer’s who aren’t feeling right that it’s extremely common for people of faith to go through a Dark Night of the Soul and that one need not worry.  God has proven himself faithful for many believers before in times of doubt including CS Lewis (reacting with anger and bewilderment towards God for the loss of his wife in A Grief Observed), Mother Teresa (whose personal letters reveal that she struggled immensely with the very existence of God) and even the coup de gras, Jesus himself (as he questioned God’s will before being crucified).  Their examples are an effective precedence which should help us to keep the faith even in times of feeling distant from the almighty.  Even more, we should have hope that our doubts will ultimately be assuaged because Jesus’ story is redemptive in that it did not end with his crucifixion but instead with his resurrection.

I count three key logical fallacies:

1. Card Stacking: Conveniently, all the examples were of believers who persisted in their faith even when they had serious doubts.  What about the many believers who have felt distant from God and subsequently rejected faith?  Stacking the deck in favor of faith with supportive examples skews what evidence is here to make it seem more normal for believers to seriously doubt and return to faith than may be justified.  What if the examples Jamie provided are exceptions and not the rule?  They’re certainly not encompassing a complete spectrum of people’s faith experiences.

2. Implied Tautology:  Closely related to card stacking is a tautology which implies that ‘genuine Christians submit to God even when they don’t feel him.’  This is a tautology because it automatically allows one to discount the testimonies or arguments of those who don’t submit or who reject faith because they are immediately labeled non-genuine Christians whose experiences should not inform those of true faith.

3. Unstated Premise:  Another unstated premise is that ‘doubt is dark’.   What if doubt and skepticism are healthy and fulfilling ways to pursue truth?  Using only examples where doubt is associated with emotional distress isn’t a fair characterization of many peoples’ experiences.  In fact, for many skeptics the opposite is true.

However, even if we limit our discussion to the examples above, it’s still not clear that someone like CS Lewis wasn’t actually closer to truth in his doubt despite the deep levels of sadness that initiated it.  Consider his example from another perspective.  Maybe it took the slow, grating, painful death of his wife to show him, even for the briefest of moments, that his faith in a loving, personal God was misplaced.  We characterize his doubt as a “dark night of the soul” because, from the Christian perspective, there was a dawn of faith and emotional contentment that followed.  However, this betrays that we’re linking Lewis’ grasp of truth to his relative happiness.  What if Lewis was happily in the dark from the moment of his conversion, only to be awaked briefly by such a staggering tragedy as his wife’s death, and then lulled back into darkness as his grief subsided?

All this to say that I found the question How do I know God is there and that He cares for me when I don’t feel Him? fatally biased and poorly argued to the point of removing any teeth from what could have been an interesting challenge for faith.

No, the real tough question for me this week was instead a personal one.  Through the disappointment in the sermon I couldn’t help but ask myself: What did you expect?  Are the above arguments about logical fallacies and unstated premises really fair standards to hold a community of faith to?

I’m really split on this issue.

On one hand I recognize that Coast is built on faith and not reason.  Faith that Jesus died and rose in order to reconcile us to a real and existent God.  Thus, the unstated premises I’ve taken issue with in Jamie’s sermon aren’t just arguments to be refuted, they’re articles of faith, and as such are not really up for serious discussion.  Could I really expect Jamie to ask a tough question that may end faith for some if it was answered honestly?  Is church about this kind of vulnerability?  No matter how much I think it should be, I have to recognize that there is a doctrine that binds the community together in an important way.  People are not showing up on Sundays to have their faith questioned but instead to have it encouraged.  Admittedly, this is a substantial responsibility that a pastor bears.

On the other hand, I hold that we should have a commitment to pursuing truth no matter what the consequences are or which venue we are in.  This is especially true for those we endow with leadership roles.  Further I would argue that a church setting, where peoples’ worldviews and metaphysics are being shaped in real time, is the place where we need the most clarity and where subtle logical fallacies can be the most dangerous.  I’ve argued before that if what we believe is true such a level of expectation and criticism should not be a threat.

What do you think?

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Comments»

1. Adam Heine - January 14, 2009

I didn’t hear the sermon myself, so if I misrepresent Jamie then that is probably the reason.

It sounds as if Jamie presented the cases he did to show that God is still there, even if you feel like he’s not, right? If that’s so, then presenting examples of people who rejected the faith would not counter his argument. His argument, as I read it from your post, is that God is there, and if you persist in your faith you will find him. Presenting counter examples of those who rejected the faith would only present the other side: if you don’t persist (or rather, if you persist in not having faith), then naturally you won’t find him.

A tautology, yeah, but a natural one. If my keys are somewhere in the room, I will eventually find them if I look long enough. Likewise, if I don’t look then I’ll never find them, but that doesn’t change the fact that the keys are there somewhere.

To your personal question, which (correct me if I’m wrong) I read as: is it okay for a pastor to bring up doubts about God, or fallacies and evidence against him? To that I’d say two things.

(1) I think all pastors and speakers, at least those presenting something like an argument, should be held to logic. I mean, otherwise what’s the point? That said, I think Jamie was being perfectly logical. He wasn’t addressing the issue of whether God exists in the first place – that’s primarily an issue of faith. That is to say, since God’s existence cannot be proven or disproven*, it is an assumption one has to make before any further logic can continue.

(2) As to doubts and vulnerabilities, I think church is a place for that, but a pastor needs to be careful. Given the assumptions of the position (i.e. it is a God-given post, created to guide and shepherd others through the faith), a doubting pastor is not really in a position to lead others towards a God they are not sure exists. I think it’s fair, and in fact the mark of a strong community, that they be able to express those doubts, but for them to teach is dangerous. Again, from the assumption of faith.

Anyway, I agree that it doesn’t sound like a very tough question, but I might go listen to the one on other religions.

* I’m aware of how big a statement this is, and I’m willing to support it, but this comment is already far, far too long. For that I apologize.

2. T - January 14, 2009

One of the first things we were taught in high school English classes was to ask the question, “Who is the intended audience?” before diving into the text. It helps frame our understanding of what the author is trying to achieve, and I think the same thing applies with pastors and their congregations.

Since Coast is a community of faith made up of people who willingly place themselves in those seats every Sunday because they already (for the most part) subscribe to the idea that God exists, then Jamie’s examples are precisely relevant. He referenced giants of the Faith, people who sacrificed much in the name of Christianity and have served as inspiration to millions of believers, and oddly enough they struggled with the same question that everyday followers of Jesus sometime have, which is ‘Where the heck are you God?’ In this case, Jamie’s examples relate well to the audience.

Taking it a step back to address your questions, Casey – about whether or not God really exits or about all the people of faith who similarly questioned God’s presence but unlike Jesus or C.S. Lewis never arrived at a peaceful resolution – those questions deserve time and space, but my thought is if you collected a group of like minded people on this subject and had someone address the issue in a sophisticated and questioning manner, it probably wouldn’t happen on a Sunday morning during a church service.

3. bear - January 14, 2009

Well said Adam and T, and this is why the three logical fallacies indicated do not hold up at least for the purpose and audience on a given Sunday–in particular–this sermon.

I am not able to really comment on the sermon–I am simply agreeing with the previous posts regarding purpose and audience. I do think that it would be useful to take the question to task while looking out for these and other fallacies–in a different setting.

It is interesting the way that belief systems manipulate logic–even the application of fallacious thinking.

Bear

4. caseyww - January 14, 2009

First 3 comments-(thanks for the feedback)

The example of considering the intended audience is good one, but I’m not sure I agree completely. I’ll say again that I’m actually torn on what expectations I should have for church. Here are the reasons I’m having trouble with the comments above.

First, there is a big difference between using examples that the audience can relate to (which I’m completely on board with) and using examples that are skewed to favor an audience’s preconceived biases. Let me use a different example besides church to illustrate. What if we considered a different ‘community’… like the board of directors who have “already (for the most part) subscribed to the idea” that their company is profitable even if it may not be? What you’re implying is that it would then be acceptable for a CEO addressing this board to only use statistics and examples that showed the company to be in fact profitable no matter what the actual truth of the situation is because the this is what the audience expects. Even if the CEO did this subconsciously because she also had a preconcieved notion of profitability I don’t think it suddenly becomes acceptable. As a share holder we should still have expectations that the business team should be correcting for their biases and avoiding logical fallacies in order for the company to function healthily.

Second, I have a hard time with allowing a lower standard for logical consistency or dismissing logical fallacies as “not holding up” because we’re discussing a community of faith. They are, after all, claiming ultimate truth for the purpose of the universe. If this truth is supported on muddy reasoning on regular basis I think we should start to consider the possibility that the truth itself may be faulty.

5. T - January 14, 2009

Casey, I see your point. As I read it, you believe communities or groups of people should be held to the same truth-bearing standards regardless of that group’s function. In other words, if the group is going to exist then members of that group must internally monitor whether or not the group is adhering to matters of fact, especially if they have influence in the general community.

I don’t think that is plausible, though, because certain groups, like corporations, function in the very black and white realm of money-making, something that can actually be measured, regulated and quantified. In your example above regarding the board of directors it would be pointless for them to “believe” that the company is profitable. Belief, or faith, has nothing to do with their job description. A church, on the other hand, necessarily revolves around an unquantifiable belief in certain things, like the existence of a God who cannot be literally seen. Therefore, the analogy between the board of directors and a church congregation doesn’t correlate well, in my opinion.

Your larger point, though, that communities of faith may not have a handle on truth because not everything they believe in can be seen, reasoned about or logically adhered to, is an interesting one. I suppose everyone needs to address the idea of what is and what isn’t based on their own investigation. In my life, there have been enough moments when I had to rely on faith in an unseen God for comfort or strength that after some time these experiences provided the “evidence” I needed that God exists. It’s not something I could prove, but it works for me.

I can see your concern, though, that when enough people who it “works” for form groups (churches) and then try to affect the lives of people who it doesn’t work for by exercising their beliefs in intrusive ways, then that creates something further to talk about.

6. Benjamin - January 14, 2009

Casey,

Excellent job on pointing out the logical fallacies. As you know, I’m a big fan. Well done.

To break down the question into premises, I think the Jamie attempted to address one of these two arguments:

If God exists
and
If God cares for me
then,
I feel God

OR

If I feel God,
then,
God exists
and
God cares for me

It is obvious to me that the first argument cannot be validated given the premises (which Casey points out). However, the questioner found the second argument to be valid since they reversed the case by negating the premises, making it thus:

If I do not feel God,
then,
God does not exist
and
God does not care for me

The question was then asked, “How do I know God is there and that He cares for me when I don’t feel Him?” In other words, are the conclusions of the argument (God exists and cares for me) able to still be true while the premise is false (I do not feel God)?

All Jamie had to do in answering this question was come up with examples/arguments that showed the possibility that God can exist and care for me without me feeling him. It sounds like this is what he did. It may be an easy conflict to resolve, but it is still an important question since Jamie showed that feeling God is not a necessary component to know that God exists and cares for me. His examples are spot on since they involve singular people rather than taking the issue to a community of people (since people do not ‘feel’ together). Perhaps Jamie’s answer would’ve been better if he used a personal example (as a pastor of a faith community) of not feeling God?

Anyway, those are my thoughts.

7. bear - January 14, 2009

Thanks all for the comments–they are really interesting to read. I am not sure that the corporate comparison really works. They are simply not the same enough to provide a comparison. What is intriguing is the idea that the whole community might be wrong–and if it IS all wrong then every argument–every single one–every story predicated on the belief system must be altered, reshaped, and born again if it is to have any kind of truth in it. I think that the best a chruch can do is to tell stories. It is designed to work with and around narratives. I don’t think this is lowering the standard in any way. It is a different approach, and its best will incorporate as much data and logic as it can (just because you are told since birth that the earth is flat doesn’t mean that it is) bu this does not take away the importance of the narrative (just because you have been told that the earth is round doesn’t mean you will believe it either). The clash is the same one over and over–Faith stories are personal, intimate, sometimes supernatural, sometimes easily explainable, sometimes not. How can we take something so rooted in the narrative and experiential–which means almost infinite variations of story–and make it quantifiable? How can we supply an equation that will suddenly equal truth? If we are talking about processes–like the one Ben uses in #6–I suppose that is a good strategy to begin with…but I find that most of the faith stories I have heard I could easily slaughter on the basis of logic or explanation–the reason I don’t is because of my own experience–my own experience weaves me into the larger story and acutally, through that weaving, strengthens the fabric of my belief. I can say though that not a day goes by where I don’t think at least once, “am I fooling myself?”

Bear

8. bear - January 14, 2009

too simplify…narrative does not equal–a lower standard of logic as a rule.

9. Nancy O. - January 14, 2009

Bear,

You aren’t fooling yourself! I understand what you’ve explained because my own experience weaves me into the larger story and strengthens the fabric of my belief, as well.

🙂

10. Confused - January 14, 2009

debating/arguing the logical fallacies of a vineyard church sermon…really??

casey…if i may inquire…Why do you still go to church? That doesn’t seem “logical” to me.

I grew up an avid sports fan (still am) with faith in the teams I cheered for…If I became skeptical of sports or my teams, and knew they would never win…why would I continue to watch or cheer for them?

Bad analogy I know, but really…makes no sense to my simple mind…apologies

11. bear - January 15, 2009

Dear confused…so you are a Clippers fan?

12. Antony - January 15, 2009

I’m of two minds about this ‘tough question.’

First, I agree with Casey and Adam that this is not so much a tough question as it is a tough experience for a believer. The answer to the question was known before the start: God is there even when you don’t feel him; open yourself up and you’ll find him (again or for the first time). The tough part is not losing faith throughout the ‘dark night.’

And so, I grant to those who are arguing that the audience allows one to make some beginning assumptions and work from there. In this case that God exists and that he is a personal god. Okay…

What I think is problematic about all of this is that it ignores the diversity within the church body (if Coast calls up people at the end of every week to ask the Lord into their lives, then not everyone there actually can say that they feel God exists and that he is a personal god).

But it also hides behind a serious ambiguity about what it means to be a ‘personal god.’ I think this is where I agree with Casey most strongly. One, I hate the idea of doubt being darkness and faith being light. That dichotomy rhetorically loads the deck and rewards unthinking faith over the wrestling and difficulty of grasping God and being in relationship with him. But rhetoric aside, and I’ll use CS Lewis as the example although I know many on this board know more about him than I do…

Rhetoric aside, maybe CS Lewis was wrong to think about God the way he did before his wife died. His and his wife’s hopes were generated from false expectations and a misunderstanding of God’s relationship to humanity. This ‘darkness’ may actually have been a correction to his misguided set of beliefs before the tragic event.

Christian communities tend to hold up the infinity of God as evidence that he might be anything to anyone at any point. Certainly, if you grant his existence as god, all of this follows. But the fact, the one that Christians have a hard time with, is that ‘everything’ doesn’t happen. Your wife dies of cancer. Children die in infancy. Genocide is raging in the world as I write this.

So, if God is a personal god, then his points of contact with you must be reckoned with his profound silences. If he heals a sick person and if he frees some oppressed people, then he also does not heal other sick people, and does not protect other oppressed people.

I think this is a fundamental paradox that the Christian community fails to face head-on, and I think that is a huge problem with the assumption that God is indeed a personal god. And one to which I’ve never heard a satisfactory answer, or even an honest approach to the question.

13. bear - January 15, 2009

This strikes me:
“So, if God is a personal god, then his points of contact with you must be reckoned with his profound silences. If he heals a sick person and if he frees some oppressed people, then he also does not heal other sick people, and does not protect other oppressed people.”

What is the role of the person in this? Do the people have anything to do with what God is or is not doing?

Bear

14. bear - January 15, 2009

I can’t resist and you know it. To think of doubt as darkness and faith is light is ridiculous. Doubt is a part of faith—if it isn’t then there will be no logic or reason at all. Doubt is built in, so in the case of Lewis it can only be called a dark night of the soul in the context of an entire life lived where we know the beginning, middle, and end. Lewis would himself agree that this doubt is an integral part of his personal relationship with God, an invaluable one. God did heal Joy for an extended period of time—in this time—their love grew from a marriage of convenience into a real, love-filled marriage. It was the first time in his life that he felt this kind of love, and it is a miracle (Call it supernatural or remission or whatever) that Lewis was able to experience. It was also a miracle that he was honest enough to face this, “Head on” to use Antony’s words, and just experience loss for what it is. He did not make exceptional allowances or grandiose claims about the purposes of God. In the story, Lewis claims the sovereignty and in fact the goodness of God after some time—but this can only be seen as dark and light in the entirety of the story. I will say again, doubt is integral to faith.

As for Christians not facing these paradoxes head on….it is time to stop screwing around and ask them to. Really ask! How open can we be to the answers?

Bear

15. Antony - January 15, 2009

Re: 13

Bear, you touched on one of my many difficulties with Christianity. I think to take God as God seriously, the role of the person tends to disappear and I have a huge problem with that. Because I think such thinking can lead into people refusing to take responsibility for themselves – their lives and situations. I once knew a woman who said, “This morning, God made me stub my toe, and now it’s really hurting.” I think that kind of loss of agency is terrifying…

I was having a conversation with a good friend yesterday about this very thing (reconciling free will and omniscience). He had some interesting ideas I’m still thinking about…I’ll let you know when I can articulate them 🙂

16. caseyww - January 15, 2009

(RE: Comment #10)

Confused-
I’ve been thinking about your comment all night. Here’s a couple of ideas:

I still go to church because they are an important community to me of friends and family. These people have been a major part of my life for a long time and I’m not willing to immediatley toss them aside even if there is a major rift forming between our wroldviews. In some sense, I feel like I take this rift too seriously to just leave. Coast is a community that claims to welcome doubt and struggles with faith. As much as Christians talk about respecting doubt as an important part of one’s faith journey I really don’t think many of them are forced to seriously engage with it. If all the people who doubt as I do leave the church, then it is very convenient for the church to forget those who disagree with them. This is a recipe for stagnation and dogma to breed unchecked. I love my community too much to not point out the areas I think they are wrong.

Also, your example of being a sports fan is a very bad one. Community is not about being a passive observer. We work, live and play in our communities. With our participation comes a responsibility for that community’s direction and success. Perhaps your analogy would work better if we considered: What you would do if you played on a team that you thought would never win? There is different level of investment when you’re actually on the team vs just cheering for the team. True, there still may be a time to leave, but not until you’ve done everything you can to help them succeed. I’m also not so comfortable with the hopelessness you betray by saying “never win”. I actually think better of Coast as a community (perhaps too optimistically as you seem to imply) that if someone were to make a reasonable argument to them that they would react accordingly.

17. Confused - January 15, 2009

I did say it was a bad analogy after all… and I understand you have doubts…fair enough…but your arguments and questioning of your faith aren’t new to anyone…especially God…nor are they of any threat to God.

In your invitation, you spoke of how you want people to be honest, and vulnerable…well, I’m about to be…

I have read all of your blogs and most of your readers responses…My first impression is that you and some of your bloggers have a ridiculous amount of pride and high opinion of your own intellect, and you take great pride in letting others know about it…or you wouldn’t have started the blog. That’s probably your biggest problem. Pride

Finite, human wisdom and logic will never be able to understand, comprehend, or explain the infinite mind and workings of God. Read 1 Cor. 1:21 “”The world can’t know God through wisdom. . .” So, to get into an argument with someone who is trying to question and discredit God/Jesus/Holy Spirit based on human wisdom is a waste of time. When we get to the place where human wisdom and logic can explain God, I’m going to be looking for a bigger God.

Your writings are merely spoutings of authors you have read.

True reason is not the enemy of authority, faith hope, love, etc. Your form of subjective reason is less than valid because it is clouded by your own passion, prejudice, ignorance, and ideology (most of which you have gotten from what you have read).

Antony, Whoever said God is a personal God is wrong. I hate hearing people say…”accept him as your “personal” Savior”…where is this in the Bible?? God needs no one…not me…not you… The “personal” is a westernized idea of putting God at a level we all feel comfortable accepting

Casey, from what I can gather you may be genuinely questioning your faith, the Bible and God, but I don’t think you really want an answer as much as you just want an argument.

Bear…I’m a Rockets, Astros, Cowboys fan….ha

18. Adam Heine - January 15, 2009

Antony, re: If God is good, why does he let bad things happen? (I reworded your question to the more popular version; I think it’s essentially the same).

There are certainly a lot of Christians who do not face this question head-on, but every serious Christian I know faces it all the time. I do. Crap, in my job, my life, I’m here everyday raising kids who were abandoned, abused, and mistreated, and not only do I wonder why it happened to them, but they ask *me* why God did it to them. What do I say to that?

I’m going to give you sort of a shotgun blast of answers because (1) I have many that I haven’t reconciled myself yet and (2) we’re way off-topic and I’m derailing the conversation. So I apologize if some or all of these seem totally unsupported.

(a) God gave us free will. What that means is that he gave me the ability to buy a gun and go shoot whoever the hell I want, and he agrees not to change the natural consequences that those bullets will kill some people.
(b) This life is temporary. That means that whatever happens in it, up to and including death, is a drop in the bucket of our actual, eternal lives.
(c) Related to (b), God is more interested in our character than in our physical health. He wants us to learn and grow. Say I’m watching my 2 year-old play on the monkey bars and I see him fall. I could catch him, but I don’t. Why? Because I want him to learn to be careful. From one point of view, it seems cruel. From a long term point of view (which God’s most certainly is), it is necessary. If I catch my son every time, he’ll never learn to take care of himself.

What I tell my kids is that I don’t know why those things happened to them. Maybe their parents were terrible, selfish people. Maybe their parents had no choice but to abandon them. But whatever happened to them, and whether or not God allowed it, God brought them here to a safe, loving place. And he used those events in their lives to shape who they are now, and who they will become. Most of our kids say they want to do what we do when they grow up – they want to take in kids who have nowhere to go. That’s freaking awesome.

What about all those kids who never find a safe, loving place? Man, I don’t know. I keep going to (a) above, but I don’t like it. Still, I can’t think of a way that God could step in and save them all without overriding (c). I mean, if God took care of all the orphans, why would I have ever felt a need to do it myself? And if I never did it, I would never have grown.

That’s where I am now. Ask me again in 10 years and maybe I’ll have more for you.

19. Eric - January 15, 2009

Before Casey’s analogy (between a church and a corporate boardroom) gets lost because of some disagreement with it: I thought it was a good analogy, but perhaps it could be improved upon in the following way. Suppose the board members are predisposed to believe that the company will continue to be profitable in the future, given the profitability of the company thus far. Suppose that there is some evidence pointing to future profitability, and some evidence pointing to potential problems that could negatively affect profitability in the future — that is, it’s not a “black and white” issue in the way that T put it. The question is: would it be right for the CEO to present only the positive evidence in the board meeting? Maybe yes, because this keeps the board members positive about the company, investors remain positive and keep investing, stock holders keep their stock or buy more instead of selling off, etc. — and all of this improves the chances that the company will remain profitable, all else being equal. But on the other hand, no: the CEO is withholding evidence that may be useful to the board members to come to their own decisions. I see this as completely parallel to the situation at Coast that Casey describes in the post, and I’d like to know precisely why it’s so different.

There are other analogies one could make, of course. For example, think of the lead up to the Iraq war: as far as WMD were concerned, there was evidence in both directions, and the Bush administration presented only (or at least mostly) the positive evidence.

20. Nancy O. - January 15, 2009

“Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe it” John 20:25

This obviously rings true for some doubters.

Many people believe thoroughly in themselves and give little or no credence to God. They do not understand, because of their own self-reliance, that the knowledge that saves and the belief that saves both hang on the cross. They second-guess the Author of the Word and give others’ writings more credibility.

They search intently to disprove rather than prove.

The best thoughts – the most logical thoughts, the most original thoughts anyone has ever had – are not worthy to be compared with God’s thoughts.

God is the CEO. It is the pastor’s responsibility to tell the gospel. Men and women of God do not doubt in His existence; why would they spread doubt about Him? It is a pastor’s responsibility to war against ignorance, to spread the truth, and to always have the praises of God flow from his mouth.

21. bear - January 15, 2009

Wow–#17 and #20 seem to be arguing from such a different standpoint then what is being asked. I suppose I agree (especially with 20–17, the Bible is a story about a personal God–that’s at least where I get it), but it would seem that these are the very responses to faith and understading o faith that this blog is asking to reason through. In some ways–they sound just as “prideful” as any reasoned intellect has presented here.

Just a thought.
Bear

22. Nancy O. - January 15, 2009

Bear,

It appears to me that more credence is placed in the writings of men with the absence of the kind of doubt and scrutiny that is being placed on God and the validity of the Bible.

Out of curiosity – are you related to Bill? I ask because your writings are similar to his, which I thoroughly enjoy.

23. Eric - January 15, 2009

I couldn’t agree with Bear more (specifically, #21).

I don’t think that Antony’s point in #12 was how Adam characterized it in #18, but even if it may be somewhat off-topic for this post I have two thoughts about Adam’s comment. (Well, I have more, but these two are enough.)

One thought is about Adam’s (c), God’s interest in building our character. Why might God might us to grow? Why not make everyone learn from the same set of very difficult situations? Why not just give us the requisite knowledge to begin with? Do those of us who are fortunate enough not to have lived through extreme hardship have the knowledge we need already, or do we just not need it for some other reason? WIll we need to be prepared for something in the afterlife, and that’s what God is helping us with? Since “pride” has been brought up already, I’ll use it here, too: I would have to be a very proud person indeed to think that my good fortune in life is a blessing from God and that someone else’s misfortune is God’s way of helping them grow because they need it more than I do.

My second thought concerns what I take to be the point of this blog (again, in agreement with Bear). I don’t understand how answer (c) — or (a) and (b) for that matter — can ever be satisfying, given that there’s no possible source of evidence for it. It’s kind of a feel-good answer, to be sure, and makes for a good story about God as a benevolent but not over-protective father, but I can come up with many other answers that are equally consistent with the relevant facts with no real hope of narrowing down the field of possibilities (God just doesn’t care, your misfortune is God’s penalty for the sins of your great-great-great grandparents, God is busy battling Satan at those times when misfortune befalls you — really, anything).

Casey’s search for answers to his questions is a true search: he’s not looking for just-so answers (“grass is green because that’s a pretty color for grass to be”) but rather for answers that stand up against other potential answers in the face of evidence (see here. This is not to say that just-so answers are necessarily wrong, only that we shouldn’t be content with them if we’re truly searching for answers.

24. bear - January 15, 2009

Nancy, this is such a great observation….I am not exactly sure I can respond correctly…but i will say this…I think the writers(of the blog) who appear to be putting more “credence” in the writings of men–approach these very same writings and authors with a vehement scrutiny and doubt–not negativity or agenda in any sense, but with a hope for deep, critical thinking. I think for them, and I can’t know for sure–doubt and scrutiny are a given as part of the process of good critical thought and exploration. So while it may appear that there is not an even playing field with regard to scrutiny etc. I think that is, for many, already a part of the process that may not always show externally.

I think the issue for some of these writers (on the blog) is that they are wondering why this same kind of scrutiny and doubt is often NOT applied to the Bible and teachings of it. This is in no way a justification in either direction–just hoping to clarify.

And..not related to Bill, but I enjoy his writing too.
Bear

25. Confused - January 15, 2009

Timothy Keller…The Reason For God….

If you’re gonna read the likes of Shermer… what are you reading on the other side???

26. caseyww - January 15, 2009

Confused-

Well that’s quite the gauntlet. First an ad hominem attack on my supposed pride and then an implied critique that I don’t read “the other side.”

Well I’m feeling feisty so I’ll bite. For a short list: I’ve read C.S Lewis, Dallas Willard, Josh McDowell, John Piper, Lee Strobel, Francis Schaeffer, Alister McGrath and William James. I’ve read from Brother Lawrence to Francis Collins and the entirety of the Bible in between. I’d even be happy to read Timothy Keller. I’ve spent my life invested in what you call ‘the other side’ and yet you seem to imply that because I find “the likes” of Shermer compelling, coherent or interesting I’m suddenly biased or disgruntled.

I tell you what, I will commit to read Timothy Keller’s book (which actually looks pretty interesting) and discuss it on this blog if you’ll commit to reading Shermer’s book. What are you reading on the other side???

27. Adam Heine - January 16, 2009

Eric, you’re right. I mischaracterized Antony’s comment. He was talking about why God heals some and not others. I discussed why God lets bad things happen in general.

That said, I think your first comment makes two false assumptions: (1) all people are the same and would therefore benefit equally from similar experiences and (2) we are growing towards some specific goal and once we reach it we will have no further need of growth. Why cannot growth itself be the goal? It is one of the things that makes us human.

To your second comment, I agree completely. We can’t prove any of this, one way or the other, neither scientifically nor logically. It’s all just hypotheses and theories to support the given evidence. I could make up alternative hypotheses all day that fit the evidence, but it was not my intention to explore possibilities I don’t believe. I was merely presenting answers that I have come to so far in my effort to understand this life and the lives of my kids.

Lastly, I would not consider my answers to be “just-so” answers. Indeed, in some ways it would be easier to believe there is no God in the face of the atrocities that happen on Earth everyday. But my answers have so far stood up as well as any other I have considered (including my own alternatives). Likewise, I am not merely content to stand on them; I tried to express that in the last two paragraphs of #18. This is something I’m actively struggling with as much as anyone.

28. Confused - January 16, 2009

So sorry you took such an offense at the Other Side comment… it was merely a way to ask what you are reading on your opposing views. I know you’ve read the Bible. Please inform me how you’re not biased at this point in your life…Never said or implied you were disgruntled…just stating the argumentative facts I have read…You’ve rejected the way you were raised(I won’t call it your faith, because you never had any) in search of a “truth”…if you have read the Bible…there is only one Truth. I don’t need to give you the Sunday school answer. You have chosen a dangerous path… and are choosing “science” over Truth…I just hope it doesn’t cost you in the end…you’re probably smirking at my rhetoric you’ve “heard” your entire life, and that’s ok…

I have no prob reading Shermer. I will admit, I can’t read him with a skeptics mind, but his writings prob won’t be too far off from any other agnostic I’ve ever talked to…and it’s tough for me to buy a book that will have zero influence on me and take up my valuable time…that would be my only problem.

There are plenty of agnostics that become believers, but for those who claim the opposite…they were never believers in the 1st place.

Casey…do you think it’s possible you’ll ever become a believer, in the biblical context??

Also…did you really just lump Josh McDowell in with Piper and C.S. Lewis?? Now I see why you might have your issues with your faith…only kidding.

And yes, I know your father well…I have no doubt you carry the same amount of pride he does, so I’m not to far off in my assumptions there…and I love that man dearly…would lay down my life for him.

29. Eric - January 16, 2009

Adam (#27): I wasn’t making false assumptions, I was making assumptions, period. So are you, and they happen to be different from mine. What makes your assumptions true?

This was the whole point of my “second thought” in #23. You claim that your (a), (b) and (c) in #20 are “hypotheses”, but they’re not: they’re ideas that, like an infinite set of other ideas, are vaguely consistent with the world as you see it. Calling any such idea a “hypothesis” implies that you have considered evidence that distinguishes that hypothesis from other logical possibilities, and that the evidence has favored this hypothesis over those other possibilities. What is your evidence, then, and what are those other hypotheses?

You say: “I could make up alternative hypotheses all day that fit the evidence, but it was not my intention to explore possibilities I don’t believe.” I find that very unfortunate. To me, it’s the equivalent of looking for your keys under the lamppost because that’s where the light is best.

Finally: I didn’t mean “just-so” to mean “easy” — a “just-so” story is one that vaguely fits a set of observations and that may or may not be true (and, given the vast number of other just-so stories that are probably equally compatible with that set of observations, it is most likely not true). In that sense, just claiming that there can be no God because of all the hurt that exists in the world is just as much a just-so story as any of these others.

30. Eric - January 16, 2009

Wait, never mind everything I’ve said here. “Confused” (#28) has made me see the light. I need seek no further. Thank you, “Confused” — even in your anonymously confused state, you’ve somehow managed to cut through all the bullshit and remind everyone here that the Bible contains the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Hallelujah, I’m saved!

There are plenty of agnostics that become believers, but for those who claim the opposite…they were never believers in the 1st place.

I think it’s equally safe to claim that agnostics who become believers were never agnostics in the first place, either.

31. caseyww - January 16, 2009

Eric-
Now, now…I think Confused’s comments are pejorative enough in and of themselves that we don’t need to add sarcasm to the mix.

Confused-
Statements of yours where you put “truth” or “science” in scare quotes like:

You’ve rejected the way you were raised(I won’t call it your faith, because you never had any) in search of a “truth”…if you have read the Bible…there is only one Truth.

betray that you’re more interested in preaching than discussing here. That’s unfortunate because I’m actually interested in compelling discussion and free thought with whomever is willing to talk. The way you represent believers makes me think that having a constructive converstaion with them might be a pipe dream.

It’s also disapointing to me to see your response to my reading invitation.

but his writings prob won’t be too far off from any other agnostic I’ve ever talked to…and it’s tough for me to buy a book that will have zero influence on me and take up my valuable time…that would be my only problem.

Why do you think Keller’s book wouldn’t be too far off from all the Christians I’ve read and that he wouldn’t just take up my valuable time? The fact is, this is probably true, but I’m still willing to commit to reading it and having an open mind when I do so instead of just vaguely avoiding your challenge by saying, “Well I would…but it won’t matter anyway…so why bother.”

You’ve claimed that I’m responding in pride and yet, ironically, between the two of us one has an open-mind about entertaining the other’s suggestions and the other doesn’t. There’s a striking pretense here.

32. Antony - January 16, 2009

Re 18, et al

Adam –

I appreciate you laying out your answer as nakedly as you did. That is, I really respect what you’ve chosen to do, and I understand how the question however you want to put it (If God is good, why do bad things happen to some) is something you can’t help but face all the time. I also appreciate that you admit that you’re still wrestling with them and not totally satisfied with them…I can say from my side, I too am unsatisfied with what I’ve come across and I’m still wrestling with it all too…

I think the assumption of our eternal life does allow some of what seems ‘senseless’ here on earth to have a grander significance. But that is one of those assumptions I haven’t been able to grant. The reasons are way off topic…in the end, I’m agnostic about the afterlife is the short version.

For me, I think the question of God’s acting and non-acting comes back to the question of what is God’s relationship to humanity in general, and to the individual in particular?

I take Confused’s point about the ‘personal god’ and will at once defend my choice of words and clarify them.

(1) Defense. That you don’t have a taste for the term ‘personal god’ doesn’t mean it isn’t part of the Christian understanding of the Bible – Protestantism is based on that single assumption: it’s you, the Bible and God – that’s all you got.

(2) Clarification. I’m less interested in the personal aspects per se, than in the assumption that God is a god who intervenes in time and space – so by ‘personal’ I mean he is a god who actively cares about us and this world, and he shows it by tending to it like a garden (not like the Deist’s watchmaker who winds up the whole thing and just lets it go).

33. Confused - January 16, 2009

The conversation, books and posts here are admittedly intriguing, but I don’t agree with you or the author’s you choose to read. I have and know the Truth, and my studies all show the history of the gospels to be extremely and historically accurate. I’m not searching like you allegedly are. Why would I want to read a book telling me how i believe, when i know how i believe??

Casey, you aren’t rude or harsh in your frank discussions and I can appreciate your “open” mind. I don’t have an open mind towards things that don’t stir my affections for Christ.

Therefore, I have no desire to read Shermer’s book. I never told you to read Keller’s book, I merely made a suggestion.

One of your bloggers stated about these conversations that “this leads to senselessness.” You have an extremely different worldview than I do. The implications and reality of your views are meaningless, that is, it means that life is senseless.

I disagree with you. I believe. Call it a pattern or myth or religion. I can’t go where you go…and it isn’t because I want to keep social interaction stable. I believe the Bible. I believe in Christ and the cross. There are healthy, cogent and responsible arguments on either side of the coin. Each side calls you to believe…I believe differently. My beliefs imply meaning, purpose, significance and hope. I do not believe in them because of the results; rather, these “results” are the product of my belief.

I believe talking with a believer in a deep manner is not a pipe dream as you may think.

I’ve known people like you before. Those that were raised in the beliefs of Jesus and the cross. God and creation, etc…and never have any of those woke up one day and not believed. It was a gradual progression just like yours over time. Their “faith-walk” became desolate and dry. The one uniform thing I noticed in everyone of them was their lack of dealing with some life issue. Whether it was a sexual issue, alcohol and drugs, family or marriage…etc…they all gradually came to the same point you are at…a way to justify their “desert.” They found something they could believe in that didn’t hold them accountable to their actions.

These are just my observations.

I apologize for my pride comments towards you…it was an assumption I gathered from your writings and purpose in writings.

34. bear - January 16, 2009

Confused, I am interested in what you are saying because you are, if nothing else, extremely convinced and confident in your belief. I also think you bring a healthy challenge. I suppose I would like to know what you make of doubt—this is what the post alludes to in places, the idea that doubt might be closer to the truth than the desperation to leave it. Casey cited Lewis’ case as an example—I am not sure if you are familiar with Lewis.

Do you consider “DOUBT” a dark night of the soul? Or maybe in a Christian sounding phrase—a season? Or do you consider someone who has doubts—or even someone that is open to exploring doubt in an honest way—simply an unbeliever?

Thanks,
Bear

35. Adam Heine - January 16, 2009

Eric (#29). Just a couple of clarifications. First, you’re right; technically it was wrong of me to assume falseness in your assumptions. Neither has been proven (nor can be, probably), so I should’ve just said assumptions.

Re: hypotheses. I meant the word in the scientific sense: a suggested explanation for observed phenomena. Nothing more. My answers fit what I have seen, as much as the answers you believe likely fit the same phenomena (I’ll steer clear of the word “evidence” as it has apparently produced confusion). The logic stands up, given basic assumptions about God (which we have to make one way or the other), as much as the logic of any hypothesis I’ve heard. Does that make them The Answers? No, and I never meant to claim that. The most I’d be willing to say is they are the answers for me so far.

You say: “I could make up alternative hypotheses all day that fit the evidence, but it was not my intention to explore possibilities I don’t believe.” I find that very unfortunate. To me, it’s the equivalent of looking for your keys under the lamppost because that’s where the light is best.

What I meant to say was that it was not my intention in that comment. Antony was asking for satisfactory answers and honest approaches. I gave him mine (whether it’s satisfactory is up to him, but my approach has been as honest as any). I’m happy to discuss alternative hypotheses, but maybe not here as we have derailed this conversation quite enough already.

Re: #30. Casey’s right, we shouldn’t be mean, but that was still really funny.

Re: Antony (#32), Thanks and well said. And regarding your assumptions on the afterlife, all I can say is fair enough.

I’d be genuinely interested in hearing your reasons (that sounds like I want to start a debate so I can convince you otherwise, but I actually mean it the way I said it). Though I think you’re right, that conversation is probably not for this thread.

36. Benjamin - January 16, 2009

To clarify my point in breaking down the logic of the question posed by Coast above, I wanted to make sure it wasn’t interpreted as a attack.
(

debating/arguing the logical fallacies of a vineyard church sermon…really??

)

The question of whether an argument is logical or illogical, reasonable or unreasonable, valid or invalid, is valuable in any instance. To break an argument or question or claim of faith into terms down to a level where it can be analyzed is not an attack, but a question of reasonable trust. Jesus not only saw this, he engaged/encouraged it (Thomas?). I think the same applies for faith and doubt.

Many famously accepted proofs have been disproven through further analysis. The doubt, in all of these cases, has proven itself invaluable to finding the truth. As such, doubt in the context of faith is not a weakeness in any more than a well-accepted worldview has been found discredited. We value such discreditation as much as the truth itself. Without doubt to hold our faith in check, we would have no faith.

To call doubt a “dark night of the soul” would be to call Thomas Edison the disinventer of the artificial darkness, refer to Shakespeare as the destroyer of proper language, and imply that scientic discovery is the method of chaos. You may characterize it however you like, but it still does not change the product of the trustworthy truth. Our minds seek truth, and the most brilliant do it without minding the personal cost. I honestly believe that to be considered a man riddled with doubt in today’s age would be similar to the insult of being called a Christian in New Testament times.

Finally, to Confused, I want to apologize to you if my pride has offended you. I say this sincerely. I am doing my best on and off of this blog to discover that which makes me most happy. I am inclined to many errors, more so than any will ever know either in person or on the internet. However, I ask you to show some mercy. I am a foolish creature, not an evil one. I am doing my best, as I sincere know a few on this blog are also doing. I have much at stake and would rather be seen as stupid ass than an intelligent academic. My hope is not that my God-given intelligence would bring me to a level where I would believe whole-heartedly and be happy, but that a God, whom I hope is a truly loving Father, would love me enough to extend me the grace to meet me where I am at. What intelligence, or intellect, self-respect, self-esteem, reflection, or “pride” I have, is being used toward that end. I am not earning it, just using it. I believe Casey and Bear are as well. That is the calmest request to back the fuck off of judgment as I can state.

37. ML(no longer Confused...ha, yeah I am) - January 16, 2009

your pride offends me none, you’ve made your judgments on me as well.

I guess I’m just not getting what it is you all are after?

Do you believe in Jesus?

Do you believe in the existence of God?

Clue me in on your background…I know Casey’s. What’s yours??

I’ll respond to the other post on my beliefs on doubt after these kids get in bed…

38. bear - January 16, 2009

Blogs should have a dual thread called the “clarification thread.”

🙂
Bear

39. caseyww - January 16, 2009

Benjamin-

(RE #36): Well said.

(RE #6): I really appreciated this comment, it was one of the few that really took the logical argument I was trying to sift through myself seriously, so thanks. Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to it. On that front I have a couple questions (admittedly, I’m new to the logic game so be patient):

You ask:

…are the conclusions of the argument (God exists and cares for me) able to still be true while the premise is false (I do not feel God)?

I’m not sure I understand how these conclusions are validated by
examples of the possibility that God can exist without feeling him:

All Jamie had to do in answering this question was come up with examples/arguments that showed the possibility that God can exist and care for me without me feeling him. It sounds like this is what he did. It may be an easy conflict to resolve, but it is still an important question since Jamie showed that feeling God is not a necessary component to know that God exists and cares for me.

Jamie’s examples were anything if not subjective experiences of people’s faith. That is, the evidence here doesn’t seem to show that “God can exist without one’s feelings” as much as it shows that “Belief in God can persist without one’s feelings.” On the latter, I would agree with you that qualifying this statement with can allows that even one example of belief would be sufficient to validate the possibility. But it seems to me that there is a distinct difference between these two premises. Thoughts?

40. ML - January 17, 2009

Benjamin,

You said in 36 that there are many famously accepted proofs have been disproven through further analysis…

Enlighten me.

41. Benjamin - January 17, 2009

ML,
I remember much from my college days, just not much of the education portion. I do not have many examples from memory. However, I remember my favorite disproven theory was the linear view of time debunked by Kant via his use of a Mobius strip that explained how a left and right hand can exist in the same space and time. But that’s just my favorite. I found this list on Wikipedia for more:
List of Experiments

Casey,

It might help if we break the original question and argument down into symbols, sort of like a math problem, like so let’s assign these symbols:

A: I feel God
B: God exists
C: God cares for me

(For structure purposes, the symbol “->” stands for implies, and the symbol “~” negates the symbol that follows)

The original questioner believed in the validity following argument:

A -> B + C

In English, if I feel God, then God exists and God cares for me. Whether or not you agree or find the argument valid, doesn’t matter yet. The questioner was confused by the negation of the premises, supposing this:

~A -> ~B + ~C

In English, If I do not feel God, then God does not exist and God does not care for me. This is a well-known logical fallacy in changing a valid argument. All Jamie had to do was show that even if ~A (I do not feel God) then B (God does exist) OR C (God cares for me) according the QUESTIONER’S original assumed premises. This is a subjective question. Thus, the examples he gave were subjective, necessarily so, to solve the dilemma for the questioner.

So, he supposed:
D: C.S. Lewis felt anger and bewilderment toward God
D1: C.S. Lewis believed that God exists
E: Mother Theresa did not feel God’s presence
E1: Mother Theresa believed that God cares for her
F: Jesus did not believe God cared for him on the cross
F1: Jesus believed that God exists

And made these arguments.
D-> ~C, but D ~-> ~B because D1-> B
E -> ~B, but E ~-> ~C because E1 -> C
F -> ~C, but F ~-> ~B because F1 -> B

Again, this was not a proof of God’s existence or caring. It was, given the questioner’s assumptions about not feeling God, was it valid to conclude a belief that God does not exist and does not care for me. Given the subjective examples above, Jamie showed that the questioner’s subjective argument for doubt in the existence and caring of God on the basis of not feeling him was invalid. And yes, this was very easy to show.

If we want to question the original question’s assumptions, we should start by asking if their original subjective argument is valid for us: If I feel God, then God exists and God cares for me. True or not? Does A -> B + C ? If not, then what does feeling God imply?

I hope that helped.

42. T - January 17, 2009

Just getting back into the mix on this thread, which is filled with many thoughtful comments I’ve enjoyed reading through.

Eric, regarding post #19, the CEO/board of directors analogy makes better sense the way you positioned it, but I still disagree that it’s useful when compared to the workings of a faith community. The problem lies with the evidence itself, not how the evidence is presented (or not presented).

People running a corporation use data to make decisions, quantifiable evidence based on events that have undeniably happened. A faith community, on the other hand, is directed by its devotion to a mysterious God, a Being whose existence is largely evidenced only by a person’s emotional response to things such as songs of worship, inspirational interpretations of texts written thousands of years ago and the bond of strong relationships with others who hold the same beliefs about God. (True, many of our texts have been corroborated by the accounts of secular contemporaries of the Biblical authors, but the evidence is not nearly as trustworthy as a standard PL statement.) Faith stuff just can’t be boiled down to a decision making process based on numerical data.

So, if a CEO were to present both the positive and negative aspects of the company’s position the board of directors would have something tangible to inform their decision about how to proceed. But, as many commenters have alluded to in this thread, the negative outlook for Christianity (or, doubt) is so strongly ingrained in the faith experience that one can’t live out the Christian life without the presence of doubt. For Christians, it’s a given that we’re not going have a satisfactory understanding of some of the mystery of God in our lifetime, and although this creates doubt we nevertheless press forward in our belief that God is real, loves us, and wants us to love others.

If we waited to decide whether or not the Christian thing is the real deal based on the kind of evidence directors of corporations have at their fingertips on a daily basis there would simply be no Christians, or any other communities of faith, in the world.

43. caseyww - January 17, 2009

(RE: #42)

T-

I agree that there are important differences between a corporation and church. My analogy was only to show that “playing to your audience’s expectations” can go bad quickly in different communities. I don’t think that this aspect of presenting info to an audience is really that different between a CEO and pastor.

However, you certainly have a good point about the relative availability of evidence. The CEO will have much more concrete data to either ignore or present. I really liked your description:

A faith community, on the other hand, is directed by its devotion to a mysterious God, a Being whose existence is largely evidenced only by a person’s emotional response to things such as songs of worship, inspirational interpretations of texts written thousands of years ago and the bond of strong relationships with others who hold the same beliefs about God.

However, I have a problem with the relativism that this can threaten because it doesn’t help us distinguish which faith communities have a better grasp on truth. Many certainly share a common bond of devotion to an unseen God and ancient texts. Do you think we can identify which are closer to truth or not? If so, what evidence do you base that decision on?

44. Eric - January 17, 2009

Re: #42, and to a certain extent #43: I must not have made my attempt at bringing the CEO/corporation analogy closer to the pastor/church situation. By talking about future profitability, the CEO has nothing but guesswork based on past performance to go on. Sure, some guesses are better than others, but still, the point holds that there is less concrete evidence to lean on.

I should also add that I’m very skeptical of the idea that simply because there are numbers to work with in the corporation situation, this somehow means that things are black and white. Think of the current state of the US economy: it wasn’t just a bunch of people being asleep at the wheel (though I won’t rule that out entirely), or a bunch of people being too greedy to see the damage they were doing (I definitely won’t rule that out); it was mostly a bunch of people making very bad decisions based on bad future projections. The numbers were all there, but it wasn’t black and white.

45. whytey - January 18, 2009

Casey,

I’m going to latch on to the last paragraph of #43 and explore something that I hope others will latch onto… as it’s kind of half baked in my head.

I don’t know evaluating who has a “better grasp on truth” can be effectively nailed down this side of eternity. To be honest, I think that’s one of the fundamental aspects of Christianity that can be most challenging to many of those who have issues with it. Christianity makes the claim that it is the one route to truth, the narrow path, the only door through which we can fully access the presence of the divine. This is a strong claim and one that makes it instantly open to greater criticism than other faith groups who might be more inclined to accept the idea that there are many roads, or many groups that may access the divine.

That however, is the gamble that everything rests on. We are invited to take that leap, to acknowledge our own failings in understanding, to risk living in the improbable to have a real and fulfilling relationship with a creator who invites us in. And it’s something that often can seem foolish. I think that’s why so often Paul compares the folly of following Christ to the wisdom of the world. And he’s doing that in a prescientific society.

I also think it’s the reason why Jesus says it’s so hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom. Sometimes i wonder if that’s not so much wealth but being an individual who “has.” The more possesions, data, etc. we have and the harder it is to separate ourselves from them…

okay, that’s really fragmented but I’m wondering…

46. Mark - January 21, 2009

So back into the fray and what a fray it is… So many thoughtful comments. Informed by different ideas of faith and different ideas of doubt.

First on the idea of a personal God. I’ve wrestled with this idea for a lifetime. The idea of an American Jesus, a Jesus that doesn’t believe in taxation (views it as theft when monetary systems are devised) that would judge others and exclude others based on their beliefs or lifestyles that hurt no one. In the end God is personal. Personal, local, national, international or as political scientists amongst us might say – global. He takes on our best and worst characteristics depending on how we choose to see him or in some instances use him. He can be used to exclude just as he can be used to include. He can justify a way of life or reject one.

Lately, I’ve wrestled with the futility of prayer. I’ve come to conclude it isn’t futile, not in what it accomplishes outside my life, but the solitude and peace it provides in my life. I think Clint Eastwood put it well in Gran Turino – Clint Eastwood’s character in response to a priest’s comments asking why he hadn’t called the police after a violent incident in his neighborhood says – “I prayed that they would come, but nobody answered.” Whatever influence God has in life, it certainly isn’t so direct. Deist I’m not, but any influence God has in life seems to me indirect. Actions taken upon faith – are they acts of prayer – acts of God – not sure… But the idea of a personal God – one that acts upon and directly in my life doesn’t seem right. There are too many actors and actions at play in the world. I’ve always been confused when people pray for things like peace. War is us. War is built of history, of limited resource, of religion, of misunderstanding, of greed, of so many things, but it is us. Peace is something that is up to us. I fear what Antony fears – that feeling as though God acts in everything we do eliminates personal agency – personal responsibility for action. It was not God’s choice to have stubbed your toe. Simply resigning our hope for peace to prayer means we do nothing to actively pursue it. However, even though God may not answer my prayers or the prayers of the rich or poor, or of one nation over another, doesn’t lead to an automatic rejection of him.

Related to Confused many postings on “Truth” and a rejection of doubt since faith must be absolute. I think the Polish theorist Alfred Korzybski put it well when he said “there are two ways to slide easily through life – believe everything or doubt everything, both save us from thinking.” Faith and doubt are not absolutes and can exist strongly in either form in that gray or middle area.

Eric’s comment (a refining of Casey’s original comment) comparing CEOs and pastors, hasn’t been given proper credit here. Sure there are distinctions – no analogy is perfect. But the point of the CEO comparison is not lost by the distinctions between the roles or lives of the two. The comparison is merely an expression of how decisions about anything are arrived at. They are arrived at by analyzing both sides. Giving both sides equal and proper consideration. The CEO and the board base their decision in part on physical evidence, but ultimately there is a gray area. There is a point at which they must take on faith that how the facts informing their decision will play out. If they did not act except on perfect information no corporate action would ever take place. I fail to see how dismissing counter arguments in any realm whether it be in faith or in a boardroom is favorable to blind faith. Faith can be strengthened through doubt as much as it can be weakened. Too many here seem to see doubt as a mechanism for destroying once active (or in a Confused post – faith that must have never existed) faith, when it can in fact do the opposite. Doubt is seen only in its negative aspect by too many “believers” that know the “Truth” – feeling like this is just scary to me. Feeling you know the “Truth” – this is what lead to intolerance. Many in the Muslim world feel they know the Truth and act out in the name of that Truth. To me the Bible, Jesus, God, faith and what truth is present in all of it is like jazz – Wynton Marsalis and Sandra Day O’Connor discussed the Constitution this way. There is a core piece of truth or music in all of it, but the interpretation and the way it plays itself out is wide open. Although Confused may not think so – doubt is a part of faith, it is crucial to faith, whether it leads to the rejection or acceptance of God. Shallow faith is built on an absolute. Deep meaningful faith is built on a strong core – riddled with questions and doubt. Truth is not absolute. Faith is not inevitable. Faith is derived of asking those tough questions. About challenge, not simple unwavering belief.

The question posed at Coast was a good one for a believer. As Antony said, it is not as tough to answer as it is to experience. Any believer has experienced the “Dark Night of the Soul.” I think Casey’s point with the question is that it came from a place that presupposes things or stacks the deck unfairly. It is in lawyer speak objectionable as argumentative – to answer it unfairly characterizes what may be said or intended. I think that’s right. Broken down logically it assumes what Casey insists. I guess I’m confused as to why Casey asking whether a tougher question could or should have been asked in that forum leads to the conclusion that he should no longer attend church or keep seeking answers to his questions.

47. T - January 21, 2009

Re #43 – Casey, you bring up a difficult question, which is, who has the goods on ‘Truth’? This is difficult, especially because so much of the world is divided by religion based simply on geography. If I had been born in Saudi Arabia I would most likely be Muslim. But I’m not. I grew up in America with church-going Christian parents and have likewise adopted the Christian faith as my own. Does one’s religious preference eventually just boil down to where one is born? It’s a tough and scary question.

You asked what evidence I could bring to the table to support my claim that Christianity is ‘right,’ as opposed to Islam or Hinduism or any other religion, but my reasons for following Christ can’t be reasoned out logically, at least to the exclusion of adopting another religion. What I can say is that I’ve found the Bible to be particularly inspiring in it’s call to grace, love and forgiveness, and that I’ve had some powerful personal experiences where I’ve walked away believing that the God of the Bible was speaking directly to me. These are the ‘moments’ I alluded to in post #5. Again, I am speaking of highly intimate experiential evidence that is ultimately inadequate to prove the existence of God, or that Jesus is He.

In the end, I trust that if someone is truly interested in knowing God then God will make Himself available to be known to that person. I’m especially fond of the God of the Bible because He seems to be especially fond of us.

#44 Eric, I’m on board with you here. You’re right that even in a numbers-driven corporate setting not everything is black and white. It’s the future, for feck’s sake ; )


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