Monday, August 31, 2009

Show some humility

I watched a debate some time ago on YouTube with Christopher Hitchens, Dennis Prager, and Dinesh D'souza. It was supposed to represent the atheist, Jewish, and Christian perspective. Of course, when there's an atheist in the room, you'd never know about the long history of tensions between Christians and Jews. (Let's be fair - oppression of Jews on the part of Christians.) Even though Prager and D'souza made a lot of the usual absurd claims, the thing that stuck with me the most is something that Hitchens said that I felt was a bad move. Prager asked him if he ever doubted his atheism, and Hitchens said that he didn't. D'souza and Prager then both went on to say that they doubt themselves. Personally, I thought that made them both look more intellectually honest than Hitchens.

I doubt myself all the time. I always try and consider that maybe there's some angle on the whole theism/atheism debate that I'm not considering. Of course, when I debate and/or converse with believers, I tend to hear the same sorts of arguments that I once used and have long since rejected. Still, maybe I just haven't heard the right argument yet.

Anyway, what prompted all this was an online conversation about the existence of God. The one thing that I really have a problem with is when believers say that they "know" that God is real. They really need to find a better word. They might feel that God is as real, and that feeling might be really, really strong, but that still isn't the same thing as knowing. I know that I have a dog. I can prove it. I can let you pet him. I can show you his poop and the holes that he's dug if he's not around for you to pet. In other words, there's objective evidence. For God, there's only the subjective - which is fine, so long as you can admit that.

Anyway, so this person told me that she (no, this isn't the same person I've discussed in recent blog posts) knows that the existence of God is the one thing that she's not wrong about. That's fine, I guess, even though I tend to distrust people who have such absolute certainty about an issue like that. What's really ironic is that in the same post, she told me that what I needed was some "humility" and the "willingness to admit that you're wrong." If that didn't sink in, reread the whole paragraph. She KNOWS that she can't be wrong about the existence of God, yet I'M the one who needs humility?

What a lot of believers don't seem to understand is that a willingness to admit that I'm wrong is exactly what got me here in the first place! But it never seems to count when you talk to these people that you once believed. Of course, she also concluded that she hoped that one day God would "reveal himself to me". That's patronizing, of course, and I didn't stoop so low as to say something equally patronizing. (You know, I was going to write it right here, but I'm going to be classy today.)

This is a funny thought too. Basically, God's just not bothering to reveal himself. I mean, he did kind of a half-assed reveal when I was younger, because if it was whole-assed then I obviously would still be a believer. Yeah, he'll get around to it, or he won't. It's another one of those "mysterious ways" things - which ultimately explains nothing.


Anonymous said...

Hey Lance, April Findley here again. Yeah, i guess I'm gonna be all over your blog today! ;-) Got into work a little early so this is a great way to procrastinate getting started with the mundane...
As you know from Facebook, I am a Christian and not someone who just goes to church on Sundays. I try to make my faith aparent in my every day life. So when it comes to knowing God exists, I think a better explaination can be presented.
I have FAITH that God exists. Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." I'm not a scientist, but I have watched the Discovery channel a few times and know that many mathmatical statistics have been calculated regarding life on Earth, etc. I recall hearing something about the Earth's orbit around the sun and if it were smaller or greater by a few miles (or some other measurement), Earth would be unsustainable for life.

(sorry for not having the actual numbers, I'm posting on the fly this morning)

So to me, statistics like that are "evidence of things not seen" (i.e. God created the universe and life, and did it for a purpose). The other part, "substance of things hoped for", is probably a more acceptable explaination to you. I hope there's a purpose to this life. I hope there's a good reason for times when I suffer. I hope to be rewarded for living a good life and I hope to spend eternity in Heaven. I BELIEVE I have found the object of my hope in Jesus Christ. I was "saved" as a child, but turned away from my faith at 16, because the whole church thing wasn't doing it for me. I came to a point at 29 where I said to myself, "maybe I should take another look at this God-thing."

From that point on, I believe God revealed himself to me through my thoughts and feelings, causing me to ask all kinds of questions that hadn't even interested me before. It's almost like I went to the Spirituality door of my heart and cracked it open just enough to peek inside, but God was there to kick it open with his Holy Steel-Toed Boots, saying, "FINALLY, I've been waiting for you to open that door for the longest time!!!'


OK, so that's MY testimony (on a small scale). My point to you is that God isn't going to barge his way into a life that doesn't want him. He will wait patiently until you are ready for him. I say this not knowing why you turned from your faith to begin with, so I don't mean to patronize in any way and it's my hope that I've given a little deeper explaination by what *I* mean when I say I KNOW GOD.

Lance Christian Johnson said...

Good stuff, April. I'll write a more detailed response after work today.

Lance Christian Johnson said...

Okay, April, let me try and give this the thoughtful response that it deserves.

#1. I have no issue with anybody who says that they have "faith" that God exists. After all, the definition is belief without evidence, so that makes sense. Now, the concept doesn't work for me personally, but I can't really argue with that position.

#2. Regarding the Earth and all that, the one thing I understand is that life *as we know it* would not exist if things were slightly different. The thing is, we have what we have, and the universe is too big to see if it's happened elsewhere. Still, you're stuck with the fact that if a God did create all this, he made most of it uninhabitable, and that's not even counting the vast expanse of nothing outside our planet!

But still, even if that is right, postulating that a God did it only makes things more complicated. After all, if everything is so complex that a god must have created it, then you're stuck with the "who created god?" question. If you counter with "God has always existed" then I have to wonder why the universe couldn't have always existed in some form or another. After all, if something can exist without a creator, then why add a creator into the mix at all?

And of course, even if it weren't for that, you're still stuck with if you prove that a god exists, you're still left with which god you're talking about. There have been thousands of gods that people have believed in over thousands of years. Who's to say it's not Odin, Zeus, or Shiva rather than the Christian God?

As for "purpose in life", I hear what you're saying. Please realize though that I'm not a nihilist. I do believe in purpose too - I just believe that we're the ones who make it for ourselves. (I realize you didn't accuse me of being a nihilist - but I get the feeling sometimes that people think I am, when I couldn't be any less of one!)

The last thing that I'll say is that I hope that you trust me when I tell you that I was definitely ready. I really wanted to make that connection, but my path took a different turn. There were too many issues that I couldn't reconcile so long as I believed in a God.

Anyway, sorry if my response sounds argumentative. I really appreciate your post, and my point was to show - just as you were sharing why you DO believe - the reasons why I don't. I have more, but I'll leave it at that for now.

Thanks again, and I hope you can chime in on other faith-related topics. It's good to not let my mind get lazy.

April D Findley said...

Lance, I'm glad to hear you're not a nihilist, although it never occurred to me to think you were!

I absolutely trust you when you said you were ready to make that connection with God. Without knowing the details, I can imagine maybe some of the dissappointment and other emotions that came with that experience for you.

I'm reminded of the parable Jesus told in Luke 8. This is the one about the farmer who sows the seeds. Some fall on the road and are eaten by the birds, some fall in rocky soil and begin to grow, but can't take root among the rocks. Some other seeds start to grow, but thorns spring up and strangle the shoots. Others fall in fertile soil and produce a harvest 10, 20, even 100 times greater than what was sown.

So maybe you've heard the common translation of ths parable that says we humans are the "field", God is the farmer, and his Word is the seed. Some of us are rocky, some are thorny, some never had a chance and some are "fertile" for the Word to take root and flourish.

Well, I think that parable can be interpreted a different way. I think each of us is a field, and our fields go through seasons where the quality of our "soil" can change. We have our rocky times, our thorny times, or "birdy" times and our fertile times. The birds and the thorns and the rocks are all different descritions of how Satan (yeah, I went there) tries to steal the Word from our hearts. I think many things happen in life to change the condition of our hearts, but regardless of the season, the enemy will ALWAYS try to rob us of the Word. Some times will be easier than other times for him to do so.

While I have no knowledge of the details of your personal experience, I stand firm in the belief that the Word was stolen from your heart by the Enemy. I completely respect that there are things you couldn't reconcile in your mind or heart and that you took a different path.

I also believe the Farmer is still trying to plant seeds in your life. He won't give up on you. Christ already died for you Lance, and his love for you will never cease, regardless of what season your heart is in.

By the way, I really appreciate your ability to communicate your opinions on these things without any hatred or bitterness. I would ecourage you to keep re-examining these things over time. I found that the issues that led me to turn away from Christianity at one point lost their significance to me as I got older and my priorities changed.

I look forward to more conversations with you (I'll try to not be a 1-topic-pony) and GOD BLESS YOU (whether you want it or NOT!).



Lance Christian Johnson said...

Hey April,

First off - feel free to be a "one topic pony". Unless you have opinions on beer and comic books, you might not have much else to contribute around here!

Secondly, I'm glad that you think that I communicate without bitterness. I've been accused of doing exactly that though. However, I usually find that it's a case of the pot calling the kettle black on something like that.

Otherwise, I think we're reaching the "agree to disagree" phase in a bit here. I do appreciate a good parable though, even if I don't necessarily accept its message.

Now, I'm struggling with a way to say this WITHOUT sounding rude, but I'm going to give it a try and hope that you take it the right way. I hear what you're saying, and it's certainly worth consideration since we're talking about the nature of the universe and my possible immortal soul. However, I find responses like that to be a bit of a cop-out. I mean, I'm willing to admit that maybe you're right, but I never get the feeling that Christians (or any faithful person, for that matter) are ever willing to give me the same benefit of the doubt.

There are a lot of objections to the existence of God, and many people have come to them rationally and with a sober mind. I've read and heard stories of people who struggled with their atheism because their faith was such a positive experience in their lives. They wanted it to be true so bad, and yet they found that they weren't being honest with themselves when they claimed to believe it.

That's where I was. When I finally admitted my atheism, I realized that I had been one for several years, yet there was a strong desire to hold on to something that meant so much to me - even though it no longer made any sense. When I let go of my faith, it was liberating. No, not in the sense that I felt that I could go out and commit all sorts of wanton acts of violence. It was liberating because my mind was no longer at war with itself. Suddenly, so many things that didn't make sense DID make sense.

But the problem with that - just as with anybody's personal story - is that it's all subjective. That's why we'll probably have to do the "agree to disagree" thing.

April D Findley said...

Yes, we're at a stalemate, it seems! I don't think your saying that my thoughts on the whole faith thing are rude at all, because it's obvious this is something we have both put ALOT of thought into.

I'm not sure how it's a cop-out though. I'm willing to admit that maybe you're right too. What IF there were no God, no Jesus, no Heaven? I know I will have lived a better life than if I hadn't believed in those things. I'm sure you've heard that said by other believers too.

In the end, it all boils down to personal choice and that's the great thing about free will. However, since I AM convinced (by faith) that Jesus is the real deal and that he's seriously wanting a relationship with you, I have to be honest. I will be praying for God to reveal himself to you in a way you've never experienced before and that he blows all your theories out the window. You've been warned.



Lance Christian Johnson said...

If it doesn't work, will that prove that prayer fails?

Sorry...had to go there.