How It Happened: My Deconversion Part 2

Part 1 can be found here.

In studying the doctrine of Hell, I found some interesting things. First, Hell is not talked about in the Old Testament. The King James Version mentions “Hell” a number of times, but that’s just a translation issue. The actual word used in the Old Testament is Sheol. Now, we might be tempted to just say that Sheol was merely the Hebrew word for Hell, but if we examine the OT, we’ll find that’s not the case. In Genesis 37:35, we read:

His sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him.

Did Jacob believe Joseph was going to Hell? Is that what most parents think when they lose a child? Or do they assume that child is in Heaven? I find it very unlikely that Jacob believed Joseph was destined to go to a place of unending torment. Another good example is Job 12:13:

Oh that you would hide me in Sheol,
that you would conceal me until your wrath be past,
that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me!

Who would want to hide in Hell, especially as a place to escape God’s wrath? No, I think it’s obvious that Sheol meant something other than our idea of Hell. In fact, other passages in the OT give us the impression that Sheol referred to either the literal grave, or to a place that all souls went after death. Certainly there are OT passages that talk about Sheol in a negative light. But since Sheol represented death, it’s not hard to see why it would sometimes be viewed negatively.

In studying Hell, I also couldn’t help notice how often Heaven is referred to in the OT. Unlike Hell, it’s referred to many, many times. However, if you’ll take the time to go through the OT references to Heaven, you’ll find that it’s never spoken of as a place the righteous go to. It’s only talked about as the sky, or as God’s abode. Heaven and Hell are both talked about in the New Testament, so there’s no denying that the Bible teaches the concepts. But why the lack of mention in the Old Testament? If there is an eternal judgement, that’s the most important thing any of us will face. Its importance far outweighs that of anything else in this world. So why didn’t God communicate that to the countless generations of people who only had the OT for reference? The only OT reference to eternal consequences that I know of is Daniel 12:2:

Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.

Most scholars believe Daniel was written around 165 BC, but even if it’s as old as 550 BC, the writing of that passage comes much too late for everyone who lived before the Persian Empire. That’s a lot of human history to leave in the dark about eternity.

I found that to be fascinating, and it certainly wasn’t what I expected to find in studying the subject of Hell. The New Testament, of course, does deal with Heaven and Hell. In the NT, a couple of different Greek words are used to talk about Hell. The primary one, Gehenna, is etymologically tied to the Valley of Hinnom near Jerusalem. In Jesus’ day, this was a trash heap that burned almost continually. During the time of the Israelites, it was a place of human sacrifice. Obviously, both terms conjure unpleasant images. Another Greek term to describe Hell that’s found in the NT is Tartarus. 2 Peter 2:4 uses this term, and it’s the name of the Greek’s version of Hell. I find it interesting that Hell, if real, is a place that’s as old as the world itself, yet it had to borrow its names from the Greeks or from physical landmarks, and it’s not even spoken of in the OT.

But despite discovering these things, it still seemed to me that Jesus taught about a literal Hell that would consist of eternal punishment (if you’d like to see an alternate view, check out this article). So I found no solace in my study — my understanding of God’s plan of salvation still left me feeling dejected and distraught over the fate of most of mankind. I tried not to dwell on it too often, and instead focused on the more positive aspects of the gospel.

That was 2008 and early 2009. I’ll cover more ground in the next post. By the way, if you’d like to read more about the issues I have with Hell and why I think they’re important, you can check here, here, and here.

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44 thoughts on “How It Happened: My Deconversion Part 2”

  1. G’day Nate, thanks for linking to my investigation of this matter.

    I think the Biblical view is different to the traditional one at several points, not just re everlasting punishment, and takes a lot of the sting out of the issue. In my view, atheists may receive exactly what they expect, and most say is all they want, an end to this life.

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  2. Nate,

    One strange aspect of religious belief is to accept the tenets of one sacred text over another sacred text for intellectual reasons, forgetting that the very reason most people accept a particular sacred text over another is cultural familiarity with that text. I am always baffled by how many Christians explain away biblical contradictions and inaccuracies but are unwilling to accept a similar explanation about sacred texts not their own. If a Christian wants to tell me the bible is the word of god, I am not inherently opposed to that. However, I cannot give credence to that assertion until they have explained to me why the Tanuch, Quran and Hadith, Vedas, Sutras, Book of Mormon, Agamas, Adi Granth, the writings of L. Ron Hubbard, and Kitáb-i-Aqdas are not equally acceptable sacred texts? And if they grant that all sacred texts are equally acceptable how can that be logically reconciled with the Christian faith?

    A bit off topic, I know.

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  3. Oh no, that’s exactly how I feel too. I don’t think your point is off-topic at all. When I was a Christian, I viewed it exactly the same way. I was very evidence-based in my belief, but I had never really done a thorough investigation of the evidences myself. I had just taken the word of people I respected, and the people I interacted with (even those outside my version of Christianity) didn’t question the Bible at all. So I just kind of assumed those evidences had been hammered out long ago. At the same time, I had heard about many of the problems in the Koran and the Book of Mormon, etc.

    If people use personal feelings or experiences as evidence, that’s never been persuasive to me — everyone can play that game, regardless of their beliefs. Or if they claim that the “spiritual” truths are accurate, even if some other details aren’t, that doesn’t hold water to me either. Couldn’t every other religion just make the same claims? “Spiritual” truths are completely unprovable since they deal with a realm we can’t directly experience.

    So yeah, I completely see where you’re coming from. Thanks for bringing it up!

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  4. “Couldn’t every other religion just make the same claims?”

    Exactly and for the first 19 years of my life I did this very thing. Only after I resigned from my faith did I apprehend that, even if I sufficiently vindicated all the biblical inconsistencies and blunders, I would be no nearer to manufacturing the proclamation that Christianity is the one true religion because I would be compelled to investigate every other religion’s sacred text to ascertain whether their revered documents are historically, intellectually, morally, etc preferable to mine. And pointing out contradictions and errors of these ‘other’ sacred texts would not be an adequate perusal and critique of them. It would be an essential obligation to attempt to resolve them in the same fashion I resolved the biblical variances and mistakes. In my humble opinion–maybe not humble–I do not think anyone who has not thoroughly examined every sacred text can say with any amount of certainty that Christianity is more true or false than any other religion.

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  5. Yep, I totally agree. 🙂

    When I was a Christian, I believed that God expected everyone on the planet to vigorously examine their beliefs (and all others) to find the truth. In other words, I thought every Muslim, Hindu, Catholic, Baptist, etc was supposed to critically examine their religion to the point that they realized they were wrong. Then, examine Christianity enough to realize which version of Christianity was true, then follow that.

    Of course, I found that most people just don’t look at their own beliefs that critically. And by the time I examined my own religion enough to know I didn’t believe it, I just didn’t have the energy or interest to examine every other faith out there. It’s funny that we feel so certain of our own beliefs that it requires a mountain of evidence to convince us our beliefs are wrong, yet we can be convinced that another religion is false after hearing about just one or two “inconsistencies” — with no effort to find the resolution of those inconsistencies. How many The Case for Muhammed books do Christians read? It’s just like all this fuss about this recent anti-Islam video. It’s funny that some people put so much effort into denouncing Islam when it would be just as easy to denounce their own beliefs.

    By the same token, there are some times that I’ve been asked, “but aren’t you afraid of going to Hell?” Yet how afraid are they of going to Islam’s Hell? Or the Hell of Norse mythology? It’s incredibly inconsistent to favor one religion over another without trying to prove them all first.

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  6. There are, nevertheless, other ways of looking at it.

    1. There is a view within christianity, sometimes called inclusivism, which says that people are judged by God according to how they responded to the light they have been given. On this view, the complete revelation of God is through Jesus, but there is some truth in most religions. Buddhists, Muslims, etc, are judged by how they responded to the truth they know. There are Bible verses that support this view, and it was/is held by probably the two most influential English-speaking christians in my lifetime – CS Lewis and Billy Graham.

    2. It is possible to examine the different scriptures and, using criteria like historical evidence and consistency with experience and science, make judgments of them. And I believe it is clear that the NT passes those tests far better than others. Most of the eastern religious texts have no historical basis, and mentioning L Ron Hubbard and the Norse Eddas in this context cannot really be taken seriously. I have read parts of the scriptures of the Jews, Muslims, Baha’is and Mormons and believe there is good reason to reject them all. I went to particular, and honest, examination of the Baha’i faith to test its credentials, so I feel I can speak with some knowledge about this process.

    3. The way you have both expressed this question seems to me to be quite wrong (sorry!). You pose the question as if it is: “Which scripture am I going to blindly and in faith choose to follow?” But surely the more logical and honest approach is to consider all the evidence, historical, scientific, philosophical, personal without making any assumptions about the status of any writing as scripture. Once we decide what we believe is true, then we believe that.

    So I believe the NT stands up as historical, so then I believe in it as scripture, not vice versa. I seem to be continually saying to non-believers these days that just because they cannot accept the NT as ‘divinely inspired’, doesn’t mean they should ignore it as historical evidence.

    Thanks.

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  7. 3. The way you have both expressed this question seems to me to be quite wrong (sorry!). You pose the question as if it is: “Which scripture am I going to blindly and in faith choose to follow?” But surely the more logical and honest approach is to consider all the evidence, historical, scientific, philosophical, personal without making any assumptions about the status of any writing as scripture. Once we decide what we believe is true, then we believe that.

    Actually, I think this is exactly what we’re saying. We’re just saying that almost no one actually does this. I do think you’re probably one of the few who has tried to — but most people don’t even attempt it. Or realize that they should attempt it.

    So I believe the NT stands up as historical, so then I believe in it as scripture, not vice versa. I seem to be continually saying to non-believers these days that just because they cannot accept the NT as ‘divinely inspired’, doesn’t mean they should ignore it as historical evidence.

    I can’t speak for most unbelievers, but I do think the NT counts as historical evidence. I don’t think it’s perfect historical evidence, but you don’t seem to either. So then we just have to determine how much of it is accurate history, and we’ve come to different conclusions about that.

    Also, thanks for mentioning inclusivism. I tried to hold that view for a while, but I had trouble squaring it with the bulk of the Bible. By the way, have you ever done any posts on the criteria you use to determine which texts are true and which aren’t? You referred to it briefly in your comment, but I wonder why you think historical and scientific accuracy are more important than internal consistency and prophecy fulfillment? The Bible isn’t always right historically or scientifically either… I’m just curious as to why you came to one conclusion for the Bible but reached a different conclusion for pretty much everything else.

    Thanks

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  8. Unklee,

    “There are Bible verses that support this view, and it was/is held by probably the two most influential English-speaking christians in my lifetime – CS Lewis and Billy Graham.”

    I think you referencing Billy Graham is moderately deceptive. I am confident that you are aware that he has only recently arrived at inclusivism. Before this highly recent shift he was a ‘Jesus is the only way’ evangelist. Also, Graham would not identify himself as an inclusivist, though his recent statements indicate, at least to a certain extent, he is an inclusivist.

    On a personal note, if I were religious I would certainly be an inclusivist.

    “And I believe it is clear that the NT passes those tests far better than others. Most of the eastern religious texts have no historical basis, and mentioning L Ron Hubbard and the Norse Eddas in this context cannot really be taken seriously. I have read parts of the scriptures of the Jews, Muslims, Baha’is and Mormons and believe there is good reason to reject them all. I went to particular, and honest, examination of the Baha’i faith to test its credentials, so I feel I can speak with some knowledge about this process.”

    This is a very interesting comment. Firstly, I don’t imagine you can dismiss an entire religion with the comments: “have no historical basis and cannot really be taken seriously.” When individuals on this blog have produced similar professions about Christianity I have surveyed your justified response that inculpates them for not approaching the material in an objective fashion, and not being sufficiently knowledgeable on the material they intend to dismiss, so casually. I believe that to be an equitable assertion, but you appear unwilling to grant that same privilege to other religions.

    Secondly, I anticipate a Muslim could generate an equivalent contention about the bible and Christianity. Also, can you, genuinely, maintain the position that you have appointed all of these sacred texts an evaluation homologous to your biblical perusals?

    “Once we decide what we believe is true, then we believe that.”

    This is how I came to atheism.

    “just because they cannot accept the NT as ‘divinely inspired’, doesn’t mean they should ignore it as historical evidence.”

    The NT possesses historical evidence, but every claim it makes is not historically accurate. I think this is an crucial distinction. One that the preponderance of NT scholars understand. While NT scholarship is in a state of disarray, it has moved beyond the question of the historicity of the resurrection, just as the explanations ‘miraculous’ and ‘God’s will’ are not taken seriously when assessing biblical texts, as R. Joseph Hoffmann has maintained when lecturing mythtics.

    Regards

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  9. Nate, I think you continue to look for something like mathematical-type certainty (nice if we could get it) when I think it is more subtle than that.

    “have you ever done any posts on the criteria you use to determine which texts are true and which aren’t?”

    I don’t think of texts being ‘true’ or ‘false’, but rather I think of the meaning they had to the people of that time, and how they are applicable to me. Unbelievers accuse christians of “cherry-picking”, and I think it could be seen that way, for we all do it – we make the best sense we can of the information we have.

    I try to understand Jesus in his original context and make that one of my foundations. I also believe the Holy Spirit guides believers, so I look to see how he is leading christians. I also use reason and my own experience. Mostly, NT passages are fairly clear what they mean, but I have to determine how to balance the various principles I find there. My understanding continues to grow, even after 50 years as a believer.

    “You referred to it briefly in your comment, but I wonder why you think historical and scientific accuracy are more important than internal consistency and prophecy fulfillment?”

    The Bible was written over perhaps a millennium, by some very different people in different contexts and with different interests. I believe it is inspired but not dictated. I believe God started with rules, but ultimately is interested in free choice out of good character and motives. So the NT is not about rules but about the Holy Spirit’s guidance and the balancing of good principles.

    God is beyond our understanding, so much of what we say about him is by analogy, partial and from our limited perspective. So to reveal God, the NT has to be multi-faceted and sometimes even apparently contradictory (like the dual nature of light appears contradictory, but is, or was, the best way to understand the complexities).

    In think most people misunderstand OT prophecy. Literal prediction of the details of an event were generally not the main thing. What is being given is a picture of God’s actions, and in many cases the fulfilment occurs several times in different ways. The book of Revelation isn’t a prophecy, but it gives the idea – a kaleidoscope of pictures that shouldn’t be understood literally (though some bits may be), but which gives the picture. Prophecy is closer to literal reality, but has some of the same aspects.

    “The Bible isn’t always right historically or scientifically either… I’m just curious as to why you came to one conclusion for the Bible but reached a different conclusion for pretty much everything else.”

    I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question here.

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  10. “I think you referencing Billy Graham is moderately deceptive. I am confident that you are aware that he has only recently arrived at inclusivism. Before this highly recent shift he was a ‘Jesus is the only way’ evangelist. Also, Graham would not identify himself as an inclusivist, though his recent statements indicate, at least to a certain extent, he is an inclusivist.”

    G’day Persto. I’m sorry you think I am deceptive. I have simply read what he has said and believed it represents what he thinks. I have no ideas whether he has always believed that, or it is only recent – do you have any clear indication of that?

    But there is no conflict between believing Jesus is the only way and inclusivism. Inclusivism entails believing Jesus is the only way, but that some people receive God’s grace that comes via Jesus even though they don’t know of Jesus. The OT Jews are an example. That is what I have believed for a long time now, and I have no way of knowing when Billy Graham came to a similar view.

    “I don’t imagine you can dismiss an entire religion with the comments: “have no historical basis and cannot really be taken seriously.”

    Obviously I am trying to be brief. But I can put a strong historical case for the New testament and christianity. Would you seriously like to try to put a historical case for the Norse gods or scientology?

    “you appear unwilling to grant that same privilege to other religions.”

    I think you have misunderstood what I wrote. I am willing to judge every belief on their merits. But it doesn’t take much thought to know that some beliefs cannot stand. But others merit further consideration, and I have done that in some detail for Baha’i and Judaism, to some extent for Islam and generally. I could give what I believe are cogent reasons for my conclusions. In fact, your comment gives me the idea for a blog post on Is there a God? – watch that space!

    Best wishes.

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  11. Good day, unklee.
    I do not believe you are deceptive; rather the comment was deceptive, not, necessarily, premeditatedly, though. If memory serves the Shuller interview was in 1997 and I am reasonably assured the BGEA formulated a retraction of Graham’s inclusivistic comments on the BGEA website–whether this was the result of internal BGEA pressure is uncertain. Whatever the reason was, Graham has, since that interview, confirmed that, in his estimation, salvation is exclusively established in Jesus Christ. (Check out the article “Should Dr Graham Now Be Considered a Heretic?” I cannot insert a link, sorry.)

    “But there is no conflict between believing Jesus is the only way and inclusivism. Inclusivism entails believing Jesus is the only way, but that some people receive God’s grace that comes via Jesus even though they don’t know of Jesus.”

    I concur and I am not attempting to conflate inclusivism and universalism. However, Graham even if he was, and I surmise he was, advocating a wobbly configuration of theological inclusivism he still refuses to identify as an inclusivist. Just call the BGEA and ask lol.

    “Would you seriously like to try to put a historical case for the Norse gods or scientology?”

    I could try, but I, also, am trying to be brief. However, I anticipate formulating a historical case for the Norse gods would be a fascinating endeavor. Maybe I could undertake that intellectual laboring in the not so distant future, particularly when I am not buried in lectures and lab research lol.

    “But others merit further consideration, and I have done that in some detail for Baha’i and Judaism, to some extent for Islam and generally. I could give what I believe are cogent reasons for my conclusions.”

    I apologize if I misrepresented your stance. My intention was to designate the flaws in pronouncing Christianity the one ‘true’ religion when the individuals doing the pronouncing have not researched Islam and Judaism as scrupulously as Christianity. You have patently ventured to do this, as you say, “in some detail…to some extent…” However, until you have investigated and ruminated on all disparate noteworthy religions in a manner identical to your biblical examinations you cannot say with certainty that Christianity is more or less true than other religions.

    I will definitely watch that space.

    Unklee, despite our disagreements I find your version of Christianity appealing and I do not possess a strong desire to vehemently oppose it, but I must be opposed to it. Hopefully, though, it will always be in a respectful manner.

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  12. Persto, I think we are talking at cross purposes because of different definitions. Let me try to clarify a few.

    We are dealing with two quite separate questions, who can be saved and how can they be saved?

    Who: Exclusivism = only those who explicitly call on the name of Jesus. Inclusivism = those who respond to the light they have been given. Universalism = everyone.

    How: Exclusivism = through the death of Jesus. Inclusivism = through the death of Jesus. Christian universalism = through the death of Jesus (some universalists would not agree here).

    Can you see then that Billy Graham, and I, can be inclusivists and believe salvation is only through Jesus? The retraction or clarification, need not necessarily be a denial of inclusivism. (I say “need not” because the reference you gave said what I am saying, but I couldn’t find the BGEA page.)

    Re the Norse gods, I’m afraid I am unable to take you seriously until you actually make an attempt at historical justification.

    “until you have investigated and ruminated on all disparate noteworthy religions in a manner identical to your biblical examinations you cannot say with certainty that Christianity is more or less true than other religions.”

    I disagree with this statement. I believe Jesus claimed to be (and was) divine and unique. Unless I find another religion that makes that claim and offers some historical evidence, none of them can come close. And none of them do, to my knowledge. So it is quite logical to believe in Jesus and reject, or at least give lesser credence to, other religions figures. I have investigated other religions enough to draw those conclusions (see, for example A summary of world religions and Where in the world is God?.

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  13. I believe Jesus claimed to be (and was) divine and unique. Unless I find another religion that makes that claim and offers some historical evidence, none of them can come close. And none of them do, to my knowledge.

    I’m interested by this. How do you know God would put a divine and unique being on the planet? Just because Jesus claimed that for himself (if he did) shouldn’t automatically make him “better” than others. I’ve heard variations on this before, such as “Christianity offers the only real plan for forgiveness of sins,” as though that’s evidence of its truthfulness. Who says “sin” even exists?

    I can say that my magic ju-ju-bees are the only cure for bowel-knees. But so what? If bowel-knees aren’t a real thing (and I really hope they aren’t), then you don’t need what I’m peddling. Just because I make an outrageous claim about it doesn’t mean it should be accepted. To me, the fact that the Bible claims Jesus was God makes it more suspect, not less. That’s not to say that it’s completely false — we can’t know that without investigation. But as a general rule, outrageous claims tend to be less credible.

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  14. Unklee,

    It appears I need to brush up on my theology. I can discern how those three theological viewpoints could require Jesus’ death as a necessary stipulation for salvation. My understanding of universalism is contrary to yours, but your understanding seems perfectly reasonable.

    “Can you see then that Billy Graham, and I, can be inclusivists and believe salvation is only through Jesus?”

    I have no problem conceding–I never was opposed to–Graham as an inclusivist, but he will not identify as one.

    “Re the Norse gods, I’m afraid I am unable to take you seriously until you actually make an attempt at historical justification.”

    Of course, it was a little attempt at humor. I may have missed the boat, or maybe not.

    “I have investigated other religions enough to draw those conclusions.”

    Fair enough. That was my only point. Does it not strike you as odd that a Muslim, Jew, or Hindu could say the same thing?

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  15. G’day Nate, I’m glad you’re interested! : ) I hope I can give satisfactory answers.

    “How do you know God would put a divine and unique being on the planet?”

    A priori, I don’t know anything. But if God did do that, then that person would have greater authority and knowledge than any other religious teacher.

    “Just because Jesus claimed that for himself (if he did) shouldn’t automatically make him “better” than others.”

    No, of course it’s not automatic – it’s just a decision tree or filtering process. Suppose I was at a party, and I asked everyone if they could give me directions to the airport, and only one person said they knew the way. It may not prove to be the case they they did indeed know the way, but there is no point asking anyone else, for they have already said they didn’t know.

    Same with Jesus. He is the only one (I’m aware of) credibly claiming to be divine – Buddha, Moses, Mohammed, Baha’u’llah, Confucius, Guru Nanak, etc, didn’t claim this. So that doesn’t make Jesus truthful, but he is the only one (initially) worth investigating. If we decide he’s told the truth, our search can end there (for the reasons given in my first answer). If we decide it wasn’t true, then we can think again about what we search for next – I guess a believable prophet.

    I should add that some scholars think Jesus didn’t make divine claims, but it was his followers. I don’t think that’s correct, but it would need to be considered by anyone investigating the matter.

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  16. Persto,

    “I have no problem conceding–I never was opposed to–Graham as an inclusivist, but he will not identify as one.”

    But he did identify as an inclusivist, he just didn’t use the word. And I have seen nothing to say he retracted, only that he affirmed that Jesus is the only way, which is consistent with inclusivism. Have you a link that says otherwise?

    “Does it not strike you as odd that a Muslim, Jew, or Hindu could say the same thing?”

    No, it strikes me as perfectly normal. Does it strike you as odd? People disagree all the time and make equal and opposite claims, both of which cannot be correct. You and Nate vs me on this discussion is an example.

    But I can give considered reasons to support my view, including quotes from philosophers and historians. Doubtless reasons can be given the other way, but I haven’t seen anything convincing.

    If I may be so bold, I suggest that mentioning other religions can be a smoke screen, a way of keeping all religions at bay. I suggest that if you have, or do, read up on them all, you would find the same as I have that most of them offer little or no historical evidence, and most of them are philosophically lacking. You may not believe in christianity, but you would find that most of the others are even less credible to you. (I think the most credible in many ways is Baha’i, which is why I investigated it in some detail. But in the end, it looks like exactly the sort of religion a modern person would invent, and offers no compelling reason to think otherwise.)

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  17. Okay, that makes sense. Thanks for answering.

    Suppose I was at a party, and I asked everyone if they could give me directions to the airport, and only one person said they knew the way. It may not prove to be the case they they did indeed know the way, but there is no point asking anyone else, for they have already said they didn’t know.

    I completely see what you’re saying. For me, I’m not sure there is an airport. I think that’s our main difference.

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  18. Question Nate,

    Would you say the Christian view of Hell is really a cultural by product of greco-roman mythology since, Judaism, doesn’t believe in the christian concept of a Hell?

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  19. Hey Marcus, good to hear from you.

    Yeah, that’s pretty much how I see it. There may have been some other influences there too. As I understand it, Zoroastrianism (a Persian religion) has a similar concept as well.

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  20. “Have you a link that says otherwise?”

    Sorry, no I don’t. There are various articles that reference a retraction–just google for them–but they do not present the authentic retraction. As I was a teenager at the time I don’t recall what it said word for word.

    “No, it strikes me as perfectly normal. Does it strike you as odd?”

    Disagreement between differing points of view is reasonable but that was not the point of the question. A Muslim could say precisely what you said. All he would need to do is alter one or two phrases and he would be perfectly content, as you seem to be. So, would the Hindu. That is what strikes me as odd.

    “But I can give considered reasons to support my view, including quotes from philosophers and historians.”

    I, certainly, can give considered reasons to support my view, including quotes from philosophers, historians, scientists, and intellectuals of all stripes–both past and present. I believe Nate could as well.

    “If I may be so bold, I suggest that mentioning other religions can be a smoke screen, a way of keeping all religions at bay. I suggest that if you have, or do, read up on them all, you would find the same as I have that most of them offer little or no historical evidence, and most of them are philosophically lacking.”

    You are right, I have found all religions to be lacking historically, philosophically, scientifically, and morally. I just wanted to highlight that most people accept the falsehoods of other religions but not of their own. Furthermore, most people who accept these falsehoods do not even know anything about the religions they are dismissing–of course, atheists could be included in this category as well.

    Regards

    P.S Sorry for the sloppy writing.

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  21. “A Muslim could say precisely what you said. All he would need to do is alter one or two phrases and he would be perfectly content, as you seem to be.”

    I still don’t find that remarkable. Most people think they are right, otherwise (hopefully) they’d change. What matters is their reasons, and the Muslim couldn’t give the same reasons I would give.

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  22. “I still don’t find that remarkable. Most people think they are right, otherwise (hopefully) they’d change.”

    Of course, people think the views they espouse are correct. That is not my point.

    “What matters is their reasons, and the Muslim couldn’t give the same reasons I would give.”

    That is just it. I would assume your response would be diametrically opposite to the Muslim’s response, but it is not. In fact, it is oddly similar. Just insert Allah or Yahweh for Jesus and your response could be employed to illuminate Islamic or Jewish belief instead of Christian belief.

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  23. Persto, I think you are mistaken because you are focusing on the form of response and not on the content. It doesn’t matter if both say similar but opposite things, what matters is the content and the evidence.

    Now Muslims and Christians both agree God exists, so both could use the cosmological and design arguments as evidence (in fact the Kalam Cosmological argument originated in Islam). But a christian points to the NT and Jesus, and argues he is divine, which a Muslim totally disagrees with – nothing “oddly similar” there!

    So what matters is whether the NT is indeed historical, and whether we can reasonably draw the conclusion that Jesus was divine from the evidence.

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  24. No, I think Persto is right here. His point is that while you think your evidence is better and clearer, a Muslim will think the same about his evidence. Maybe one of you is right, maybe neither of you is. Persto’s point is just that we all feel that way about our own positions — even we atheists. The only real way one could actually come to truth and know it’s the truth is to exhaustively examine every religion, trying as hard as he/she can to justify each particular religion. Of course, doing such a thing is unrealistic, but I think that’s why folks like Persto and I think it’s unlikely that some god actually expects that of us.

    Persto, please correct me if I’ve mistated your position. And unklee, please know I’m not trying to get you to justify your beliefs, I’m just trying to help illustrate how tough it is to really compare religions objectively.

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  25. Nate, are we talking at cross purposes? I don’t think I have ever claimed that we can “know” (meaning 100% certainty) that christian belief is true. So let’s put that aside, and go for reasonable confidence. I also don’t think we can ever be totally objective. Again, let’s settle for trying to be as honest as we can. But beyond that, I can’t see why you are making the points that you are.

    If it is impossible for someone to make a reasonable assessment of other religions without exhaustive analysis, then how can atheists say they disbelieve in them? Surely the truth is that we can indeed make an assessment from a limited amount of information, especially when one religion (christianity) makes claims that are beyond any of the others (as we’ve discussed already)?

    My summaries are at Where in the world is God? and Choosing my religion?.

    I still say the fact that Muslims think they are right and Christians think they are right, and atheists think they are right is irrelevant to anything we are discussing. And I can’t see that either of you have presented any sort of argument why that fact is important, except to illustrate that we don’t all agree and therefore …… what?

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  26. You know, you could just ask God, “If you exist, can you point me towards trhe religeon you want me in?”

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  27. “Hi unklee, sorry if I misunderstood your comment, or if I came across badly with mine.”

    Nate, this is just to tidy up a loose end. I thought I had replied to this before, but somehow mustn’t have. As usual, you didn’t come across badly, but sincere and honest, as you always do. If anything, I am sometimes a little too curt – trying to be brief and also make a serious point. Thanks again.

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  28. Oh, no problem at all. I think we may have both misunderstood what each other was trying to say. But I’m sure it will come up again in one thread or another, and we can try again.

    And you always have a great tone — it’s what I appreciate most about you. You manage to remain polite, even when others aren’t. So no worries. 🙂

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  29. Nate, it’s been awhile since I read a post that I have lost myself in, but I’ve been enjoying reading about your de-conversion. I am particularly interested in your understanding of the Bible in a historical light and was wondering if you have any particular books that you felt were helpful through your journey?

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  30. Hi Charlie,

    Thanks for the comment! There are some books that were very helpful, but I’m trying to think of ones that focused on the historical aspects of the Bible.

    There’s a book called Darius the Mede and the Four World Empires in the Book of Daniel by H.H. Rowley. That was a very helpful book in dealing with Daniels’ historical details. And A History of God by Karen Armstrong does a great job of laying out the development of the God concept through the Canaanite and Abrahamic religions.

    There are two archaeologists named Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman who have written several books on how archaeology has matched up (or not) with the Bible.

    As far as textual considerations go, Bart Ehrman’s books Jesus, Interrupted and Misquoting Jesus were both very good, as well as Neil Lightfoot’s How We Got the Bible.

    But one of the books that helped me the most in learning about the problems in the Bible was Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason.

    Anyway, I hope that helps — thanks again!

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  31. Great! Thanks for your quick reply! I’ve been meaning to delve into the history/historical inaccuracies of the bible for awhile now, as I jumped onto the ‘atheist bandwagon’ with a more scientific approach. It’s only been just recently that I’ve been reading more accounts of people who lost their faith through a much different avenue than I. I can’t wait to continue reading your story.

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  32. More thoughts…

    I have often wondered about the subject of hell myself. My current opinion (and I cannot stress that word enough) is that it is nothing like the medieval pictures presented but, rather, correctly interpreted by those that don’t believe in a God. You die, and that’s it. Whatever the state of nothingness, that is hell. Regardless, I’ve never found the questions you raise here, such as origins of the word, to be that important to me, so I don’t have much else to contribute here…

    Why no mention of heaven in the OT? I think the question points to a truth that is often not understood: that the Bible is not the static, end-all interpretation and authority on all things related to the spiritual life. Rather, it is a snapshot at a moment in time, a summation of what was believed and understood at that point. As humanity grows in knowledge, our perception expands. Our perception as a race change from the cradle, to the house we live, to the neighborhood, to the town, to the world…

    Eternal judgment is not the most important thing, IMO. In fact, if we find the path while on this earth, it is moot. The focus should always be on this present moment…

    Language, no matter how eloquent, often fails to capture the complete picture. Words are often like photographs: even if they fully capture the image, they cannot capture the impressions left by the experience. The link you provide here illustrates that. I take a similar view, while holding on to humility about anything I think I might know…

    Moving on…

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  33. Hi Don,

    Thanks for your great comment. I’m really glad that you’re enjoying this series of posts — they haven’t been very easy for me to write.

    I think you and I actually have a very similar view of how the Bible came to be written, with the exception that I don’t think there actually was any divine influence. Other than that, I agree that they were the work of different people who honestly believed the things they wrote, and it was that belief that inspired them.

    If your position on Hell is accurate, then it would be easier for me to believe that a moral god could be behind the Bible. Still not quite convincing, but at least easier to swallow than the version I held to previously.

    Thanks again for chiming in!

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  34. Nate,

    I’ve read this post, Deconversion Pt. II, and a number of the comments — but not all. Frankly, the comments started to get boring to me. Your commenters kept bringing up the same thoughts — thoughts which I’ve thought about, and come to conclusions about, already.

    There’s a church down my street that has a big sign on it’s front lawn: “WHERE WILL YOU SPEND ETERNITY?” I’m constantly struck, whenever I contemplate that particular question, by its insignificance. I really do think that God had a purpose in creating the universe; but it would be laughably silly to imagine that His purpose was to get Paul Bradford’s sorry butt into Heaven. Just thinking about it makes me giggle.

    I live near Boston, and I’m a Red Sox fan, and if you’re walking down Brookline Avenue toward Fenway Park some summer evening you’re guaranteed to pass this guy who carries a big sign with an illustration of what somebody imagines hell to look like. He accosts everyone who passes by with the question, “Have you been saved?” I’m thinking about the opponent’s starting pitcher and he’s trying to get me to figure out whether or not I’m saved.

    What I want to be saved from is the obsessive worry over whether or not I’m saved. I want to train my brain to think about things that actually matter.

    I’m going to give your blog a rest for a while — then I’ll come back and read more of your story.

    Peace,

    Paul

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  35. Nice post. I liked: “…comes much too late for everyone who lived before the Persian Empire. That’s a lot of human history to leave in the dark about eternity.” Including Moses, Abraham, the Kings of Israel, etc.

    As I have talked with people, I have made the point that following the greatest and most overt outpouring of revelation from God to man, the people of Israel appear to have marched away from Mount Sinai none the wiser about the existence of either hell or the devil. That seems a little cavalier on God’s part.

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