Pandora’s Box

The other day I started thinking about what would have happened if I had stopped looking critically at Christianity after reading those articles that first made me question the Bible’s legitimacy. What if I had turned from them and decided to never look at anything else that might cause me to doubt my faith? If I had, I’m sure I’d still be a Christian today.

But would that really be good enough? Obviously, the things my faith were built upon weren’t solid enough to withstand scrutiny. So if I had maintained faith only by refusing to investigate my reasons, would that kind of faith be pleasing to God? I think that’s a question believers should consider. If that level of faith is good enough, we’re essentially saying, “oh, if only you hadn’t taken your faith so seriously!” But that seems crazy.

The alternative is that my faith might have been good enough until the day I ran across things that made me doubt. At that point, the only way to remain pleasing to God would be to investigate the claims and come out the other side with a stronger faith. Of course, that’s not how it worked out for me. If God’s real and Christianity’s true, then I think this view makes the most sense. However, it causes problems for those Christians who have refused to look at any evidence that might call their beliefs into question. I’ve had several tell me that they won’t read anything an atheist has written, or don’t want me to point out the passages that I found problematic because they don’t want to lose their faith. How does that make sense? If their faith is worth keeping — if it’s true — then further investigation should only support their beliefs, not call them into question.

I’m not trying to pick on Christians here, we can all be guilty of this from time to time. It’s essentially an extreme case of confirmation bias — one in which we realize we’re being biased and we even think of it as a good thing. In fact, it’s extremely dangerous, and if we feel ourselves thinking along those lines, it should be a red flag. What’s wrong with our current position if we have to hide from information in order to keep it?

And in the end, I’m glad I didn’t stop looking. The journey out wasn’t easy, but I feel like things make so much more sense with my current worldview. Even if I’m still wrong, I’m closer to the truth than I was before, because I’ve learned new information and corrected some past misunderstandings. That can only be a good thing.

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329 thoughts on “Pandora’s Box”

  1. Nate, I was thinking about this the other day and posted this on Nan’s Blog. Thought it might bare repeating here. This is an analogy to Fowler’s Steps of Faith given by author Gretta Vosper in her book , “Amen”. I may have posted this on your site long ago.

    If you still believe Santa is going to drop down your chimney and bring you presents, you’re in Stage Three. ( Any conflicts with one’s beliefs are ignored at this stage due to the fear of threat from inconsistencies.)

    If you have found out there is no Santa and you’re still mad at your parents for lying to you, you’re in Stage Four. (As one is able to reflect on one’s own beliefs, there is an openness to a new complexity of faith, but this also increases the awareness of conflicts in one’s belief.)

    If you have started playing Santa for your children, you’re in Stage Five. (The individual resolves conflicts from previous stages by a complex understanding of a multidimensional, interdependent “truth” that cannot be explained by any particular statement.)

    If you’ve set up a national charity through which parents are able to access gifts and necessities for their children, called it Santa’s Workshop, and donated your income to it, you’re in Stage Six. (The individual would treat any person with compassion as he or she views people as from a universal community, and should be treated with universal principles of love and justice.)

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  2. That’s cool Ken, thanks for posting it. You know, the Santa analogy works so well when talking about religion. I kind of get why some people don’t like it, but it’s just such a perfect comparison.

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  3. I can understand when someone might say “I feel like I’ve read all I can from that point of view and it just doesn’t make sense to me so I don’t want to waste any more time with it.” But you are right it seems there are some people who don’t want to read things which oppose their beliefs because they want to remain safe in their current beliefs. I wish more of us would be brave to venture out which would help us all understand reality better.

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  4. Thanks Howie, and I completely agree. I do think it’s okay to finally stop looking at a particular line of argument once you’ve learned all you can from it. I just don’t really understand the people who run from it before they even know anything about it. It’s unfortunate.

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  5. I think they run from it because it’s not safe for them. Belief for many is about being safe and about being saved.

    Thanks to KC up there I’m trying to figure out what stage I’m at. Not sure if I want to know anything about it. Might better run from it. 😉

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  6. I think you’re right Zoe, but that’s one of the things that never made sense to me. It’s obviously a false sense of security, and the fact that they don’t want to learn more because it might change their mind shows that they sort of know it’s a false sense of security. If they really think that the stakes are as high as eternity, I don’t know why they decide to close themselves off from information. Maybe this is just one of those areas in which people are sometimes wired differently.

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  7. Hi Nate, interesting thoughts. I tend to think the same as you about being open to new information and truths, though obviously I came to the opposite conclusion about christianity. CS Lewis was the same, famously saying that he didn’t expect anyone to believe in Jesus if they thought the evidence indicated otherwise, and less famously saying that if God and truth seemed to be diverging, we should follow truth – for he believed we would find that was where God was all along.

    But I think we have to recognise that people choose their beliefs in many different ways, and “our way” doesn’t always work for others. In America you may associate “unthinking” belief with christianity, but in a secular country like Australia, the “unthinking” default is more likely to be a vaguely hedonistic agnosticism.

    We may think it would be better if they chose more evidentially like we try to, but it wouldn’t necessarily be better for them. For example, studies show that many people make better decisions (where they can be factually checked later) intuitively than they make analytically.

    So for some people, who have chosen more intuitively and believe they have been guided by the Holy Spirit (a claim that you and I can neither confirm nor refute), it may be quite right not to venture into the reading and thinking that you or I have done. It’s not my way, or yours, but people are very diverse.

    Best wishes and happy holiday/Christmas/New year/whatever to you!

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  8. Thanks unkleE! I appreciate the comment. I’m not surprised that we tend to see this one similarly.

    You make an excellent point about the possible motivation / line of thinking that might cause some people to avoid information that makes them uncomfortable. And thanks for sharing that Lewis quote — I don’t think it’s one I’ve run across before, but I like it.

    And happy holidays/Merry Christmas to you too! 🙂

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  9. Thanks lagniappe! After glancing through your blog for a second, I’m a little surprised you liked my post, but I appreciate it just the same! 🙂

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  10. maybe the very religious spend so much time trying to have a “personal relationship” with a being that they only read about, never mind that they dont really know if it’s real or not, that the religion becomes part of them.

    And I mean that they want so badly to know jesus and god and for jesus and god to know them, they unconsciously create much of these beings with their own heads, thereby making their personal jesus and god hybrids between their own minds and the bible.

    i’m not saying this is it, or that this is even part of it, i’m just positing this thought as I try to understand why people close their eyes, ears and minds off to things like this.

    and I guess they also have lines in the sand which they cannot cross, and losing faith is one of them. I think in their minds their not avoiding information as much as they are contending for their faith in way, fighting every way they know how to preserving it.

    In a way it’s sad, because they don’t realize that such efforts could keep anyone from leaving or reconsidering anything, to include Muslims, atheists, gang members as well as members of ISIL.

    I’m just rambling today, sorry.

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  11. Nah, William, I get what you’re saying, and I think it’s a great point. The first time I heard someone talk about the problem of evil and say if God causes natural disasters, then he’s a bastard, I was completely shocked. I couldn’t believe someone would say such a thing — not just because it was such a strong statement, but that they had the audacity to judge God. But when you stop to think about it, they’re absolutely right. I just didn’t realize it was okay to think about God and religion in that way. And maybe that’s what a lot of believers are dealing with.

    As several of us have said now, this is not just a problem believers contend with; it’s something we all face. But I think believers in particular probably struggle with whether or not it’s okay to ask certain questions, and non-believers don’t really deal with that.

    You’re also right that having certain questions that are unaskable means that even when you have the wrong beliefs, you probably won’t find your way past them. And so anyone who has this mindset, even if they happen to hold the correct beliefs, aren’t holding them for the right reasons. I thought about this when I was a Christian just beginning to struggle with doubt. I believed that only Christians could be saved, but I was also troubled about those Christians who seemed to be Christians for the wrong reasons. Could they still be saved if they wound up with the correct belief set by accident? I didn’t see how they could, which meant the actual number of saved was even much smaller than I had already thought it was. It was pretty depressing at the time.

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  12. The alternative is that my faith might have been good enough until the day I ran across things that made me doubt. At that point, the only way to remain pleasing to God would be to investigate the claims and come out the other side with a stronger faith.

    I thought that was a great statement, especially coupled with this one:

    However, it causes problems for those Christians who have refused to look at any evidence that might call their beliefs into question.

    I would change the term “evidence” to “differing viewpoints” and that could be many conversations I’ve had with fellow believers.

    I don’t have it all figured out. I’m comfortable with the fact that I don’t have it all figured out. And it just bugs the crap out of me to try and hold a conversation with a believer who feels they do.

    IMHO, that’s not the way faith and belief, most especially Judaism and Christianity, is supposed to be. Jesus was a rabbi. Rabbis use rabbinical teaching as their primary tool in deepening the faith of their ‘disciples’. Go back and read your NT. How many questions did Jesus really answer? Or, did he merely answer these questions with other questions? We’re never supposed to stop asking questions. Doubting. Testing. Deepening our faith. Some will grow stronger, as Nate points out. Some will grow away, as Nate, and others on this site, are proof. In a way, that too is stronger. I understand where he’s come from and how he got to where he is today. As a believer, I may not agree with his conclusions, but I understand how he arrived at them. Questions. Doubting. Testing. Growing.

    I’ve done plenty of the same thing, but have come out stronger within my faith. Oddly, I think he understands that about me, too 

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  13. I can relate.

    On the god/bastard thing, I get that too. It once flew right overhead that when people said such things that they weren’t really even calling god names, but pointing out the absurdity of the bible’s claims, that a perfect and loving being is exactly opposite of what much of the bible claims he did.

    who looks at ISIL and thinks they’re diligent servants of god? no intelligent or sane person, yet they are doing what the bible says god told the israelites to do in canaan.

    i feel like i’m rambling again…

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  14. kent, I’ve wondered before if jesus was really the son of god, maybe he wanted people to bear fruit by searching and striving for truth, and they were the saved ones, not the ones who sat back and thought, “i’ll let jesus do it all for me.”

    “No one comes to the father except by me.” maybe he wasnt referring to faith in him, but that he opened the door to the fruitful whether they realized it or not.

    “if and buts,” I know… but really all a person can do is their best. It could be that their best isnt good enough, i suppose. many things are that way. maybe some people dont have to work as hard to believe in jesus, and maybe god’s cool with that.

    but if god wants workers and effort, why punish a sincere person who worked as hard as they could (if their best didnt bring them to jesus) and reward lazier person (as long as their apathy kept them in jesus)?

    I agree, though, stagnation is the problem and one must keep searching, fighting and striving forward. I’ve changed my mind before and likely will again. To those who believe they know all they need to know, you’re no longer looking and are justifying lazy stagnation – that is not to be commended and could be the pinnacle of arrogance as you’re stating that your understanding and your reasoning and your beliefs are perfect and no longer need education.

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  15. Kent, I’ve seen you express many times on this blog a generous and respectful view toward Nate (as well as others who don’t believe). And as you said you don’t have to agree with the other person to have this kind of attitude. I think we could all learn from that. Maybe blog conversations would go a lot better if we had your kind of perspective toward people who see things differently.

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  16. home to humanity, bridge builder for diversity.

    Hey, if I ever get tired of the Thomas Jefferson tagline, this one would be great! 😉

    Thanks for the comment, Kent! Yeah, I’ve found that the important thing is to just keep asking questions and keep searching and hold onto the humility of recognizing we could be (and likely are) wrong. That even falls in line with what Jesus says in Matthew 7 (the searching part). I think it’s a great mantra to live by, and I have nothing but respect for fellow truth-seekers, no matter what position they end up with. That’s why I like interacting so much with guys like you, Josh, Ryan, and unkleE (just to name the Christians) — we may disagree on a number of things, but we all value the quest for truth, and we value one another.

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  17. I totally agree that, as a general rule, Christians simply don’t want to consider differing opinions (I like that, Kent!) as this might call their beliefs into question. It’s much more “comfortable” to just believe and live by what they’ve been taught in church and Sunday School.

    I know this is the case with my family. They’re not uncompromising believers, but they strongly believe God is real and Jesus is their savior. And since they know I no longer feel this way, any discussion on faith and/or religion is verboten. I’m sure it’s because it makes them uncomfortable … for the very reasons you have mentioned.

    But, like you, I have to ask why? As I quoted at the beginning of my book: If you’re going to put all your faith into something, you need to thoroughly examine it to make sure your faith is justified.

    I think confirmation bias definitely sums it up.

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  18. In response to Nate: I agree, a false sense of security and they know it but it’s better than no security at all. It’s the lesser of the two evils, so-to-speak.

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  19. “If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood, or persuaded of afterward, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call in question or discuss it…the life of that man is one long sin against mankind.”
    — William Kingdon Clifford —

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  20. “Jesus was a rabbi. Rabbis use rabbinical teaching as their primary tool in deepening the faith of their ‘disciples’. Go back and read your NT. How many questions did Jesus really answer? Or, did he merely answer these questions with other questions? We’re never supposed to stop asking questions. Doubting. Testing. “

    I strongly agree with this Kent. In the old musical Godspell, Jesus is doing a soft shoe routine with one of his disciples, and asks (taken from Matthew’s gospel) “How can a man remove a speck of sawdust from his brother’s eye when all the time there’s this great plank in his own?”

    The disciple replies that he doesn’t know, and Jesus replies: “You hypocrite! First take the plank out of your own eye and then you can see more clear to take the sawdust out of your brother’s eye.” ” ‘ere, ‘ang about,” the disciple replies, “that wasn’t an answer to the question!”

    Jesus replies: “Did I promise an answer to the question?” and the song and dance goes on. I always thought that saying (and that musical) got Jesus more right than many christians do today.

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  21. I think a bunch of you have nailed it. It’s all about mental comfort and not wanting to go through the agonizing mental effort of having our beliefs questioned. It also goes both ways. Someone could be an atheist all their lives and never want to read anything about religions because they find it uncomfortable.

    Nate, you probably would have been much more comfortable if you had stayed away from the tough questions. You would have remained in that church you were in and never would have been shunned by your family and friends. I’m sure you’ve played that scenario out in your mind many times. But mental comfort is not what most of us are after.

    People say that ignorance is bliss and I sometimes wonder if they’re right. Then I realize that some of us are just not wired that way. We have to dig deeper and find out as much as we can. The fact that it may be uncomfortable is not a deterrent for us – it is a challenge that we dare ourselves to take.

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  22. I think that one thing many of us have in common is that when we began to have questions we didn’t assume it was because God didn’t exist or that the Bible was wrong. I think each of us in our own way probably tried to turn and twist and contort what we knew in some way to fit our beliefs. A common misconception is that we just set out to prove God doesn’t exist. The questions I started with should have been met with evidence to confirm what I ha believed all along. The opposite thing happened. I had no idea I was opening Pandora’s Box until she was out and I was consumed.

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  23. I do not have the blind faith of a child to just accept everything about the Bible, in fact I don’t think it’s inerrant and I don’t think that in context it can be made to apply as rules for modern life – not unless we’ve all been Ancient Romans all along and nobody told us. I think that generally loving one’s neighbor, serving one’s community, and helping take care of people is a great idea even if it’s not in the name of religion but doing the right thing. I think like Israel, we’re all up to wrestle with God in our own way and that no two of us will have the same results. Ultimately, I think it’s bad Christians that have done so much more to discredit God than He himself ever could – it’s in his name that people have done many terrible things. That’s a great point about Rabbi’s, when you walk by them studying you hear raucous debate, they question every detail of their belief to further define it. Christians that are afraid to question will never have to seek after answers.

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  24. That’s a great quote, Arch! Thanks, Howie and William. I be feeliin’ the love up here in the Northwest (where we finally have snow)! And, Jamie, those are all really good points, especially “generally loving one’s neighbor, serving one’s community, and helping take care of people is a great idea even if it’s not in the name of religion but doing the right thing”

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  25. I don’t know how far north you are, Kent, but we have commenters in Nova Scotia, and they still haven’t had snow there yet. This has been a strangely warm Winter here in the northern hemisphere. I enjoy being out in shirtsleeves, but I keep seeing, in my mind’s eye, Polar icecaps melting.

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  26. Snowing here (early a.m.) in southwestern Ontario right now Arch but won’t it won’t stay.
    Has been really mild. Fog and mist for several days. Bit of a wind coming around from the west with a hint of north, thus the rain turned to a wet snow.

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  27. What if?

    The first thing that comes to my mind (about you Nate) is the loss of your family through shunning as a result of your change of mind. What if you had stayed? You’d still be a part of the family that has now shunned you.

    Nate wrote: “I’ve had several tell me that they won’t read anything an atheist has written, or don’t want me to point out the passages that I found problematic because they don’t want to lose their faith. How does that make sense? If their faith is worth keeping — if it’s true — then further investigation should only support their beliefs, not call them into question.”

    I keep mulling over this “Faith” issue and wonder if it’s a matter of wanting to “keep the faith” and less about “Belief.” I’ve heard it said and have had it said to me that I should just have faith. Not so much belief, but faith. Faith that someone somewhere (God) knows the truth and we can’t all know the truth so trust that someone (God) does and that’s all I (we) need. Faith. Not so much Belief with a capital “B”. There is something child-like in a simple faith. And of course, the Bible supports this concept. Some prefer a child-like faith of simple trust without all the “i’s” dotted and the “t’s” crossed.

    Then there are those little rebellious kids, like us, who never intended to open up the box and now we are free but lost to a world that use to love us.

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  28. This post really resonated with me! Thank you for writing it. It’s been less than a year for me since my deconversion, and choosing to investigate the different arguments against theism and Christianity was a difficult journey for quite a while. I was a fundagelical for about 34 years and it was uncomfortable to consider all of the arguments against my faith. The cognitive dissonance was intense! But I have thought often now… What if I hadn’t pursued those criticisms? What if my oldest son hadn’t told me he was an atheist, which started my journey? But I’m so very glad I did!!

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  29. Speaking of Canada, and totally off-topic, I was watching a funny movie the other day, in which a CIA-type maintained that Canada is secretly training an army of Sasquatch to take over the world. So I suppose your secret is out! We’re watching you —

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  30. There is something child-like in a simple faith.” – “Except ye be as a child, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.

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  31. I believe it to be so that many have their religious faith sustained by the emotional solace that is derived from it. In other words, they are taking a purely pragmatic view in which the felt reality of that solace overrides reason, or what could be reason were it to be permitted. William James covers this derived aspect of faith well in his magisterial work “The Varieties of Religious Experience”. For the pragmatist, the actuality of experience is paramount of course; it subsumes any objective conclusion and relegates it as being of lesser import to what is actualised and felt.

    I think if we are of a character type disposed to faith per se, then it is not so easy as to switch it off by virtue of reason. More typically, the faith becomes transferred into some other externality, one which has as of yet been subjected to any rigorous scrutiny – we do not yet know whether that too will survive such scrutiny; and faith has seduced us unwittingly into the transference. An indicator of this kind of behaviour can be seen when a devout believer suddenly adopts an apparently polarised perspective – the religious fundamental becomes not just atheistic, but fervently anti-theistic.

    Faith is indeed a seducer; it can be pernicious, yet it can also be very beautiful. It may be the intelligent sibling to belief; it is open to possibility, not closed in a dogmatic stasis like its brother; it is prepared to accept the truth in whatever form it may eventually arrive. In any case, if we are predisposed to this psychological trait, then it is likely to remain with us for life. The task then, is to deploy it carefully, with reason sealed securely away from the tendrils of unthinking belief. A good companion for faith is the vigilant and enquiring mind; in tandem, the two can become an effective vehicle for the discovery of ontological knowledge.

    Many thanks for this eloquent and erudite article Nate.

    Hariod Brawn.

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  32. Absolutely. If we are not squirming in our pants over our closely held beliefs and prejudices every single day (okay, maybe not *every* day), then we are not being truthful with ourselves and those around us.

    It’s kind of funny how Christians think that becoming an atheist or agnostic is some how giving up on their struggle with faith. What I think they do not realize is that everyone, regardless of faith or no faith, struggles with life’s moral dilemmas. We don’t need a god for that.

    Not sure that made sense…I should probably write a blog post…

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  33. Thanks to everyone else who’s commented.

    Dave, I agree that some of these differences must just come down to wiring. Nicely said.

    Ruth, I particularly agreed with your comment. I felt the same way — I had no idea I was opening Pandora’s Box till it had already happened.

    Zoe, I hadn’t really thought about the delineation that you lay out about faith and belief. You may be right that some people view it that way. It’s unfortunate that something as simple as what we think about a topic can be strong enough to sever ties with family and friends… I guess it’s just a sad truth about life. In fact, over the past year or so I’ve come to think that even if my family hadn’t held to the withdrawal/shunning thing, we’d still likely be in about the same place. Religion was such an important part of our lives — and still is for them — that it would have been hard to continue on anyway, I guess. The tension would have been so high, I doubt much would be different.

    Hi Logan! Thanks for the comment, and welcome to my blog! I appreciate your sharing a bit of your story with us. Congratulations on working your way through those difficult times — most of us here know what it’s like to struggle with those questions. Feel free to comment anytime!

    Hi Hariod, thanks for the great comment. It made me think about the differences among people. I used to believe that there was only one right way to think and live. That God wanted a particular thing and everyone was accountable to it (though I allowed for some slight variation due to circumstance, environment, education level, etc). But now I see how I wrong I was to think that, and that’s freed me up in so many ways. My biggest epiphany was that no one had to figure things out. How could we be expected to? Our experience is limited — there’s no way we could know for sure all the answers to these big questions of purpose, existence, nature, etc. In other words, it’s okay for us to have different opinions about things, and it’s okay to be wrong. That was a huge revelation for me, and a huge relief. Thanks again for your comment. 🙂

    Hi NE! I think I got what you were saying, and I guess it sort of relates to what I just said to Hariod. You’re right that agnosticism and atheism aren’t giving up or turning away; they’re simply conclusions that someone can come to when thinking about these big issues. And calling them “conclusions” might be misleading, since it denotes finality — maybe I should just call them “positions”. Hopefully as long as we are drawing breath, we are open to changing our positions on these things, depending on whatever evidence and insights we come across.

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  34. Nate, great post and I agree wholeheartedly with maybe a tiny exception. One day I was sitting there angry that someone I knew, a homeschooling mother, only taught her children creation “science”. My wife told me something I’ll never forget. She said, you know Brandon, maybe you could go easy on her because deep down she’s afraid. I thought, hmmmmm, that actually explains her really well. (It was one of those, wow, my wife is really insightful moments). And, there are other reasons. There are people unwilling to look at opposing cases because they are struck with an arrogant certainty, those unwilling to look at opposing cases because they are frankly scared, others who just don’t have the time or emotional stamina or patience or whatever it takes, maybe even just the baseline curiosity or drive to seek truth. I mean the first time we are slammed in the face with cognitive dissonance. . . who wants to live like that?! It’s uncomfortable.

    At the end of the day, I think it is our duty, to whatever extent we are curious and value truth, to spend time on these problems. But, I also empathize with those who are not given curiosity like us and who may be a little scared about the whole thing. I’m not saying they shouldn’t get courageous and face the problem, rather at least I understand they are human.

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  35. Thanks Brandon, you make a good point. I remember years ago, before I started having any major doubts about Christianity, my brother-in-law seemed to be going through a period where he was struggling with some things. In particular, he was trying to get his head around how we could say we were monotheists when we believed in the Trinity. At the time, I thought “it’s just semantics — who cares?” I later came to see the problem he was considering a little better. But at the time, I definitely disregarded it and had no interest in digging into it.

    So as much as I think people should tackle difficult questions, I’ve also had times in my life where I didn’t.

    It’s hard for me to understand some of those motivations, but I can at least accept that they’re real motivations for some people. And by the same token, I’m sure many of them would have trouble understanding the reasons that drove me to this point. It’s frustrating that we have these communication breakdowns, but I guess that’s just part of the human experience sometimes.

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  36. I’m in North Idaho (yes, North is capitalized here. It’s a local thing). Snow turned to rain today making a big ol’ morning full of yuck. Oh well, it’ll probably be sunshining by this afternoon, ha ha! At least we get all four seasons around here…sometimes in the same day!

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  37. Was it Asimov who said something about the surest way to become an atheist was to read the bible? ( Arch will know the exact quote; save me Googling)

    Yes, it takes a brave ( but truly honest Christian) to ask such questions and then go and investigate, and I have yet to encounter a deconvertee who isn’t relieved ( and happy) almost beyond measure for taking that bold step.

    People like Unklee and Brandon try to intellectualize their belief, drawing upon demonstrably erroneous information/scripture which is then subject to such convolution to fit with their already inculcated views as to be risible.

    Certainly, such folk exhibit a dismissive attitude toward every other religion, and on similar grounds, to boot, and even various cults within their own faith.
    Look at Brandon;s comment regarding his ”anger” toward the Creationist home-schooler mum.
    In reality, there is no intellectual reason to believe, only some form of pseudo-intellectualism masking an emotional dysfunction.

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  38. Mmm, I don’t think it’s quite that simple. I feel like I know Brandon and unkleE well enough by now to trust that they’re not being disingenuous. We may not agree on the particulars of these issues, but I trust their sincerity. It’s one of the things I appreciate about them.

    The other thing is that while they would certainly love for me to agree with them, and I wish they would see things my way, I think all of us are okay with the idea that we see things differently. That’s really all I ask for.

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  39. You should visit violetwisps blog and look at how Brandon conducts himself, then maybe you might change your mind on that score, Nate.

    http://violetwisp.wordpress.com/2014/10/31/no-such-thing-as-deconversion/#comment-15060

    The problem with ”seeing things differently” is that the christian is duty bound/ faith bound to proselytize, as you surely know!
    And in your country, for example, they believe they are one of the most persecuted groups in the US!

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  40. I’m going to throw in along with Nate for Brandon and Eric (unkleE) – Nate said exactly what I think. And I have seen some of Brandon’s stuff on other blogs and some of it irks me, but I’m sure there’s stuff that I write that irks them as well. As a plonker myself, I can empathize with other plonkers. 🙂

    Like

  41. I tend to agree with Ark, in that while many christians are indeed sincere, still retain their faith in the bible by ignoring, twisting or interpreting facts, scripture and reason. This will come off far harsher than i intend it, and i also realize that I am not likely as free of these i’d like to imagine.

    But like nate, i’m not bothered by that when they are respectful of other’s conclusions.

    People are not perfect, so i shouldn’t expect them to be. Each of us is capable of error and have made our own share and are likely guilty of errors at this very moment without realizing it.

    But faith is something that is had without fact and without reason. I do not mean to suggest that the faithful have no facts or no reason, as the bible (for example) has names of real individuals and real places, etc. It has many precepts that seem based in reason. These facts are used to bolster the claims and dogmas that are not rooted in fact, and they use these reasonable precepts to laud the whole or overlook the unreasonable.

    I think faith is a trust based in hope above all else, or perhaps fear, and the degree to which each serves likely differs among believers.

    But certain ideas like sin exists because of freewill, and freewill exists because god wants sincere worship and not the mindless service of robots, seem to fall short when you begin to consider heaven. Heaven being a place on no sin. If there is no sin in heaven, does that mean that there is no freewill? if there is freewill and no sin, then we again go back to the question of why there is sin. And if there is no freewill in heaven, then god is fine with robot service afterall. None of it makes sense when really thought out. heaven seems like a concept that must be considered in “low light” and in the periphery in order to find believable.

    There are several others like the virgin birth, or like the bible being rooted in the claims of men who lived in superstitious times, and many others. They all seem to permeate in a logic that is not all searching or that stops in tracks and simply trusts, that simply surrenders to faith.

    maybe that’s not bad, but I still haven’t figured out how the surrender to trusting faith in Christianity trumps the surrendered trusting faith of anything else – other than Jesus that is (it’s just that Jesus is no more an answer than Muhammad or Kermit the Frog).

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  42. William, I read your comment and couldn’t really find something in there I would disagree with.

    However, I think I just look at this from a different angle. What I would say is that faith means different things for different people. In talking with Eric for instance I’ve gotten the feeling that he intellectually comes to his conclusions using facts, evidence and reason and this gives him about a 95% (a number he wrote on my blog a while ago) personal confidence level of his conclusions (note the key word “personal”). Then the faith for him is the fact that even though he isn’t 100% confident he lives his life practically as if it is true. I may be improperly characterizing his stance, but this has been my impression.

    In my thinking I’ve wondered if that is really how many skeptics live as well. We try to come to our conclusions based on facts, evidence and reason but we are aware that complete certainty is unattainable. But practically speaking we live as if our conclusions are correct. If this is what faith is to them (Eric and Brandon correct me if I’m wrong) then I don’t see that as anything negative.

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  43. I suppose you’re right, howie.

    I come from a very fundamental background, something unklee and I have discussed some, and i can admit that likely makes it more difficult for me to identify with their perspectives.

    And I dont mean to suggest that I always operate under complete and perfect logic, but I just cant seem to grasp “perfect god lends hand in composition of very imperfect biography and guide book.” To me, it doesnt compute. Perhaps it’s me who hasnt thought it all the way through and not them.

    I do think brandon and portal and unklee are smart and terrific guys, I just think they make bigger leaps than i do. I’m not necessarily even stating that in a critical way, but i think ‘faith’ seems to suggest that as well.

    i will ponder it.

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  44. And now we helped Obama and Castro make up. Canadians eh?

    You think I don’t see through your plan? You’re not fooling ME! You lull us into a false sense of security by being terminally “nice,” then it’s, “RELEASE THE SASQUATCH!

    Like

  45. Que the quotations:

    “Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.”
    — Issac Asimov —

    “A thorough reading and understanding of the Bible is the surest path to atheism.”
    — Donald Morgan —

    Like

  46. I feel like I know Brandon and unkleE well enough by now to trust that they’re not being disingenuous.

    One can be disingenuous, even with one’s self.

    Like

  47. William, I’m actually not so sure I’m right. 🙂 I just think that the whole thing of worldviews isn’t as simple as a lot of us make it out to be. And I’m sure I even contradict myself sometimes by sometimes commenting as if it is simple. In fact maybe I’ll do that here:

    I don’t agree with the conclusions that Christians come to. My thoughts on God-belief are different than specific religions. God-belief itself doesn’t seem incredibly far-fetched, but I can’t get a good epistemic reason to validate a claim of belief in gods, so that’s why I am an atheist. As far as Christianity goes, one of the main things for me is that it just doesn’t seem to pass the Duck test – if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. Things like virgin births, water into wine, walking on water, resurrections, atonement beliefs, sticks turning into snakes, animals talking, languages being sprung forth in one afternoon, etc. look like the mythologies of the other religions which I rejected while I was a Christian – and I rejected them mainly because they looked mythological and too far fetched to me. So that’s why I said that I agree with what you are writing. And I certainly have even more reasons than for rejecting Christian belief and many of them are similar to your reasons.

    The only thing that I’m trying to articulate is that things like the Duck test unfortunately aren’t all that simple. How can I measure the duck test mathematically? I don’t know how. Brandon and Eric have their own reasoning and evidence for why they think that some form of Christian belief does pass the duck test. While I disagree with them, with something as complex and nebulous as a worldview which has so many moving parts I’m afraid I just can’t claim superiority over others as easily as I would a mathematical proof.

    Liked by 1 person

  48. I just wrote this on ColorStorm’s blog, William, to someone who asked how a perfect god could create an imperfect world, and it seems in keeping with what you’re saying here:

    I think I can explain that, David – you see, their god has these “mysterious ways” that he works in, and you just have to trust that this god, concocted by desert nomads, who believed the earth was a flat disk, covered by a dome, and that the sun revolved around it – knows what he’s doing, and that anything that might “look” like a mistake to the untrained eye, is actually part of a brilliant master-plan that we will never understand until after we die. They call it “faith.” The first step in acquiring faith requires that all sense of logic be thrown out of the window. As Mark Twain once so aptly put it, “Faith is believin’ what you know ain’t so.“

    BTW – watch what you say about Kermit! Kermie and I are tight —

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  49. In talking with Eric for instance I’ve gotten the feeling that he intellectually comes to his conclusions using facts, evidence and reason and this gives him about a 95% (a number he wrote on my blog a while ago) personal confidence level of his conclusions (note the key word “personal”).

    Unklee’s ‘facts’ are largely a sham and built upon a primary presupposition: his god exists, now let’s build a house around this ‘fact’.

    The fact that no Christian is able to demonstrate how their god, the character, Jesus of Nazareth is also the creator deity of the universe is evidence enough of their disingenuous approach to their religion/faith.

    People such as Unklee and Brandon are perfect examples of the cherry-pickers that are rife in every religion.

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  50. archaeopteryx1
    December 18, 2014 at 11:25 am
    “And now we helped Obama and Castro make up. Canadians eh?”

    You think I don’t see through your plan? You’re not fooling ME! You lull us into a false sense of security by being terminally “nice,” then it’s, “RELEASE THE SASQUATCH!“

    👿

    Like

  51. Well, I was going to comment from the Christian perspective on some of this, but then I got all distracted by all the falling snow on Nate’s blog. Ya know though, if I steer them just right, I can make a few little flake fall like a comet through Ark’s avatar head, so it’s not a total loss, heheh!

    Like

  52. this a.m., fox and friends did a segment on how a Satanist group has put up a xmas display, outraging xtians. F&F seem to believe that a religion has to meet certain criteria to be a real religion and Satanism just doesn’t cut it as real..

    weeeellll, if jeezzuuusss is truly “real”, then the only other “real” religion would be Satanism.

    duh!

    then, they did a segment on a billboard with santa holding an AK47, which they loved. you know, guns and Christianity, that’s what our country is founded on. LOL

    honestly, I can’t tell the christians from the Satanists anymore. they all look the same to me.

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  53. Thanks Logan. I thought your post was great.

    Man, Taylors are great! I learned on a Fender acoustic that I still have. It’s actually a great little guitar. Still has a good sound, and the action on it is probably the best I’ve ever played on an acoustic. Right now, I mostly play an Alvarez acoustic with a cutaway and a built in pickup. And I have a Les Paul that I really enjoy. It’s a ’93 or ’94 model, but it’s a reissue of a 1960 model. I don’t get to play it much though, because my amp needs some work. And honestly, with work and young kids, I just don’t make enough time for it right now. I hope to really get back into it one day though.

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  54. Nate,

    I’m glad you kept searching.

    I did the same when problems arose for me. I guess the difference between you and I is that the faith inside me managed to stay strong while I dumped the church’s version of what that faith ‘has to’ look like. Deep down I have always believed there is a God (way before I drank the Kool-aid), but I doubt my version of who or what that is resembles anything the churches of today say He is.

    I’m much more satisfied now with the tension of mystery. I know that I really don’t know all that much, and that’s ok.

    Meanwhile, I will applaud your continued journey deeper into truth.

    -C

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  55. Well said, Judah. I keep baby-stepping my way to where you seem to be at. So much mystery. The more I try to explain the more I realize I really have no clue!
    🙂

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  56. BTW, I do LOVE that it is snowing on your blog, Nate! I wish it was snowing up by me right now. White Christmas is the way for me!

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  57. White Christmas is the way for me!” – Speedo on the beach with a Maitai is the way for me! To each his own —

    M/C, Josh —

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  58. Happy holidays to you too, Josh!

    And JudahFirst — thanks for the comment! It’s great to hear from you again.

    I’m glad you’ve gotten to a good place in your journey as well. I think the common bond among truth seekers is not where we end up, but the journey we each take. Some people never bother to go on the journey at all, and I think it’s hard for us to identify with them. But people who ask and think about the tough questions have a certain comaraderie, even when we disagree on the end point.

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  59. Stephen,

    I noticed your comment and it prompted a few questions in my own mind.

    – How would god have talked to him or anyone? An audible voice? voices within his own mind? or would god speak through his own internal dialogue like a thought?

    – can you elaborate more on your comment? It’s been a little while since I last read nate’s post, so I am not entirely sure what you mean exactly, or whether your comment was sarcastic or serious…

    thanks

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  60. Lately I’ve felt that certain things make more sense with an agnostic/atheist worldview while others tend to look better through a Christian worldview. Where the truth is I’m not quite sure.

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  61. “Lately I’ve felt that certain things make more sense with an agnostic/atheist worldview while others tend to look better through a Christian worldview.”

    G’day Matt, I’m interested in your comment here, because that is how I feel, but I find few people who think the same. Most people, whether believers or unbelievers, seem to want to argue that all the evidence points their way. But I believe there is evidence and arguments both ways.

    It then remains to decide what to do with that assessment. Some say we must remain agnostic, but I think life is all about making choices despite uncertainty. So when I assess the evidence, I conclude that the matters which support christian theism are more significant (by quite a big amount IMO) than the matters which support atheism, so I remain a christian, But I can understand that others assess the balance differently.

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  62. Thanks unkleE, its been rough journey. I grew up a believer, even attended the same very fundamental church that Nate did for a while. Lately I find more errors in scriptures and other problems than I would like to, however there are still certain things that make more sense to me with God/Jesus still being who the bible claim them to be. My faith has been really shaken lately and I don’t like it at all, but would rather seek the truth than the comfort of a lie.

    I’ve always enjoyed your input here and fully intend on spending some time over at your blog reading more of what you have to say.

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  63. Good to hear from you Matt, and congrats on the new baby! Hope you guys are doing okay.

    I’m glad UnkleE chimed in, because I think his perspective on things like this is important. He’s right that some people overstate the case for their particular belief set and it’s something to be very mindful of. Obviously, I still think the balance of the evidence points toward there being no god, but I can understand why some don’t see it that way. In particular, I think that things like deism, pantheism, and panentheism make more sense than anything in the “revealed” religions. While there are some things about the depiction of Jesus that I admire, there are other things that I find very problematic. It’s just hard for me to attribute anything in Christianity to the divine. But again… that’s just me. The one thing I feel most certain about is that it’s okay if we don’t figure out the ultimate truth, even though it can be fun to look for it.

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  64. Hi Matt, I can understand it has been “a rough journey”. I am fairly familiar with Nate’s story, so if you went to the same church, I can appreciate some of how it has been for you.

    “My faith has been really shaken lately and I don’t like it at all, but would rather seek the truth than the comfort of a lie.”

    I don’t see how anyone can really think differently to that. CS Lewis (a great source of wisdom for me) once wrote something to the effect that if truth and God seem to be diverging, follow truth – and you’ll find that was where God was all along.

    I have followed a similar path in reviewing my beliefs, but I didn’t face as deep issues as you and Nate because i started from a different place. I wasn’t brought up christian though I was sent to Sunday School (my mum thought it was the right thing), and when I began to follow christianity in my mid teens, it was a more moderate form (no inerrancy, no strong views on evolution, no cult-like features, etc) so reviewing everything and changing quite a lot was never all that threatening – though my wife worried about me a few times!

    I have found once I accept that God works on earth generally through fallible human beings, and that the Bible is a very human book, inspired and used for a divine purpose, most of the problems diminish. The biggie is of course evil and suffering, but the biggie’s the other way are the origin and design of the universe, humanity (consciousness, ethics, freewill, etc), Jesus and people’s experiences of God.

    Obviously Nate and others here assess those things differently, as he has just said, and as doubtless you know, but there is another way of looking at it!

    Best wishes.

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  65. @Matt.

    “Lately I’ve felt that certain things make more sense with an agnostic/atheist worldview while others tend to look better through a Christian worldview.”

    In the search for this so-called truth, the religious person inevitable comes up against stuff like this, and contrary to what the likes of William Lane Craig – and unklee – will tell you, cannot be explained away.

    http://valerietarico.com/2014/12/30/who-when-why-10-times-the-bible-says-torture-is-ok/

    All the best for 2015 . May the path you choose eventually be superstition free. Best of luck.

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  66. Matt, all the best on your journey. As a believer and fellow seeker, I have thought alot about God often over the years. I find despite the mystery I still believe in Christ, and I simply can’t deny that in me. So really for me the question is now how do I respond to this. All the best for the new year.

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  67. Arkenaten,

    I agree, there are terrible, hard to fathom things in the bible, particularly in the Old Testament. I struggle with that. I also struggle with things in the NT, for example how the actual bible as we know it was formed, when it was and by whom, seems suspect to me. Also errors in the NT that Nate has mentioned several different times.

    However I still think our natural world works together far to well for everything to have began out of some random event and evolution took control.

    Still working my thoughts and believes out, nice to have an open place like this to explore and discuss.

    Happy New Year, and thanks Nate for hosting this place.

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  68. Matt,

    However I still think our natural world works together far to well for everything to have began out of some random event and evolution took control.

    I sometimes vacillate between an agnostic/atheistic worldview and a deist worldview. I get where you’re coming from with that. In fact, there are a lot of days I could be classified as a deist because I wonder at how this all got started. Though, to be honest, I’m not sold on fine-tuning. It seems a huge leap to me from there to Yahweh and Jesus, though. It seems a huge leap for me to assign any attributes to a deity. If the most I can say that I might know about a deity is that it started the Universe as we know it I become uncertain that there is such a deity. Especially when I begin to consider that this may not be the only Universe. And when I consider that there might be an unlimited amount of universes. Then I’d say that our Universe and the world we live in could be a matter of random chance. Kind of like winning the lottery.

    Just my rambling thoughts. I do that. Ramble, I mean.

    Happy New Year to everyone!

    Like

  69. However I still think our natural world works together far to well for everything to have began out of some random event and evolution took control.

    Fine, so be a deist. No atheist can say either way that there is no creator. My own view is that, based on the evidence ( presented) there certainly are no gods as described. And most certainly no man-god as per the biblical gospels – no matter what you have been ( sadly) indoctrinated to believe concerning the ‘evidence’.

    When presented with the facts the average christian is either ignorant of where their beliefs actually derive ( re the history of the bible) and are unwilling to conduct serious investigation and begin to face these difficulties with an open and completely honest frame of mind.
    Because you know what happens to those that do, don’t you?

    You become a ‘Nate’. ( if you are very fortunate, you might get to like Jimi Hendrix as well, but that’s a bonus, don’t count on it)

    happy ano novo

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  70. I also struggle with things in the NT, for example how the actual bible as we know it was formed, when it was and by whom, seems suspect to me.

    Matt, would you like more information on that, because I have several sources to which I could direct you, but I don’t want to inundate you if you have no interest – just say the word —

    I don’t try to convince anyone of anything, I just lay the information out there and let them decide for themselves.

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  71. However I still think our natural world works together far to well for everything to have began out of some random event and evolution took control.

    “This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise.”

    ― Douglas Adams ―
    “The Salmon of Doubt”

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  72. I would love more reading material on it, now if I could only find soneone that could get me more time for the study! Seriously share away here or via emai mattpair at Gmail . I know enough about it to be bothered and interested.

    I could classify myself currently as a deist who is still attending a Christian church and attempting to practice the religion. Nate was at this point for some while I believe. We had lost touch durring this time and I only know about it from his writings.

    Nate thank you for having this place to discus our truth journeyes if you will. As you know finding believers that will try to work these things out with you is very very hard. An open forum like this where differing views are expressed and studied is more valuable than most appreciate. I know it’s been a struggle but we need to find time to hang out, I miss you and the family. Even when we’ve disagreed you’ve been a man with honor and I respect that more than you know.

    This is a good new year that I look forward to studying in and growing my beliefs.

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  73. Even when we’ve disagreed you’ve been a man with honor and I respect that more than you know.” – clearly you do know Nate, as I’ve seen him bend nearly backward to be fair and keep discussions on a civil level. I could say I wish I were more like him, but that wouldn’t be true – I’m much happier being the snarky curmudgeon everyone has come to know and love.

    I know you mentioned the NT specifically, Matt, but since your time is limited, let me start you with the OT, and how much of it – especially the first five books – came to be, and then we’ll move on to the NT.

    I suggest you learn what you can about the Documentary Hypothesis, and how four separate groups, known as the Yahwist Source, the Elohist Source, the Documentary Source, and the Priestly Source contributed to the writing of all five of the books attributed to Moses, who, if he ever actually existed, never penned a word, as he would have lived a full 250 years before the Jews developed the ability to read and write.

    The first source I would recommend for that would be the Bible itself – but not the KJV, as you’ll never hear a word of it there – but rather the Catholic Bible, “The New American Bible.” Despite the fact that Mother Church seems to play “Hide-the-Priest” with pedophiles, it is surprisingly forthcoming as to how, why, when and by whom the Bible was written. For example, in Early Genesis, where Abraham goes to Egypt and works out a lend-lease deal with Pharaoh for his wife, in the late 2000’s BCE, and was rewarded with livestock, including camels, the NAB is quick to point out, in a footnote, that the camel wasn’t domesticated until around 1000 BCE. I’ve never known a Bible to be that honest. In the Preface section to it’s book, the NAB goes into great detail about the four sources who composed those first five books.

    The second source I would offer you (only two of many, but you DID mention time constraints) would be the work of Steven Diamattei. I’ve had personal conversations with Steve, and as a biblical scholar, he has made it a life’s project to go through the Bible, verse by verse, and sort out the contradictions, many of which are due to two or more groups writing about the same event, from different perspectives.

    You could begin here:
    http://contradictionsinthebible.com/studying-the-bible-scientifically-or-objectively/

    When you’re ready, get back to me about the NT.

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  74. Sorry, Matt – that was Steven Dimattei, not “Diamattei” – somehow I slipped an “a” in there —

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  75. belief in the bible due to a vast and complex universe seems strange to me. A belief in a creator or in creators due to a vast and complex universe can make sense to me, though.

    The bible comes from men. When people say, “god says… whatever,” what they really mean is, “this book that some guys wrote, say that god said… whatever…”

    It’s a book of claims at best. If god did have those men write it, then it’s god’s indirect word, at best.

    If we can recognize the good in the bible and if we can recognize the bad in the bible, then maybe we don’t need it as much as we’ve been raised to believe. At some point, after it’s all boiled down, faith in the bible is no better than faith in any other religion. As all can claim theirs is better or unique some how. all can claim martyrs. All can claim longevity. all can claim growth or devout followers, all can claim that their issues are either misunderstandings or rooted in misguided or wayward followers. and all claim that faith is needed.

    would a christian expect a muslim to part with the koran if the christian was able to show internal issues within the koran or show that the koran contains historical, logical or scientific errors? If a christian had pointed out such issues withing the koran, would the christian expect a person with a “good and honest heart” to set their past religion aside and recognize it as a false religion?

    if so, would the christian be willing to do the same thing?

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  76. A belief in a creator or in creators due to a vast and complex universe can make sense to me, though.

    Of course, William, you’re certainly entitled to your opinion, but think it through – you’ve already acknowledged the vastness and complexity of the universe, how would any entity, or even a cadre of such entities, achieve such a creation? And why? To populate a single planet, full of naked apes, running around killing each other?

    And no, you and I are not going to get into an argument, I just want to be sure you’ve considered all of the ramifications of your statement, for if you have, you’re free to believe whatever you like without any objection from me, and that includes the Easter Bunny (but I DO wish you’d say something to him about asking that damned Energizer Bunny to dial it back a notch – I would, but I don’t speak Rabbit).

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  77. arch, I agree, I was just saying that I can understand it when people believe in a creator. It’s just that using the universe as the biggest evidence for a creator is still a far cry from the creator the bible speaks of.

    I’m saying that if we all agreed that intelligent design was the way to go, it still doesn’t support Christianity or any other religion.

    I dont believe in a creator. In some ways i wish i did and I dont even think that there cant be a creator. Whether there’s a creator or not is not something i lose sleep over. I suppose I’m agnostic, with leanings toward atheistic, but I dont get bothered if people if people believe in a deity of sorts; I can see it, even if i dont believe it myself.

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  78. Well, then I obviously misunderstood everything you said.

    I DO have a sufficiently open mind (a little crack, anyway) to realize that if there were an ant in my house, it would also disbelieve that anything so vast and complex as an entire house could ever have been created, and would be unable to fathom how such an improbable thing could possibly be accomplished.

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  79. nate, could you be a super duper nice guy and moderate that comment please?
    I promised arch Kathy updates, I thought this one might be one he could sink his teeth into.

    that would be swell.

    p.s. I beat resident evil 5
    i loved that game

    you truly are one of the most civil human beings on the interent…
    I bet jeezzuuuusss misses you a lot.
    still, he has other friends,
    he’ll be o.k.

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  80. Now what is it exactly that I’m supposed to sink my fangs into? And if Kathy, will it give me rabies?

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  81. Thanks 🙂

    That’s cool about Resident Evil 5. I haven’t played a Resident Evil game in forever… maybe I should check one out again soon. Right now, I’m playing the Walking Dead Season 2. I think they’re great games, though the play control is very unique. And the graphics look much more like a graphic novel than a typical video game, which is weird at first, but I’ve come to like it.

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  82. Then if you get a chance, check out this one. It’s written by Robert Kirkman, the same guy who writes The Walking Dead, and it’s the best superhero comic I’ve ever read. There are 9 of these collections out right now. It’s really well written and has great art. I think you’d like it.

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  83. I love the walking dead and chris hardwicks show so I’ve seen and heard about him.
    thanks for the tips.
    I don’t know about you, but
    i’m so happy the holidays are over so I can focus on real life.

    lol. 🙂

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  84. Hi Wendy,

    Thanks for the comment. No, I’ve never formally studied logic. I guess the closest I came was an intro to philosophy class my freshmen year of college. My degrees are actually in business management and information systems. But religion (Christianity in particular) has always been really important to me, and for many years, I was a Bible class teacher and occasional preacher. In 2010, I started on my own little informal “seminary-style” study, which eventually led me away from Christianity.

    Anyway, thanks for stopping by, and feel free to comment here any time! 🙂

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  85. Since I have opened this “Pandora’s” box of study, here is one I’m struggling with: Why had God gone silent?

    For all of the jewish people’s history God was very active/vocal with them, up to the point of Christ. Prophets, miracles, even speaking directly to folks, why now this 2000 year silence?

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  86. Actually, God “went silent” a couple hundred years before Jesus.

    It was during this period that the intertestamental/apocalyptic writers took over … and developed many of the beliefs/doctrines that are common in today’s churches — hell and satan in particular, but other beliefs as well.

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  87. because god had some people write a series of letters and books on his behalf, and after other men compiled select letters and books, god doesnt need to exert all that energy speaking to his beloved creation face to face or even with his own voice.

    he loves us so much, but we just arent worthy to hear the voice of deified perfection.

    seems like I was told something along those lines.

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  88. even “Pharisee” is aramaic for “persian.” I suspect it’s becuase of their heavily persian influence when it comes their stance on judaism.

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  89. Its crazy, it really is. I know for the most part this is preaching to the choir if you will, as there are very few christians that read or respond here. Please excuse me as I am in the process of challanging beliefs I’ve held all my life; sometimes I just need a place to say (type) them out loud.

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  90. Yeah, you’re always welcome here, Matt. 🙂

    It’s a great question — if God communicated directly to people at some point in the past, why would he ever move away from that to a written communication (especially at a time when so few people could read) that’s limited to specific languages, and not preserve the originals in some way? Because the communication isn’t two-way, there’s no way to receive clarification or explanation, which results in a tremendous number of different sects, all of which are confident their way is the best.

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  91. you know, i’m looking it up again, and I guess the sources i read that from dont look as iron clad as perhaps they should. now i am also reading things that say pharisee means “separated,” or something similar.

    oh well, it’s like arguing over whether mothra looks more realistic or if godzilla looks more realistic.

    I’ll keep reading on it though.

    anyone else have any insight here?

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  92. Yeah, I don’t know enough about it to say either way. It’s definitely interesting… And I think the influence of Zoroastrianism on Judaism is pretty undeniable (as far as I know).

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  93. William, it was the Persians (Iranians) who freed the Jews captive in Babylon. They worship Ahura Mazda – Google him, and see how the precepts of that religion bled over into the Hebrew philosophy.

    Ahura Mazdā is identified with the beneficent spirit and directly opposed to the destructive one. He is all-wise, bounteous, undeceiving, and the creator of everything good. The beneficent and evil spirits are conceived as mutually limiting, co-eternal beings, the one above and the other beneath, with the world in between as their battleground. In late sources (3rd century BC and onward), Zurvān (“Time”) is made the father of the twins Ormazd and Ahriman (Angra Mainyu) who, in orthodox Mazdaism, reign alternately over the world until Ormazd’s ultimate victory.

    Something of this conception is reflected in Manichaeism, in which God is sometimes called Zurvān, while Ormazd is his first emanation, Primal Man (Adam?), who is vanquished by the destructive spirit of darkness (da debbil) but rescued by God’s second emanation, the Living Spirit (Jesus?).

    http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/10323/Ahura-Mazda

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  94. William, thanks for your confidence in me. 😉

    I didn’t really study much on the Pharisees for my book. I do know they did not accept the notion of a great supernatural power hostile to God (i.e., Satan), but beyond that, I don’t have a lot of information.

    I do disagree with a statement on the forum (Nate’s 2nd link) that says the Pharisees were “Zoroastrianized” Jews because the Zoroastrians DID believe in a supernatural evil spirit (Agra Mainyu).

    However, as far as the etymology of the word, I’m ignorant.

    If you’re asking about Zoroastrianism in general, there is considerable information on the internet.

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  95. William, are you interested in the etymology of the word pharisee or are you interested in the connection between Zoroastrianism and Judaism?

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  96. Matt – if I may, I would like to respond to your query a little later this evening after the rest of my world goes away.

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  97. Perhaps we are looking at this from different perspectives. I understood his original statement to be that “pharisee” was aramaic for “Persian.” Nate seemed to disagree and provided a couple of links related to the meaning and etymolgy of the word.

    Then you gave some history on Ahura Mazda and I thought perhaps I had missed something in the “translation.” 😉 So to clarify, I asked William if he was interested in the word or the history.

    I suppose, in a sense, they are related but I saw them as two different topics.

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  98. “Why had God gone silent?”

    Hi Matt, I wanted to have a go at this question, and particularly the implication some people may infer that God isn’t there.

    1. First, has God gone silent? Many people say he’s just as vocal as ever. I don’t find it that way, and neither apparently do you, but if other people do, we have to be a little careful in drawing conclusions I think.

    2. It’s possible we overstate how much God spoke in OT times. (a) Perhaps people inferred thoughts they had were from God whereas you and I wouldn’t make that inference? (b) We know OT characters also felt God was silent or inactive – e.g. the Psalms are full of cries to God to hear and answer. (c) Many OT scholars think that some of the actions ascribed to God were not historical, or were exaggerated.

    3. But even if God is indeed more silent than he was in the past, how does that lead to an argument that he’s not there? Does God have to act exactly as I think he ought? I can’t see how there’s any reasonable argument there. For a reasonable argument, we’d have to be able to justify why we have that expectation of God, and I’ve never seen that done. There is an enormous difference between not understanding something or something not happening the way we expect, and an argument that that thing doesn’t exist.

    I wouldn’t say I’m committed to any of those explanation (except probably #3), but I think there are many ways to explain this dilemma that don’t have any detrimental effect on christian faith.

    Thanks.

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  99. Finally got my avatar thing to work! I’ve been speaking with a friend that was a Christian and is going through the same things I am right now it is been uplifting to hear somebody else going through similar struggles. I also reached out to a Jewish friend to discuss their view of hell heaven and the afterlife what is surprised me the most is not the answers that I found but the realization that today’s Christian preachers and teachers are knowingly lying to their congregations. They twist and manipulate scriptures to present their own version of the Bible

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  100. Matt, you should consider checking out some of the information on NeuroNotes blog, https://victorianeuronotes.wordpress.com/ – Victoria is about 10 years out of her departure from being DEEPLY embedded in Christianity, and has a lot of valuable information from which you might benefit. Preachers have learned to use vocal cadence and music tempo to generate suggestibility in their audience, and you’d be amazed at the flow of neurotransmitters that goes on inside the heads of the religious.

    Liked by 1 person

  101. Also, you might a lot out of the blog of a good friend of ours and excellent writer, Matt Barsotti – Google “Jericho Brisance” – both his “Journey” and his five-post article on his youngest daughter’s birth issues, as found in “Paisley” are very highly-recommended reads.

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  102. Thanks Archaeopteryx1,

    going to check those two out. Honestly there is so much to read here of Nate’s I’m pretty happy. Well as happy as you can be when challenging/shifting your entire worldview.

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  103. Wow, I’ve spent the last hour over at Jericho Brisance reading his journey articles, i’m about 6 or 7 into the list. Thanks so much for that suggestion.

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  104. Were something of a family here, we help each other – you haven’t met the weird uncle yet, but then you really never know when Ark will drop by.

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  105. Yeah, I’m glad you’re finding some stuff of value here, Matt. And I’m also glad you took Arch’s suggestion to check out the Jericho Brisance blog. It’s got a lot of great content.

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  106. UnkleE, thanks for offering your perspective on the silence issue. I’m glad you’re here to help give Matt a different take on it.

    To your 3rd point, I would argue that we can make some assumptions about what Good would likely do under certain circumstances.

    For instance, if we say that God created everything and considers humans the pinnacle of that creation, then we can assume he’s interested in our well-being. If we also take to heart the claim that he wants a relationship with mankind, then I think it’s reasonable to think that he would each out to us in some way, probably the most direct at his disposal.

    There are other points as well, but those are some of the main ones that make his hiddenness a problem for me. Though I know you feel differently about the conclusion, do you think it’s possible and reasonable to make any inferences about what God would or wouldn’t do, or do you think we’re pretty much unable to do that kind of conjecture at all?

    Thanks!

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  107. How do/did you guys deal with burn out/ info overload. Right now the wife and I are reading so much, challenging so much it can be a bit overwhelming.

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  108. Sometimes you just have to walk away for a little bit and process everything. You’re probably getting more overload than most of us did. For instance, it took me longer too find comprehensive sources when I was going through it. I hadn’t found some of these blogs and other sites that do such a nice job of compiling information. So it took me a little longer too find everything.

    You guys may want to call it a night and just start talking through everything. You’re always welcome to give me a call too, if you ever want to talk through it with someone who’s come out the other side of it.

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  109. Hi Nate, thanks for your continuing welcome to my “alternate” opinion – I do appreciate it.

    “I would argue that we can make some assumptions about what God would likely do under certain circumstances”

    I would say we can make certain interesting speculations that we may be able to make the basis of an argument, but we need to do the work and make the argument, not just mention the speculation and think that is compelling.

    “If we also take to heart the claim that he wants a relationship with mankind, then I think it’s reasonable to think that he would each out to us in some way, probably the most direct at his disposal.”

    If we knew what his criteria are for acceptance, then we could reasonably expect a just God to give us all a reasonable opportunity to meet those criteria. That’s why I disagree with the more rabid exclusivist evangelical christians (don’t you just love the jargon!!??) But since I believe what he requires is to respond to the light we are given, then I don’t see that your point is at all strong – it’s not dependent on knowledge but on “heart” response.

    “do you think it’s possible and reasonable to make any inferences about what God would or wouldn’t do, or do you think we’re pretty much unable to do that kind of conjecture at all?”

    I think this is a very interesting and worthwhile question. Obviously we will make inferences about God, so the question is how much weight should we put on them? I think clear contradictions or clear causation are quite strong inferences, whereas knowing God’s supposed motivations are very poor ones unless we have some revelation from him.

    In the first category I would put the problem of evil (there is lots of crap in the world, and while we cannot claim to be able to fully show that God hasn’t got a reason for it, we can say it hurts us and makes us doubt God) and the origin of the universe (while we can’t say that science will never explain it, there are good scientific and logical reasons why it probably can’t). So I think those arguments for and against God are strong.

    But God is by definition totally beyond us in power and knowledge, so basing an argument on our vague idea of what we think God “should” do is like an anaerobic bacterium theorising about relativity. Such speculations are fun but hardly powerful.

    Thanks for the question. What would be your answer to the same question?

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  110. I found this interesting 🙂

    Dr.  Wayne Dyer –

    In a mother’s womb were two babies.One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery?”The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”

    “Nonsense” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?”

    The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”

    The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”

    The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”

    The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover if there is life, then why has no one has ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”

    “Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”

    The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists then where is She now?”

    The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her this world would not and could not exist.”

    Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.”

    To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and you really listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.”

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  111. I saw this twins story on facebook, I’m not sure who actually wrote it though, I’m thinking there were different variations of the same parable. I think Wayne Dyer just adopted it.

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  112. That parable is cool newport. And as Wayne Dyer and perhaps you would agree, it would seem a bit absurd to think of any mother punishing her child for doubting there was life after the womb. If there is a Divine Mother awaiting on the other side of death it would end up being a pleasant surprise. Just like babies are actually incapable of really knowing what comes after the womb so too there may be something beyond which we currently are capable of understanding. While we can say we know better because we as adults can reason, we’ll never know if there’s a realm above that reason. To me though that’s just “beyond us” and I think a proper epistemology puts that in the realm of the unknown. We’ve got a life to live here and many practical things to carry on with, so I focus on that.

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  113. haven’t got to all the comments yet, but I am interested in both, however just asking in the etymology of the word.

    I had read in a few places that Pharisee was aramaic for Persian, which would make sense considering the similarities, but now as i look more closely, it seems that this is probably not the case.

    Although the word being Greek for Separated also does not seem definite.

    Hope that clarifies my question.

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  114. and as for the parable, many will use such to argue for god and then LEAP to their god, as if there are only two possible scenarios: their god or no god, their religion or no religion.

    This of course is false.

    Maybe there is a god. maybe it’s a logical conclusion. But how many, what are they or it like? Do they/it want anything of us?

    and why would we have to rely on the tales of men to gain knowledge of this creator from all, while rejecting all the other tales from all the other men who claim to speak for a different god?

    In truth, the possibilities are endless. It could be no god, or your god, or his god or her god or their gods and they could be all powerful or some powerful, perfect or imperfect and everything in between.

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  115. Here are some other problems with the illustration:

    While the baby who thinks there’s life after delivery is right, it’s only by sheer luck. If there had been a 3rd child in the womb with them, her idea of what might happen after delivery could have been very different. With their limited knowledge, there’s no way to determine which of the 3 is right. It’s only by coming through the other side that you can find out. And Howie’s right — would any parent punish the babies that didn’t believe?

    Another problem has to do with the parents. While a child is still in utero, the parents aren’t deciding to remain hidden from the child — there’s just no physical way they can avoid it. And even then, most parents-to-be will still speak to their child during the pregnancy, etc. So while their interaction is limited, they still do what they can. Contrast that with the Christian god — a being who has supposedly spoken directly to people in the past (and maybe even today). There’s no reason for this god to remain silent, but he does. No human parent would do that.

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  116. I was thinking about this “Pandora’s Box”… So many are afraid to look, scared of challenging their beliefs. To the point that when you are studying and searching they are afraid to study along or give a serious look to the objections you have. It’s sad really, a life of fear is no life at all.

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  117. There’s no reason for this god to remain silent, but he does.

    So true, Nate. Well, honestly, I’m not sure if there actually is “no reason” for Him to remain silent. But, he certainly seems to do so. I was watching a seminar with Robert Farrar Capon recently, and someone asked “Why did God have to die on the cross?” Capon’s answer was simple, “Why does God have to do anything? The answer is he doesn’t have to do anything.” His point was that God, if He does exist, is likely “required” to do nothing. He simply does them because he wants, for His own reasons, in His own “time”. One of the reasons I love Capon, and the late Internet Monk, Michael Spencer, is for his hones assessment that we simply don’t, and will never, have that answers to a lot of these questions about “Why does God…?” I have, in my time, spent many an hour trying to convince myself and others that I had the answers to some of those questions. I don’t. Plain and simple. I also don’t necessarily know why I continue to believe in the face of some monumental doubt and anger I have toward God sometimes. The truth is, though, my faith remains. A lot of it is simply because The Good News is really, to me, Good News. There’s no other teaching that brings everyone into the fold the way Jesus did. All others, including much of the history of Christians, teach that we need to make ourselves better in order to receive rewards or accolades. What about the people that never do? What about the people that have no chance? What about the people, like me, who feel they have every opportunity in the world to make themselves better, yet the actual “get better” piece continues to elude despite decades of trying so hard? Jesus meets us where we are, and announces His kingdom is for ALL, especially those who have tried and know, for whatever reason, they can’t change themselves or the world around them the way they would like. For all of these reasons, this is Good News that continues to give me hope in the face of a world that, in no other worldview, offers any hope for many people who simply don’t get the bounce that others do.

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  118. Hey Josh!

    It’s always great to hear from you. 🙂

    It’s true that God doesn’t “have” to do anything. But when we ask those kinds of questions, we’re not really implying that God is required to do anything — it’s really just shorthand for asking how rational these claims are. It’s claimed that God is good, God is love, and God wants a relationship with all of us. Okay — that’s the claim. Now we compare it to our available evidence, and we see that God does not do the things one would do when in a relationship. I mean, how can you be in a relationship with someone you’ve never communicated with?

    I think it’s important to remember that Christianity is not the default position. It makes specific claims, and those claims should be backed by good evidence before anyone’s expected to accept them. That’s why these questions about why God is hidden if he wants a relationship are meaningful — they directly call into question the legitimacy of Christianity’s claims. Sure, God could simultaneously want a relationship and still remain hidden, but that’s contradictory behavior, and it’s grounds for disbelief. It would be immoral to “punish” someone who didn’t believe because of it.

    All others, including much of the history of Christians, teach that we need to make ourselves better in order to receive rewards or accolades. What about the people that never do? What about the people that have no chance? What about the people, like me, who feel they have every opportunity in the world to make themselves better, yet the actual “get better” piece continues to elude despite decades of trying so hard? Jesus meets us where we are, and announces His kingdom is for ALL, especially those who have tried and know, for whatever reason, they can’t change themselves or the world around them the way they would like.

    Can you illustrate where Jesus teaches this? Obviously, many denominations would disagree with your take on the gospel. There are a number of passages where Jesus lists those who will be damned.

    And honestly, I think humanism does a better job of this than any religion I know of. Humanism just puts a focus on people’s lives — we’re all equal just by being human. There are no stipulations on nationality, creed, or class. You are welcome and accepted just by being human, and the humanist community is there to help you in whatever way they can. There are some churches who do great benevolent work, but our secular government does as well. It tries to help those who are most in need, take care of those who can’t take care of themselves, and provide opportunities in work and education for those who could use a leg up.

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  119. Nate-
    You ask a lot of great questions. I agree that Scripture, and Jesus representation in the NT, contradict and “speak out of both sides of it’s mouth”. As I mentioned above, my faith remaining with me is not necessarily a matter of me looking at all the evidence and coming to the conclusion that Christianity is true. You have looked at the evidence, and come to a different conclusion. You are coming at this from the perspective that God will place people in “Hell” based on not having some information. I tend to lean more toward what unkleE ascribes to, though I won’t claim to represent what he thinks. I imagine we differ on a great many things. You are certainly correct, from my perspective, that, if God exists, He doesn’t provide the same “information” to everyone, nor does He seem to provide the same “relationship” to everyone. I’m not attempting to answer those questions. They are there. I’m not necessarily going to debate the teaching of Scripture, just offer what is one perspective on how to read it. Is mine the “right” way? I don’t know. Maybe other Christians are “right”? I could offer texts in support of my view. You and others could offer texts in support of an opposing view. Agreeing on everything is something that’s not going to happen. I think a lot of us seem to be okay with that. Just trying to offer another perspective than the one that I think is typically trotted out 🙂

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  120. the biggest questions to me are,

    – is god?

    – why god and gods or something else?

    – why should we believe the men who wrote the bible and reject the men who wrote every other religious book?

    I guess we could also ask,

    – are stories of vampires manipulated by real vampires, only to make us think they’re only stories, when they’re actually real?

    – if vampires were real, why would they manipulate stories and stay hidden? but i guess then, why would vampires do anything?

    it seems that some questions seek answers and other questions seek to hide answers.

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  121. You don’t gotta have faith, or gotta do anything, SPG. God either is or isn’t. He’s either reconciled humanity, or he hasn’t. I don’t accept Nate’s view of the world and truth because it leaves me with no hope. You don’t have to accept anything I or anyone else has said. I may be right. I may not be right. I’m not sure that “truth” depends on me being able to convince anyone of anything. We all seem to be searching, so I’m offering a perspective. If it sounds like everything that’s been trotted out before, then I retract that statement and acknowledge my lack of originality.

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  122. Hi William,

    You and I have discussed enough for me to know we aren’t going to agree on the big questions, but I thought I’d comment on a couple of things you said.

    “… you gotta have faith, eh faith, eh faith!”

    I find it interesting how often this stereotype is repeated. It is true that many christians say this, but:

    1. Many do not. Many argue on the basis of evidence. You may not agree with the conclusions we draw from that evidence, but that doesn’t mean we think groundless faith is any use to anyone.

    2. If you investigate (i.e. ask the right questions) the beliefs of even fideist christians, you’ll find they do indeed believe in evidence. If you ask a fundamentalist christian if they believe there is good evidence for christianity, most will say there is. e.g. Luke’s and John’s gospels claim to present hard historical evidence and christians typically claim that historical evidence is reliable.

    So I think it is an unfair characterisation. I’m aware christians do the same to unbelievers, but I don’t think that is fair either. It seems to be a common human trait to bolster one’s own views by denigrating those of one’s opponents, and demonising them by mocking the poor forms of belief rather than addressing the better forms of that belief. But I don’t think it helps anyone.

    “why should we believe the men who wrote the bible and reject the men who wrote every other religious book?”

    On a more positive note, I enjoyed your questions, and I think there is a good answer to this one.

    We shouldn’t.

    If we are approaching belief from the outside, we should treat all books and claims the same – find the best evidence and the best conclusions of the best experts, and then draw a conclusion. In the case of assessing holy books, the New Testament offers more verifiable historical evidence than most religions – christianity is a religion of historical actions (which can be verified or falsified) as well as ideas (which are not easily verified or falsified) and has been subjected to an immense amount of scrutiny.

    The conclusions of secular scholars are that the significant details of Jesus’ life and teachings can be verified as well as history allows, large sections (mostly the miracles and many smaller details) can neither be verified nor falsified by historical assessment, and not very much that is crucial can be shown to be historically very doubtful (though some minor details can be). You wouldn’t always think that from the statements of sceptics, but if you examine the writings of experts, that is more or less what scholars conclude.

    On that basis, which is the same way I would assess any other holy book, I am willing to conclude that the New Testament is basically truthful (not necessarily 100% so) and the other holy books I have read (Koran, Book of Mormon and the writings of Bahá’u’lláh) do not contain as much truth (though I do think they contain some truth).

    I accept that you don’t come to the same conclusion, but I thought it worth sharing that there is a reasonable answer to your question.

    Thanks.

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  123. Nate-
    I honestly think our differing perspectives often boils down to whether or not we think we even need a savior. The older I get (granted, I’m not that old), the more I see my need for redemption, reconciliation. I know you and others have suggested maybe I’m being too harsh on myself and the world. I am, quite honestly, a mess. I think I have a pretty good idea what it is to be a decent person. And, I can fake it quite well. The problem is, I have to fight to pretend that I am that person that other people think I am. I have thoughts, desires and urges that I would never tell nearly anyone I know. Funny thing is, the closer I get to the few people who really know me, the more I find out they are not the person they pretend to be, either. I find that we are both very close, give it one traumatic push or another, to being the people we so often abhor. Now, that may not be you. If that’s the case, I relish that I could be the same. I wish I had that integrity inside and out. To quote a corny line from Superman to Lois Lane, I think our perspectives can be summed up mostly as: “You wrote that the world doesn’t need a savior. But, every day I hear people crying for one,” and, mostly, that’s me crying for one 🙂 It’s the hope. I’m lost without it.

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  124. And, aside from all the nasty crap I think about doing, there’s also all the hateful, manipulative, hypocritical, self-serving shit I do on a daily, almost hourly, basis 🙂

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  125. Hey Josh,

    I agree with you about our differing perspectives. I don’t see the need for any kind of savior.

    Look, no one’s perfect. Everyone has base motivations and desires from time to time. That’s part of being human. Call it innate depravity or our “lizard brain,” it’s all the same thing. It’s our emotional, instinctive response to certain things. Thankfully, we also have a rational side that tempers those instincts, and between the two, we can typically work out a balance that fits each situation we find ourselves in. Sometimes, we choose poorly and do something that hurts ourselves or someone else. But in most of those situations, the damage isn’t so severe that we can’t make amends and resolve to do better. This is just the human condition, and there’s no way to be saved from it. Even Jesus didn’t offer a cure. Does becoming a Christian make one perfect? Not at all! The solution supposedly comes after death. Well, how convenient!

    Sometimes we all make mistakes. I’m not trying to excuse that. But the dilemma you’re describing, Josh, is just the nature of being human. That’s nothing we should have to apologize for, and I resent the religions that say we should. Far from inspiring hope, I find Christianity to be a source of confusion and despair.

    You’re simply not as bad as you think you are.

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  126. Hi unkleE,

    William probably won’t answer till tomorrow morning, so I wanted to jump in and say that I think his “faith, faith, faith” comment was just a quote from the old George Michael song.

    Also, the denomination he came from is very similar to the one I left, so I think he would agree with you that many Christians value and think they have evidence. However, the evidence in question is rarely as good as most of these Christians think. You’ve done the research and know about the problems, but a number of Christians haven’t and don’t. Even the historical accuracy of the gospels is far from certain, and some things are simply false.

    Long story short, while Christians like you and guys like me and William have done the hard work of coming to terms with the facts about Christianity, a great many professing Christians haven’t. And for those people, I think Williams comment is applicable.

    Anyway, that’s what I took from it. 🙂

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  127. Nate-
    Your explanation that what I’m describing is simply a part of human nature is not at all helpful. I am sorry that you find Christianity to be a source of confusion and despair. That is exactly how I see your view of the world, though. So, I understand the sentiment.

    That you feel confident to claim you know I’m “not as bad as you think you are”, and that you feel comfortable flippantly dismissing a serious amount of self-reflection and intimate conversations with close friends basically with one unfounded sentence is almost insulting. You may have done a lot of the hard work in relation to evidence for Christianity. But, to be blunt, only arrogance could lead you to claim the knowledge about me that you claim in your last sentence.

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  128. Hi Nate, yes I wasn’t wanting to accuse William of anything, just wanting to make a point! I agree too that many christians only look superficially at evidence – but so do many non-believers! It’s a people thing, not just a christian thing. I try not to mis-characterise atheists, so I thought I’d make a point about being fair to christians too.

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  129. Josh I think Nate was just trying to be nice. Maybe you are really bad person there’s really no way for us to know over the Internet you come off as a sincere enough and nice guy and I think Nate is just trying to give you the benefit of the doubt. Don’t mistake his kindness as an insult.

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  130. I think it’s probably a fair assumption that all of us have done and said things that we wish we never did or said. I know for myself that this is the case anyway. But the past can’t be altered, only the present. I don’t think this takes away or minimises your self reflection. I mean you know yourself best 🙂 based on what you’ve expressed, I have come to similiar conclusions around my hypocrisy and past behaviour and sins, although how that looks like for you and me might be different. I relate your your thoughts on self capacity and ability and love and my own selfishness and sinfulness.

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  131. Josh, I think understand partly what your saying. The cruel, selfish and evil things I have done, and have wanted to do really can’t be resolved unless my heart changes. Because it’s not that I can’t stop and action (or lack of action). It’s that I simply don’t want to. I simply dont want to stop some things that are sinful and destructive and start other things instead that replace them. It’s the desire, and how can we change the intent of the heart? What we want? Even if I have the capacity to care for others, but I would rather seek my own self serving to others expense and my own destruction, how can such a thing be fought, when I don’t want to fight it? I believe God has to change the heart. If we didn’t need saving, then we wouldn’t need a saviour. And for me, this has to involve God saving me from myself.

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  132. Josh, it’s possible that you’re an evil douchebag, but from all the interaction we’ve had online, I’d bet that isn’t the case. I wasn’t trying to minimize anything you said or feel, and like you and newport have said, I also have feelings and urges that I don’t like and I’ve done many things that I’ve regretted. My only point is that this seems to be the case for every single person who’s ever lived. No one is perfect, nor can they be. It’s my position that while we should be ashamed and should atone for the specific things we’ve done wrong, we shouldn’t be ashamed or atone for simply being human. And I do think that some of what you’re referring to is just human nature.

    Again, if Jesus offers a solution for this, I’d love to hear about it. But as far as I know, Christians are still susceptible to human nature, so this “cure” Christianity offers seems a lot like snake oil to me.

    I’m not trying to insult you, and I apologize if that’s what I’ve done. But if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to offer one more illustration. To me, the reason you’ve given for hanging onto Christianity sounds a lot like the reasons people give for staying with abusive partners. The abuser makes sure the victim feels inferior and worthless so they’ll be thankful for any scrap of affection they receive from the abuser. That’s why I see Christianity as such a negative thing. It’s like Paul says in Romans 7, unless someone came along to tell you how bad you are, you wouldn’t have known. Christianity has to first make you think you’re sick — then, wouldn’t you know it, they offer the only cure in town.

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  133. UnkleE,

    Thanks for the reply. I agree with everything you just said — you’re right that people of all stripes are really good at having strong opinions while being ignorant of the facts. I may have misunderstood your comment to William a bit, so thanks for the follow up. 🙂

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  134. Nate as you know we’ve had discussions about this before, and the last thing I want to be is twofaced. To say one thing and do another I really don’t want to do that. And I have done it before. I just need to see where God takes me and be open to Him. And what happens, happens.

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  135. Nate, it’s rare that we disagree, but I have to in this case – I’ve always thought that Josh was an evil douchebag.

    Oh, hey Josh – good to see you. 🙂

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  136. Hi UnkleE,

    I guess I should clarify on this: “… you gotta have faith, eh faith, eh faith!”

    Paul made the comment, “you gotta have faith.” I wasn’t sure if he meant to or not, but I took it as a George Michael reference. My comment wasn’t a criticism of faith, but just a song reference to either George Michael or Limp Bizkit – whomever you prefer.

    I do believe that you look fo revidnece. And you’re right, we don’t agree, but I do believe you’re sincere and I also believe that I am. I do think that faith has it’s part in most people’s beliefs, but I also think that some conclusions and some faiths are more grounded than others – but that is also debatable.

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  137. “Funny thing is, the closer I get to the few people who really know me, the more I find out they are not the person they pretend to be, either. I find that we are both very close, give it one traumatic push or another, to being the people we so often abhor.” – josh

    I also find this to be true.

    We are human. Our bodies and brains are machines that operate off of chemicals and electrical currents. we have the potential for good and bad, just like a gun has the potential to be used legally or illegally.

    We all feel anger, lust, envy, happiness, sadness, joy, selfishness and selflessness. Maybe instead of faking it, you’re tempering it. even paul talked about this conflict, and jesus said it like, “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

    I do not know if your struggles are the same as mine or if yours are worse or less severe than mine, but we all have struggles. We have an idea of who we’d like to be and it takes effort to get there. Set the bar high enough and you’ll fall short from time to time – but that’s life.

    I say, don’t stay content, do not let yourself stagnate. Stubbornly press forward and achieve or die trying. Nothing eases that struggle except surrender; not religion, not prayer, not any book or meditation. If you’re trying, then there will be struggle.

    Stay committed, pick yourself when you stumble and get going again.

    i think that if the belief in an old book and its claims about a god-man help you press on, then use it and go on your way. But if that belief should fail, then you’d find another catalyst and keep going.

    your morals wouldn’t change because you’ve thought them through and act with reason toward others, which is why you don’t stone people, etc.

    underneath it all, we’re just people, with potential for love and for hate, for good and bad. What makes us different may be in which parts we strive for,

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  138. Nate-

    …the reason you’ve given for hanging onto Christianity sounds a lot like the reasons people give for staying with abusive partners. The abuser makes sure the victim feels inferior and worthless so they’ll be thankful for any scrap of affection they receive from the abuser. That’s why I see Christianity as such a negative thing. It’s like Paul says in Romans 7, unless someone came along to tell you how bad you are, you wouldn’t have known. Christianity has to first make you think you’re sick — then, wouldn’t you know it, they offer the only cure in town.

    But, Nate, you agree that humans are bad in a great many ways. We don’t need christianity for that, it seems based on your others’ admission on recent comments here. The question, for me, is, if we are bad and don’t seem to be getting better (you and I disagree there), what, if any, worldview speaks to that? The perspective of a great many religious, spiritual and humanistic beliefs is, basically, that we need to will and work our way toward becoming better, or enlightened, in some way. Maybe that’s by treating others better, driving ourselves toward improvement in certain areas, etc. For those, apparently you being among them, that see that does work, we can improve ourselves, I can see how belief like christianity would be depressing. However, for those like me who see that, even if there is some basic improvement in one area, there are numerous other areas always popping up that show more of my seemingly true nature: manipulating others in work or personal settings to get what I want; doing things that maybe my fiance wouldn’t even care about, but hiding them in secret for fear that she will disapprove; becoming violently angry over some little thing my fiance says or does; etc, etc, down the line.

    The truth is, whether it’s just human nature or not, I do a lot of very ugly things and I’m not getting any better. Had I grown up in a harsher environment, I can see how those tendencies could very easily have led to me being a much different, “worse”, person than I am. So, humanism, Buddhism, Islam – what I know of them simply offers no hope. You are asking about a “cure” Christianity offers. I don’t think it does offer a cure. At least not now, not one we can observe today. As you have observed, Christians can be just as bad or worse than anyone else. We’re not immune to any of it. I see Christianity offering hope amongst the chaos. Redemption and reconciliation with each other, all those whom we’ve harmed, all the parts of the world we have taken advantage of and destroyed. Do we see it now? No. Why don’t we see it now? I have no idea. Is it reasonable to look at the world and assume God cannot possibly exist, at least as he is described in Christian scripture? Absolutely. I certainly don’t think you are being unreasonable in your conclusions, Nate. In fact, were it not for my faith remaining in spite of many questions and doubts, I’d likely be where you are. I look at Jesus and I see a man who offers hope in a world of despair. He forgives in a world of condemnation. He calls out the proud and elite, and warns them their disgust and treatment of others will be their undoing if they are not careful. He teaches that God runs to the prodigal when the prodigal has wished his father dead, squandered all of his money and belongings. He teaches that God pays those who wandered in an hour from quitting time the same as those who have been busting their butt all day. He teaches that God roams the streets inviting everyone to his wedding feast, and only those who don’t want the dress robes or to attend the feast at all are the ones who are out.

    What is hell? Looking at God’s apparently scandalous grace, and applying that to my life, I see no way I can look at anyone else – anyone – and say, but for circumstances, I am any different than them. I see others sneering at people “beneath” them, Christians decrying the inclusion of anyone who doesn’t meet their standards. Those people, if this God of ridiculous grace actually exists, would likely choose to reject that God than accept the fact that He is indiscriminate with his grace. They will, like some of the wedding guests, sprint from the feast as quickly as possible. That attitude, of hating those who would offer grace because I see myself as better than others, is what I see as hell.

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  139. Thanks for the elaboration, Josh. I still don’t really understand what benefit you see in Christianity, though. Is it just that you see Jesus saying, “I accept you anyway”?

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  140. Josh,

    It looks like you choose to follow this God you believe exists partly because you believe he represents some form of good qualities and traits.

    If you were truly an awful guy and you thought this God represented what was full goodness wouldn’t you choose to reject him even though you know he exists?

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  141. the reason you’ve given for hanging onto Christianity sounds a lot like the reasons people give for staying with abusive partners.

    I meant to respond to this, saying that I certainly see how it looks that way. I can also see, reading what I write, that it reads that way. But, that is not the way I see it. I see it as a truth that frees me to be who I am, not worrying that my attempts at getting better aren’t working. It also frees me to love others without condition. They may try and try and try to get better, and continue to do things that are disappointing and fail. I can still love them and help them unconditionally.

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  142. Josh, you said the following:

    It also frees me to love others without condition. They may try and try and try to get better, and continue to do things that are disappointing and fail. I can still love them and help them unconditionally.

    The more you comment Josh the more you show us how evil and scary you are.

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  143. I appreciate what you’re saying, but I don’t see Christianity teaching that at all. The God of the Bible is a jealous god — in the OT, he annihilates those who don’t serve him. In the NT, we’re told that one must put God above all earthly relationships, we must be prepared to give up everything in service to him, and that only those who believe in Jesus and serve God will receive salvation. I don’t see the teaching that we are loved (and accepted) without condition.

    Furthermore, I think the only place to possibly find such an arrangement is in the earthly parent-child relationship. Even then, it’s not a given. The fact is, love and acceptance are conditional. You can’t be a first-class jerk to everyone and still be treated like everything’s fine. We all expect effort in our relationships, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

    I mean, I can see how the idea of unconditional love and acceptance is appealing. It’s just that Christianity seems to teach something so opposite. If God really did accept everyone unconditionally, then the Bible would teach that all are saved, regardless of their beliefs and actions. I think it’s hard to make the case that the Bible teaches anything like that. Instead, it tells us that simply through being human, we’re imperfect. And not just that we’re imperfect, but that we need salvation from that imperfect state. In other words, God made us broken, and then has the nerve to be disgusted with our brokenness.

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  144. It also frees me to love others without condition. They may try and try and try to get better, and continue to do things that are disappointing and fail. I can still love them and help them unconditionally.

    This also shows that you as a human are able to offer this compassion. And there are people in every religion and non-religion throughout time who have been able to demonstrate the same thing. We don’t need a god or religion for this — we simply need to recognize our shared humanity.

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  145. “It also frees me to love others without condition.” – josh

    if your wife and children love you, would you kill them or torture them?

    the love you speak about seems higher to me than the love god is said to give his creations, according to the bible.

    his love is full of conditions.

    John 14:15, John 15:14 “if you love me, you’ll everything i ask.”

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  146. well, nate, i dont know that god is disgusted, but he will punish you for being imperfect unless you believe in his bible and his son, that we only know about through other imperfect people. Even then, it’s also more than simply believing (James), one must also try a certain amount or know certain amount, all of which is debatable and not specified.

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  147. And Josh, I don’t want to seem overly argumentative or anything. I wish more people of all beliefs were like you — someone who’s willing to use the phrase “I don’t know” and who has empathy for others and their views. I simply ask a lot of these questions because this is a subject that interests us both. I’m not necessarily doing it to coerce you into changing your mind or anything.

    It may not be necessary to say any of that, but I wanted to be sure. I think highly of you. You’re a good guy, despite what your religion tells you 😉

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  148. Nate-
    Along with Michael Spencer and Robert Farrar Capon, I can only say that I understand my understanding of scripture is “unique”, and that I am likely both a hypocrite and speaking out of both sides of my mouth. It’s hard, in talking about a concept that I believe is, by default, beyond our ability to comprehend, to speak of such things in a way that makes all the pieces fit together for everyone. I’ll bet that confuses the issue even more!

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  149. Hmm… So let me ask you something a little more foundational: how do you know anything about God? Scripture, direct revelation, something else?

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  150. UnkleE,

    you said,

    “If we are approaching belief from the outside, we should treat all books and claims the same – find the best evidence and the best conclusions of the best experts, and then draw a conclusion. In the case of assessing holy books, the New Testament offers more verifiable historical evidence than most religions – christianity is a religion of historical actions (which can be verified or falsified) as well as ideas (which are not easily verified or falsified) and has been subjected to an immense amount of scrutiny.

    The conclusions of secular scholars are that the significant details of Jesus’ life and teachings can be verified as well as history allows, large sections (mostly the miracles and many smaller details) can neither be verified nor falsified by historical assessment, and not very much that is crucial can be shown to be historically very doubtful (though some minor details can be). You wouldn’t always think that from the statements of sceptics, but if you examine the writings of experts, that is more or less what scholars conclude.” – unkleE

    how did you determine that the bible was more accurate than other religious texts, or are you saying that only the NT is more historically verifiable than other religious texts? and if the latter, how did you determine that?

    and since the NT references the OT, why shouldn’t we include it along with the NT?

    as to the parts of the NT that are verifiable, what they essentially verify is that a man named jesus, who was believed by some to be a miracle worker or prophet of some type, lived in Israel during 1 to 33 AD.

    as you said, the parts that would actually verify his deity do not exist. His death is not even verifiable. only that a man names jesus lived during that time. It’s quite a lot to accept all that is said about him, by witness we dont even really know (or who may have not even been witnesses) claim about him.

    why is this different than the iliad, where we have real nations and a real city – should we accept that the gods interfered as well because it got some historic info correct? or could we only did that if it had more right than the NT?

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  151. and josh, to learn anything else in your life, or to validate any other claim regarding any other religion, dont you ask questions and dont you research to find answers?

    in that search and by asking those questions, say you had answers that didnt seem to add up or didnt make sense or if they appeared to be contradictions, would you just believe in those religions anyways, or would you discard them as nonsense?

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  152. Actually, it’s hard to say for sure that Jesus ever even lived. The mythicist position has some compelling points, though it’s by no means iron-clad. It just calls a whole lot into question.

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  153. right, i guess i was just giving that one benefit – plus I don’t doubt there was an actual guy, I just highly suspect that he wasn’t near what they make out or had even close to the amount of followers during his life.

    I have read that the romans typical custom was to leave bodies on the cross and let the rot and be bird picked and fly infested. jesus’ death on the cross isnt even certain and even if he was crucified, he most likely would have been left there – which would also explain why there may be no tomb of christ.

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  154. Josh, I’ve been reading all the comments and just wanted to quickly add something. Nate wrote: You’re a good guy, despite what your religion tells you. To me, therein lies the problem. You have allowed your religion (Christianity?) to judge you. And this is part of the reason that Christianity is harmful for many. They feel they must “live up to” certain standards and if they don’t, they are looked down upon or even condemned outright.

    You are correct — Jesus did paint a very welcoming picture. And if this is what speaks to you, then accept what he says and let the rest of it slide.

    Just my two cents. 😉

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  155. Hmm… So let me ask you something a little more foundational: how do you know anything about God? Scripture, direct revelation, something else?

    I wouldn’t say I know anything about God. My understanding of what he “is” or “is like” is constantly evolving. There seems to be a consistent theme throughout scripture that God is gracious. Numerous texts in the Hebrew Bible appear to aim to correct apparent misunderstandings: God promises to save all people through Abraham’s line, before anyone does anything or any Law is given. God doesn’t actually require sacrifices. God shows mercy even to those the Israelites see as completely unworthy (Ninevah). David is a man after God’s heart despite being an awful person. God set all of our iniquities on him. God will not crush the bruised reed. The thread of grace and correction of the understanding of God’s character shows up everywhere. There are examples everywhere that seem to go against the grain that God is this monster described in other parts of scripture. So, I ask myself: does it make more sense that God is petty and jealous and self-serving, just like me? Or, is God actually ridiculously gracious, unlike me or any other person I know? Honestly, I sure hope it’s the latter. Jesus seems to demonstrate in his actions and parables that it’s the latter as well. We seem to be, and, honestly, so do a lot of religious scripture, including the Hebrew Bible, bent on making God out to be just as reactive as people, but with more power. Jesus offers something different. Jesus seems to be fairly well regarded by many other religions, as well. Maybe he does have some answers after all?

    Add all of that nonsense to my reading of carefully thought out responses to questions, like those unkleE often gives, and that’s how I get where I am. A lot of the rest is based on knowing myself and those around me. What accounts for all this crap? Is there any hope? If so, it seems Jesus is a reasonable representative of that hope. Again, I wouldn’t say I know any of that in the sense that I could prove it to anyone else. Or, even that I know it in the sense that I’m certain it won’t continue evolving.. Like SPG mentioned, it largely rests on faith after that.

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  156. Nan-

    Jesus did paint a very welcoming picture. And if this is what speaks to you, then accept what he says and let the rest of it slide.

    In a very real sense, that is a lot of what I try to do. I’m not even really trying to convince anyone here of anything, though I’m certain it often comes out that way. I just like to throw in my perspective, as it exists in the moment, here and there.

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  157. Rhetorical question for you to consider, Josh – Mak, on his site Random Thoughts came up with this, not I, but it’s a point I hadn’t previously considered. In the NT, the anonymous authors who wrote of Jesus, quote him as saying that if one offends you, you should forgive him 70 times 7 – am I right?

    Why wasn’t the Bible’s god himself capable of applying that noble principle in the Garden of Eden? Instead, think of all of the revenge he took for a single disobedience. That is, of course, if you believe Genesis, which I don’t, but if you’re trying to sell the world a religion, you need to be consistent when inventing the stories.

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  158. thanks for the teddy bear comment” – Well, just look at you Man, you’re an unshaven Pillsbury doughboy! Not all Christians are vicious.

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  159. “Paul made the comment, “you gotta have faith.” I wasn’t sure if he meant to or not, but I took it as a George Michael reference. My comment wasn’t a criticism of faith, but just a song reference to either George Michael or Limp Bizkit – whomever you prefer.”

    Hi William, I have to admit with shame that I know absolutely nothing about George Michael and his music, and little more about Limp Bizkit, so the reference went right over my head. I realised you were referencing a previous comment, but I knew you and didn’t know him, so I used your comment as a jumping off point. I’m sorry if I wrongly accused you.

    “how did you determine that the bible was more accurate than other religious texts, or are you saying that only the NT is more historically verifiable than other religious texts? and if the latter, how did you determine that?”

    Religions like Buddhism and Baha’i are pretty much all about teachings, and it doesn’t really matter if the Buddha or Baha’u’llah lived or not, whereas in christianity Jesus is the message and it really matters whether he lived and died (and rose again). So christianity depends on historical facts which can be in principle verified (plus of course teachings that cannot be verified historically), whereas the core of Buddhism and Baha’i are teachings which cannot be verified. So the core of christianity is in a different situation. I personally have no problems accepting the historicial truth of the lives of Mohammed, Baha’u’llah or the Buddha (if historians verify that) but it makes little difference to whether it is true. But the historicity of jesus is critical to the truth of christianity, which I suspect is why Jesus mythicism is on the rise, contrary to the evidence.

    “and since the NT references the OT, why shouldn’t we include it along with the NT?”

    The NT references other writings too, such as Greek philosophers and non-Biblical Jewish legends. Their truth or otherwise has no bearing on the historical truth of the NT.

    “as to the parts of the NT that are verifiable, what they essentially verify is that a man named jesus, who was believed by some to be a miracle worker or prophet of some type, lived in Israel during 1 to 33 AD.”

    The scholars would disagree with you – they say more than that can be verified. Check out EP Sanders’ list of 11 facts about Jesus that “are almost beyond dispute; and they belong to the framework of his life, and especially of his public career. (A list of everything that we know about Jesus would be appreciably longer.)” And he is slightly on the sceptical side of scholarship!

    “as you said, the parts that would actually verify his deity do not exist. His death is not even verifiable. only that a man names jesus lived during that time. It’s quite a lot to accept all that is said about him, by witness we dont even really know (or who may have not even been witnesses) claim about him.”

    Yep. It is a matter of individual judgment. I think the facts we know justify the conclusions I draw. Like I said, I think the argument is so strong that Jesus mythicism is attractive to allow people to avoid the conclusions.

    “why is this different than the iliad, where we have real nations and a real city – should we accept that the gods interfered as well because it got some historic info correct? or could we only did that if it had more right than the NT?”

    Do you really think we can compare the NT with The Iliad? Really?

    I have given brief answers to avoid going on too long, but I don’t want to appear to not have treated your questions seriously. Please ask me to enlarge on any answers. Thanks.

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  160. Nate, just wanted to ask – do you think the world would be a better place if people didn’t have a faith? Would you rather be in a world where there was no faiths?

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  161. A faith that involves supernatural forces? No.

    I prefer to see a faith in Humankind, a faith that without religion to divide us, will work to bring us closer together to work on the problems besetting the earth before we and the greed of a few of us, push it to a point beyond which it can never return.

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  162. I identify with Arch’s statement. Yes, I do think the world would be better off without religion.

    People are fully capable of doing crappy things without religion. But when you attach religion to it, you now have justification for crappy behavior.

    For instance, virtually everyone knows that it’s wrong to take someone’s land. But call it “manifest destiny” and its suddenly justified. If the harvest is bad, things can be tough. But throw in religion, and we suddenly have cause to use human sacrifices.

    I can’t think of a single decision someone would make that wouldn’t be a better decision if religion were taken out of the equation. So yes, I think a world without religion would likely be an improvement.

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  163. Nate, I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to take issue with two of your statements. You often point out where christians ignore evidence, yet that is what I believe you have done.

    “Actually, it’s hard to say for sure that Jesus ever even lived. The mythicist position has some compelling points, though it’s by no means iron-clad.”

    I have read somewhere that there are about 10,000 academics in the field of ancient Middle eastern history and Biblical studies. Of these, about 5 hold a mythicist position. Bart Ehrman, close to an atheist, says that it is as certain as history can be that Jesus lived and we know significant detail about his life, and that holding to mythicism destroys atheists’ credibility.

    If you value evidence, how can you hold the view you do?

    “I can’t think of a single decision someone would make that wouldn’t be a better decision if religion were taken out of the equation. So yes, I think a world without religion would likely be an improvement.”

    CS Lewis said: “If the Divine call does not make us better, it will make us very much worse.” It is true that you can give many examples of poor behaviour by christian and so-called christian governments (just as I could do the same for non-religious governments). But that is only one side of the story. Study after study (I can quote the references if you want) show that religious people have on average better mental and physical health, they volunteer more community time and give more money to others (not just to the church but to other people in need), they are less likely to commit crime and indulge in self destructive or anti-social behaviour. Some types of religious people are more likely to be intolerant of strangers (as Arch says) but another type of religious person is less likely than average to do that.

    I think CS Lewis’ statement was more accurate to the evidence than yours. I think it is easy to say what you would like to think is true, but not so easy to back it up with scientific evidence.

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  164. …it is as certain as history can be that Jesus lived and we know significant detail about his life

    E, I realize that you are quoting Bart Ehrman here, but I must also assume you agree with his statement, or you wouldn’t have used it to attempt to establish your point. I’m not asking you to take your time to write a dissertation, but could you briefly tell me just what it is we know about “his life,” that comes from identifiable sources that ever actually met him? We know the Gospel writers were not among those, and I don’t believe anyone can consider Paul’s “flash of light” to have been a close encounter of any kind.

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  165. Actually Arch, the main source I would use for that fact would be EP Sanders, though Ehrman agrees. (I mentioned Ehrman because he is better known, but really Sanders is more expert in this.) Sanders identified 11 important facts about Jesus’ public life that are “almost beyond dispute” and said there were also many more facts that weren’t so important.

    “We know the Gospel writers were not among those”

    Actually, we don’t know that at all. The scholars are certainly not all united on that. And we need to define what we mean by “writers”. Most scholars agree that the gospels were compiled from various sources, written and oral. The writers or speakers of many of those sources were almost certainly eye-witnesses, and it is possible that some of the Gospel writers/compilers were also, though the majority of scholars don’t think so.

    But the late Maurice Casey, one of the most respected of NT historians and a recognised expert in Aramaic, identified many aspects particularly of Mark’s gospel that have a clear early Aramaic source and concludes that Mark wrote an accurate account based on good Aramaic eye-witness sources. Richard Bauckham has argued strongly the case of a strong eyewitness basis for the gospels, and of course many conservative scholars would agree. And von Walde has shown that John was very familiar with the geography of Jerusalem, including aspects that had changed within 1-3 decades of Jesus’ death, so he concluded there is eye-witness information in John too.

    So the stories we have generally come from eyewitnesses and were written down later. And historians find that adequate to draw conclusions about Jesus. Those who disagree have to show that they have sufficient expertise in ancient history, language, culture, archaeology and literature to make a judgment that can stand against the overwhelming consensus of the historians who do have that expertise.

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  166. Hey Josh, I’d like to comment on a few things you mentioned. It seems to me that you believe that you NEED Jesus/God to be able to be a moral person, to do the right things.

    That couldn’t be further from the truth. There are many many people with zero religious beliefs that manage to be kind, decent human beings.

    To the point, in my little neck of the woods there is a huge issue with the state wanting to buck federal rulings to allow same sex marraige. The amount of christians that I see spitting hate towards these folks that just want a basic human right is unreal. They can’t even manage to hate the sin but love the sinner, these folks just don’t get being a decent human being.

    So that being said, being a total douche or a really nice guy doesn’t seem to me to have anything to do with being redeemed by your saviour. In my experience it just boils down to if you actually want to.

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  167. Hey Matt-
    No. I don’t think I need Jesus/God/religion to be a moral person. Most of us seem to have a moral compass, if you will, regardless of what we believe. What I’m talking about is, what happens when we see that compass in ourselves and we can’t seem to follow it. That issue, to me, raises the question: if we are just a product of natural processes, why don’t we just follow the compass we seem to have? That we’re just human and that’s how we are is unsatisfying to me as an answer. That’s just one of many questions I think atheism is unable to answer.

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  168. UnkleE,

    havent made it through all the comments yet, so forgive me if this has already been said, but you said this,

    “So christianity depends on historical facts which can be in principle verified (plus of course teachings that cannot be verified historically), whereas the core of Buddhism and Baha’i are teachings which cannot be verified.”

    But are the alleged teachings of jesus verified just because jesus may have been a real person?

    if so, why couldnt Buddha’s teaching be verified in the same way?

    and do you think history supports the actual life of buddha?

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  169. “The NT references other writings too, such as Greek philosophers and non-Biblical Jewish legends. Their truth or otherwise has no bearing on the historical truth of the NT.” unhleE

    but they’re not the same are they? Jesus said things like “I came not to abolish the law (OT) but to fulfill…” and “not one jot nor one tittle shall be abolished until the sun and moon pass away…”

    the book of hebrews makes great pains to show a correlation between the two, as a way of justification or vetting the NT based off of the OT.

    and when they cited the greek philosophies, etc, it was usually preceded by something like, “and even the heathen know this or that…”

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  170. “The scholars would disagree with you – they say more than that can be verified. Check out EP Sanders’ list of 11 facts about Jesus that “are almost beyond dispute; and they belong to the framework of his life, and especially of his public career. (A list of everything that we know about Jesus would be appreciably longer.)” And he is slightly on the skeptical side of scholarship!” – unkleE

    for every scholar in support of jesus, there are those scholars who oppose jesus.

    I’m more interested in how and by what said scholars form their opinions. Are they making intellectual leaps in their conclusions, etc?

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  171. “Do you really think we can compare the NT with The Iliad? Really?” 0 unkleE

    LOL, well no, not really. But there are similarities, and I suppose I was trying to use those similarities as a way of making an analogy. real places, real people, real events…. at least on the extremes we agree that those factors do not confirm the whole of certain claims.

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  172. “if we are just a product of natural processes, why don’t we just follow the compass we seem to have?” – josh

    I think this is because we dont have just one compass.

    I want to eat healthy food, because I realize it’s good and beneficial, and I even feel better when I eat healthy. but why do I often eat unhealthy things? It’s because they taste good, or they’re convenient, or whatever. There are a multitude of factors, and with practice and determination, it gets easier to avoid the unhealthy things.

    what’s better, to have $10,000 today, or $1,000,000.00 tomorrow? both have their value and both have their consequences. and the selection depends on whether you’re thinking long term or short term, whether you need or want something badly now, current financial situation, etc… somethings just arent cut and dry – and I think that the good vs evil that all men deal with is more complex that it may seem on the surface.

    With religion, with jesus, is it easier for you to follow the good azimuth of your compass, or are you still often torn between wanting to be good, but also having “wordly” tendencies and selfish or lustful desires?

    I suspect that jesus hasnt made your compass work any better. The thought of him may have solidified a focal point to walk toward, but in my experience, defined goals do this as well.

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  173. and unkleE,

    in regard to the jesus/buddha thing, I assume your position is that jesus life was an integral part of his teachings where as buddha’s life wasnt.

    But the parts of jesus life that made it integral are the parts that we have no evidence for, like: the literal son of god, like did his death really absolve mankind of sin, and did he die and comeback to life and did he fly into heaven, etc

    all the parts of his life that make it an integral part of his teachings are mere claims, without support – other than jesus was most likely a real guy who lived in Palestine (real place, real people, surrounded by certain real events like the Roman occupation – see above Iliad comment and comparison).

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  174. Hi UnkleE,

    Thanks for the response.

    I’ve never denied that non-believers can be just as ignorant of the facts as anyone else. When I talk specifically about Christians who fit into that camp, I’m not doing it as a contrast to everyone else as though I think the rest of humanity is educated and objective. It’s just that we’re talking about whether or not Christianity is true, and I think the people who claim it is should know a lot about it.

    Bart Ehrman, close to an atheist, says that it is as certain as history can be that Jesus lived and we know significant detail about his life

    First of all, I didn’t say I agree with the mythicists’ position. Like Howie often says, I don’t feel like I’m enough of an expert in this field to make a solid, informed decision, so I tend to side with the majority of scholarship on the issue. At the same time, I don’t see how anyone (even someone like Bart Ehrman, whom I admire very much) can say Jesus’ existence is as certain as history can be. The Jesus of the Bible is a supernatural character, which raises flags immediately. The gospels are written decades after his death, which isn’t necessarily a problem, but it would have been better for his historicity had they been contemporary. While we have historical references to a number of other “messiahs” both before and after Christ, we have no comparable references to Jesus, though his fame should have been much greater, if he had been legit.

    There are plenty of other arguments as well — but again, I’m not saying I agree with the mythicists. I’m only saying that their case isn’t as weak as many would like to say. It doesn’t matter to me if Jesus was a real person or not. I’m not trying shift the playing field to help my position; I’ve just never had any interest in that kind of thing. I’m only saying that there are problems with the gospels, and we don’t have any other primary sources for Jesus’ life, so I find it hard to say his existence is as close to “fact” as history can be.

    Study after study (I can quote the references if you want) show that religious people have on average better mental and physical health, they volunteer more community time and give more money to others (not just to the church but to other people in need), they are less likely to commit crime and indulge in self destructive or anti-social behaviour. Some types of religious people are more likely to be intolerant of strangers (as Arch says) but another type of religious person is less likely than average to do that.

    I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said here. But if religion weren’t a factor, why couldn’t these same individuals still do the same practices? Personally, I’m just as likely to give to charitable causes now as I was when I was a believer. And if I’m not mistaken, those studies show that religious individuals who give charitably, still give far more to churches than to charities. How much more good could be done if even a fraction of that money went to charities instead?

    The happiness stat doesn’t surprise me, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if children who believe in Santa tend to be happier than children who don’t. Would it be beneficial to maintain a belief in Santa throughout one’s life?

    But even if we accept everything you just said unequivocally, I still think the world would likely be better off without religion.

    Just yesterday I heard about an acquaintance who probably has some legitimate psychological problems, but some of the people close to him think he’s demon-possessed. I’m not sure that he’s going to get the treatment he needs, because some people would rather just pray over him. My wife knows of someone who’s currently battling a heroin addiction. Instead of checking her into rehab, her husband made her spend a weekend with a couple from their church. I can’t help but think that’s a really poor substitute. Then of course, there are all the horrors that have been committed in the name of religion.

    I’m not saying no good can ever come from religion, but I do think that it would be a net positive if we didn’t have it at all.

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  175. With religion, with jesus, is it easier for you to follow the good azimuth of your compass, or are you still often torn between wanting to be good, but also having “wordly” tendencies and selfish or lustful desires?

    William-
    No, it’s not easier. But, I don’t think Jesus represents a moral compass. He represents the announcement of the Good News that, even though we fall short in so many ways to be the people even WE want ourselves to be, there is hope. Granted this brings up all sorts of other questions, like: why did God choose to make us this way, why wouldn’t he have made this abundantly clear to all people of all time, and many, many more questions that I have no answer to. The Kingdom is here. Jesus offers the physical representation of the first-fruits of the Kingdom and reconciliation, with God and with who we believe ourselves capable of being if we weren’t always getting in our own way. Like I said earlier, I fully recognize and acknowledge the fact that the Kingdom does not seem visible now. And, I don’t know why, if God exists, he chose to do things this way. Jesus announced there is a place of hope and reconciliation for us all, that “I go to my father to prepare that place, and will come back for you” and “I, if I be lifted up, draw ALL men to myself”. The moral improvement of mankind wasn’t Jesus’ announcement. The reconciliation “from before the foundation of the world” was his announcement. Again, see previous books by Robert Farrar Capon that I mentioned for a much more detailed discussion of those points.

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  176. … or a few people said that jesus those things.

    maybe you’re right, but it’s all coming from faceless secondhand sources. and it’s a pretty tall tale too.

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  177. but it’s all coming from faceless secondhand sources. and it’s a pretty tall tale too.

    William-
    Fully acknowledged 🙂

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  178. So in essence then, E, it sounds like you’re describing a reporting method similar to the game of “Telephone,” aka, “Chinese Whispers,” and we’re still missing any actual, identifiable source whose credibility we can verify.

    “And historians find that adequate to draw conclusions about Jesus. Those who disagree have to show that they have sufficient expertise in ancient history, language, culture, archaeology and literature to make a judgment that can stand against the overwhelming consensus of the historians who do have that expertise.”

    What percentage of “historians find that adequate to draw conclusions about Jesus,” vs what percentage do not? Are you saying that those who conclude that Jesus existed represent “the overwhelming consensus of the historians who do have that expertise“?

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  179. Hi William, I’ve tried to give brief answers, but please ask for further elucidation if you like.

    “But are the alleged teachings of jesus verified just because jesus may have been a real person?”
    No, I don’t suggest that. But scholars generally accept as historical that he was a teacher and known to be a healer, that he was believed to have risen from the dead from the very first, and that he taught about the kingdom of God, repentance, etc and predicted a redemptive death.

    “if so, why couldnt Buddha’s teaching be verified in the same way? … and do you think history supports the actual life of buddha?”
    I haven’t studied it but I think far less details can be known to be historical. But the main point is that it is the teachings that matter, not the life. It wouldn’t matter if you gave the teachings rather than him, but it matters with Jesus.

    “but they’re not the same are they? Jesus said things like “I came not to abolish the law (OT) but to fulfill…” and “not one jot nor one tittle shall be abolished until the sun and moon pass away…” ….the book of hebrews makes great pains to show a correlation between the two, as a way of justification or vetting the NT based off of the OT.”
    Don Richardson has written about “redemptive analogies” – finding things in a culture that are analogies of the christian message – and he has found them all over the world. The OT is another redemptive analogy, but this time it was more directly inspired by God.

    “for every scholar in support of jesus, there are those scholars who oppose jesus. ….I’m more interested in how and by what said scholars form their opinions. Are they making intellectual leaps in their conclusions, etc?”
    This is an important point. We should distinguish (1) historical “facts” or conclusions from (2) personal beliefs. When I quote scholars, it is generally on (1), and I try to quote what is broadly accepted as historical regardless of personal belief – that’s why I can quote non-believers like Ehrman, Casey or Sanders. Beliefs very greatly among scholars – not all are christians as is sometimes claimed.

    “But the parts of jesus life that made it integral are the parts that we have no evidence for, like: the literal son of god, like did his death really absolve mankind of sin, and did he die and comeback to life and did he fly into heaven, etc”
    I agree. We must each make our choice based on what we can know, and other factors such as philosophy and personal experience. The questions are: Can we trust the authors and eye-witnesses to be telling the truth (not necessarily 100% but well enough)? Can we trust the Jesus they portray?

    Thanks for interesting questions. I think they are important and what needs to be resolved before a thoughtful person could believe in Jesus.

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  180. Hi Nate, again, I will try to be brief.

    “I don’t see how anyone (even someone like Bart Ehrman, whom I admire very much) can say Jesus’ existence is as certain as history can be.”
    I honestly think you should read some more, I can’t possibly say much here. Casey’s “Jesus of Nazareth” is excellent though a little idiosyncratic. It is considered certain (I think) because historians know people don’t often completely make up stuff like mythicists sometimes claim, especially within the lifetime of eyewitnesses. And if they do, not enough do it in harmony. Invention cannot explain all the sources of references to Jesus.

    “The Jesus of the Bible is a supernatural character, which raises flags immediately.”
    Not to historians. They are used to dealing with it. They assess the historical evidence (e.g. that Jesus was a healer) and some stop there. Some argue that it didn’t happen, but that is philosophy, and most put the question aside and simply affirm what people believe was the case. That is enough for a start for me.

    ” we don’t have any other primary sources for Jesus’ life”
    I think you are speaking from a 21st information age perspective. Several independent sources is more than we have for almost anyone else of that time! Many many scholars say we know more about Jesus than we know about almost anyone else of his time. They don’t say this for no reason!

    “I find it hard to say his existence is as close to “fact” as history can be.”
    Surely a more reasonable response is to say that you recognise the experts say he almost certainly existed and did x and y, but you don’t find that enough to believe any more?

    “But if religion weren’t a factor, why couldn’t these same individuals still do the same practices?”
    Each person is different, but I can agree to some degree with Josh – I am a sometimes deeply flawed individual, but at 70 I am a much better person than I was at 20. And the two main influences on that change have been Jesus and my wife.

    “The happiness stat doesn’t surprise me, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if children who believe in Santa tend to be happier than children who don’t.”
    I wasn’t arguing that we should believe because it makes us happier. I was pointing out that your statement ignored some of the evidence.

    “I’m not sure that he’s going to get the treatment he needs, because some people would rather just pray over him.”
    Yeah, sh*t happens and it sucks. But people of all beliefs and none do sh*tty things.

    “But even if we accept everything you just said unequivocally, I still think the world would likely be better off without religion.”
    I won’t argue with that, that is your judgment, although I think it isn’t that simple (e.g. the studies clearly show it depends a lot on the type of religion – intrinsic or extrinsic). But my point was that you presented only a few of the facts, and we should base our judgement on all of them.

    Thanks for the opportunity for us to clarify a little.

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  181. Hi Arch,

    “it sounds like you’re describing a reporting method similar to the game of “Telephone,” aka, “Chinese Whispers,”

    I don’t think I can recall one scholar ever using a description like that!

    “we’re still missing any actual, identifiable source whose credibility we can verify”

    That’s not true. Historians know that multiple independent sources are good verification, especially so close after the event. I think you may be approaching this with too much of a 21st century mindset.

    “What percentage of “historians find that adequate to draw conclusions about Jesus,” vs what percentage do not? Are you saying that those who conclude that Jesus existed represent “the overwhelming consensus of the historians who do have that expertise“?”

    There is no doubt that all but a handful of scholars accept that Jesus truly lived. See these quotes from a “Who’s Who” of historians.

    Twenty years ago, EP Sanders wrote this (The Historical Figure of Jesus, p10-11):

    “I shall first offer a list of statements about Jesus that meet two standards: they are almost beyond dispute; and they belong to the framework of his life, and especially of his public career. (A list of everything that we know about Jesus would be appreciably longer.)

    Jesus was born c 4 BCE near the time of the death of Herod the Great;
    he spent his childhood and early adult years in Nazareth, a Galilean village;
    he was baptised by John the Baptist;
    he called disciples;
    he taught in the towns, villages and countryside of Galilee (apparently not the cities);
    he preached ‘the kingdom of God’;
    about the year 30 he went to Jerusalem for Passover;
    he created a disturbance in the Temple area;
    he had a final meal with the disciples;
    he was arrested and interrogated by Jewish authorities, specifically the high priest;
    he was executed on the orders of the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate.”

    He goes on in the rest of the book to discuss what more we can and cannot know, so his conclusions of what are probably historical facts are larger than that list. For instance, if I recall correctly, he says it is clear Jesus was known as a healer, though he remains agnostic about what was actually happening.

    In my reading, the only historians I can recall who would dispute this list are the same mythicists. Most would argue for more historical information as Sanders does himself – I include here historians I have read such as Wright, Casey, Evans, Bauckham, Grant, Meier, Hurtado, Dunn. But others probably wouldn’t go much further than this – e.g. Ehrman, Vermes.

    So that is the state of play as best I understand it.

    .

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  182. I’m curious, unklE …

    Jesus was born c 4 BCE near the time of the death of Herod the Great;
    he spent his childhood and early adult years in Nazareth, a Galilean village;
    he was baptised by John the Baptist;
    he called disciples;
    he taught in the towns, villages and countryside of Galilee (apparently not the cities);
    he preached ‘the kingdom of God’;
    about the year 30 he went to Jerusalem for Passover;
    he created a disturbance in the Temple area;
    he had a final meal with the disciples;
    he was arrested and interrogated by Jewish authorities, specifically the high priest;
    he was executed on the orders of the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate.

    Aren’t these “facts” that Sanders presents all from the bible … which is still in dispute by many as being an actual and historical record of events?

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  183. RE “Telephone” or “Chinese Whispers”:
    I don’t think I can recall one scholar ever using a description like that!” – Which proves – what?

    “<emHistorians know that multiple independent sources are good verification, especially so close after the event.” – So you’re considering 45 – 70 years to be “close after the event”? I know police officers, interviewing definite – not presumed – eyewitnesses immediately after witnessing a crime, who couldn’t agree on the color of the getaway car, and often, even on the color of the criminals, but that might just be, as you suggest, a “21st century mindset” on my part – doubtless people’s observational skills and recall abilities were much more acute in the 1st century —

    RE your “list of statements about Jesus”: every one of those can be found in the Gospels, and I know of no one who says that pseudo-Matthew didn’t copy roughly 90% of his Gospel from pseudo-Mark, embellishing along the way, and pseudo-Luke copied roughly 60% of his from pseudo-Mark as well. Yet you consider this information to be “almost beyond dispute.”

    I’d hate to see you go into court with that kind of evidence.

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  184. Hi Nan, I’m not sure if I understand your question. It seems as if you are suggesting that either the New Testament is an “actual and historical record of events” or else it is totally false. But of course you know I’m sure as well as I do that it isn’t like that. Historians, whether considering the gospels or any other ancient text, work with the materials available to them and they draw whatever conclusions they feel are warranted, while discounting bias and possible error.

    So yes, most (not all) of those conclusions are based on the gospels, but Sanders doesn’t think the gospels are a 100% accurate “actual and historical record of events”. But he and all the other scholars find much in them that they can examine and test and show to be almost certainly historical to the satisfaction of almost all other historians.

    I don’t think there is any serious dispute about the gospels on that level (i.e very few would dispute Sanders’ basic points), but of course there is significant dispute when you get down to detail, such as whether a certain pericope is historical, or the meaning of the phrase “son of man”.

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  185. Hi Arch, I’m not sure if there’s that much more to say.

    “Which proves – what?”

    I wasn’t attempting to prove anything. I was trying to summarise what historians have concluded, and what you said was something I’ve never heard a scholar say.

    “So you’re considering 45 – 70 years to be “close after the event”?”

    I’m not considering it, the historians do, for ancient times.

    “doubtless people’s observational skills and recall abilities were much more acute in the 1st century”

    Yes, you’re right – that has been proven I think.

    “Yet you consider this information to be “almost beyond dispute.””

    It’s not me making that statement, but EP Sanders, one of the most respected NT historians of the past 50 years – and almost all other historians agree with him.

    BTW, just a heads up – are you aware that you are not using the term Pseudo Matthew in the way that historians use it? Check out Wikipedia.

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  186. An interesting statement, Unk – do you see anything wrong with it?
    But he and all the other scholars find much in them that they can examine and test and show to be almost certainly historical to the satisfaction of almost all other historians.

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  187. “doubtless people’s observational skills and recall abilities were much more acute in the 1st century”

    Yes, you’re right – that has been proven I think.

    I’m pretty skeptical of that — do you have any references for it? I’ve heard there were some rabbinic groups that practiced memorization of the Torah, much like some madrasahs today teach children to memorize the Qur’an. But these are outliers — they take many years of strict memorization. As far as I’m aware, there’s no evidence that the early Christians had anything like that in place. Their brains don’t appear to have been any different from our own, either. So I don’t see how anyone could determine that they remembered things better than people today do.

    Unless of course, we suppose that God miraculously gave them an ability to transmit stories orally without alteration. But if we’re going down that rabbit hole, why not just suppose (like most Christians used to) that God inspired the writers of the Bible to be 100% accurate? We know that’s not the case, because of the errors and discrepancies found within the texts. We know for a fact that some of the written stories changed over time — we have the manuscripts to prove it. But we’re supposed to think that the oral versions didn’t?

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  188. Nate I think you make a very good point here. While there were groups back then who were amazing at memorizing oral law, to apply this kind of process to all religious writings of that time period has never made much sense to me. If that were the case then scholars would agree that the gospels of peter and thomas and many others should be taken to be trustworthy as well (although I realize there are other factors making those books different). I think the main point for me is that there were very clearly religious books written in the time period which are viewed with high skepticism today, so I’m skeptical that the Talmudic process applied by the strict rabbis of the day was applied very much elsewhere. Regarding the 4 gospels there seems to be agreement that there was embellishment and myth added in, but how much seems to be all over the map kind of leaving me shrugging my shoulders and feeling like there isn’t enough for me to build a worldview around.

    Just for the record though (and I know you know this) I wouldn’t claim mythicism in the case of Jesus simply because the percentage of scholars claiming it is incredibly minute as Unklee has stated properly. While I wouldn’t say we know he existed in the same sense that we know about common descent, the existence of Ronald Reagan and even the existence of Julius Ceaser (and I’m pretty sure those can all be demonstrated) I still think the mythicism thing is better left for the experts to talk about, and maybe they need to work a bit more on it now to make sure any respectable claims of it are properly answered and flushed through.

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  189. Thanks Howie. Yeah, that’s how I see it too. While I was surprised recently to find out that the mythicist arguments seem to have more going for them than I first thought, I do agree I don’t personally have enough knowledge about the subject to weigh in on it. It will be interesting to see what scholarship does over the next few decades.

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  190. I don’t see, Howie, that it makes a lot of difference whether or not the details of the lives of Reagan or Caesar are entirely accurate, as neither of those expected us to worship him – well, at least Caesar didn’t.

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  191. to me, it’s like considering any other book. Some is true and some is not. Some can be verified and parts cannot be.

    Like any other book or claim, if one of the parts that can be verified turns up to be untrue, then i can be certain that the book or claim contains errors. the bible has this.

    The parts that cannot be verified must weighed; weighed on possibility, weighed on the trustworthiness of the source. With the bible, we already see that some of the verifiable parts come up as failed, so for me, whether in the bible or in any other book or with any other claim, if there is an unverifiable part that claims some miraculous or supernatural event, i am extremely skeptical at the very least.

    Take bigfoot – with a multitude of witnesses, countless accounts that span the world and extend far back into history, video and photo evidence and other physical evidence like hair samples and foot-molds. Credible or not? Whichever side you’re on, is it sense-able to demand that anyone believe one way or the other regarding it, with eternal consequences in the balance?

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  192. unkleE,

    As usual, you twist and turn until you make your point … and your “arguments” always go back to what the “historians,” the “scholars,” the “apologists” say. At times it makes me wonder if you have any thoughts of your own … but I digress.

    OK, let’s go back to your initial comment where you quote Sanders: “I shall first offer a list of statements about Jesus that meet two standards: they are almost beyond dispute; and they belong to the framework of his life, and especially of his public career.

    So, according to Sanders, the listed “statements about Jesus” offer proof of his existence, right? But where do these “statements” come from? The bible! Of course if you believe the bible is a factual account of the first century, then I suppose the statements could be considered as “proof.” However, it has been shown by many that this is not the case. (As William commented: Some is true and some is not. Some can be verified and parts cannot be.)

    So let me again ask my question (Note: I was not “suggesting” anything):

    How can Sanders consider these to be “facts” that Jesus existed when the bible is still in dispute by many as being an actual and historical record of events?

    P.S. While I personally tend to believe Jesus was a real person, I find it very difficult to verify my belief since I feel the bible accounts of him are based on hearsay … and are definitely biased. It’s unfortunate that the only writer that seems to offer contemporaneous information about him is Josephus — and even some of his writings are in dispute.

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  193. and josephus was no contemporary of jesus. If he wrote what he is said to have written about jesus, it was based on hearsay and not on eye witness or first hand knowledge.

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  194. Of course if you believe the bible is a factual account of the first century, then I suppose the statements could be considered as “proof.” However, it has been shown by many that this is not the case.

    Hi Nan-
    Could you give an example of what you would consider a factual account from the first century? Aside from the miraculous claims, in what ways is that factual account different from the gospels? For example, is there a greater percentage of the document that contains verified accurate history from the time? I’m just curious what you consider a factual document from the time, and what factors make it a factual document.

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  195. And, Nan, if you could discuss how you know the document from the first century you’re referencing is accurate. From this quote

    and your “arguments” always go back to what the “historians,” the “scholars,” the “apologists” say. At times it makes me wonder if you have any thoughts of your own …

    you seem to imply that we shouldn’t be looking to historians and scholars and apologists, but to our own thoughts. How would we know if our own thoughts are accurate?

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  196. Arch,

    I don’t see, Howie, that it makes a lot of difference whether or not the details of the lives of Reagan or Caesar are entirely accurate, as neither of those expected us to worship him – well, at least Caesar didn’t.

    You mean you don’t worship Reagan? 🙂

    Yeah, I think that’s a very good point Arch.

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  197. Hi Josh,

    Nan can answer these questions better than I, but I thought I’d throw my own two cents in anyway. I feel that no historical document can be considered inaccurate, unless there are other sources that contradict it. So if we simply had one gospel, there would be no way to know which portions were accurate and which weren’t. Doesn’t mean everyone would believe it, but there at least wouldn’t be a way to falsify any of it.

    However, since we have 4 accepted gospels, it’s possible for us to compare them to one another. And when we do, as you know, we find there are certain discrepancies. This immediately tells us that at least some of the authors were mistaken about some of their information. In a few places, we also have archaeology, geography, and other contemporary accounts that call certain things into question (there are more of these kinds of problems with the Old Testament than the New).

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  198. I agree, it’s common practice and valuable to see what the experts have to say, in this case historians and scholars. but when it comes to the bible, the historians and scholars are split as to how much of the bible can be trusted.

    there is some ground where they all (or at least the majority agree), like in that the gospels were all written long after chirst had died. and the bible contains errors.

    they all agree that rome occupied palestine and we’re very certain that herod the great was real and that pontious pilot was real.

    To say that the historians and scholars agree that jesus was real is misleading, because it acts as if there’s a consensus – there is not. And to say that jesus was really the miracle working son of god is all non-verifiable, non-expert opinion.

    and again, take certain events that the bible claims happened. events that would have been witnessed by many, like the dead raising out of their graves at jesus’ death… no one of that time thought that significant enough to record?

    I know that UnkleE doesnt really buy into the OT, but it had events where the sun stayed still or where it moved backward… yet no one recorded it? there were several cultures in those days that recorded the stars and solar events, but they didnt think these unique occurrences were note worthy?

    it would be like 5 people making journal entries about 9/11 and one mentions alien spacecraft flying around the towers. Are we to believe that the most likely scenario is that there were in fact alien spacecraft but that 4 out of 5 people just didnt think it noteworthy? or would we assume the 1 out of the 5 was lying, nuts, tripping, or badly mistaken?

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  199. Nate-
    I go back to the question I asked Nan: What is an example of an event or a document that you would consider accurate from the first century? Are there multiple accounts? If so, do those multiple accounts agree on everything? If they don’t agree on everything, does that mean we discount them?

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  200. Hi Josh,

    As you can see, Nate and William have offered their perspectives on your concerns … and I tend to agree with them.

    However, I do want to point out something. I’m not comparing other documents to the bible. I’m simply saying that if Sanders (and others) were correct that the bible is based on fact, then their “proofs” related to the existence of Jesus might stand. But there are many, many in the religious field who say — and have provided credible arguments — that the bible is not a factual document.

    As to offering one’s own thoughts — unkleE consistently references “scholars’, et al, whenever he presents his comments related to religious issues. Yes, in most cases, these individuals have many years of study under their belt so it’s natural to acknowledge their work. But to me, simply ticking off a list of noted individuals doesn’t really “prove” anything.

    I guess it’s more the way he presents things. Sometimes it’s just interesting to hear someone else’s thoughts and/or opinions without a list of “references” accompanying them.

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  201. Sometimes it’s just interesting to hear someone else’s thoughts and/or opinions without a list of “references” accompanying them.

    That’s fine, Nan. And, I agree. The problem is, once you start talking about your own thoughts on this blog, you’re immediately inundated with questions about what evidence and references you have. One can hardly blame unkleE for going there to start with after being trained so well, can one?

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  202. If they don’t agree on everything, does that mean we discount them? – josh

    does it mean you believe the supernatural claims of everything?

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  203. does it mean you believe the supernatural claims of everything?

    I didn’t think E and Nan were talking about supernatural claims. I thought they were talking about which parts of Jesus’ life could be considered historical. Did I miss something?

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  204. maybe not. just a reflex.

    but they do tie together when you’re trying to go:

    historian–> jesus—> some thought he was a “healer”—” literal son of god

    all from a source that contains errors. verifiable errors.

    I agree with unkleE that we must treat the bible like we would anything else, i just disagree that doing so means you’ll buy all the supernatural claims.

    so I’m willing to concede that all or most historical sources have errors in them. which of those do we then also accept the supernatural claims of? or is it that we think certain parts are credible and certain parts incredible in regard to other historical sources?

    is this line of though really that far out in left field?

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  205. Slightly off-topic, but relates to previous comments on Nate’s blog re: video games.

    Found this interesting entry on gipsika’s recent blog posting

    You try to restrict your son’s hours spent in front of the square box only to realize that the games are really aimed at over 18 – i.e. not really suitable for children at all! So if kids can’t play them, who does? Men! Fully grown men. And those games are extremely addictive; they feed all the right brain pathways to make the guy believe he’s really been in combat, had a narrow escape, mowed down a lot of enemies and rescued a secret cartridge for the CIA.

    HA!

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  206. I agree with unkleE that we must treat the bible like we would anything else, i just disagree that doing so means you’ll buy all the supernatural claims.

    I don’t want to speak for E, but I will agree with you here. I’m not sure that he would argue that doing so means you have to buy all the supernatural claims, but I’ll let him speak to that if he wants.

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  207. so I’m willing to concede that all or most historical sources have errors in them. which of those do we then also accept the supernatural claims of? or is it that we think certain parts are credible and certain parts incredible in regard to other historical sources?

    I guess that’s probably the point of decision, William. Much as E has laid out above, I tend to be convinced that Jesus lived, was considered a healer, that he was crucified, buried in a tomb that was later found empty, had followers who said they saw him after his death and believed he was resurrected. If, for the sake of argument, you were also convinced of those things (I’m not saying you are), you would then be faced with either finding a plausible counter-story, or measuring all of those things up with all of the other more subjective things that persuade you personally one way or another.

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  208. I think it is the point of the discussion.

    you have a book that contains errors. Internal discrepancies, historical issues, scientific problems, etc.

    yet because the places and some of the names may have been true, you’re willing to accept that the accounts of divine intervention, the stories of walking on water, flying into heaven and raising from the dead are true… despite that book of claims being also wrong in several verifiable places?

    again, what other book do you treat that way? I’m guessing not the iliad. I’m guessing there arent many of the other “healers” and “messiahs” that you’d accept so readily.

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  209. yet because the places and some of the names may have been true, you’re willing to accept that the accounts of divine intervention, the stories of walking on water, flying into heaven and raising from the dead are true…

    I didn’t say that. I acknowledged, in my previous response, that there are also subjective factors that go into each person’s consideration.

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  210. Not Nate here, Josh, but I want to throw in my cent and a half’s worth.

    If they don’t agree on everything, does that mean we discount them?

    I’m not going to answer that, I’m going to let you tell me – Matthew relates that Yeshua was strolling on the beach near the Sea of Galilee and spotted Peter, Andrew (brothers) and James and John (brothers, and sons of Zebedee, the fisherman) – he called them to follow him, telling them he would make them, “fishers of men.

    John (brother of James and son of Zebedee), in his book, tells us that the four of them, Pete, Andy, Jim and himself, were followers of John the B, and were with him as he baptized people in the Jordan River. He spots Yeshua strolling along on the other bank, waded across, chatted a bit, and walked off to spend the night with him. The next morning, the two came back and collected the other three.

    Which do you believe? And whichever you choose, what does that say about the rest of what the other one has to say? If one part was false, or incorrect, how reliable is the rest likely to be?

    Matthew copied 90% of his entire book from Mark (lay two copies side by side sometime!) – how much can you believe the other 10?

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  211. If one part was false, or incorrect, how reliable is the rest likely to be?

    Hey Nan-
    If one part of a news report, or a story your friend tells you, is false, or incorrect, how likely is the rest to be?

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  212. and I think my plausible counter story makes much more sense than the implausible biblical story.

    jesus was a real guy who lived in a superstitious time, where many people were under-educated and oppressed. I have no doubt that he was charismatic and had some followers. I have no doubt that they thought he was the messiah.

    They were shocked when he died. hints of this are found the gospels. they tried to make sense of it. how could he die? they were so sure that he was the messiah, much like those goofs who keep predicting the end of the world – when that date passes, the believers dont abandon their prophet, they make up reasons why he was wrong or why they misunderstood and they set a new date.

    They starting thinking and praying and reading their OT and somebody said, “oh of course, jesus had to die, as we needed a perfect sacrifice. Enough time had passed and no one knew where his body was as most of the disciples fled his crucifixion and as the romans custom was to leave the bodies in place. the body rotted like all those around it.

    no tomb, then he arose and ent back to heaven… of course, it all makes sense now. all that stuff that he once soad that didnt make sense… now it makes sense if we look at it just right.

    like Robert Paulson in fight club – “in death, a member of project mayhem has a name…”

    people were superstitious. they were oppressed and now they had their promise of riches after they died. of vengeance if they just believed in the god-man that loved them enough to die for them.

    “oh yeah, i heard about that guy!” “oh yeah, i saw him once.” “i touched his cloak and my cold went away!” “well i seen a guy that was healed of the squirts!” “that’s nuthin’, i seen a cripple that was made to walk again!” “oh yeah. I saw a dead boy raised from the grave!”

    the more they discussed it, the more stories came up, the more they squinted their eyes and saw OT fulfillment in it. look at matthew… most of his fulfilled prophecies of christ werent even prophecies…

    Constantine is the one who really sealed the deal. He won his war and made the religion THE RELIGION. Picked and chose what books and letters to put in their master copy and which to toss out.

    That’s just a brief start.

    And dont say anything about Christianities longevity or that it would be impossible for it to have survived unless it was real, as there are plenty of other religions with those same qualities.

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  213. “If one part of a news report, or a story your friend tells you, is false, or incorrect, how likely is the rest to be?” – josh

    right. so if the news reported a story with some parts right, but then also contained errors in it, how much would you trust that news agency? probably take most things with a grain of salt.

    If they then claimed something way over the top? are you going to accept that as likely true, because some of hwt athey say is true?

    of course not! you’d right that crap off as ridiculous!

    so when Fox News says that Obama eats puppies and has sex with muslim men, you can be assured it’s false. If they said that bigfoot flew over the white house with a canadian flag?

    …well of course that happened. And if not, what’s your plausible counter story?

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  214. “I didn’t say that. I acknowledged, in my previous response, that there are also subjective factors that go into each person’s consideration.” – josh

    what about the objective factors?

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  215. Yeah, let’s remember what’s at stake here. Whether you believe in a literal hell or not, the New Testament is pretty clear that there’s a big difference between believers and non-believers. It’s saying, “believe our story, OR ELSE” — and the “or else” is pretty substantial.

    But the story they give you is implausible to begin with. On top of that, it’s peppered with several things that are verifiably not true, and many others that are simply unfalsifiable.

    Would a reasonable person make such a case? Would they present such shoddy and incomplete evidence when the story they want you to believe is already over the top?

    That’s my problem with all this. Remember, no one’s saying that Jesus wasn’t actually a real guy. But we are saying that the amount of information we can call “fact” in regards to him may not be as long as some people would like for it to be. We don’t know who wrote the accounts of his life, but we do know they were written at least 30 years after his death, and some of the accounts copied one another. It just doesn’t seem to pass the smell test.

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  216. Not sure why you’re asking me, Josh. Your question seems more relevant to Arch’s comment. Nevertheless … if I heard or read something that seemed “questionable” related to its accuracy, I would probably do some research to confirm my suspicions. I rarely take anything at face value — especially if it doesn’t ring true to my own perspective.

    In response to some of the other comments, I simply cannot believe in the things you mentioned (that Jesus was buried in a tomb that was later found empty, had followers who said they saw him after his death and believed he was resurrected). Nor can I accept the fact that he floated up into heaven and is “sitting at the right hand of God.” On that last part … if “God” does exist, do you really think he’s sitting on a throne somewhere “up there”?

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  217. nan,

    I guess it all could be true, despite the way it looks. and then parts may be figurative, like god sitting on his throne, and what have you.

    it could be that there is enough at stake that it’s too scary to look behind the curtain. maybe there’s too much at risk or perceived danger to call a spade a spade… i mean, what if it aint a spade, despite the way it looks?

    I’m not trying to dog josh, i’m just trying to understand. It seems like he’s on the threshold, but just doesnt want to look through the door.

    I mean, being sinful doesnt prove god. so if you feel like you have sin in your life, okay; why does that mean god or jesus?

    there’s stuff in the world and something surely created it all. why not? but how does that point to the bible?

    the bible is just a collection of letters and books that were written by men, that claims its authors spoke for god. the same collection that cant agree on who was at jesus tomb when they saw the angles or on where the angels were encountered. it cant agree on the day jesus died. It cant agree on where jesus wanted his disciple to go (galilee or jerusalem). and on and on. it takes strong faith in deed to believe those men – to believe in the god they say that they wrote for.

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  218. Nate, Nan, William, et al-
    Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, each of you was convinced of Jesus’ divinity based on your assessment of the available evidence. Let’s also say, in this hypothetical situation where you were convinced based on your assessment of the evidence, that you found a few other people who looked at all the same evidence as you and came to a different conclusion. Would you, simply because someone else was not convinced, reject your belief?

    I ask this because you all, Nate in particular, seem to suggest in your comments that if God actually exists he would have provided enough indisputable evidence so that everyone who ever lived would acknowledge his existence. If that is in fact what you are suggesting, on what are you basing the idea that God would have provided such exhaustive evidence? I just don’t see that premise. I don’t think scripture agrees with it, either. How do you get there?

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  219. “…suggest in your comments that if God actually exists he would have provided enough indisputable evidence so that everyone who ever lived would acknowledge his existence. If that is in fact what you are suggesting, on what are you basing the idea that God would have provided such exhaustive evidence?” – josh

    I think it’s like nate pointed out, the bible claims that god wants all men to be saved. that god loved all men so much that he gave himself/son to die a gruesome death on a cross as an atonement – but that in order to receive that blessing, you must believe (at least as a starting point).

    how does that mesh?

    not only must one believe in order to be saved, but one must also believe in order to avoid condemnation. there’s so much wrong this… but focusing merely on why we’d think god would want to make it obvious to everyone that he’s real? because he supposedly loves them and doesnt want any to perish, yet will condemn forever if they dont believe in him, as he hides from them, only leaving the hearsay or claims of men long dead and gone as evidence.

    it’s pretty straight forward.

    do you not think that your own belief has anything to do with how you were raised and what you were taught when you were young and impressionable?

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  220. Yes, william, and as you’ve said in previous comments, gremins, big foot, fairies, unicorns, the easter bunny … could all exist. But do they? And if they do, who says so? Is there documentation that verifies their existence?

    The bible has been accepted for hundreds of years as being the “true” word of God. It’s highly doubtful the millions of people who believe this are ever going to change their thinking, no matter how many discrepancies are pointed out. Of course, the primary reason behind this is that most of these people never read the bible. They just accept what comes from church leaders. And the church leaders are merely parroting things that have been taught to them by other church leaders and so on and so on.

    If things hadn’t been different in my own life, I doubt very much I would be commenting on Nate’s blog. I would most likely be active on some Christian blog and virtually nodding my head as they quoted “God’s Word.” Perhaps it’s a good sign that Josh is visiting here and asking questions.

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  221. Hey Josh, I think that’s a great question and I think Nate (and William a while back) answered it. If the stakes are so incredibly high (eternity) and this God desires relationships with all it’s creation it seems unreasonable to make the evidence shoddy. The better guess would be that the story is created by humans. It isn’t just non-exhaustive it raises skeptical issues.

    That’s the answer to your last question, but your first one I’d say no , I wouldn’t reject my belief if I was convinced based on evidence and reason and I wouldn’t expect you to. I hope I’ve never asked that of you. I always say we each have to come to our own conclusions about this stuff.

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  222. Apologies, Guys. Let me slightly rephrase my last statement and question.

    You all seem to suggest that God, if he exists, should have given everyone everything they need to acknowledge his existence. If that’s the case, on what do you base that conclusion?

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  223. I’m confused Josh. The answer is that you are telling us that an eternity rests on us acknowledging his existence and the bible also says that he wants all to acknowledge him. He wants all that but also withhold information to help people realize he exists?

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  224. Why not, Josh? Since this “God” has placed so many restrictions on what it takes to gain “his” favor, why shouldn’t we have verifiable and conclusive evidence of “his” existence? Otherwise, what’s the point?

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  225. You all seem to suggest that God, if he exists, should have given everyone everything they need to acknowledge his existence.” – Why wouldn’t he, Josh? If you loved someone as much as the NT says your god does, would you run around dodging and hiding from them? Does that even sound like sane behavior to you?

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  226. Good questions, Josh. To answer your first question, that’s exactly what I did. Not just because someone disagreed with me, but because their questions struck me as something I should be able to answer. I came out the other side realizing their position fit the evidence better than mine did.

    To answer your second question, I assume God isn’t a bastard. According to the gospels, Jesus said those who accepted him would have eternal life, and those who didn’t would be placed in a spot where there’s weeping and gnashing of teeth. Do you believe in a God who’s okay with people going to this place just because the evidence wasn’t good enough?

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  227. Josh, if you are a universalist (you should consider it – it’s a very tolerant, peaceful and loving belief which would go along with your beliefs about god being loving) then the issue becomes less troubling, although the other reasons for doubting still remain.

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  228. Could the French government come to the US and prosecute us for violating French law? What standing would they have unless they first demonstrated that they had authority over us? It’s the same thing with God. If he doesn’t make himself known to us, how can we be held accountable to him?

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  229. Howie-
    I am dangerously close to a universalist, as you probably could have guessed by reading the book I recommended by Robert Capon. I just really enjoy these discussions, and find myself asking the questions I’m so very used to asking from a Christian perspective 🙂

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  230. Howie-
    I agree my questions were not worded the way I wanted. I’m still having trouble formulating them, so I think I’m just going to drop what I was trying to ask there. Maybe E will read that whenever Australia wakes up and be able to spot out my words for me 🙂

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  231. Josh, you’ve gotten a handful of answers that all carried some similar themes. Did they not touch on your deeper question enough? I’m curious to hear what you think about our responses.

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  232. Nate-
    I’m still thinking about the deeper issue I was getting at. I’ll try again. Howie, at least, seemed to acknowledge he could, if convinced by evidence, accept that others may not be convinced by it. I don’t know if that carries over to others here. But, if it does, then it seems to throw a wrench into the premise that God has to make sure that everyone believes. If you are able to accept, under even hypothetical circumstances, that some people may not be convinced even if it is true, then that premise seems to fall away. Does that make sense?

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  233. Hey Josh, I think you’re making things a bit confusing here. If convinced by evidence and reason of course I would accept it, but the problem is that reason and evidence are not there for me. So you’ve only created a paradoxical argument.

    Given reason then the god as described looks contradictory if some have good reasons to doubt. You could argue that all our reasons for doubting are all lies, but you are always more gracious than that and even admit that there are times you doubt it yourself.

    Also, the premise is not that God must make sure everyone believes otherwise he doesn’t exist. It’s not really a premise, here’s the reasoning again: the concept of god which seems to be supported by a lot of Christians is a god who wants all of us to love him and have a relationship with him, and if we don’t believe he exists then we’re in some way screwed for all eternity. If the stakes are eternity then it isn’t loving for him to withhold information that could lead people to believe in him. But you believe he is loving. It just doesn’t seem to add up.

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  234. I was a bit disappointed, Josh, that you didn’t respond to either of my comments to you – I had looked forward to your input.

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  235. “I’m pretty skeptical of that — do you have any references for it?”

    Hi Nate, I didn’t just make that stuff up. Yes, there is good evidence for that.

    Perhaps the most complete source of information on this is Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, with his conclusions based on the work of scholars in a range of fields including Middle Eastern Studies, the psychology of memory and the study of “orality” (oral cultures). He references work by Biblical scholar Birger Gerhardsson, New Testament scholar Kenneth Bailey, who lived and worked for decades among Middle Eastern oral cultures and a number of experts on memory (e.g. psychologists William Brewer and Alan Baddeley).

    I obviously cannot summarise all these findings here, but here are a few brief points:

    1. “The disciples of rabbis were expected to memorise their master’s teaching, and importance was attached to preserving the exact words. Mnemonic techniques and other controls were used to minimise deviation from the version learned.” (Bauckham referencing Gerhardsson.) The scholars say there are signs of patterned phrasing in Jesus’ teaching, indicating he may, and certainly could have, used similar methods.

    2. Most scholars (following Bailey and others) don’t think Jesus and the early christian adopted quite as rigorous methods, but rather a mix of formal and informal controlled methods of transmission. Such methods are still used in oral cultures today – control is exercised by older people and the whole community, who expect the main parts of the story and teaching to be transmitted very accurately, virtually word for word, and will correct the story teller if he or she deviates. (Stories foundational to the community are repeated often.) It is possible, maybe likely, that the early christians used these methods too.

    3. Of course some things were also written down early. Casey argues that a literate tax collector like Matthew, who he regards as quite likely the original author of the specific Matthew material, quite likely wrote sayings and events down that he was eye-witness to. Not all scholars agree with him, but most agree that some material was written down early.

    4. Bauckham quotes memory experts on what memories are more likely to be transmitted accurately (unique or unusual events, events with consequences, an event where a person is emotionally involved, etc) and shows that the gospel events satisfy many of these requirements.

    5. All this points to the ability to memorise accurately large amounts of important material, and a method of transmission and preservation which was often informal but well controlled, where the teachings and main events were preserved accurately but there are peripheral details which were not preserved well or were creatively re-told. This is exactly what we find in the gospels.

    So there is good evidence for what you were sceptical of.

    Nate, you know that I have deep respect and affection for you, and you have always been very welcoming of me here. So I am going to presume on that friendship a little and challenge you here. You admit you haven’t read much on these topics, yet your initial response to this matter was scepticism, and your view of Jesus mythicism is to have some sympathy towards it. You are strong on criticising christians for holding onto beliefs that don’t (you think) have sufficient evidence, yet here you are holding the possibility of mythicism when almost every scholar says otherwise, and holding a sceptical view before you even looked at the evidence. I really can’t understand it.

    Surely your view should have been to withhold judgement on oral transmission until you had evidence? Surely, just as you expect christians to accept evolution because the vast majority of scientists tell us it is true, you should accept that mythicism is not true because the even vaster majority of ancient historians reject it? I really can’t see consistency there.

    End of rant. Regardless of your response, I will continue to admire and expect you. But I hope for change! 🙂

    Thanks.

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  236. Hey Arch-
    I’m sorry! I totally overlooked them! I’m not by a computer anymore tonight (typing on my phone). I’ll get back to you tomorrow. Apologies!

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  237. The disciples of rabbis were expected to memorise their master’s teaching, and importance was attached to preserving the exact words.” – Yet interestingly, scribes often couldn’t copy biblical text correctly, when the text to be copied was directly in front of them. There are over 5000 different copies of the New Testament alone, and that doesn’t include the OT, but the oral memorization was perfect!

    Surely, just as you expect christians to accept evolution because the vast majority of scientists tell us it is true, you should accept that mythicism is not true because the even vaster majority of ancient historians reject it?” – You’re saying, with a straight face, that vastly more ancient historians reject mythicism than scientists who accept evolution?

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  238. Thanks for the info, unkleE.

    Nate, you know that I have deep respect and affection for you, and you have always been very welcoming of me here. So I am going to presume on that friendship a little and challenge you here. You admit you haven’t read much on these topics, yet your initial response to this matter was scepticism, and your view of Jesus mythicism is to have some sympathy towards it. You are strong on criticising christians for holding onto beliefs that don’t (you think) have sufficient evidence, yet here you are holding the possibility of mythicism when almost every scholar says otherwise, and holding a sceptical view before you even looked at the evidence. I really can’t understand it.

    Surely your view should have been to withhold judgement on oral transmission until you had evidence? Surely, just as you expect christians to accept evolution because the vast majority of scientists tell us it is true, you should accept that mythicism is not true because the even vaster majority of ancient historians reject it? I really can’t see consistency there.

    I appreciate the kind words at the beginning of your statement here. And in many ways, I can see why you would feel this way from my comments. At the same time, I’m not sure it’s completely fair. Either that, or I haven’t been very clear.

    First, I don’t think the proper response would be for me to just accept that mythicism isn’t true just because that’s what the majority of scholars say. I don’t even think Christians should accept evolution on those grounds. What people should do, in my opinion, is accept that they don’t know enough to make a complete judgment. I don’t expect Christians to wholly accept evolution — I just think they should accept that mainstream science views evolution as true, and they should be willing to learn about it, not fight its being taught in the classroom. When it comes to mythicism, I can accept that mainstream scholarship rejects it, and I can accept that it may not be true. I’m open to learning as much as possible about the subject and would be happy to read (and have read) from sources that hold to the historicity of Jesus. However, I’m not going to completely write off another explanation when I don’t know enough to do that. I think that would be the wrong approach.

    When it comes to oral tradition, this is actually something that I have looked into a bit more. So I wasn’t voicing skepticism unnecessarily — I’m sorry if it seemed like I was. I’m also sorry if it seemed like I was accusing you of making something up. I was really just saying that I’m skeptical of the claim, not you, and I wondered what resources you were aware of that supported it. As I said, I’m familiar with the evidence we have for the memorization employed by rabbis. I also know that we don’t have evidence showing that kind of formal training going on in Christian circles, especially early on. Perhaps it was happening informally — I don’t know.

    But I think the wide variance of Christian beliefs early on indicate that this is unlikely. The four gospels in today’s Bible are fairly similar in their depictions of Jesus, though we know that 2 of them were based on Mark. But other gospels have surfaced that show very different views of Jesus. And we know that there were many divergent schools of thought on who he was, what he represented, and what people should do about it. To me, this doesn’t indicate that the oral versions of these stories were being carefully circulated and kept free of embellishment and alteration.

    I’ll try to spend more time on this topic soon, because it’s something I’m interested in — I just haven’t found the time yet to dig into it sufficiently. So thanks for these sources; I’ll definitely check them out. I may have more to say once I’ve spent some more time on the subject, but I at least wanted to try to clarify my positions (and the reasoning behind them) before moving on.

    Thanks

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  239. Howie, at least, seemed to acknowledge he could, if convinced by evidence, accept that others may not be convinced by it. I don’t know if that carries over to others here. But, if it does, then it seems to throw a wrench into the premise that God has to make sure that everyone believes. If you are able to accept, under even hypothetical circumstances, that some people may not be convinced even if it is true, then that premise seems to fall away. Does that make sense?

    Hi Josh,

    No, I’m afraid this doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I’m not quite sure what you’re saying…

    I agree that I might be convinced of something based on evidence that someone else may not be convinced by. That happens all the time — we all have different thresholds for what we need to be convinced of something. If you believe the gospels, even Jesus’ disciples were that way (Thomas).

    But you followed that up with this:

    then it seems to throw a wrench into the premise that God has to make sure that everyone believes.

    I don’t think that follows at all. If Christianity is true, then this thing God wants us to understand is the most important bit of information ever. We’re not just trying to convince someone that they should buy one type of car over another — while making the wrong choice there can be expensive and painful, it’s nothing compared to missing out on salvation, right? I mean, is that a statement you’d agree with? I’m not sure what you think “salvation” means, so maybe you don’t think it’s that big of a deal if people miss out on it. I always assumed it was the hugest deal imaginable, and that’s why it’s clear to me that a truly loving God would go to any length to make sure everyone understood exactly who he is and exactly what he wants.

    I mean, most Christians believe he pulled out all the stops and offered his own son as the ultimate sacrifice for sin. Most Christians would say that is a very big deal.

    So wouldn’t he pull out all the stops to let everyone know? What good is that wonderful sacrifice if people don’t think it actually happened? And how can you judge that someone’s rejecting something that they don’t actually believe in?

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  240. Hi Nan,

    “your “arguments” always go back to what the “historians,” the “scholars,” the “apologists” say. At times it makes me wonder if you have any thoughts of your own “

    I’m glad you made this comment, because hopefully I can clear something up. I think I have said it before but it mustn’t have been very memorable. Here is how I approach things here:

    1. I think it is important to distinguish between things that are facts (things that are well supported by objective evidence, not necessarily certain, but highly probable) and other things that are opinion (things for which there is less clear evidence and on which we may legitimately differ).

    2. It is important to understand the facts before we form opinions, and to change our opinions if our understanding of the facts changes.

    3. In complex matters (e.g. science, history, medicine), it is unlikely that non-experts have enough knowledge to make a reasonable judgment on what are the facts. We need to take notice of the experts, who interact with each other at conferences and in peer reviewed literature. We may reasonably disagree with experts on many things, but if a strong or overwhelming consensus exists on certain facts, non-experts have little alternative but to accept the consensus.

    4. Once we have determined the facts, we are then free to draw conclusions from those facts and discuss with others. In fact, discussion before the facts are agreed on rarely goes anywhere because there is no shared basis.

    5. Therefore, in forums like this, I generally avoid giving my opinions (except when asked) until after the broad facts are agreed on. The problem is, the non-believers on this forum seem very reluctant to accept the overwhelming consensus of experts on the facts (despite claiming to be evidence-driven), so there is little point in expressing opinions.

    6. To re-iterate, almost 100% (probably more than 99%, seriously) of NT and ancient history scholars accept that the historical evidence demonstrates that Jesus really lived and died in first century Palestine. Bart Ehrman and many others (including classical historians) all agree on this. He and the late Maurice Casey wrote books to this effect. Unless we have their proficiency in several ancient languages, access to the documents and a good understanding developed over years of study, we can’t really contest this enormous consensus (unless we don’t want to be evidence-based). The mythicists have very few genuine historians among their ranks, and even less that have extensive experience and hold chairs at reputable universities. You and others may not like this, but these are the facts.

    7. Further, though not so easy to establish exactly, very few historians I have read contest the basic facts that Sanders outlined. He is one the most respected of all NT historians, and he has summed up what most of them conclude (these facts are “almost beyond dispute”).

    8. So very little I write here is my own opinion, I’m still trying to get agreement that we accept the facts as determined by the experts (which I am always happy to support with references). If that happens, then we can move onto opinions, But until that happens, others reading this discussion can see that there are some here who don’t accept the evidence. Again, I’m sorry to be so blunt, but I see no alternative.

    I would be very interested to see which of these points you and others here agree with.

    “How can Sanders consider these to be “facts” that Jesus existed when the bible is still in dispute by many as being an actual and historical record of events?”

    I will say again, the experts don’t divide sources into those that are “an actual and historical record of events” and those that are not, This is far too binary! But they have found the gospels to contain good historical material, from which they draw their conclusions. They differ in their assessment of much of that material, but they all draw the same broad conclusion.

    This reply is long enough so I’ll stop there. Thanks.

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  241. “You’re saying, with a straight face, that vastly more ancient historians reject mythicism than scientists who accept evolution?”

    Arch, I meant what I said and I had good reason to say it.

    I have seen lists of scientists who reject evolution, and in the US alone they number in the hundreds. This source claims 840. Wikipedia claims 87% support for evolution by natural selection, and 97% believe in evolutionary change over time (but presumably not necessarily including natural selection). The same article references other studies that show 5% of scientists believe in creationism. But of course, these numbers may include scientists in non-relevant fields. And the data is very US centric.

    Wikipedia also says only 700 out of 480,000 earth and life scientists (= 0.146%) in the US support creationism.

    So we can conclude somewhere between 0.15% and 13% of scientists don’t accept evolution, with the number of scientists working in the field likely to be at the low percentage end. (Note that I accept evolution.)

    In contrast, I have heard that there are about 10,000 ancient history and NT scholars working in the field, and as far as I know, only about 5 are mythicists, and Bart Ehrman claims there are none with positions at reputable universities. Thus the percentages range from 0 to 0.05% who are mythicists.

    Thus, however you cut the cake, it appears reasonable to conclude that the percentage of historians with relevant expertise who believe Jesus existed is greater than the percentage of scientists with relevant expertise who accept evolution. But whatever the actual percentages, the consensus in both fields is enormous.

    Like I said to Nan and Nate, are you willing to accept this overwhelming consensus of experts, or are you not?

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  242. Not without researching it personally, no, as without such research, I don’t know that such a consensus exists – and this is something that at the moment, I simply haven’t time to do.

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  243. Hey Arch-
    I’m gonna try to hit both of your comments in one comment. With regards to differing accounts of events, or even copying of accounts from one telling to another telling, I guess that doesn’t to me. Whether they followed Jesus on Saturday or Sunday, or whether Jesus found them or they saw him, I don’t really care that much. On the copying of accounts, I can’t really speak to that since I don’t know much about it. There’s been an incredible amount of review on this thread about whether, and how much of, the accounts of Jesus’ life can be considered historical. I’m not as well read as unkleE, but what I’ve read leans me more toward his side of the camp than the other.

    That, I think, leads a bit into the other comment of why wouldn’t God make himself more readily accessible. My honest response is I really don’t know. However, I can say that he certainly seems to take the road less traveled when it comes to indisputable reveals. He was born to a poor couple in a stranger’s barn. He died a pretty average criminal death. His teaching and miracles caused some to believe and some to want him dead. Even those who did believe based on his miracles denied knowing him and ran away when he was captured. In the Hebrew Bible, God is often choosing second-born scoundrels over first-born, “rightful” heirs. God seems to take a much more subtle approach than many in scripture expect of him. God chooses to just not act the way we want him to, or think a “good God” should.

    I think some of the difficulty in this conversation comes from what Nate was pointing out – that I don’t think I view God throwing people into hell for not having enough information, which is the way hell is characterized in these discussions quite often. I do, however, acknowledge that it seems clear that, for many different reasons, some people will not believe or choose to reject God as he is revealed in scripture. I’m not necessarily okay with that, but that seems to be the case. I was trying to point out, in my conversation with Nate and Howie, that I thought they’d agree that there *might* be circumstances in which, even if they believed Jesus is who he said he was, that some people will not believe or reject him. I either didn’t communicate that very well, or they disagree. I’m not sure how much more I have to say on that point, either. I can’t really think of a different way to communicate it, and that they disagree is fine.

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  244. Good morning Josh. It’s perfectly ok with me to disagree as well because you know how to do it gracefully, and I really hope I do too, but maybe I fail. I have not one ounce of judgment for any of the beliefs you hold. It looks to me like you come to them through honest process of thinking. When I express my views it’s in the hope of somehow being understood, but I’m no pollyanna so I also know that will often not happen.

    I think what I was saying yesterday is not that simple, because not all Christians believe hell exists, some are universalists, some believe in post-mortem conversions (like Robert Farrar Capon), etc., etc., etc. My line of reasoning was more what I think a lot of Christians believe, and what I think the bible seems to suggest (although it looks like it suggests different things sometimes which causes even more confusion in these discussions).

    So let me ask you this then. A lot of us non-theists here are well informed about the gospel message, although to differing degrees of education on all the issues involved. However, I’d say we are all a lot more well informed on it than every other religion that exists. So we are very aware of the message. But we say that we doubt it’s veracity. (again, I’m not saying that I judge you for disagreeing, just expressing my own doubts). So would you say that deep down we actually do realize that the god of the Christian worldview exists?

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  245. Hey Howie-
    First, thanks for the complement. I’m certain I am not always gracious, but I certainly appreciate that you feel that way. You, and pretty much everyone here, are always pleasant to speak with, though I know we often disagree. Thank you.

    So would you say that deep down we actually do realize that the god of the Christian worldview exists?

    No. I wouldn’t say that. I don’t know if I’d even say that deep down I truly realize the Christian god exists. I am persuaded, though…most of the time. And, to be clear, the vast majority of my persuasion comes from what I’ve talked about in terms of observations of myself and others, and trying to work out where there might be any hope for us. That plus, as I’ve mentioned before, despite the numerous doubts and problems I run into almost daily, my faith and hope remains. Only a small amount of my persuasion comes from the arguments and evidence. The more I’ve read of Capon, and those who think similarly, the less I am believing that being “right” is important. I think Capon is right that the Gospels and other NT texts are often confusing and contradictory. However, the thread of grace, that the work is finished and has been finished since before time began, is really the only Good News I see. It is an announcement. It is not a new contract on top of, or in place of, the old. It is news that it’s done. For everyone. How will that play out for everyone, especially those who don’t “know” about God or Jesus? I really don’t know. I just know that the hope that I have is in a God who would not turn on those who find their hope for the reconciliation of this crazy world in him. If God exists, and I’m wrong and he is not like that? Well, then I’ll probably end up in the flames with the rest of you! 😉

    Part of what I’m trying to work out when I ask questions and make statements here is where that line of evidence ends and faith begins. I know that the evidence doesn’t lead all the way. But, I’m often not sure how far the evidence does go. Maybe it really doesn’t go very far at all. Even that would be okay with me. I am aware of enough of what I hope for now that, even if all historical texts were compromised in every possible way, I would still hope that the grace and mercy I believe in for everyone is true. And, as I do now, I would (very, very imperfectly) try to live out that grace and mercy toward others the best that I can.

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  246. Josh, I’m gonna exercise my right to ramble and sound like a broken record. My own view is that the evidence that I am aware of doesn’t lead me very far to conclude much about ultimate questions. So I focus on the practical – like teaching my kids not to stick their hands in fire, and not to worry about things that are unknown (like an afterlife). Does this give me enough to live life – maybe. Are there times I want more – yes. Are there times I don’t – yes.

    When I read that Capon book I liked the overall idea (and hence I like a lot of what you believe). A God who simply wants us to accept the gift of forgiveness and nothing more – I’d accept it welcomingly and thankfully. I’m not perfect either. But “like” doesn’t get me to feeling I can claim to others that I believe it is real, and that they should believe it as well. The overall picture makes me doubt, but as I’ve said before the overall picture isn’t always easy to prove – I don’t want to sound like Kathy did claiming certainty that she knew she had the overall picture correct.

    And a lot of what you write here (especially the last paragraph) is really very beautiful, and I think may be the source of why Nate and others try to tell you they think you’re a good guy. Yes, I know that you do bad things. I’m sure you’ve done some things that would make some cringe on this blog. I grew up in a poor urban area and had friends in gangs so I know what we are all capable of. But your warm and caring desires and values bleed onto the blog page when you write, so I think that’s part of why we react the way we do when you talk about the bad guy that you are.

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  247. I just know how much I fall short a lot of the time, Howie. I can echo Paul unconditionally that I seem to have two opposing natures fighting within me. And, that I often do things I don’t want to do, and fail to do things I want to do. Maybe that is just the way we are. Maybe there’s more to it. Can’t say I know one way or the other.

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  248. On the copying of accounts, I can’t really speak to that since I don’t know much about it.” – You can correct that shortfall in an afternoon, Josh (assuming you can tear yourself away from PlayStation) – just take two bibles, open one to Mark, the other to Matthew, and read them side by side. All biblical scholars I’m aware of agree that Mark was written first. Don’t listen to me, draw your own conclusions.

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  249. …trying to work out where there might be any hope for us” – I believe that that hope lies within us, people like you and me, who can have differences and sit down and talk about them civilly. And if we walk away, still holding the same beliefs – so what? It’s all good!

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  250. I seem to have two opposing natures fighting within me.” – We all do, Josh.

    Imagine the bell curve, with our good side on the right, our dark side on the left – I think you’ll fine that most of our actions take place in the middle. While you ARE unique, Josh, you’re unique just like everyone else —

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  251. “You can correct that shortfall in an afternoon, Josh (assuming you can tear yourself away from PlayStation) ”

    Not sure I can pull myself away long enough, Arch 😉

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  252. Hariod Brawn, RE:
    I believe it to be so that many have their religious faith sustained by the emotional solace that is derived from it.
    Would you also accept that that “emotional solace” might simply be relief of anxieties, knowing that someone powerful is in charge, whose main motivation is protecting us?

    I think if we are of a character type disposed to faith per se, then it is not so easy as to switch it off by virtue of reason.
    Consider the possibility that we came by it naturally:

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  253. Nate, RE: “I feel like I know Brandon and unkleE well enough by now to trust that they’re not being disingenuous.” – Then clearly, you don’t know Brandon, if he’s not being disingenuous this time, that’s once in a row!

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  254. May the path you choose eventually be superstition free.” – You RULE, Ark! (while I’m on vacation –)

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  255. God is by definition totally beyond us in power and knowledge” – The lengths to which the human mind will go to avoid cognitive dissonance, never ceases to amaze me. At first, the Bible’s god was located in the “heavens” – somewhere up in the sky. Since we’ve gone to the moon, he has moved to somewhere beyond space and time, and according to some, “totally beyond us.” By definition? By my definition, he lives between our ears, and once we evict him, he ceases to be. Has anyone seen Zeus lately?

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  256. Some time ago, Nate said: “God could simultaneously want a relationship and still remain hidden, but that’s contradictory behavior, and it’s grounds for disbelief.

    Then Stephen said: “– How would god have talked to him or anyone? An audible voice? voices within his own mind? or would god speak through his own internal dialogue like a thought?

    While Matt wrote:
    Matt
    January 30, 2015 at 3:23 pm
    Since I have opened this ‘Pandora’s’ box of study, here is one I’m struggling with: Why had God gone silent?

    “For all of the jewish people’s history God was very active/vocal with them, up to the point of Christ. Prophets, miracles, even speaking directly to folks, why now this 2000 year silence?

    Then I said: archaeopteryx1
    January 30, 2015 at 9:44 pm
    Matt – if I may, I would like to respond to your query a little later this evening after the rest of my world goes away.

    However, since I said that, a lot of evenings have passed and I’m just now getting around to it.

    In his book, The Hidden Face of God, Richard Elliot Friedman demonstrates that throughout the Bible, the dynamic between the Bible’s god and man, which Friedman terms “the Divine/Human Balance,” changes.

    Adam and Eve, for example, appear as weak, helpless children – their god even has to personally make clothes for them on his Celestial Singer. A few generations later, although his god has to draw the blueprints, Noah builds his own ark (though his god personally pops down and close the door for him), but by the end of the story, Noah does something entirely on his own, plants grapes, makes wine and gets drunk.

    By the time we come to Abraham, although his god tells him to leave his land and move to the Levant, Abe then takes on far more responsibility than ever did Noah, and in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, instead of blindly accepting his god’s will that the cities be destroyed (as Noah meekly accepted that all of Humanity be destroyed), attempts to wheedle him, via guilt-trip, into saving them – “Far be it from you to do a thing like this. Will not the judge of all the earth not do justice?” (Gen 18:25). C’mon, god – put on your big-boy pants!

    Then we have Lot, fleeing from Gomorrah, told by the angels to go to the mountains, who changes the plan, and asks to go to a nearby city instead! Not only does his god agree to Lot’s agenda, but tells him to hurry, as, in Lot’s god’s own words, “I cannot do a thing until you get there“! (Gen. 19:22). The god who blinked the universe into existence must now wait on the progress of a man before he can act!

    Later, when Abe sends his servant back to Haran, in search of a wife for Isaac (the boy was only 60, but Abe finally broke down and decided he should marry), it is the servant (24:12-14), not his god, who chooses what the sign will be in deciding which 14-year old girl would be the best bride for Ike, and his god complies.

    Still later, Jacob even wrestles with his god – and wins!

    Then the age of miracles begins, and Joseph is said to have had the first super-power, though a seemingly small one – he can interpret dreams, but is quick to add that it is his god, working through him, that accomplishes this feat.

    Moses, on the other hand – though the miracles were actually performed by his god – is given such a free hand as to the timing and execution of these events, that he has to continually remind onlookers that it is his god, not himself, who is doing this.

    Throughout the Moses fable, unlike Abraham, who tried and failed to get his god to alter his plan to destroy the cities, Moses is able to get his god to alter a number of decisions, such as the Golden Calf episode, where Moses’ god decides to kill everyone and start over with a new line descended from Moses – Moses talks him out of it.

    Then we come to the episode of the rock. Moses’ god tells him to speak to a rock and water will gush out, but Moses taps it with his staff instead. This minor deviation so pisses off his god, that despite all of the hardships Moses has endured for his god, it is decreed that Moses will never enter the Promised Land. BUT – despite all of this, his god still allows the water to gush out!

    Joshua, later, is allowed to choose his own miracle, when he calls for the sun to stand still while he finishes his battle, and later still, Samson contains his power within himself – given by his god, but still, self-contained.

    Then we come to the Jewish monarchy. Since settling in the Levant, the nation of Israel had been ruled by a group of judges, but the surrounding city-states all had kings, so the clamor arose among the Jews to change their form of government to a kingship, and by the time we come to 1st Samuel, the prophet/judge Samuel resists, but is told by his god to allow the will of the people to prevail, “…they have not rejected you, they have rejected me, from ruling over them” (1st Sam 8:4-7).

    In Exodus (19:17 – 20:22) the Israelite’s god actually speaks to them from the sky. Now according to the Bible, these people had spent the last 40 years witnessing daily miracles, towers of dust in the day and pillars of fire by night, water coming out of rocks, birds dropping out of the sky for them to eat, but when old Yah actually speaks to them in a loud voice, they quake in their sandals (Ex 20:20) and beg Moses to appoint someone to act as an intermediary between themselves and their god – and so the priesthood was born, and little boys everywhere instinctively tightened their sphincters.

    Here’s a quick look at the god of the Bible’s recession:
    • Moses has a face-to-face with his god (Ex, 33:17 – 34:8; Num, 12:8) in his tent at Sinai (and wears a vail ever after).
    • Moses’ god tells him (Deut, 32:20), “I shall hide my face from them; I shall see what their end will be.” The reference to the Bible’s god hiding his face appears over 30 times throughout the book.
    • The last time the Bible’s god was said to have been “revealed” to a human, was the prophet, Samuel (1st Sam, 3:21).
    • The last time the Bible’s god was said to have “appeared” to a human, was King Solomon (1st Kngs, 9:2).
    • The last public miracle was the divine fire that appeared for Elijah at Mount Carmel, followed by his god’s refusal to appear for him at Mount Horeb/Sinai (1st Kngs, 18-19).
    • The last personal miracle was when the shadow reversed before Isaiah and Hezekiah (2nd Kngs, 20:1-11; Isa, 38:1-22; 2nd Chr, 32:24).
    • The Bible’s god is not mentioned at all throughout the entire book of Esther.

    It could be said that the Bible’s god is hiding his face from humans out of spite, “Now let’s just see how the little bastards do on their OWN!

    It could also be said that the Bible’s god, like a beneficent father, wants to give us more responsibility and allow us to learn to solve our own problems. I can’t say we’ve done a bang-up job, but I’d like to think we’re getting there.

    It could also be said that over time, humanity simply outgrew him, as it has all of the other gods, and in the words of Paul from Corinthians, simply “…put aside childish things.

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  257. It still doesn’t answer the question of “Why,” but it may put the length of time the old boy has been AWOL into a slightly clearer perspective. Thanks.

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