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The Strange Case of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Houdini, and Romans 1

One of the most interesting passages in the Bible relating to defending the faith is Romans 1:18-19, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.” What makes this interesting to me as an apologist is that it says unbelievers do not lack information; that is not the fundamental issue. Rather, the issue is self-deceit, since they know the truth but suppress it. Apologetics, then, reveals the self-deceit of unbelievers. But can people really deceive themselves so profoundly?

The answer is yes. Consider Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a medical doctor and creator of the world’s most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. The methods Conan Doyle armed Holmes with were so sensible that some of them were actually adopted by Scotland Yard. And Conan Doyle himself was consulted on several cases as if he shared the abilities of his fictional creation. If ever there was a man who could think logically about the facts of a case and arrive at a plausible solution it was Conan Doyle.

But when his son died in World War I, Conan Doyle turned to Spritualism for consolation in hopes of making contact with him through mediums. Sir Arthur became so involved in spiritualism he became its most famous evangelist in the 1920’s, doing speaking tours to promote it.

It was on one of these speaking tours that Conan Doyle was introduced to magic’s most famous magician, Houdini. Houdini had begun a crusade against Spiritualism because he recognized the so-called mediums were really unscrupulous magicians taking advantage of grieving and emotionally distraught people. Indeed, early in his career Houdini had posed as a medium and regretted the damage he had done. Despite their differences a friendship was formed and the two families even vacationed together.

Conan Doyle would tell Houdini about the incredible things he had witnessed at different séances and about the mediums he insisted Houdini visit. Houdini would respond by explaining and even demonstrating the methods used to achieve the effects. Conan Doyle refused to be convinced and would always respond to the effect of, “That’s one way to do it,” as if Houdini’s revelation lacked full explanatory power. Even when mediums outted themselves as frauds, Conan Doyle would treat them as the exception, not the rule.

Eventually, the friendship broke down over the issue. Houdini wrote a book exposing the methods of mediums shortly before his death. Some years later, Conan Doyle devoted a chapter in a book arguing that Houdini’s feats were so fantastic that the best explanation is that Houdini was himself a medium who used his power for entertainment. He argued that when Houdini escaped from a locked milk can, or from handcuffs and chains inside a box nailed shut and locked, or the Chinese Water Torture cell, or a jail cell, that the only possible way he could do it was that he had dematerialized and rematerialized outside the restraint. In fact, so sure was he of this explanation, Conan Doyle declared it an “outrage against common sense to think otherwise.” But Sherlock Holmes would have been the one outraged. Not even Dr. Watson at his most confused would have come up with that one!

The story shows that truth, no matter how obvious, can be suppressed, even by the most intelligent of people. It is an illustration of the truth of Romans 1. And it is a reminder to those who defend the faith that giving answers can often be painful to those who need them because it reveals self-deceit. All the reason more to be mindful of Ephesians 4:15, to speak the truth in love.

53 Responses to “The Strange Case of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Houdini, and Romans 1”

  1. Doug, very interesting and shows that we are condemned without grace specifically because we DO know, instinctively, about God and do not follow him.

    But this leads to another very interesting issue. Paul correctly states that God has made himself plain to everyone so that those who do not believe bear responsibility. But this must equally apply to the millions upon millions who lived and died on this planet never having heard the Gospel message and never heard of the Jewish or Christian God by name. Think of the countless number of natives in the Americas, for example. For Paul’s statement to make any sense, it must be saying that they, too, will be judged for their unrighteousness and for hiding the “truth”. And, if this is the case, then there must be something more basic about the truth of God’s nature that is known to all men.

    Not a single one of those natives could possibly have accepted the “truth” of God as we know it, and yet there must be some way for them to either hide or reveal the truth, to be within God’s grace or to be outside of it.

  2. Don’t mean to pick a fight, but doesn’t Doyle’s story cut both ways? I mean, “he had dematerialized and rematerialized” sounds way too much like Jesus’ post resurrection appearances to the disciples in locked rooms. I am not saying that this disproves Christianity in anyway but it is not a really good argument for it either.

    • Hi Scott. Bethydad’s response to you is excellent. Conan Doyle’s view is akin to claiming Jesus’ resurrection was possible because Jesus was an alien from another planet. The best proof of Jesus being an alien is that there is no proof whatsoever, which is just what we’d expect since Jesus was from an advanced race and could avoid leaving clues. What about the evidence to the contrary? Again, just what we’d expect since an alien of advanced intelligence could create a convincing ruse. By proving nothing it answers everything. The resurrection of Jesus is another kind of thing entirely because its investigation was encouraged. It was also predicted by Jesus and acted as a verification of all his claims. The best explanation for what happened on that first Sunday after Jesus’ death is resurrection. No other explanation can cover all the bases and withstand investigation. However, Houdini offered far better explanations than Conan Doyle’s and even demonstrated them. Yet Sir Arthur insisted on an explanation that could not withstand investigation and acted as if that was its virtue.

  3. rayner markley April 7, 2009 at 11:44 pm

    The cited verses (Rom 1:18,19) point to righteousness as the ‘plain truth’ about God that all men know. This agrees with the notion of an innate moral consciousness possessed by all people. Depending on one’s inclinations, one may say it was seized by Adam or it arose as a natural development in society. But however God made it known to us or however we came to possess it, this knowledge must be universal in order for self-deceit to be the cause of men’s unrighteous acts. As Christian witnesses, then, we are not declaring something new and unknown, but simply uncovering something that folks already know.

  4. and Scotland Yard still never caught Jack the Ripper. Arthur Conan Doyle was not a very good detective because he was just an author. His methods have been debunked while Christians still watch David Copperfield and Chris Angell. Well I don’t but some do. People are fascinated with it.

  5. doesn’t Doyle’s story cut both ways?

    No, because Houdini denied spiritualism. He even demonstrated some tricks.

    It is not the dematerialising and rematerialising that is contentious, it is the context.

    Jesus appearing in a locked room is of minor relevance, if a man can rise from the dead, appearing within a locked room is child’s play. And coming back to life when several people have confirmed you dead is more than a magician’s trick.

    • Great reply, Bethyada! On an historical note: Houdini never denied Spiritualism. He was quite open to its being true. The problem was he never met or heard of a medium that wasn’t a fraud.

  6. 1968
    Time Magazine cover “God is Dead” after release of Rosemary’s Baby

    1969
    Charles Manson and Family commit murder. Charles Manson, member of Church of Satan by Anton LeVay.

    Rolling Stones concert at Altamont Speedway, during song “Sympathy For the Devil” four people are shot dead during melee.

    1973
    The Exorcist is released being the most controversial movie of all time, people are reported passing out in movie theaters.

    We have a prevailing theme in our culture and that is as long as we like it and it is entertainment it is ok. You hear some preachers from some denominations decry Charismatic and accuse them of witchcraft and yet still watch tv shows like Charmed, Bewitched, Supernatural and Chris Angel Mindfreak, Sylvia Brown and John Edward. I don’t see books written by Christian authors against them, but Charismatic gets hit quite often.

    There is nothing ok about any form of entertainment that denounces of minimizes Christianity by attempting to make it a sub-par idealism. Either we are Christians who believe in Jesus, or we are a bunch of self righteous hypocrites who don’t actually have the power of the Holy Ghost inside us. Simon the sorcerer wanted to buy that power from the apostles, but found out he could not.

    So spiritualism’s real power is only in the form of subtle manipulation to reduce our faith in what is real and who is in charge. Either Superman is an allegory or an attempt to achieve replacing the real Messiah reducing Him to comic book status. It worked. People watch the superhero movie because it speaks to our psyche invoking our helplessness in need of a power to save us, whatever that power might be.

    Either Jesus is the Messiah who is anointed or He is just another myth. And by our approval and endorsement of myths we allow the world to remain unchanged, because for many churches, this has become nothing more than a social gospel. Shun the very appearance of evil, the Bible says….accept anything and anyone, the social gospel says. We have been lulled to sleep spiritually by the voices around us. Awake to righteousness and sin no more.

  7. bethyada: I was not clear enough here. I seized on Doyle’s quote too readily.

    A bteer illusrtation of how this cuts both ways would be the disciples’ reaction to Jesus death. Something they thought impossible actually happened – the Messiah they expected to drive out the Romans was crucified. One possible response, given the human nature illuminated so admirably by Doug above, is to make a leap to more convoluted claims: Jesus’ death was temporary and he will come back before this generation passes to clean up the mess. History provides examples of just this sort of after-the-fact reinterpretation such as the Great Disappointment episode of the Millerites/Seventh Day Adventists.

    Essentially, neither believers nor non-believers have a monopoly on willful denial. Non-Christians are not going to be moved in the least by such an apologetic argument so Doug would be well served in avoiding it. Friendly, I hope, advise and a little perspective from “the other side.”

    Doug: Minor point

    “It was also predicted by Jesus and acted as a verification of all his claims.”

    Actually, Jesus predictions of his resurrection were recorded after the fact by others. They are possibly accurate but nevertheless tainted by this fact. I’m afraid we will end up talking past each other in debating the quality of alternate explanations for the resurrection so I won’t go there.

    Peace

  8. As I recall from my own reading concerning Sherlock Holmes’ actual sleuthing skills reached the conclusion that his reliance on suspects acting according to class and stereo type is what made his techniques unrealistic.

  9. Scott,
    You are right about that. He famously used the idea that someone possessed higher intelligence because his head was bigger, hence brain size equals intellect. But we know that is a false assumption. And Conan Doyle presented a sleuth who was addicted to cocaine. In those days cocaine was just being discovered in Western society and yet opium addiction was well known.

    Eventually those class and status idea made their way into what would become respectable science classes, people think Charles Darwin came up with a theory, but that theory was already formulated. Like the idea that Africans were “bright little monkeys” swinging from trees. Sorry to offend people but that was the prevailing idea long before Charles Darwin. If you read the descriptions of Native Americans in the late 1500s you get a sense that if it was not the norm then it had to be of less value.

    We today still call people stereotype names and laugh at the jokes. Like cracker and redneck are names for poor white “trash”, I mean people. But it is pejorative to people who are poor simply for no other reason than being born where they were. We follow those same thought processes today. And what is dangerous is when science was used to classify people as the Nazis used scientific methods to define what is “pure”. But those ideas came from American scientists.

    Arthur Conan Doyle wrote good stories, and that is all they were. This was new science based in old ideas, nothing more than that.

  10. Doug, I’ve often thought to myself that every atheist once wasn’t one (based on that passage). Would you put it that way? Some atheists are so angry, that I find myself wondering what triggered the change….. such as Ted Turner, who prayed and prayed that his sister would be healed from her disease (I think he was quite young then), but she died, and he declared that there is no God. When you are talking to an atheist, do you ever try to probe them to figure out the reason they’ve come to suppress God? The Romans passage suggests sin as the cause… and I’m sure it always is, but I wonder if you have had many one on one conversations with atheists where there was some event in their life…. some great pain, which caused them to ‘decide’ that there is no God. And then, you have to wonder how often they have to work hard to continually suppress their instincts about God (?). As one who shares the Gospel, I would like to know your thoughts, and any helpful suggestions.

    • Hi Susan. No, I wouldn’t put it that way. My understanding is that we are born with a sinful nature. That nature is source of the suppression of the truth. How that works out is different for everyone, it seems to me. Yes, I do try to get at the core issue when talking with people. I’ve found that the traditional apologetics arguments too often address an issue that is rather superficial or a surface issue for the unbeliever and that something else is really going on. But to find out what that is and establish trust, I take the objections seriously and have to be prepared to answer them. Scott’s advice to those of us who want to defend the faith is excellent! Most of the time simply giving right answers does not win the day. HOW we comport ourselves and treat the people we talk with is very important to them.

      Hope that helps.

  11. Susan,

    There do seem to be a lot of angry atheists out there. I could not begin to examine each one’s motivation. I am not Richard Dawkins’ keeper, thank goodness!

    My own “falling away” was not triggered by any anger or pain. My wife once called me a fundamentalist atheist. She is a wise woman. My own experience started with a sermon containing the claim that such-and-such a verse could not have been uttered by Jesus and must have been inserted later. True? Not sure. Scandalous to a twenty year old fundamentalist Episcopalian (that should get your attention :) )? You bet!

    Now I was probably primed for this experience. I had read books that attempted to discredit inerrancy. Being an Episcopalian didn’t help, I guess. Any way, It wasn’t easy. I did a lot of tortuous soul searching. Ultimately though, I studied more and concluded that believe in the God of the Bible was unsupported by the scriptures and vanilla theism was no better justified. No anger. No pain.

    Now, the one reason I can present for bothering oneself with religion at all when you are an atheist is that your nose is all but robbed in it almost every day. In a country like the United States, Christianity matters! It affects our politics. It affects our foreign policy. It affects our children’s education. Sometimes you can get quite riled up. Sometimes you are merely bemused. Most of the time you have to take notice of it.

    That said, Christopher Hitchens is just cranky :)

    I fully expect the Christian writers and followers of this blog to conclude that I have to continually suppress my longing for God. I don’t feel that I do but you probably should believe I struggle everyday. It is almost unprovable either way.

    How can you witness effectively to someone like me?
    * Start by being honest.
    * Discard really bad arguments that insult my intelligence.
    * Pray, if you feel you must.
    * Use humor – that is always disarming.
    * Be nice and humble.

    That last one might make more head way than any other. Can’t guarantee anything but demonstrating that there is such a thing as Christian Love, that the Holy Spirit has empowered you to be different (sorry – that’s Arminianism, isn’t it) and we will see what happens.

  12. Scott, Hey thanks! I don’t mind hearing some perspective from the ‘horse’s mouth’. Starting from the bottom, my leanings are reformed, and I do believe that the Spirit of God indwells me and also empowers me…. to share the Gospel! I think I could easily carry out your witness guidelines. Coffee? In Long Beach, CA ?

    What about your wife? Is she of like-mind with you?

    I can’t help but be curios about that one verse which you were told must have been ‘inserted’. If you don’t mind, would you tell me what it is? Not so that I can launch an all-out offensive…. just curious.

    And, I’m always curious about why atheists lurk here…. if you don’t mind saying (?)

  13. There are some who are atheists because they don’t want to know, there are some who are because they just don’t know, and there are some who are simply because it is more convenient for them to be. But I have learned this, a Christian can be as much an atheist in their heart as an atheist can have faith in something.

    It’s a matter of who or what you have that faith in. I see a lot of atheists lean toward using reason and logic as a means of being. But in their reason and logic, they tend to deny that someone who has faith is also using faculties of reason. Then the argument goes like…”well I don’t believe in fairies or the Easter Bunny either”. Trying to hint that God must not exist because to them fairies don’t exist.

    Whatever the reason a person is an atheist it is done through their own hearts, by their own personal choices. But it is kind of insulting to think if you believe in the irrational then you must be irrational also. And it goes both ways. It is just as insulting to think people who have faith are stupid because they believe in something outside their own worldview. And that happens quite a lot. Why do atheists lurk in faith chatrooms and blogsites? Reason and logic would dictate there would by default be no such conversation if there were no subject.

    I always like to ask this of people who are atheists who fall back on science to say they can only be believe what can be measured..how can you measure the immeasurable? If you can tell me how much the sum total of all the oceans weight then I can trust scientific methods. And that is a reasonable request because it is natural, we see the oceans, we can hold it in our hands, we breathe the air left behind as it falls out of our hands.Even that is greater than us. But in the science of explaining that, can you explain beauty aesthetically? What makes people want to see the sun setting over the horizon? We know it does, but why do we want to hold on to a fleeting image that is there one minute and gone the next?

    We can say it is all scientific, that our brains release endorphins in the pleasure centers and cause us to have emotions of joy. But what triggers them? Synapses? Chemical responses? No my friend, those are merely the vehicle. We know it happens, but why? That is what science does not and cannot answer. There is an immeasurable, a greater than us. That greater speaks in volumes to our conscience, and pricks our hearts. It just amazes me that we live in a world that believes we have reached the Age of Ultimate Intelligence, when we are learning every day that the ancients already knew.

    This was what the moral of Job was about, a man who struggled to believe in God.

    Job 38
    30The waters are hid as with a stone, and the face of the deep is frozen.
    31Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?

    Job is the oldest book in the Bible, and the fact that he mentions the universe as frozen is amazing. How would he know? This chapter is a conversation between God and Job alone. A man who struggled to believe in God.

  14. Susan,

    I discuss it on my blog, http://donttakemyword.blogspot.com/2008/11/one-that-started-it-all.html.

    Matthew 18:17 – If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

    The minister explained that Jesus could not have said this because at the time there was no “church” for someone to listen to. Jesus followers were not that organized. This saying would have to have been added by the early church. I have since read a couple of analyses that weaken this argument but that was the one!

    (Ironically, this is one example of a minister sharing the sort of things that Bart Ehrman’s new book claims are taught in seminary but never passed on to congregations. Haven’t read it… yet)

  15. Oops!

    Susan, I forgot your other question: my wife is a Christian and I attend the United Methodist church with her but that’s another story … (though I do get to sing in a choir every week!)

    About lurking, can I claim morbid curiosity :) I will admit feeling a little better when I encounter reflective Christians – less so when I encounter reactionary ones! But, as I said in my previous comment, being an American living in Alabama Christianity is inescapable. Perhaps I have other issues as an ex-Christian? Feel free to believe that I have a God-Shaped hole in my heart.

  16. Scott,

    Your reference to Matthew 18:17 made me curious. I just checked out that word for “church” in Thayer’s lexicon and found something interesting. The first meaning listed was this: “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly”. It doesn’t sound like that Greek word was used strictly as the “church” although it has often been used that way since the church was founded.

    Is that one of the things you have read since that weakened the argument?

  17. Scott, I like you…… because you’re so honest! Sometimes it’s good to have ‘morbid curiosity’…. especially when it keeps calling you back to a place of honest reflection about what’s in scripture… and a willingness to engage with Christians. For what it’s worth, I applaud you for continuing to attend church with your wife. If you didn’t, I would think that the distance between you would be all the wider. At least maybe you’re still on her team! I’m not sure how you can sing words to songs…. which you don’t believe (?)…. but then, I’m sure millions of people do that every day.

    I think that the potential for my story with my husband to have turned out just as things are with you, and your wife, was very great for a long time. The deal is that my husband thought he was a believer when we got married, and I thought so too. He had gone forward at a Christian concert, “Because I was scared to death of going to Hell” It’s kind of a long story, which I’ve told on this blog, more than once. Let’s just say, things weren’t going well for us for years. For a multitude of reasons I came to have serious doubts that my husband was truly a Spirit-indwelt child of God. A little over a year ago I finally voiced this to my husband. He took it seriously, and began to think and pray about it a lot. he admitted to me that he struggled with doubts, and a lack of peace. Over time, he felt increasingly convicted (about his own sinfulness). This conviction—which leads a person to repentance (an absolutely necessary component of salvation) is something that only the Holy Spirit can manufacture in a person’s heart. Last year, after hearing our pastor preach from Matthew 7, my husband finally “gave himself completely to Jesus, and came to know peace” (his words!). Since then, he has had a huge desire to know and understand God’s word, and he is changing…. and things are definitely looking-up in our marriage.

    Scott, if there’s one thing which frustrates me more than anything else, when I’m talking to a nonbeliever, it is this: I know what it is to have God’s Spirit living within me. It is so radically different than living without His presence…. that it’s hard to explain in a way that a nonbeliever can grasp. To know Him, and have that relationship, is something you just can’t ever comprehend until you are one of His true children. You just don’t know what you are missing! So Scott, my prayer for you will be that you will one day come into God’s family… and know what I’m talking about. And remember, that your past experiences as a person who maybe called himself a Christian…. but probably wasn’t ( once you are Sprit-indwelt you are forever!)…. you were missing so many key ingredients for understanding the truth of God’s word, and having an intimate relationship with Him…. that you were operating with a huge deficit… and didn’t even know it. My prayer for you Scott, is that God will lead you to a place of repentance, and belief in who Jesus is, by His loving Grace…… and that you will one day be my brother in Christ.

    And, about that passage in Matthew which troubled you…. I’ll peek at your blog…. more to come….(nice to know you are still grappling with that!).

    Thanks for the conversation!

    Susan

  18. With respect Kara, Job wasn’t struggling to believe in God. He was struggling to trust him. Easy enough to be in that position when most of your life you’ve been in a comfortable place and then find everything taken away from you. Still Job could say at the end “though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.”

    Scott, as has already been pointed out “church” is a bad translation and “assembly” or “congregation” works just as well and avoids the confusion. I sometimes wonder what God will do to those who mishandle the Bible and in doing so destroy the faith of Christians.

    You have my condolences for being an Episcopalian, I was raised Anglican and still attend regularly. They don’t really satisfy my desire for intense intellectual discussion but I have a few friends who do.

    Inerrancy is a thorny issue. I translate it simply as truthfulness. That is that the Biblical writers wrote down what they heard and saw truthfully and with no intent to deceive. The Bible is history in the form of story and each writer tells the story in their preferred order, keeping and leaving what they regard as important or not. One demoniac or two? Doesn’t matter. Add native imprecision and we have plenty of room for conflict with the precision obsessed moderns. Fig tree shrivels immediately, or before the next morning? Doesn’t matter.

    It seems outrageous to fundamentalists like Ehrman, but that’s mainly a weakness in their education. They seem uncomprehending of the fact that the majority of people in history didn’t think like them. Everyone enjoyed a good story, particularly one that explains the lessons from the life of a great man. Try Plutarch’s Lives for similar work.

  19. Jason C,
    What is the idea of cursed God in their hearts? Is that not trusting, not believing or outright rebellion? If it not trusting, then 95% of Christians are there. I would think from the discussion of Job and his wife it was over the believing. She lost all her children also, but it says nothing about her sickness, but she watched her husband in this awful condition. No one thinks about what she was going through. What did she feel? I wish there were more commentary on her.

    But she asked him to curse God and die. That must have been some great grief for her. And there is nothing about anyone who came to visit her. Terrible situation, and the same thing goes on today. Look at New Orleans. People lost everything. But still I think from how I read it from my understanding is that it is about the believing.

    I know about that, I have MS and my husband lives daily with me and my disease. I was in a wheelchair for a while but God made sure I had good medication and it helped me. So I get the idea of what Job is dealing with to a degree. But also I can understand his wife. I would not imagine she was so hard hearted against God, she was just dealing with the same issues Job had.

    We forget many times the spouse, she needed comfort and yet there is nothing that says Job realized her grief through all of his whining. He never actually called her foolish, he said she spoke as someone who was foolish. It was initiated over cursing God. That is something perhaps we don’t fully understand but there are people who have I suppose. What would this cursing involve?

    I don’t think it is merely not trusting, but an outright action. I don’t know, I would be afraid to learn what it means. But whatever it is, I would be terribly afraid to even attempt it.

  20. As Scott mentioned, Romans 1:18-19 apologetics are counterproductive. Here’s what you are saying about nontheists: you know you will suffer for eternity for choosing wrong, and yet you do so anyway, because you are just that retarded. While truth and offensiveness can coincide, it shuts off chances for dialogue.

    This is vastly more extreme than an atheist who responds to any anecdotal evidence with “you are superstitious and deluded” and to any rational argument with “you are simply justifying your delusions.” While I think there is some merit to the truth value of these claims, the extent to which I’m forced to fall back on argumentative tactics like these is the extent to which I don’t have anything worth saying. And which is more insulting: you’re so dumb that you think your imaginary friend is real, or you’re so wicked that you deserve eternal torment and so dumb that you know it’s coming and yet do nothing to try to stop it?

    Two Hitchens don’t make a right, but this perspective is needed when deciding just how fiercely the new atheists’ tone should be denounced, and if at all. And this isn’t even an objection to the people in the church, but only to the words in the Bible itself.

    I find it to be strange just how often Christians make arguments that either our reason cannot be trusted, or that people aren’t nearly as reasonable as we think. It’s not that these claims are false. The problem is that even if true, I don’t see how it helps the case for Christianity at all. This is an argument that belongs on the agnostic side of either an agnostic v. atheist or an agnostic v. theist debate. If agnostics are “right”, then either God exists and has not revealed himself, or atheists hold the right position for bad reasons.

    Just as it debunks the foundation under any argument against Christianity, it debunks the foundation under any reason to believe. If people are a lot dumber than we think, that makes it easier for a relationship with God to be something that’s just in your head. It makes it easier for answers to prayer to simply be bad estimations of probability and selective memory of the “hits.” It becomes easier to understand the birth and growth of Christianity – if people are just that irrational, skeptics don’t even need a theory to explain the sincere belief of the Gospel writers and Paul.

  21. Scott,

    Interesting that you mention 1844…Most Christians don’t know much about the Great Disappointment nor how the Adventist church has tried to deal with it since then (repeatedly). Some of that even gets glossed over in Adventist circles.

    My thought about former believers is that they (along with most of the rest of us) grew up with “God in a box” and found that to either be unfulfilling or flat wrong.

    I believe that who/what God is is beyond full human understanding. And while some of us can expand that box, we as humans will almost always try to fit God in to a box of our understanding (for some a bigger box than others). A belief in God comes down to faith. And non-believers have faith too, just not in God. What that may be depends on the individual. For some it may be faith in our “government” to “protect” the people (maybe not the best example I’ll admit, but the first “simple” one I could think of).

    Sorry if I started to ramble off topic.

  22. Jeffrey, why did Ariane Sherine promote the “There’s probably no God” on bus sidings campaign in the UK?

    Because in her words she didn’t want to think about being “condemned to everlasting separation from God and then spend all eternity in torment in hell.”

    Sarfaz Manzoor, an agnostic, delivered a scathing critique for the Guardian.

    Ultimately those who reject God in this manner do so because they want to be autonomous masters of their destiny. It is nothing to do with reason being inadequate, but rather reason being tainted by human pride and wishful thinking.

    Christian faith does not rest on answered prayer, or even extraordinary power of human reason. It rests on the testimony of the witnesses to Jesus’ resurrected appearance.

    Kara, curse God and die is a cause/effect relationship. Job offered sacrifice for his children lest they had cursed God in their hearts (acted rebelliously) and in his sickness his wife urged him to do that. Curse God, reject your allegiance to him, and get God to kill you. Rather like the modern “suicide by cop”.

  23. Jason,

    Without seeing the context, I suppose she tells people to “stop worrying and enjoy your life” because she doesn’t want them to be troubled by hell. While this isn’t an argument that hell isn’t true, it is a perfectly valid response if the question was about the motivation for the bus campaign.

    There are two questions for “militant” atheists: why disbelief, and why care so much? All too often the conversation is:

    “Question 2.”
    “Answer to Question 2.”
    “But that doesn’t answer question 1!”

    The article you linked to absolutely does not support your position. He seems to be saying that it looks like there’s no God, but he wishes there was. This clashes with your claim about disbelief being due to wishful thinking. What we learn from his case is that the pull he feels toward belief in the afterlife is not rational but wishful thinking. What, exactly, am I suppose to be seeing in the article?

    Perhaps I’m supposed to learn that atheism doesn’t comfort him. But what would you tell him? His father is alive and in hell? His mother is on her way? If he were to believe your answer for a moment, and I told him there was probably no God, the bearable sadness of mortality would feel like an escape from a psychologically abusive prison. The saddest thing remaining would be the lack of certainty that Yahweh isn’t flogging his father.

    Also noteworthy is that he doesn’t wish he could believe in Christianity. He mentioned Muslim tradition, so I’m guessing that he’s a former Muslim. And based on his first-hand experience of Islam, he thinks that Islam would fill this Allah-shaped hole in his heart.

    >Christian faith does not rest on answered prayer, or even extraordinary power of human reason. It rests on the testimony of the witnesses to Jesus’ resurrected appearance.

    Yes … and if human reasoning is poor, that further justifies not trusting the testimonies of the human witnesses, and it further justifies not trusting the human Gospel writers to have accurately recorded what was allegedly seen. It takes human reasoning to conclude that the Gospel were written earlier than 1900. Don’t use imperfections in humans as a blank check to counter any facts you don’t like unless you’re will to consistency be an extreme postmodern.

    Circularly assuming God is helping you reason is no better than an atheistic assertion of “people are irrational, but I’m not like that.”

  24. Jason C
    Yes, that is a physics truth, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Unless there are variables put in the equation. I remember once in grade school (elementary for those not as old as I), my science teacher was explaining what would happen if there was not the variable of friction placed on a sled that has been pushed on ice. I was 10, so that is as close to how we would understand.

    Anyway, if a sled is pushed on ice the momentum will carry it at a certain velocity comparable to the amount of force. The sled will slide forever unless an outside force causes a change, hence friction and gravity slows the sled until it stops. So what does that have to do with this discussion about Job…a sled pushed a certain direction with a certain amount of force continues until an outside force places the variable and causes a re-direction. Satan was just that force to push in another direction. So we are talking about a spiritual thing, not a physical but the properties of physics can be understood because all in the universe works through mathematical principles. Even music works through simple math.

    Job’s sacrifice did not make the change or was not an greater force to change the destiny of his children. His own self was under the influence of the initial force, not of his own volition. But when he was then pushed the other way it had to become his volition to cause friction and that friction was his own conscience. Or his understanding of God. Friction causes heat, and if pain…just ask anyone who fell off their bike and scraped their knees on the pavement. His wife did not cause a change, therefore she was not a variable.

    What does this mean? I don’t know what it would mean to you, but it made sense to me. There are a lot of descriptions in the book of Job that very clearly indicate Job was a highly intelligent man, obviously he knew astronomy and physics because he mentions quite often the use of math. So it is not unreasonable to apply physics to Job. I think then God knows how to speak to anyone through the Bible. Even physics professors and scientists.

    Suppose God did not allow for Satan to do this? Would Job have continued in his ignorant bliss of not knowing the opposite effect?
    Cause/effect…effect/cause. Are they equal? I don’t know, but it is evident his conscience caused enough friction to stop the direction.

  25. rayner markley April 9, 2009 at 7:37 pm

    Jeffrey: ‘Circularly assuming God is helping you reason is no better than an atheistic assertion of “people are irrational, but I’m not like that.”’

    It is somewhat better, I would say, because Jesus Himself sent the Holy Spirit for the purpose of ‘guiding us into all truth’ (John 16:13). Jesus did not tell His disciples to write, nor did He write anything Himself. The gospels and the writings of Paul & others are human means of communicating the authors’ testimonies and beliefs. Our Christian faith does not rest on them; those testimonies are merely the source of our knowledge of Christ’s earthly activities and the early church.

  26. Rayner,
    The old “I think therefore I am” conundrum. God exists whether we do or not. Does it mean we are, because we think? Or we think we are, by thinking? Do we sit every minute of the day pondering our existence? No, because we know we do. But just suppose…there are people who have not come into the world yet…does this world not exist because we do not see them yet? The same with God, does He not exist because we do not see Him yet? Or we have not seen Him?

    I once read that humans are unique because we ponder our existence. And our brain is the only organ to recognize itself. And that understanding is not in the brain, but in the mind, two separate but connected entities if you will. The mind processes the concepts of natural and spiritual. What a wonderful thing.

    As David said “I am fearfully and wonderfully made”. He conceded his limitation to a greater. He humbly accepted he was made.

  27. Doug – I just wanted to say – a great post! Thanks for this one!

  28. Jason wrote: “Christian faith … rests on the testimony of the witnesses to Jesus’ resurrected appearance.”

    I responded, then rayner wrote in response to my response:

    “The gospels and the writings of Paul & others are human means of communicating the authors’ testimonies and beliefs. Our Christian faith does not rest on them;”

    I understand that I shouldn’t necessarily expect consistency between two different people. But supposedly the reason people don’t believe in God is self-deceit, wishful thinking, and pride. If the reasons to believe were so plain to everyone that we are all without excuse, I would think that having conquered self-deceit with the power of the Holy Spirit, you wouldn’t be disagreeing on questions like:

    “I keep forgetting. What is our faith resting on again?”

  29. I thought the issue for atheists was not whether or not Christians testified of God=existence of God…Christians did not invent God, nor do we have the market on understanding God, seeing as how the Jews knew him first.

    How do we present God outside our denominational lines? That is the big question.

  30. I don’t think your ambiguous use of “God” aligns with Paul’s more specific use of “God.” If you use this verse to explain how man is responsible for rejecting the Gospel, then Paul must surely be discussing more than the differences between deism and atheism. If you use the verse this way, Paul must be talking about God = Christian God where believing in this particular God leads to salvation.

    >How do we present God outside our denominational lines? That is the big question.

    If God’s existence is obvious, and you’re all following the same rather lengthy book, why do you have the differing beliefs about Christian foundations leading to denominational lines? Does your answer to this leave you with an epistemological leg to stand on? I’m not taking it for granted that the vast and persistent disagreements within orthodoxy are something I should just accept as normal.

    Skeptics often know a lot more about Christianity than you think. Denominational disagreements are not something you can hide from us while presenting an otherwise amorphous “Christianity.”

  31. Jeffrey>> If God’s existence is obvious, and you’re all following the same rather lengthy book, why do you have the differing beliefs about Christian foundations leading to denominational lines? ….I’m not taking it for granted that the vast and persistent disagreements within orthodoxy are something I should just accept as normal.

    Quick, look the other way. You’re not supposed to notice that stuff!

    I commonly hear that these are “in-house debates” that only concern Christians. Everyone else is to ignore this and pretend it has no bearing on anything.

    Personally, I’d be pretty impressed with a religious group that could be described as having a peace that surpasses all understanding. It would almost seem as if a higher power were actually actively involved.

  32. Jeffrey,
    Good question. The only answer I have is this, some people refined the definition of God in their own experience to justify certain ideologies and actions. Does not mean God does not exist, only that people need to understand God from their own understanding.

    Unfortunately some church leaders also fell for the power trip that came along with it, as people from all ideologies have. Christianity should have never been about denomination, but it has become that.Not God’s fault but the believers. Just as Calvinism is merely a doctrine, Catholicism is a doctrine, and so forth for all denominations. And every denomination has watch dogs to make sure people don’t leave or even think about leaving the denomination. That has nothing to do with God.

    There are some people who are in this blog who are not honest themselves when it comes to doctrine and creeds. And that is what we suffer from…religious dishonesty. God existed before the leaders of the Reformation. God did not suddenly just show up one day and say ..”Here it is, I’m giving you all the truth.” But there are those here who would have you think that.

    But an interesting thing I have always wondered was, what about people who lived beyond the borders of Rome, or beyond the Pale. Those civilizations outside. Did they not know God? Did God never reveal Himself to them? Of course He did, but some churches have been so indoctrinated to believe they have learned all there is, that creeds somehow answer for all that it leaves some people out. They don’t answer for the thousands of years of people after the flood when people migrated from place to place taking with them their versions of the flood and creation stories. To which there is a common theme, from the most ancient civilization in far flung places to the average Christian of today.

    Ancient Polynesian creation stories place God in the void, in the darkness. That coincides with Genesis, but how would they know if they were in a place far from the original? Creeds and doctrines only serve one purpose and that’s to keep the members of the church in place. God exists beyond creeds and doctrines. God would have still been God if John Calvin or Jacobus Arminius never came on the scene. God still is God. Don’t go looking for God in creeds, look for God through His word. Look for God in His creation. But never, never fall for the line ” God is only in my doctrine” because God is a relationship God with individuals. He wants relationship with you personally, with me personally and every one, personally.

    And there are some in here who would not be bold enough to tell you that perhaps you are an atheist because you are not elect and God chose not to save you or keep you, as their doctrine teaches. But they are bold enough to tell those of us who don’t buy into it. Dishonesty is a terrible thing.

    It is one thing to hold to a creed, it is another to hide the creed when it is convenient. God lives in and through and beyond me, I am merely the created. I am not a creedist. What works for me might not work for you. So the idea of election is not in my understanding. People are atheists because of their own reasons. It is wrong of me to assume any more than that.

  33. Phil McCheddar April 10, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    Doug, I think you have touched on a very important aspect of human nature, and it applies to us believers as much as to non-believers. An old saying goes: “Believe what you will; you will anyway.” Normally when I read the Bible I am unconsciously looking out for proof-texts to buttress my pre-formed ideas rather than opening my ears to listen to God’s voice to tell me the truth. For example, I went through some painful experiences of charismatics despising me because I don’t pray in tongues, which has given me a disposition to be relieved if the truth about the gift of tongues is that it is given only to some and not to all believers (so that my stance would be seen to have been right all along). I admit therefore I am prejudiced in how I interpret the relevant passages of Scripture on this issue because of my emotional preference for believing one thing rather than another.

  34. The article you linked to absolutely does not support your position. He seems to be saying that it looks like there’s no God, but he wishes there was. This clashes with your claim about disbelief being due to wishful thinking. What we learn from his case is that the pull he feels toward belief in the afterlife is not rational but wishful thinking. What, exactly, am I suppose to be seeing in the article?

    I said that he critiqued it, not that I agreed with him, nor that he agreed with me.

    Ultimately those who reject God in this manner do so because they want to be autonomous masters of their destiny. It is nothing to do with reason being inadequate, but rather reason being tainted by human pride and wishful thinking.

    You will note the use of “in this manner”, that is in the manner used by Sherine. It is not an unqualified statement.

    Also noteworthy is that he doesn’t wish he could believe in Christianity. He mentioned Muslim tradition, so I’m guessing that he’s a former Muslim. And based on his first-hand experience of Islam, he thinks that Islam would fill this Allah-shaped hole in his heart.

    Since I have never used the “god-shaped-hole” argument, and think it’s nonsense, I’m not sure where you’re going with this. I already stated that Manzoor is an agnostic, and his name should have told you he was a former Muslim.

    Perhaps I’m supposed to learn that atheism doesn’t comfort him. But what would you tell him? His father is alive and in hell? His mother is on her way? If he were to believe your answer for a moment, and I told him there was probably no God, the bearable sadness of mortality would feel like an escape from a psychologically abusive prison. The saddest thing remaining would be the lack of certainty that Yahweh isn’t flogging his father.

    Except the thing that tormented him was not being concerned that his father was experiencing judgement (and remember that Muslims are not certain of salvation in the manner Christians are) but that he simply ceased to be. From his perspective an eternity of shame and dishonour (which is hell to an agonistic culture) is preferable to non-existence.

    Yes … and if human reasoning is poor, that further justifies not trusting the testimonies of the human witnesses, and it further justifies not trusting the human Gospel writers to have accurately recorded what was allegedly seen. It takes human reasoning to conclude that the Gospel were written earlier than 1900. Don’t use imperfections in humans as a blank check to counter any facts you don’t like unless you’re will to consistency be an extreme postmodern.

    Since I did not critique human reasoning, but merely stated that the Christian faith does not rest on extraordinary powers of it, this is a strawman. Meanwhile, given there are copies of the New Testament nearly 1900 years old, you would not be able to make a reasoned case that the Gospels were written after 1900.

    Reasoning, as I apply the word, refers to the application of the intellect to working out a solution or formulating an argument. Paul was a prime example as he re-wrote his Jewish philosophy to incorporate a suffering and dying Messiah. Simply saying that we saw someone dead, and then alive again does not require extraordinary powers of human reason.

    The gospels and the writings of Paul & others are human means of communicating the authors’ testimonies and beliefs. Our Christian faith does not rest on them; those testimonies are merely the source of our knowledge of Christ’s earthly activities and the early church.

    Rayner, you contradicted yourself in the space of a paragraph. Our faith does rest on the testimonies of the authors because without them we wouldn’t know anything about Jesus’ life and ministry. Please keep up.

    I’m not taking it for granted that the vast and persistent disagreements within orthodoxy are something I should just accept as normal.

    We argue because truth is important. We end up with denominational splits for various reasons, but probably most often from human pride. The disagreements you describe (perhaps you should offer some specific examples) are probably the result of elevating some theological construct above the core beliefs we share.

  35. rayner markley April 10, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    Jeffery and/or Jason, are you saying that if the Holy Spirit were guiding us, we would preserve unity, the unity that Jesus wanted for his followers? Yes, I would expect that too, but apparently that is not what happens. And on reflection, I see no real reason why the Spirit must guide everyone in exactly the same way. Human understanding is never going to be perfect anyway. The Spirit works with our different backgrounds and talents, and we come out with differences. Nothing to worry about, as long as we continue in love and respect for one another. Jesus emphasized unity in love, not unity of doctrine.

    When I say our faith does not rest on the writings, I am trying to get behind the writings themselves and see the facts. The writings are interpretations of a reality, and each NT writer saw reality a little differently.

  36. Phil,
    As a Pentecostal, I am shocked that people who claimed to be Charismatic would treat you in such a manner. Pentecostalism is not really and should not be considered a doctrine, but an experience that transcends (and does often, but sometimes secretly) across denominational lines.

    But that said, think about the opposite of people who do speak in tongues and are completely ostracized by their church members. I know people who were beaten and spit on, and even shunned by more Reformed Theology church members. The thing you should realize is that Charismatic means nothing more than gifted and a church that pretends to be holier is not. Holiness was the name of the church doctrine but it is supposed to be a way of life for all Christians. When you lay the blame on Pentecostalism because of people, you have killed the message because of the messengers.

    I was always shown when I was very young that Pentecostalism was for Pentecostals until I saw Catholics, Methodists, and Nazarenes who spoke in tongues and operated in gifts. I began to understand it is for all believers, not just us. When you think about those people, remember it was just those people. Not all Pentecostals are like that. But it seems better than being horsewhipped for believing in it, which I know happened a lot. And get this, I even know a few Baptists who speak in tongues..sad thing was they were excommunicated for it. Don’t think we are all the same because we are not.

  37. Jason: “I said that he critiqued it, not that I agreed with him, nor that he agreed with me.”

    After your posted link you wrote:

    Jason: “Ultimately those who reject God in this manner do so because they want to be autonomous masters of their destiny.”

    It wasn’t clear to me whether “those” meant the author of the article or the promoter of the bus signs so I accidentally made some irrelevant arguments, but I responded to the claim about Sherine as well. “This manner” is very different manner than simply answering the question “why do you care” in a way that doesn’t answer the question “why don’t you believe?”

    Jason: “You will note the use of “in this manner”, that is in the manner used by Sherine. It is not an unqualified statement.”

    This is true. I mistakenly read Doug’s position, “it says unbelievers do not lack information,” and arguably Paul’s position into your words.

    Jason: “Except the thing that tormented him was not being concerned that his father was experiencing judgement (and remember that Muslims are not certain of salvation in the manner Christians are) but that he simply ceased to be.”

    Yes, it is true that he was troubled by a secular concept of death. If we are talking about truth and not what we want to be true, what difference does it make how hard it is to deal with mortality? But if you want to talk about which answers are comforting, I’m willing to do that too. If he believed your religion, that would make it even worse. If there is anyone who Christianity cannot comfort, it is someone who cares about unsaved relatives who have died.

    Jason: “Since I did not critique human reasoning, but merely stated that the Christian faith does not rest on extraordinary powers of it, this is a strawman.”

    This post suggests that people are prone to self-deceit, and so I pointed out that weaknesses in human ability to avoid self-deceit undermine the case for the Resurrection as much or more than it undermines atheism. You can’t rebut a rebuttal without supporting the original argument.

    Jason: The disagreements you describe (perhaps you should offer some specific examples) are probably the result of elevating some theological construct above the core beliefs we share.

    Has the gift of tongues ceased? (If it’s for real in only isolated instances, that’s a “yes.”) I don’t see how you can answer the question in a “skeptic-safe” manner that doesn’t alienate the other half of the body of Christ.

    If it has ceased, that means that an enormous group of Christians think the Holy Spirit is at work when at best it’s a psychological phenomenon. If it hasn’t ceased, that means an enormous group of Christians have been led by the Bible to deny one of the Holy Spirit’s most obvious works. Don’t belittle this point as being about a lesser doctrine. It hits at the heart of relying on the work of God in someone’s life as a basis for belief. I don’t care which doctrines you say are core belief and which ones you say are secondary. Answers to “why believe at all” are the core doctrines on which everything rests, and disagreements here make it look like Christianity doesn’t have an answer.

    If you don’t rely on subjective experiences, what you have left is an evidential case for the Resurrection/existence of God. And you’d better hope that your reason isn’t an exercise in self-deceit, because that might be the only route to faith you have left.

    >Simply saying that we saw someone dead, and then alive again does not require extraordinary powers of human reason.

    But you didn’t see Jesus. You must use your reason to conclude that someone else did, unless you just believe every ancient document that has been found and everyone who has ever claimed to see something weird.

  38. Jeffrey,
    LOL, your last phrase struck me as funny…

    Should we then assume Sasquatch does roam North America and the Flying Dutchman did get caught in a time warp in the Bermuda Triangle? Those are weird things as well. But seeing a man raised from the dead, that’s not weird. Why would it be so impossible after a fiery chariot swoops down from the sky and carries away Elijah, and Sarah giving birth when she’s 90 years old.

    Who would have believed 2,000 years ago that we would blow up entire cities and melt people with the power of the atom that can’t be easily seen, or use that same power to cook our food in 2 minutes. Who would have believed we could speak to people across the world in an instant with no delay in transmission. Those would indeed be miracles to the ancients. But they are commonplace for us.

    So seeing a man raised from the dead…well it seems Lazarus was also raised, Jairus’ daughter was raised, the young man in the city of Nain was raised. The difference was those people died again eventually. That would have been no great miracle to them, they already saw for three years the miracles of Jesus. I would think then the miracle would be for those who did not know him.

    As far as the operational gifts, I will ask this again…in the verse of Corinthians where the gifts are listed, tongues is found among wisdom, knowledge and faith. If we can toss out tongues, should we toss out faith? It is listed together. Perhaps wisdom should also be left out. We can’t say they are no longer effective if all the gifts were given to the believer. But I suppose it is ok to choose which gift is more important.

    And talking about weird things…wasn’t it just weird how that dead guy came back to life in that cave when his friends tossed his body on the bones of Elisha? Now that was weird.

    The fact that it is 2,000 plus years and this man Jesus is still changing lives…now that’s what’s amazing.

  39. If the reason to believe the rest of the Bible is due to the Resurrection, you cannot use the truth of the rest of the Bible to argue for the plausibility of the Resurrection.

    If anything, the other weirdness in the Bible, like the mighty race of the half-demon/half-human and the ghost of Samuel suggest that the Bible simply talks about superstitions just like so many other ancient religious documents.

    >The fact that it is 2,000 plus years and this man Jesus is still changing lives…now that’s what’s amazing.

    Assuming that lives are being changed, why conclude that it’s Jesus doing the changing? People come to faith not from picking up the Bible in a religious vacuum, but from hearing from a preacher. Other religions have stories of changed lives too. This alone does not call for a supernatural explanation.

    To think that the evidence of changed lives points to Jesus’ work requires one to first believe in the Resurrection. But if the evidence you are citing to believe in the Resurrection in the first place is changed lives, that’s a circle.

  40. Scott, ….and other atheists,
    I asked Dan Wallace, our resident New Testament scholar, about that passage of scripture which your former pastor commented on….and mentioned Cheryl’s note. I also cut n’ pasted a couple of comments from you (your blog) so that Dan would have a feel for where you were coming from. He said this:

    “The commenter who quoted from Thayer’s Lexicon (even though that is a terribly outdated lexicon) was right: ‘church’ was not a technical term when Jesus used it. In fact, it may well be argued that the word became a (more or less) technical term precisely because Jesus used to speak of building his ekklesia. If he spoke this in Greek (possible, but still debated) then it would make sense that the disciples picked up on this term and ran with it. The bottom line that he (you) needs to deal with is how to explain the empty tomb. The empty tomb on the first Easter morning is a historical fact, as much as history can have facts. If he thinks that Christianity has too many caveats and qualifications, then how does he explain the empty tomb? It was this question that drove Lee Strobel into a year-long investigation of the Christian faith which resulted in this atheist in being converted. In sum, it seems to me that he’s not really looking at the evidence but has depended way too much on what others say.”

  41. Jeffrey,
    If we can explore that notion, basically all religions are the same. I have heard it said that all religions teach the Golden Rule so they must be alike. It’s an old argument so we can discuss it.

    The old Golden Rule, love your neighbor as yourself. But it’s not quite that easy. You might assume it is because the testimony of changed lives. But Christianity is unique. It actually makes the point of focus not on the believer’s attempts but that the deity who is the subject is part of the work through direct interaction with the believers, and non-believers for that matter.

    Islam means submission to Allah. But Allah has no direct interaction with his believers, Mohammad is merely viewed as a messenger as Jesus also is, but Mohammad denies Jesus Christ as deified. Therefore Islam is not peace through submission to Allah, but peace is found in Islam. So there is no direct interaction in Islam. By the way, the Golden Rule is not mentioned as being for non-believers because it denies the humanity of Jews by calling the pigs and rats and all non-Islamic people must be killed wherever they are found. So that is not comparable to Christianity.

    Buddhism is a belief system founded again in the believer’s attempts to reach enlightenment, or Nirvana through a series of Karmic cycles. The believer should meditate as much as possible, he must attempt to subdue the lust for materialism through this concerted effort and can only reach full enlightenment once he has denied all his worldly materials. Buddhism denies humanity by it’s teaching that people are not real, they should only be viewed as material objects and can be left. Guatama Buddha, a prince by birth, left his wife and newborn son, calling his own newborn son a material object. That is not comparable to Christianity when it denies responsibility on the part of the believer. Jesus is the Way, and Buddhism teaches the way to enlightenment is through meditation. No, not similar.

    Hinduism is based in Buddhism, but goes further in it’s denial of humanity and responsibility to other humans. Hinduism also bases it’s belief system on a series of karmic cycles. All people will eventually reach god-hood status if they keep re-incarnating to higher levels of being, or lower levels if perhaps they have been evil in a previous life. But eventually the adherent will get there. Hinduism believes in the pantheon of gods, but is supported by the Hindu trinity. In Hinduism, every one is considered a god. But like Buddhism allows for people also to be viewed as nothing. That is not comparable to Judeo-Christianity that teaches the value of every person.

    We can go on, but those are the major religions of the world. Ba’hai is a belief system that incorporates all the religions. So in effect, when saying the religions are all the same, they are not. Jesus is what makes us unique because He, as the subject basis, is also in direct interaction with the worshippers.

    We should understand that Christians are made, not born. The purest definition of Christian is not someone who is merely a follower, but someone who has the Living Christ dwelling within them and through direct interaction changes the life of the believer. That is much different than just following a belief system.

    Perhaps we should explore who Jesus is in those religions. In Islam he is a messenger…his name is Issa. He is nothing more than a great teacher to them. By denying his deification it cannot be considered even close.

    In Buddhism he is an ascended master and teacher. He does not really exist but does exist in the universal sense. That contradicts Jesus as a real man.

    In Hinduism he is the tenth-reincarnation of Krishna, but the message of Jesus is that he is the way, the truth and the life is solidly in contradiction to Christianity.

    So no, the argument that all religions are close because we all basically believe the same thing is a false assumption because we clearly and evidently do not. Jesus is greater than supernatural because he was natural and is now natural, but we know him by the spirit. We don’t ascend to become like him. As far as people listening to other religions, most people tend to be born into faith systems and that is different.

  42. Hi Doug

    I don’t think the Scripture passage used, by you, below is intended for apologetics.

    “One of the most interesting passages in the Bible relating to defending the faith is Romans 1:18-19, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.” What makes this interesting to me as an apologist is that it says unbelievers do not lack information; that is not the fundamental issue. Rather, the issue is self-deceit, since they know the truth but suppress it.”

    Rather it is commentary on the guilt of all humanity and the plainness of that guilt. Let’s work backward through the passage.

    What is it that God has made plain to them?

    Answer: Truth

    What truth about God is made plain to them?

    Answer: God is righteous, or at least these people know that the way they are living does not fit with what they know instinctively, namely; that there is a right and wrong or good and evil.

    How do these people suppress this truth?

    Answer: By living unrighteously they deny (or suppress) that God cares about sin and immorality.

    What will God do to those who live according to the lie that God is not good/moral?

    Answer: The wrath of God will be revealed.

    To try and say that this passage is saying something about all truth about God is reading into the text, and leads to some very bad apologetics.

    For example, if one is a Calvinist apologist, one could say to a committed Armenian; “The truth about God being sovereign is made plain through an instinctual knowledge and your position concerning free will is just you suppressing the truth.”

    The reverse could also be used by an Armenian. “The truth about free will is basic and instinctual and Calvinists suppress that. Therefore, the wrath of God is upon them”

    Thanks

  43. ‘Jesus is greater than supernatural because he was natural and is now natural, but we know him by the spirit.’ I like that, Kara. Jesus is both natural a supernatural, which is greater than being just one or the other. I’m not sure Jeffrey is saying that all religions are similar or close, but he may want to clarify that. However, we do see both similarities and differences among religions, and one similarity is that all lay down a moral code for society. And that is what Saint Paul is writing about in Romans 1.

    Yes, ‘most people tend to be born into faith systems’ in that they assimilate the faith system of the culture they are born into. Most do not shop around or delve deeply into evidence and doctrine, I imagine as many of us initially put our faith in Jesus. As fascinating as it is intellectually, delving deeply doesn’t help much except for folks who are theologically inclined.

  44. Sorry for the delay – for a couple days, an error message replaced my ability to view the comments on any PP post.

    I wrote: “Other religions have stories of changed lives too. This alone does not call for a supernatural explanation.”

    In particular, the religions from which I have directly heard stories about changed lives are Nichiren Buddhism, Mormonism, evangelical Christianity, and Resurrection-agnostic “Christianity.” The conclusion I’m drawing is that changed lives are, at best, very poor evidence.

    I’m not assuming similarity in the content of other religions. On the contrary, I’m assuming extreme differences in the different religions’ truth-claims despite similarities in the evidence of changed lives. These different pieces of evidence cancel each other out precisely because religions are mutually exclusive.

    Rayner: “one similarity is that all lay down a moral code for society. And that is what Saint Paul is writing about in Romans 1.”

    Not that this was necessarily unintentional, but this contradicts Doug. This means Paul is saying people have no excuse for not following a moral code. But they may have an excuse for, say, striving to follow Islam’s moral code or a secular moral philosophy. This doesn’t get God off the hook by explaining how man is responsible for not accepting “the truth,” meaning whatever is needed for salvation.

    Which is fine if theodicy is not part of what you think Romans 1 is addressing. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard an evangelical directly state that Romans 1 isn’t even trying to explain how man is responsible for his lack of salvation.

  45. Jeffrey
    It is entirely possible for one to believe a certain way and still not believe in God, or believe in God and not the moral code. Or they have a moral code contrary to what the Bible teaches.

    For instance, when Captain Cook sailed through the Pacific and recorded Polynesian customs, it seems that Hawaiians had a moral code we would find deplorable. They found nothing wrong with fathers marrying daughters. Now in their worldview it was acceptable, but should we say that because it was their worldview that it is ok? No, because it is immoral according to the Bible. But if the Bible says it is immoral, and the Bible is just a book written by men, and there could be mistakes…then it could just be ok for this practice continue.

    People who just glance through the Bible and then listen to voices who say it it can’t be true, they never come to the realization just what the state of man is and the narrow way that God has defined. God did not make laws to be mean, He made laws to provide protection and judgment. The laws and commandments are beneficial because laws tell us it comes at a great cost when we sin, we don’t just sin and lose fellowship with God, someone gets hurt and the hurt is real. And too often the damage is done without recognition by the person who did it. So yes, when people break moral codes designed by God, innocent people are hurt and it is only right for there to be judgment.

    The Christian faith has a problem in it’s view of how to treat those who hurt others, we are perpetrator friendly. We tend to overlook the damage done to innocent people and make a point to cover up the crimes the guilty have done. It is a crime in God’s eyes to abuse children. But people get by with it because people don’t want to judge them.

    We have the ten commandments, not for God to lay down law on us to make us walk the line, it is telling us that when we do these things we hurt someone else the damage can’t be undone by us. So moral codes outside the Bible are not always right or good because of the unique religion this is. Anyone can count what they perceive to be clerical mistakes in the Bible, but no one can deny the plain truth of it either.The Code of Hammurabi may be the most well used argument against the Bible, but that code did not make laws fair and equal for all people, it still sought to serve the wealthy. The Bible teaches all people are equal.

  46. rayner markley April 14, 2009 at 6:30 am

    Jeffrey, God isn’t ‘on the hook’ for that. Adam acquired responsibility for his choices when he seized the knowledge of right and wrong. For him, it was part of his maturing.

    Kara, you’re right that the various moral codes are not equally fine. And even the Mosaic code allowed for some things that we would deplore, e.g., slavery, stoning, polygamy. But all codes reflect from our conscience a basic sense of right and wrong. Paul is saying that people do not live up perfectly to even their own level of understanding, imperfect though it may be. In fact, people rationalize (deceive themselves) in various ways, one way claiming that they don’t know what is good and what God requires.

  47. Rayner,
    Actually there are no laws that make it ok to be polygamous, it was cultural thing. But Paul was decidedly against it. Jesus also was against it in His teaching, and the disciples that were recorded as being married did only have one wife. Polygamy was not really endorsed by the Bible because it is clearly evident the trouble that arose from it. There was no peace. David and Solomon both had many wives, but mostly for political reasons. They were both walking dangerously because of it.

    Slavery was also a cultural thing and remember the time when the Hebrews were given the laws regarding how to treat slaves, they were slaves just prior. They would not have had slaves at that time. In the new testament we see there were slaves, and the people Paul were speaking to were gentiles. But these slaves could also be considered servants. There were many instances where the servants were given the choice to continue their servitude and would nail their ear as a sign, earrings in men were a sign of slavery. But God made specific ways to treat them, and it was to be humane and after seven years they were to be set free.

    Stoning was capital punishment. But before someone could be stoned there had to be two or three witnesses of moral character who could verify the person actually did it. False witness was a crime itself. And there was the choice to allow the accused to find sanctuary in cities that were so designated. And when the concept of sanctuary cities was removed, the temple and the church then became sanctuaries, hence we call our inner rooms of worship the sanctuary and it is for protection of the accused, a place of refuge. We forget that in today’s society.

    There were intricacies of all these concepts and even though we might not understand it outrightly we can symbolically.

    Jesus said divorce in the law of Moses was allowed because not that God is pleased with it, but because hardness of their hearts. God does not expect a spouse to remain with one who is adulterous or abusive. He allows for the innocent spouse to have a way of escape.

    People took it too far then because of their own rejection of the why, and interjected their own prejudice into the equation. God said mercy, and the woman caught in adultery was brought before Jesus to be judged and stoned, and yet the man she was caught with was not brought forward. That was an inequality, and Jesus could not be inequitable by any means. She found sanctuary in Him. So there is a great deal more to that than we can understand because our society does not discuss the impact it has on marriage. Jesus told her to sin no more. He recognized her sin, but more than that, caused her to recognize it.

  48. Thank you for the ironic twist at the end of the article. I was reading about skepticism and Houdini and then I got bible quotes at the end!

    I read though some the posts and it seems very strange that you all just believe in the Christian god. There are a lot of other gods out there that a lot of other people believe in. I think you’re entitled to believe in ANYTHING, but you must give those the space to follow their faith or lack there of.

    The truth of the matter is that there is no proof that any god is real. I’m an agnostic. I have no knowledge of god. I’ve read the bible extensively and it doesn’t make any more or less sense than any other “holy” book. I know most of you will disagree, but most of the world (only about 1/3 of the world is Christian) would agree. There are horrible things that god does in the bible (as does Thor, Zeus and any number of gods). It’s easy to have your perspective skewed when you surround yourself with people who believe the same as you. Just try to follow some of the good stuff that Jesus did like being really nice to people and NOT passing judgement (unless, of course, you’re a money lender. Jesus flipped out about that one).

    Take care.

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