This is Part 3 of my personal reflection series My quest – 30 years and counting. You can read my introduction here.
For most of the first half of my life my spirituality went largely unexamined. Being raised in the Catholic Church I dutifully identified with it and went to Sunday Mass, but rarely considered the validity of her claims or the reality that God might have some expectations of me beyond making an almost mindless effort to be good.
So I was once among the “blissfully unaware” that I referenced last time, going through the motions, living on the surface, keeping spiritual reality at bay. But now when I look back at my own cluelessness and consider the millions around the world who are currently in the same boat (that’s a big boat), I just have to shake my head at the tragedy of it.
Some have outright rejected the very notion of a spiritual reality so at least they can claim some integrity in not exploring beneath the surface. (There’s one for you atheists.) But when one espouses faith in God, however he or she might describe him or them, to effectively live as if there is no spiritual reality or that it isn’t important makes no sense. It is existentially incoherent. It is functional agnosticism. One professes belief in a being immeasurably greater than oneself who probably has some say in one’s eternal destiny, yet inconsistently with this belief lives in disregard of him, demonstrating by their earthbound focus that they really don’t know if he exists or not.
Then you have those who claim a real and personal commitment to an integrated faith but a close examination of what they profess to be true leaves their honesty, sincerity, or intelligence in question. When Mitt Romney was running for president four years ago, though I voted for him as the better of the two candidates, I questioned all three in his regard because of his professed devotion to the Mormon faith. Any moderately thorough, honest and sincere investigation of the origin, history, and claims of Mormonism should lead to its rejection by any intelligent person.
Looking back 30 years now to the days of discovery in my spiritual life, I do believe I was awakened to the incoherence of my own existence. But what jarred me out of my functional agnosticism? As I wrote about last time, there was no event or experience that prompted me to become aware of the unexplored depths of reality. Neither was I personally confronted or challenged to jump ship, so to speak, and examine my beliefs more objectively.
The most reasonable explanation, one that I can’t prove but am convinced of experientially, is that God himself drew me out into the depths. The way I like to put it is that he stirred me up to seek him. In keeping with my imagery of an oblivious little boat floating mindlessly on an ocean of unfathomable depth and breadth, he agitated the waters beneath me enough to wake me up and cause me to begin to see the magnitude of the unknown and unacknowledged reality underneath my superficial existence.
What love and mercy God showed in drawing me out of my safe and simple little schooner and into the water. More of how he did that next time.
Caroline, something struck me in this post that I’d love to get your take on. You say “Any moderately thorough, honest and sincere investigation of the origin, history, and claims of Mormonism should lead to its rejection by any intelligent person.”
I am curious — genuinely curious, this isn’t some sort of Socratic misdirection — what you perceive as the difference between LDS beliefs and Christian beliefs as a whole. The idea of a human as an incarnate manifestation of God (or at least a physical child of a noncorporeal being), performing miracles, killed but only temporarily…
The reason so many smart folks reject Christianity is because its tenets are as rationally inexplicable as Mormonism is to you. They fly in the face of all we know rationally, intelligently. Believing in SPITE of that is faith, and I’m cool with that. But what is the difference between believing in a resurrected man-God, and believing that that resurrected man-God appeared hundreds of years after he was sucked up into heaven, halfway across the world? What is the difference between believing in a heaven of eternal happiness and a private planet?
What I’m asking is why one should be accepted by “any intelligent person” and the other rejected?
Joe, the primary “difference between LDS beliefs and Christian beliefs as a whole” is the foundation for and evidence supporting those beliefs. If one examines the origins of Mormonism and the character of its founder, apart from whatever spin its adherents might put on them, one would have to conclude that it has little to commend itself as an accurate worldview or source of truth. Here’s a link to a pretty thorough exposition of the background and claims of the LDS church: http://coldcasechristianity.com/2014/investigating-the-evidence-for-mormonism-in-six-steps/.
Christianity, on the other hand, is founded on well-established historical events attested to by the most reliable of ancient documents, whose founder is recognized even among unbelievers as being of impeccable virtue. The largely undisputed facts of the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, his death by crucifixion under Roman rule, his burial in a tomb which was later found empty, his reported appearance to many followers, and the subsequent and unlikely emergence of a new religious movement which resulted in the deaths of many who claimed to have seen the risen Christ, are evidences that what the Bible records is true. What’s more, the Christian worldview is the most coherent of all worldviews, satisfactorily answering life’s biggest questions of origin, meaning, morality and destiny. Your claim that its tenets “fly in the face of all we know rationally, intelligently” is pretty radical. I would be interested in some examples…
Sorry for the delay in response. I got busy again, plus honestly I didn’t feel my response would be very productive. Nevertheless, I’ll give it a try.
You ask for examples of Christian beliefs that fly in the face of rationality. Part of the reason I didn’t reply before was because the very asking of this question indicates that you seem to have a different definition of rationality than I do. I’m not trying to be insulting here, but I don’t know how else to put it.
What about Christianity is irrational? A virgin pregnant with God. Resurrection from the dead. Turning water into wine. A universe created in six 24-hour days. Transubstantiation. Prophecy. Physical Heaven and Hell. I could keep going, but those are kind of the big ones.
These things, and many others, either directly contradict observable evidence, or lie completely outside its realm. I don’t know how else to describe that but “irrational.” Certainly, there are rational explanations for how some of these ideas may have come to be. Maybe Jesus was in a deep coma, for example. But that’s not what Christianity believes; the story is that he was really, most sincerely dead — and then he wasn’t. Everything that we learn by observing the world tells us that this simply cannot happen.
So the Christian must believe there was a divine force behind this event. And that’s fine. That’s faith — believing in something in absence of, or opposition to, evidence. But faith is by its very nature irrational.
My original question was why the beliefs of general Christianity should be considered more rational than those of the LDS faith. Your link was interesting! I had not seen such an examination of the founding of the faith. But of course, its adherents could easily say that the beliefs should be considered independent of the man who delivered them. (There is precedent for that in Christianity too, of course.)
Christianity has many, many things to commend it. And the Bible does portray many actual events. But portraying its defining beliefs as rational does faith a disservice, I think.
Gotta run now. Love to you. Stay warm. 🙂
Well, you are my friendliest non-theist commenter, that’s for sure. 😉 All your examples, Joe, are only irrational on a presupposition of naturalism. But naturalism itself cannot be rationally proved. If there is a God, and that is a perfectly rational proposition, what is irrational about him supernaturally impregnating a woman? Or raising the dead? Or turning water into wine? If he can create the universe from nothing, again…only irrational if you first presume nothing exists outside of nature, but in that case, what is your explanation for how all of nature came to be?….then all of those “irrational” claims are as mere child’s play.
And it seems that we have a different definition of faith. “[B]elieving in something in absence of, or opposition to, evidence” might be blind faith but it’s not the kind of faith I and other believers have. The evidence is enough to lead us to bridge the gap between the evidence and the reality it appears to imply with faith. The same kind of faith you have that the diversity and complexity of life developed by purely natural, unguided means, or that nature is all there is.
Hi Joe! I appreciate this discourse, but perhaps “irrational” IS NOT the word you were looking for (these aren’t the words you are looking for. Lol) If it is, do you consider Christians “insane”? I “looked it up”.
P.S. I promise not to gang up on you.
Caroline, I can’t seem to reply directly to your comment anymore for some reason, so I’ll reply here.
But first, Hi Peg. 🙂 You misunderstand. I describe the tenets of Christianity as irrational, not its followers — very different connotations between an irrational statement (i.e., illogical) and an irrational person (i.e., crazy). I don’t believe Christians are insane, just that many of the beliefs are counter to, or outside of, the evidence of experience and of logic. That’s the case with most faith, pretty much by definition: believing in something for which there is no proof.
Which leads me to Caroline’s comment. First, we need to talk about faith. There’s one connotation, which is basically a system of beliefs, in the sense of “the Christian faith,” i.e., the Christian worldview.
But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the *act* of faith, which absolutely is irrational — it’s an intentional choice to believe in something for which there is no proof. Again, I don’t have a problem with this. I’m not trying to characterize faith as something negative. But it *is* irrational, or illogical if you prefer. There would be no reason to consider it a virtue if it weren’t a conscious choice. And there would be no need for it to be a conscious choice if it weren’t in opposition to what our reason tells us.
(It appears that this concept gets a bad rap in current discourse thanks to Dawkins – who, as far as I can tell, *really* ought to have stuck to biology – but disputing it is disputing centuries of Christian theologians and philosophers, e.g., Kierkegaard, Aquinas, Augustine, Anselm.)
Second: You ask, “If there is a God, and that is a perfectly rational proposition, what is irrational about him supernaturally impregnating a woman? [Etc.]” I can answer that, but you ain’t gonna like it. 🙂 Here’s the thing: If we posit the existence of God, that he created all of existence, and that he is both loving and worthy of worship, we *must* conclude that he has to follow his own rules – in other words, act according to the logic that governs every other element of the universe.
A god that violates the logic that underlies every other thing that we can perceive with the brains he gave us — and then expects us to believe it all happened or spend eternity suffering – is a cruel god. A god that raises Lazarus from the dead and heals all manner of sick people, but doesn’t end death and sickness entirely *if it is within his power* is not a loving god. God cannot be all-knowing, all-loving, AND all-powerful. An all-powerful god, one who could subvert the very underlying fabric of the universe he created, could remove the very concept of suffering, of sickness, of death. If God can defy logic, then he can change the universe in such a way that we don’t need any of that in any way.
But we suffer. So if God is all-powerful, he either doesn’t know how to use that power – in which case he is not worthy of worship – or he chooses not to, in which case he is even less worthy.
So if we choose to believe in a God who created the universe, who loves us, and who is otherwise worthy of worship, we must conclude that he has to operate within the framework that guides everything else in the universe that we have ever experienced.
Finally: You make some very big and very wrong assumptions about my own beliefs. I am pretty much the opposite of an “anti-theist.” I have no question about the existence of a higher intelligence; attributing the exquisite complexity and balance of our own existence to simple chance is, frankly, silly. And any intelligence capable of such a feat would be indistinguishable from the general concept of the divine. (You’ll notice I’m not saying outright “I believe in God.” That’s because I don’t want to mislead, or offend; the divine being I’m talking about has only some things in common with the Judeo-Christian God.) I do NOT believe that the Bible is literal truth, nor that most of the things attributed to Jesus happened the way they are described.
But more importantly, I strongly believe it *doesn’t matter* which if any religion is “right.” The one thing that all religions have in common is an attempt to guide their adherents toward better behavior. (Which can be defined in different ways depending on the religion, but almost always includes helping others in one way or another.) Any divine being worthy of love and worship would reward the behavior — the attempt to be *better*, however that’s defined — over the belief.
So that’s what *I* believe.
I think I’m done now. 🙂
Okay, Joe, so if faith is “believing in something for which there is no proof” and that makes it irrational, then either you must have proof that “it doesn’t matter which if any religion is ‘right’” or else you are being irrational yourself. It’s funny how this notion of believing “without proof” is so often demonstrated in our lives.
You object to and deny the God revealed in the Bible because of the problem of evil and suffering. And it is a problem…I don’t deny that. But what it isn’t is irrational. If it were then it would also be irrational for a father who loves his child to allow her to suffer hardship, pain, failure, etc. in the performance of a task when he could easily do it for her, so that she learns perseverance, the value of hard work, and the satisfaction of a job well done. It would also be irrational for that parent to intentionally bring pain, hardship, etc. into the child’s life to discipline her when she has knowingly defied and disobeyed him.
Without God’s foresight and perspective we are in no position to judge whether he could or should operate any differently than he does. Suffering and death may be inconsistent with the concept of an all-powerful, all-loving God from a purely temporal perspective. But in light of eternity and its rewards they take on new significance. If the suffering prepares us to better enjoy a life that will never diminish in satisfaction and joy and never end, and death ushers us into that life…their presence in a world governed by a logical, loving, omnipotent God is not a violation of logic.
No one can answer why God allows particular instances of pain, suffering, illness and death. But if it is conceivable that he has a good reason for allowing even one of them, it is conceivable that he has a reason for all of them.
Finally, just to clarify…I called you a ‘non-theist,’ not an ‘anti-theist.’ But I do apologize for making unproven assumptions about your beliefs. I am “frankly” delighted to know you recognize the involvement of a higher intelligence in the existence of the universe and the beauty and complexity found in it. Please, so that I don’t presume wrongly, what do you believe about this intelligence and what evidence are you basing your beliefs on?
And then also (and you thought you were “done” 😉 ), why do you disbelieve “that most of the things attributed to Jesus happened the way they are described”? Do you have proof that they didn’t?
Got to get a little quicker here, so apologies if any of this comes off as more terse. Taking points in order:
1. I cited my proof for the belief that it doesn’t matter which religion is right: “Any divine being worthy of love and worship would reward the behavior — the attempt to be *better*, however that’s defined — over the belief.” A god who condemns an Amazonian tribesman who never even had a chance to hear of him to an eternity of suffering is not worthy of being worshipped. Feared, maybe. Certainly not loved. That’s not a loving god. So if we posit that god IS loving, well, that can’t be the way he does things.
2. No, see, that’s just it: A parent is not irrational for allowing his child to suffer because that is the best route to the child’s ultimate well-being. But if God could rewrite the rules, he could write them in such a way that we wouldn’t NEED to “suffer hardship, pain, failure, etc” to learn “perseverance, the value of hard work, and the satisfaction of a job well done.” If God doesn’t have to be logical, all bets are off — he could make it so that we wouldn’t need suffering to “prepare us to better enjoy a life that will never diminish in satisfaction and joy and never end.”
3. “No one can answer why God allows…pain…” Actually, I can. It’s because he can’t change the rules! It’s because God did or does take any action in light of the greatest good, which can involve a whole lot of individual badness. It’s the parent-child analogy you cited, just on the greatest possible scale.
4. What I believe is: A divine being exists or at least existed, a being of virtually unfathomable knowledge and power. He chose or chooses to use that to make all of existence better for everyone and everything in it. If he does interfere moment-to-moment in human events, he does so without violating free will. But maybe he set the complex machinery of the universe in motion and walked away, having been possessed of such knowledge that he was able to predict every event for however-many-umpteen-illion years and make all the adjustments beforehand. The evidence of such a being is logic: The universe is incomprehensibly complex, and yet it all operates according to a fundamental framework that is consistent and balanced. The idea that this happened by pure chance is irrational.
5. The “proof” that most of the the things attributed to Jesus that didn’t happen the way they described is that they’re impossible! Beyond that, there’s literally no way to “prove” that an impossible event didn’t happen.
Joe, first of all, thanks for engaging with me. I appreciate your input and the back and forth, especially since I rarely get comments. I have a feeling this exchange may end up taking more of your time than you intended, but just keep in mind that…you started it. 😉
1.I’m sorry, but your opinion of how a loving God would operate is no proof at all for your “belief that it doesn’t matter which religion is right.” The observation that there is a common thread of being good to your neighbor does not nullify the differences between them nor render them all inconsequential. You are bridging the gap between the evidence of a moral law and your conclusion that being good is all that matters with “irrational…illogical” faith.
But let me address your conception of the God of the Bible. I also would reject a god who was blatantly unjust. Apart from what the Bible reveals about God, as the greatest conceivable being he must be morally perfect, or else he’s not God. So your and others’ caricature of him as unjustly condemning folks to hell is false. To fully expound on man’s responsibility and God’s will would take a few thousand words in itself, and I’m only on number one. But I will say two things: 1. God has revealed himself in nature and in conscience. 2. I believe if that Amazonian tribesman does not resist or reject God’s witness in creation but submits himself to the moral law he recognizes within, and he has never heard about this Jesus, God will apply the redemption Jesus secured to his account.
2. I’m confused about what you believe. Earlier you said that God must “act according to the logic that governs every other element of the universe.” But now you say that he “could rewrite the rules” and “doesn’t have to be logical.” I believe he does operate within the laws of logic, and that we cannot know what is the best plan for achieving his goals, much less what is feasible.
3. My statement was that we can’t know God’s reason in “particular instances” of pain, suffering, etc. But you are agreeing with me here that God can have a good reason for allowing all of them?
4. Again, my apologies for assuming you are a materialist. So if you logically conclude the existence, at least at one time, of a divine being, is it logical that a being with the power to create the universe and everything in it out of nothing could cease to exist? And if he uses his knowledge and power to “make all of existence better for everyone,” why does life suck for so many? Why is there pain, suffering, illness etc. in your worldview?
5. Which leads me to your apparently inconsistent viewpoint that miracles are impossible. If there is, or was, such a divine being as you describe, then there exists a realm outside of the physical one, which indicates that there are spiritual realities unknown to us and unseen which may affect the physical. And a being who created all of nature surely can intervene to cause things that are “unnatural.” Besides, what’s more miraculous than the creation of the universe itself?
HI again! Sorry for the massive delay, just kept getting handed more work. Good for the bank account, bad for free time. Anyway: (Gonna have to try to be quick again, sorry.)
1. I’m not arguing from opinion but rather from definition. Condemning a vast portion (majority?) of His creation to eternal suffering is incompatible with the definition of “loving” and, I would argue, “worthy of worship.”
Also I’m not saying all religions are the same, nor that all are inconsequential—in fact just the opposite: I believe that most religions are extremely consequential, because they encourage their adherents to become better people…which is what a rational, loving God would care about more than the specifics of the practice of each individual faith.
And, I’m not trying to caricature-ize God—what I’m saying is that that caricature canNOT be God. I think we’re close to being on the same page here, actually: what I’m asserting is not far off from “…if that Amazonian tribesman does not resist or reject God’s witness in creation but submits himself to the moral law he recognizes within, and he has never heard about this Jesus, God will apply the redemption Jesus secured to his account.” So perhaps I explained myself badly.
2. Again I may have worded things badly (I blame haste). I’m saying that the fact that we have suffering proves that God canNOT “rewrite the rules.” Because if he could, he could rewrite them in such a way that we wouldn’t need suffering to be worthy, etc.
3. Absolutely agree. Parenting is of course an imperfect analogy, but I think any good parent recognizes that there are times when we must let our children be hurt, in order to save them from greater hurt later. I think an active God would have to employ that concept on the largest possible scale. I think the only way to justify God allowing something like, say, the Holocaust is to believe that this enormous injustice served an even more enormous good. And that absolutely sucks for us limited humans in the thick of it, but that’s the way the universe works. That’s why I say God can’t rewrite the rules—if he could, he could bring about that good without having to allow something as awful as the Holocaust.
4. I don’t think it’s logical that God would have created the universe, set it in motion, and then cease to exist. But I don’t discount the possibility that he could have simply moved on to a new project. Maybe checking in periodically, maybe not. (I do lean toward at least periodic checking in.) As for the life-sucking question, see my answer to #3 above. 🙂
5. I think I was trying to oversimplify my position for clarity, or maybe I’m misinterpreting some of what you’re saying. But to me there’s a difference between “unnatural” and “impossible.” A tornado tearing through a town but leaving every building standing because it only went down major streets is unnatural, but not impossible. A tornado destroying a town and also NOT destroying the same town is impossible.
A being from a spiritual realm could influence ours in ways we couldn’t explain—but He can’t make the impossible possible. That’s what I was trying to say.
OK, gotta run again!
Joe, in the interest of not making any more demands on your time, I will consider our mutual “responsibilities” in this exchange satisfied (you’re welcome 😉 ). But I hope you will continue reading my posts. As you may have noticed, I’m currently addressing your objection regarding the unreached peoples that you referenced in your first point yesterday. If I can just clear up some misunderstandings you and others have about Christianity, I’ll be happy. And if I can persuade you to give it another try, I’ll be ecstatic. I pray you’ll take the time, when you have it, to consider the possibility that all your objections can be resolved. I’m confident that if truth is what you’re after, you’ll find it in the Christian worldview.