Saturday, March 31, 2012

An Ingenuous Apologetic (. . . or why I still believe that Christianity is true . . . or more true) Why I'm Not a Pantheist Part I

I've thought about how I should handle this next topic for a while.  I've decided to give it just a brief brush over. The reason is, these posts start to become long, with series lasting > 10-15 posts. So, I will cut to the chase with this one.

I will be perfectly honest and say that I don't know a lot about pantheism, especially the dominate one (on the world's stage) of Hinduism.  I did seriously consider it at one juncture. It was when I just came back from the mission field and I was trying to start from scratch. But once again, I confess that start was biased in the favor of Christianity.

My approach to Hinduism was not a study of its teachings.  I think I had the general idea and studying the many, many gods, narratives and etc would not have answered my real questions about it.  But I did study its origins.  So as I talk about those origins, I ask for some factual grace. The reason is, for one, I never studied it intensely and what I did study was about 22 years ago. So take some of what I say, with a grain of salt.

Before I get to those origins, I will say that pantheism is very attractive for many reasons. The most dominate reason is that is it the easiest path in a culture where the melting pot has gone to seed  as a pluralistic society. In the homogeneous cultures, say now deeply in the Muslim world, or deeply in the Christian world of Europe of the fifteenth century, the easiest path is/was to follow the dominate religion of that culture.

As America was born and immigration was predominately from the Christian countries, it was still easiest to be Christian. But as the melting pot started to include Muslims, Buddhists, secular empiricists, even polytheistic or animistic cultures the tensions also increased.

As you start to fragment society the tension becomes tighter. Imagine taking an iron "#" symbol and pressing it down into clay. You will have nine squares (or actually trapezoids). Then rotate that # by five degrees and press it down again. Then you have at least eighteen trapezoids. Do it again and again until you have a pile of clay mush. It is in this context that pantheism comes to the surface. If you didn't follow that I will clarify later.

Prior to reaching that end-point, the melting pot goes through a series of rising tensions.  A hundred years ago you might have a group of protestant boys, beating the crap out of the Catholic boy on their way home from school. And the same for the Mormon boy but I couldn't imagine that now, except in the buckle of the Bible Belt in a small town in Alabama.

In America, the sixties was the breaking point of that moral tension. With the help of the Beatles (and many philosophers and artist prior to that) pantheism vented the growing pressure of that melting pot--gone pressure cooker.

So, what I'm trying to say, is that inside the front door of pantheism, there is a beautiful release of moral tensions.  You can accept that friend living with their girlfriend without any hesitation or judgement. You can except your brother's homosexuality without any tensions with New Testament verbiage about homosexuality.

Beyond that, you can feel no pressure to discuss the "true" way of salvation with that cousin who has converted to being a Jehovah's Witness or the next door neighbor who is a Scientologist . . . because all roads lead to the same point.

In the Indian subcontinent, there is evidence of ancient narratives, you might say polytheistic in orientation, going back to almost 5,000 years BC. However (and this part is debated or even rejected by some, including many Hindus) the Aryans (from eastern Europe) entered the region from what is now NW Pakistan.   This melting pot was intense as the Aryans moved across present day India.  From what I understand, the Aryans, nomads and herders, had their own strong religious traditions probably polytheistic or animistic.

As the new culture, with its strong and complex religious traditions was superimposed on an existing and complex religious traditions, it was like the "#" coming down, twisting on it axis and coming down again, dicing and dicing the philosophical and religious society.

From what I understand, the early Vedas had accounts for as many as a thousand gods, growing with more and more complexity into the ocean of what we now know as pantheism.

I will stop here and pick up with one more post that describes why I am not a pantheist. Please remember, this isn't me arguing against pantheists, but simply my story of why I chose not to walk that path. If you want to correct the superficial history, which I've described, you are welcome to do it under comments.

I will proof read tomorrow.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Titanic Church . . . A Coming Lost Generation

I'm taking a break from my series an why I still believe in Christianity. I want to come back later and talk honestly why I considered pantheism, but didn't walk that path. I will also discuss why even Christianity is difficult to believe at points, but it is my best choice. Once again, no road out is easy and obvious.  Christianity has an answer for this . . . our minds are finite or fallen.

But another topic is once again on my front burner, is related to the previous topic and that has to do with the youth leaving the Church (big C) for good. These are kids raised in the evangelical church.

What brought it to mind were two things.  First, my wife had my Jeep for a couple of days and  had the station on the local "Praise Radio" station.  I was driving and trying to turn back to NPR.  However, the announcer was talking about the issue and a new book that addresses the problem in an "exciting and provocative new way."  I had no clue (until I looked it up) that it was a Ken Ham book, Already Gone.

Then, I keep running into a kid at Thrive, who I knew at my old evangelical church. I know that he has left Christianity, and his  mother told me rolling her eyes, "Because he wanted to search for truth."  I've tried to talk to him many times but he sees me as the elder of the old evangelical church and he is very defensive, "Sorry I haven't been to church lately, but I work on Sunday mornings . . . yada, yada, yada."  I don't care if he ever darkens a door of a church again.

Anyway, a couple of days ago I got a toe past his defensive door.  I would love to sit and let him tell me honestly about his journey and let me gently tell him about not throwing out the baby with the bizarre bath water.

I have several other stories to tell but I will stop there.

I have a  huge heart for the youth who are leaving and not coming back, because it is a disaster . . . manufactured by the evangelical culture.  A culture that is so entrenched that they would rather see their kids fall off the philosophical cliff than change that culture.

I've never been a youth leader nor could I. I've attempted. But, because I do these odd things like discussing philosophy, culture, logic . . . instead of reading from the church playbook, study only the Bible. Teach only what they MUST THINK (to be orthodox) not HOW TO THINK, is the church way.

So, like watching the Titanic crashing into the iceberg in slow motion, 75-85% of the kids raised in the evangelical church are pitching the whole think out the window as soon as they are liberated from their parent's grip.

I go further to suggest that out of the 20% who stay, most of them do for dysfunctional reasons. Many of them were taught so sternly that they must comply with their parent's wishes, that even as adults, they can not dare (emotionally) to do anything that their parents might disagree with.

Just like the young woman who was under mind control by an abusive husband for 20 years . . . once she is out of the relationship, she must have a hot dinner on the table at 5:20 PM, have her make up on at 6:00 AM, never buy anything for herself, and I could go on and on, because that husband had brain-washed her so sternly.  If she attempted to break the pattern, even if the husband was gone, she would feel nervous and guilty.  Guilt manipulation has been the most useful tool of the church since Peter.

Another part of those who stay, do so out of nostalgic reasons. They grew up sitting in a pew, singing hymns, doing the Christmas stuff . . . that they have a general good feeling to keep those traditions. Some of them stay for decent reasons. Christianity is real to them, in their private world, satisfying their aspirations for meaning that nothing else can. But even those who stay for the wrong reasons, aren't bad people. Once again, if they do the right thing, for the wrong reason they still win . . . it is just dangerous. These same kids wouldn't have left the mosque, the synagogue, the Christian Science reading room . . . or any other group for the same reason . . . wanting to please their parents. 

But I suspect the entire generation will be lost. Like, (who was it Einstein?) who said insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results.  Ken Ham is a proponent of saying do the same thing we are doing, but do it harder and at an earlier age.

The kids are leaving the Church for two major reasons.  The first is intellectual dishonesty.  That is where they take a church dogma (different from a Biblical mandate) and dress it up as conclusion to logic. For example many of Ken Ham's positions.  He didn't believe that the dinosaurs lived with people because he is a scientist and spent years studying the fossil record. No, he is a theologian who, for too many reasons to discuss here, decided that the earth must be 6,000 years old. So then he wraps that in pseudoscience and propaganda, giving it the appearance that he reached his position through careful thought.

But I don't mean to get side tracked on the age of the earth issue.  That's not the point. The point is that anytime we lie to our kids and then later they find out we were lying, they have a strong natural inclination to walk out the door of our belief system.

The other area is emotional dishonestly.  It is hard from me to be around evangelicals anymore (had a long conversation with one two days ago) because they are constantly telling me things that I doubt are true (I heard God's voice coming up from the basement the other night) but they are out of touch with the fact that virtually everything they are saying and doing is because they desperately want to feel good about themselves.  We all do it. I think we are better if we have insight why we want to paint ourselves in such positive light.

My wife talked to an old friend at her evangelical church. He e-mailed me and invited me to a men's Bible study. I know that he has honorable intentions. But I've sat though thousands of them in my life.  I know it would be a loose-loose situation. First of all, they are inviting me because they assume that I'm back-slid-den. This is because I left their church. Then, each week I would hear things that I know aren't true (supernatural encounters with God in the washroom at the Hilton) and they would put intense pressure on me to make up the same lies.  I've done that. I've repented from lying and don't want to anymore. If I don't lie, then they will continue to assume I'm back-slid-den.

I would love to talk about what we know about God who is there, about the wonderful universe I believe He has created, including art and science. I love to sit and talk about our personal problems . . . when we talk honestly. But the pretending is enticing me to sin, by lying, and I don't want to go there.

This is what our kids go through. Most of them, like the young man at Thrive, leave the Church, not because they are bad people. They leave the Church for honorable reasons. They want to know truth. That is a good thing. They want to be honest. That is a great thing. They want to share openly about their messed up lives. That is a healthy things.

I might come back this topic . . . I'm not sure. I would love to write a book about it . . . but where's the time?

Friday, March 23, 2012

An Ingenuous Apologetic (. . . or why I still believe that Christianity is true . . . or more true) Why I'm Not an Atheist Part VI


Having grown up in the Bible Belt, I had rejected most of it by the time I was 12.  I loved science and the two seemed incompatible. I was definitely an agnostic. Impossible to know anything about being . . . which I assumed.

The way I became a Christian, I will tell in the ingenuous way . . . not the way I did in testimonies for decades. In my "Personal Testimony" version, I was coached through many of workshops of what to say and what to leave out, and which parts to exaggerate. We wanted to do our best to attack new converts in the same way that a Kirby vacuum cleaner salesman would want to over-state its performance to get you to buy it so he could make more money. The other factor,you know, we didn't want to make Jesus look bad. I'm really sure He is up at night worrying about that (eyes roll here). What eventually led me to becoming a Christian is complicated (emotionally) but I will try to tell it quickly.

I've shared very openly here about my struggles with a general anxiety disorder. My crisis (as I think most teenagers have had some type of personal crisis) was the fact I wanted to be a basketball player and due to performance anxiety, I was frustrated in my attempts.  The coach called it "lack of confidence."  Being in the Bible Belt, he directed me towards Norman Vincent Peale, the "Power of Positive Thinking" preacher. I read Peale's book, desperately seeking a methodology for finding confidence. Peale's technique was memorizing positive Bible verses.

Even though I didn't believe the Bible was God-inspired, I did think it might help me through a form of pop-psychology and the positive thinking that preceded Joel Osteen by a few decades (and I'm sure that there are agnostics who enjoy Joel for the same reasons).

Then, a good friend of mine introduced me to a Navigator group.  He met them as a 17 years old when a teacher invited him to a Bible study. Since this was among college students and we were in high school, my friend didn't want to go alone. He begged me to come and I did.

There was something very attractive about the Navigator group.  Much of this attraction was based on a misleading representation.  The group members all claimed to have solved all their problems through Jesus and were living in bliss (some of them years later got back into drugs, committed suicide, divorced and were arrested for child molestation).  I wanted bliss. I wanted to escape my frustrating world of anxiety. I didn't have a name for what was wrong with me as I had no insight into what it was, but I just was assuming that I was a bad person because I couldn't muster up confidence. I also felt horribly guilty about that.

While I wanted to be a Christian, I still had very serious intellectual problems with it. So I started a long, mental journey to see if there were any doors into Christianity that would allow a thinking person to enter. The Navigator leader kept telling me that good people (the word he used was "mature Christians") don't struggle with doubts but simply trust God with a blind faith.

At this juncture I know that my story is being very vulnerable and that you could easily deconstruct my experience in the name of psychological and sociological phenomena. I'm just being honest about it without its "supernatural" window dressing. However, as I've said before, if you end up on truth, you still win even though if the way you got there was dangerous.

As a side bar, my main point is that we all lie a lot, Christians and non Christians. When Christians tell their conversion stories (testimonies) we take a rough nugget of truth, like a candle wick, and dip it in
vats of "miraculous exaggerations,"   "purer but dishonest motives" and "God did this and that" language and lies. Finally we have this candle that looks nothing like the the wick. I'm not just saying that bad people, such as myself, do this . . . but we all do it. I wish we didn't. Life would be better if we were emotionally honest. But I've found that the more emotionally honest I try to become the more alienated I am.

Now back to my main point. So, I had a lot of trouble sleeping at night as a teenager. Part of it was associated with my constant anxiety but part was also associated with the 2 gallons of sweet (southern) iced tea I drank every day. So I would lay in bed every night exploring the deep caverns of philosophical possibilities.  I didn't know the language of philosophy at the time. But it was the same process that philosophers have worked through for thousands of years. How do we know what reality is?  Does anything really exist?  How can we trust our senses that the world we know is real (vs a Matrix type of imaginary world)? If the world came out of a spontaneous point, where is meaning?  What is good vs evil?  These are some of the questions I've explored before.

But finally I came to the issue of consciousness, or more precisely self-consciousness.  Like an explorer ten miles in an narrow, dark cavern, the thought of self-consciousness was like a huge room full of light and amazing rock formations. I spend months, every night, laying in my bed in the small town of Fall Branch, Tennessee pondering the boundaries of what is self-consciousness. It think it was the same experience and thought that Descartes had when he reached his "Cogito ergo sum" epiphany.

What I mean by this is the notion that I'm here . . . inside this body. I would pinch myself hard and I knew that I felt it. While it was reasonable that every human on earth could be a protein and calcium based robot . . . I knew that I was not. It had a self-awareness that exceeds the possibly of complex circuitry.

You will find the majority of those in the atheistic camp or at least in the empiricist camp (that which can't be observed in the lab cannot be considered) argue that this sense of self-consciousness is simply the result of a long process of evolution and extremely complex circuitry. They argue, that eventually, with enough circuits, abundant memory based on billions of semi-conductors (instead of neurons), that we can create artificial intelligence.  But what they mean is self-consciousness. This whole concept is wonderfully explored in A-I (the movie).  But my argument is, self-consciousness can not be a product of memory, which can be represented digitally with billions of Is and Os, nor is is a product of mathematical computation . . . even approaching infinite computation capacity. They would argue that us simpletons just can get our minds around the fact that we are the sum of neurons, neuro-transmitters and hormones. But, I have spent my entire 30 year career in neurology. I think I know neurons and their workings, better than most and I'm saying that is not possible.

My epiphany was simply the fact that I am. But I am more than the sum of neurons and chemical soups. I am a person. I dwell inside this mortal flesh, but I have this deep, and logical concept that I am real . . . beyond the parts. Now you could be such a robot. A very sophisticated robot could fool us. It could reproduce hearing, speaking, seeing, memory and even imitate human emotions from programmed memory . . . yet it could never, ever experience those emotions the way that we do.

Once you bridge that gap, you then know that an impersonal universe cannot give rise to the personal no matter if you had a billion to the billionth power of years to evolve.  While I reached this conclusion in the privacy of my own mind, in the isolation of my own bed at the age of about 15, it took years later before I heard it expressed in philosophical terms.

The late Francis Schaeffer said it best.  He, as a resident of Switzerland, described two high mount lakes in two adjacent valleys. If one lake was at the same level as the other lake, it would be reasonable to think that the two lakes had a connection. However, if the second lake formed and then rose to a higher level of water than the first lake, it would be illogical to assume that the first lake gave rise to the second one. In the same way, there is a tremendous philosophical problem to assume that a cold, impersonal universe could spontaneously give rise to self-consciousness or self-awareness. The impersonal cannot beget the personal. This was a key moment in my journey back to theism.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

An Ingenuous Apologetic (. . . or why I still believe that Christianity is true . . . or more true) Why I'm Not an Atheist A Footnote

Tonight I watched the documentary The Journey of the Universe.  This was a beautiful movie, but was so classic of the atheistic attempt (futile attempt) to add meaning to life through the existential use of smoke and mirrors. You got to watch it to get my point. This one part of the absurdity of atheism, so absurd that these attempts are made to "religionize the nothing."

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Barber and the House of Mirrors

No, I have finished my series on An Ingenuous Apologetic. I have at least one more post on why I'm not an atheist and then posts on why I'm not a pantheist and why it is tempting not to be a Christian (or in other words the absurdity of that path as well) yet, why I still am.  But I will take up a different matter for now and come back to that later.

In our small town there are about four barber shops. Two of them, oddly, are on the same block, just a few doors apart. I will refer to them a "barbershop A" and "barbershop B."

A while back, I was looking for a new barber (now that I work on the island and can't get to Great Clips easily).  I had heard good things about barbershop A and I went to find it quickly one day at lunch. But I accidentally walked in to barbershop B (not realizing there were two).

My experience in barbershop B was a bid odd. The lady who ran it was sitting in the corner. I was her only patron.  She sat me up in the chair, put the towel around my neck. Then, rather than slicing my throat as Mr. Todd would have (Sweeney Todd if you don't know) she pulled up a TV right in front of me and turned it to the TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network). There were the clowns with the big hair and demands for money.  It was clear that the barber wanted me to watch it as her "evangelistic technique."  If you know me, I despise TBN. It makes me sick to my stomach. Those people are so far out of touch with reality that it is simply bizarre. But she kept commenting with sighs, "Wow. God is good. Hallelujah!" all said in whispers.

But that was a long time ago. Yesterday, I did find barbershop A and went in for a haircut. Once again I was the only patron.  As the barber had me in the seat, we were just making small talk. I asked how long he had been there. "Two years," he said.

I made the comment, "I tried to find you once before but went to the wrong shop."  He just cut my hair in silence. Then I said something that I would later regret. I don't know why I just don't keep my mouth shut.  I said, "Yeah, it was an odd experience in the other shop as I was required to watch TV evangelists, you know, the lady with the big blue hair."

My dear barber A, cleared his throat, "Well, I will tell you that I'm a Christian too (referring to the lady forcing me watch TBN as the other Christian part of too)."  He didn't look very happy with me. Then he added, "I try not to share Jesus with my patrons unless they bring it up first (implying that I had just opened Pandora's praise book).

I felt grief. I knew that I was standing outside the Fun House at the carnival and one way or the other I was going to enter the world of distorted mirrors. If I said I was a Christian too . . . or I guess that is thrice, he would smile and start Jesus talk, which for me would not be sincere. You know, "Jesus told me this and he told me that." If I didn't speak up, he was assuming I wasn't a Christian because I had just commented that I didn't like the bizarre TV evangelist on TBN. Back on the other hand, I knew that if I said that I was a Christian, he would immediately start to pick my Christianity apart because I had already done the unpardonable thing of saying I didn't like the evangelists with the big, bizarre hair, the fake boobs and the constant emotional manipulation for money. It is the unspoken and unpardonable sin for Evangelical to criticism another. That's why my old pastor, and many others in my old church, were appalled when I said I would not read the book (required reading by the pastor for all of the Church leaders) simply because it was written by the Benny Hinn Ministries (a pure evil celestial mafia in my eyes).

I choose to say I was a Christian. That didn't make the barber any happier as he was just starting his plan to deconstruct my evangelicalism to prove I wasn't a very good Christian . . .but I was saved in the nick of time as a group of other patrons came in the door.

Now I know what goes on in the "Fun House" because I was an Evangelical for 30 years and was the guy at the door trying to get you to enter. But I know how it works. I want you in the Fun House (and I mean here by "Fun House" as the evangelistic conversation or our take on "sharing the gospel") because I desperately wanted God to like me, and He rarely did, and I wanted to like myself, which I also rarely did. So, by "evangelizing" someone, or entering such an evangelistic conversation, I had some greater sense of self-worth.

I could also create some sense of self worth but picking out the sin of the unbeliever, "So you live with your girlfriend?  God has something better for you as He has said that fornication is sin."

Now, if the person told me that they were a Christian, then I could only get an increased personal sense of worth if I gently and insidiously broke down their Christianity.  Now this has to be done with slight of hand, distorted mirrors and hidden doors, so that I wouldn't be blatant. I would do this by listing all the great works I had done for God, but say it in a way that God alone seems to get the praise (more distorted mirrors). Then I would criticize the other Christian's accomplishments. "How many people are in your Bible study?  Oh, three?  Hmm. I know that when I learned to pray earnestly and trust God I saw my Bible study grow to twenty (do you see how the wrapped mirror makes me look skinny and the other guy fat?)

But I think I've made my point. It is ironic that I have a passion for honest conversations about theology, the gospel, personal suffering, pain, philosophy, science, arts, history . . . or anything. But I hate so much to enter "Christian" conversations in the House of Fun.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

An Ingenuous Apologetic (. . . or why I still believe that Christianity is true . . . or more true) Part V -Why I'm Not an Atheist

I have this bad habit of trying to explain myself, so why stop now.

I wanted to make the point what I'm investing in this exercise.  I'm not doing this as a persuasive apologetic. So, I'm not trying to get anyone to see things my way. I'm simply trying to explain why I am still a Christian. That's all.

Continuing in this thought (taking one philosophical possibility at at time) of why I'm not a atheist, the next big reason is that the universe rest on a grid.  What I mean is the order of the universe is profound. The order, in my opinion,  begs of a personal creator. The order is such that Albert Einstein could sit in his office, scribble with calk on a black board, and figure out . . . mathematically . . . profound truths about the universe that later would be proven to be true in experimental physics.

It has taken me a long time to make this post because I was looking for the time when I could do the research to give examples of this order, but I've decided not to.  You know the stuff. A lot of it is used by the Intelligent Design movement and they have many books describing the precise order of the universe. But I will simply say, that an important factor, for me personally . . . and this is after a huge amount of honest thinking about this . . . is that the universe is on a grid.  But I think that this is one of those areas that we all take for granted.  But it deserves a lot of thought.

The atheist have intellectual gymnastic moves to get of this absurdity (absurd if you are an atheist) and the main one is the poly-universe concept. I just heard it mentioned on NPR's "Science Friday" again yesterday. They simply say that the Big Bang created billions of universes, however, only this one had order and the others were all filled with the chaos that you would expect from a accidental freak of the Big Bang. However, only an orderly universe would have survived long enough for life to have evolved. No one would have known that the universe was here unless it had stayed stable long enough for life to evolve to the point of intelligence that is high enough to recognize that the universe is here. So there you go . . . back to the labyrinth in the middle. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

An Ingenuous Apologetic (. . . or why I still believe that Christianity is true . . . or more true) Part IV--Why I'm Not an Atheist

If I continue approaching this topic in the spirit of honesty, I must confess a few things before I move on.

I, of course, am biased in my ponderings. I do think now an then, usually in the middle of the night in the middle of my bed with Denise fast asleep beside me, "What if God isn't there after all?" Those are casual, almost recreational thoughts.

There have been a few times that such contemplations were subsistence, meaning in this case, essential for my basic living.  These were times of crisis where I wrestled deeply with God, or more like wrestled with my thoughts about God . . . even the possibility of  Him not being there.

But to be really honest, it would be difficult for me to become an atheist on an emotional level. If I did, then I came out of the closet about it, I would be hated by all of the peers whose opinion of me matter. I guess another name for this is peer pressure.  I know that I've paid a significant price for leaving the Evangelical fold. I can't imagine the isolation of declaring myself to be an atheist. My own mother, not to speak of my wife, would be devastated.

There is, of course, the possibility of being a closet atheist and maybe that is what I really contemplated. But there is a built-in bias not to be an atheist since I'm from the Christian culture.  With that disclosure, I will move on to the more unbiased reasons that have not picked atheism as the most logical path.

My handicap in my ability to knit sentences or pick ripened words to express what I mean will show here. If only I were a poet . . . if only. God bless them who are.

First there is Alvy's problem (see the post about 12 posts ago . . . unless you are a fan of Annie Hall and remember Alvy's dilemma).  You have to lay in your bed tonight, in the dark, no TV, no music, just you and your thoughts to get your mind around this. But the problem is the universe, eternal past and eternal future.  First, you just about have to start with absolutely nothing.  It is magical thinking to think of the atoms or even the quarks always being here . . . and I mean, with capital lettering ALWAYS being here in an eternal static state.

So the first problem is having that prime mover. This has been the debate among philosophers for hundreds if not thousands of years.  Out of nothing, came something.  What was the trigger for that movement? What stirred that primordial soup of nothing, so that something came?   How did nothingness (and again I mean this with capitalizations) NOTHING give birth to something? You need to meditate on this for a while, but my words here serve only an introduction. I've spend hundreds of hours thinking through this and it always ends with a labyrinth at its center.

Next comes the significance of the being, meaning in the most general terms, of all that exist. But lets pick out a tiny, tiny part, for example the universe that we can see from earth. So, if the complete universe (meaning everything, time, space, dark matter and even that "universe" before the big bang) existed eternally past and eternally future what is the significance of this universe? I will pick up on this in a minute.

There are several atheistic models for the universe. Before Georges Lemaitre first theorized the concept of the "big bang" in 1927, the common atheistic view was a static universe. The fact that Lemaitre, while being an accomplished astrophysicist, was also a priest may have given him some personal bias towards a universe with a point of origin. But this was confirmed by observational cosmology through the  like s of Hubble. It is understood as a fact that the universe is expanding from a singularity point.

I've heard, years ago, the atheistic explanation of a pulsating universe. In this model, absolutely NOTHING, suddenly (and for no known reason, without prime mover) is suddenly ripped apart into matter and anti-matter.  Their view that in each cycle, lasting tens of billions of years, the universe expands, slows downs and then collapses back to the singularity point of nothing. After a short time, the cycle repeats itself.

In that model the cycle endured forever. But then a problem occurred.  Around 1998 it was discovered that the on the outer edges of the universe, things weren't slowing down, but speeding up.

Now we are back to Alvy's dilemma. If the universe is expanding and accelerating in that expansion, then it will inevitably grow cold and dead. It is not pulsating but one directional. All energy is a product of gravity and with atoms becoming more and more distant from one another, into all of eternity, then it is inevitable that it will go cold and die.

So my point here is about meaning. So, imagine the universe came out of eternity past, of nothingness, through the big bang. Next come the visible . . . this-side-of-the-big-bang . . . stuff that spreads and goes cold and dead. So, say the life of the entire universe is 30 billion years. Thirty billion years seems like a very long time, but when pressed between the pages of eternity past and eternity future, then the 30 billion year life of the universe is like a single sentence . . . actually like a single word . . . no actually like a single letter . . . actually smaller than a period in the entire Library of Congress (which has more than 34 million books). But even that is an exaggeration . . . actually an extreme exaggeration, maybe the most intense exaggeration ever suggested.  So, then to find meaning in a life of an individual, say 80 years, is infinity insignificant. If we were Gandhi a million times over, or a Hitler to the point that we gassed every man, woman and child on earth, yet those actions would be totally meaningless in the big picture of all that is. That's why I say to be an atheist you must be a nihilist . . . there is no other option.

But it is at this juncture that the atheists start their self-deception, just like the evangelicals do. They strive to give the impersonal, meaningless universe . . . meaning. Just listen to them. In place of God, love, purpose they have these existential concepts of the survival of the herd, the advancement of mankind, the enjoyment of the beauty of nature.  This is why the late Carl Sagan created a TV set that looked like a church and spoke like a TV evangelist when he said "billions and billions of stars, galaxies, or light years."  He admired the beauty of the nebulae as a meaningful substitute for the beauty of the creation with the emphasis on "creator."

So what is wrong with this meaning?  It is terribly dishonest.  It allows the atheists sanity and in the shadow of that sanity they can get up in the morning, put on their pants, kiss their wives and children, go off to work and pretend that it is real. But it can not be. There is no such thing as beauty. There is no such thing as love. It is all relativity, but even relativity is meaningless.  The universe doesn't give a damn if you succeed . . . or fail, if you love or hate or even if you survive. It doesn't give a damn if the herd survives or goes extinct.  Nothing, out of nothing.  Keep going in this direction, enter that dark labyrinth and you will drown in absurdity.

But, the reason to believe in God isn't simply as Marx's opium . . . to find comfort and meaning where there is none.  The reason that this is just one point of why I believe in God is that we, as humans, intrinsically scream of a longing for meaning.  For us to be the product of a meaningless universe is an inconsistency.  Francis Schaeffer described it as an evolutionary (speaking of the evolution of the human brain to the point of desiring meaning) failure. It would be like a fish in a water world, where there are no free gases, evolving lungs. It would totally inconsistent with their universe.

So, if we humans, by chance, evolved the sense of wanting meaning, but living in a universe where there are none . . . well, there would be no greater hellish nightmare.

I'm not done with my points about why I'm not an atheist but this is getting long. I will be back with at least two more points, the order of the universe and my greatest reason, the sense of consciousnesses or being a person, me living inside my head and how that is inconsistent with an impersonal universe.

Friday, March 9, 2012

An Ingenuous Apologetic (. . . or why I still believe that Christianity is true . . . or more true) Part III - The Draw of Atheism

If you have never had the choice of atheism on the table, then you have never really thought carefully. If you assume Christianity, through the process of social coercion rather than thinking your way there, then it is intellectually lazy. However, if Christianity is true, as I think it is, then the laziness has no real consequences. You win.  You win in the same way as the novice bomb de-armer, you randomly cut the red wire, which saves you, rather than the blue wire, which would blow you to kingdom come. So this intellectual laziness is not a moral problem (which we usually associate with other forms of laziness) but simply dangerous.

But as atheism sits on the table, it does not sit in a depression where everything has the natural tendency to roll towards it. Actually I use the term "draw" as an irony. Atheism does not have that natural draw, it would never be the opium that Marx refers to. If you really understood atheism, within it you would find no comfort . . . and no resolution. As I've said before, all ways out of the crater have very steep parts of absurdity.  Since I'm approaching this topic of apologetics ingenuously, I will say that if you were an atheist . . . honestly . . . you have to be a nihilist. But few atheists are because they can't live that way.  A lecture in Seattle this week, which I can't attend, is titled; Religion for the Atheists. I don't know for sure, but I assume it is another illogical attempt to give meaning where there can be none.

So how do people end up in atheism and why is it a choice that many make?  I will deconstruct it the same way I did the belief in Christianity.

For many, it is the same type of social coercion that makes born again adults out of Bible belt babies. In some circles, especially the academic specialties of the humanities and biology it is considered . . . I guess the best word is "cool" to be an atheist. It is lesser so in astronomy, physics and least true in medical sciences. So as the student makes his or her way through the undergraduate years, they have more and more social coercion to conform and think in atheistic ways.  This was probably more true during the 1950s through the 1980s and less so the last two decades.  During the more recent times, pantheistic ideologies have probably become more popular in these specialties.

So, beyond the emotional reasoning of wanting to be like your peers (remember this is the same reason that most Christians are Christians) there are a few other reasons people become atheists.

Another emotional reason is being screwed by something theological. Atheism becomes part of the emotional rebound from a bad experience with Christianity, or other another religious system. Some of the common examples I can think of are the people I've known who claim to be atheist after their little boy died from a brain tumor or their wife was killed in a car wreck. There are some who become atheist in the rebound after being sexually molested by a priest . . . or by their deeply, born again pastor-father.

The last reason that some people become atheist, is probably the most honorable one. That is where they "think their way" to atheism.  Now I'm not saying that good-thinking should always lead you to atheism. Good-thinking can lead you to many, often opposite conclusions.  Some people are Christians through good-thinking and some are Muslims for the same reason.  I will talk about each of those in their due time.

The honest-thinking atheist gets to where they are because they sincerely want to know truth. But true, dogmatic, atheism is as bad (speaking logically) as the dogmatic Evangelicals that claim to know absolute truth at all levels, down to the tiny specifics of life. However, even these atheists got to that point has more, once again, to do with social coercion than pure logic.

I was once trying to teach this concept of social coercion to a group of high school Sunday school kids. I thought it would be very helpful in understanding culture and the role of Christianity in culture. This was just before I was axed for not teaching the Bible. But the point I made to them, as I looked around the room, that 90% of them (including myself) were wearing bluejeans. The reason we were wearing jeans was because of social coercion. So I traced the history of the wearing of jeans back to Nimes, France (where denim was invented) to Levi Strauss and is copper pocket rivet for gold miners and on to James Dean.

Philosophical thinking behaves the same way.  This is where I think the late Francis Schaeffer shined the most, in his understanding of philosophical evolution.

But this is where the social coercion comes from the enlightenment gone a muck. So the preceding centuries (including the Dark Ages), Europe was deeply enthralled in dualistic Christianity, where the physical world, including reason, had no merit, but the spiritual world was all that mattered. I know that you already know this, but, the reaction to that horrible experiment with philosophical dualism, there was a rebound towards reason.

The Medici family may have initiated the transformation in Florence and the Moors (who had not, yet, fallen into Dualism) in Spain.  So there was a tidal wave of transformation towards reason.

But just like in any rebound, the pendulum goes too far. The The Renaissance followed by The Enlightenment brought reason back to its healthy place in society. Then the French "coronated" the new god of France (after Louis' head rolled) as Reason. Then reason was considered perfect, infallible and it was further honed with Empiricism. Eventually it reach an irrational conclusion that if something can't be measured . . . then it doesn't exist.

It is a little like the metaphysical paradox that we face in medicine. In this litigious society it is stated that if it was not documented then it never happened.  So if a patient comes into the emergency room with a heart attack and you follow the exact life-saving protocol of giving the drugs to save their life, and because you were so focused on saving their life that you didn't pause to write down what you did, and the patient died, it will be assumed in a court room that you never did the right things to save their life. So now, strangely, it has become more important to write down what you are doing than focus on actually doing it.  So the patient is at greater risk, but if you fail to document what you've done, and you are sued, you career could be over and your employer out of millions of dollars.

So, in the case of Empiricism, if it can not be observed in the lab, it doesn't exist. In medicine, if it wasn't written down, then it never happened, even if it did happen . . . or in the former case, even if it really does exist.

So, what is thought among philosophers (in the late 17th century), becomes vogue among the artists (18th and 19th centuries) and vogue among us commoners within a generation (early 20th century). So, after thousands of years of considering the existence of God as not being a viable option, but a significantly rational one, insidiously it becomes irrational . . . and the person on the street doesn't even know why it isn't rational any more, any more than we who still wear jeans don't under the culture behind the wearing of jeans.

So, my suggestion is that the majority of those who chose atheism, just like the majority of those who choose Christianity, do so from emotional reasoning.

I will come back to talk about why I'm not an atheist and some of the philosophical problems with that view.  But, keeping with the spirit of this being a "ingenuous" apologetic, I'm not talking about this as an academic exercise. I can only talk about it because I have seriously considered atheism as an option for myself.  What I will share next isn't what I read in a book by Josh McDowell, Paul Little, or even Francis Schaeffer (except to say that Dr. Schaeffer put some language to the thoughts which were already in my head) but from my own, honest explorations

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Pleasantville . . . a Metaphor for a Personal Renaissance

I've been reviewing movies for our movie club. Last night I watched Pleasantville, staring Toby MaGuire, Reese Witherspoon, Jeff Daniels and William H. Macy.

It's old, common and probably you've seen it. So I won't go into the story line.

There are many great discussion, which the movie can provoke. However, I identified with the movie on a deeply personal level. As color comes to the perfectly "pleasant" American town . . . it was like my personal Renaissance . . . which came after twenty years of hard-core Christian fundamentalism.

While Pleasnatville's first experimentation in beauty came as sexual promiscuity, that isn't at all what I mean. The movies does mature into the the enjoyment of all the senses. But to avoid good music, good books and good ways of thinking for soooo many years, then to discover them at 50 . . . I relate to the movie.  God is good, the things He has made is extremely palatable. I'm so glad I didn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. 

An Ingenuous Apologetic (. . . or why I still believe that Christianity is true . . . or more true) Part III

Compulsory Nihilism II by Astrolavos
If you continue where I left off, considering that most of us believe what we do because of the culture in which we were raise, you start to get the feeling of hopelessness. If you add to that, the point that I've made before that certainty about anything is impossible, there is a great temptation to resort to a nihilistic position.  It must be hopeless to know anything.

But nihilism doesn't get you anywhere.  You are still stuck in the bottom of the crater and in the worst possible position. Even the atheists finagle a way to find meaning . . . although that "meaning" is build on wet tissue paper. True atheism should be wed to total nihilism.

But, the fact that we reach our belief systems as a product of our culture doesn't alter reality, only our perceptions of reality. If the tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it . . . yes, it does still make a sound.  Reality is, whether we think about it or not. So the fact that we can't know with certainty or that our perceptions are skewed by our culture, with powerful emotional coercion at work, there is still a reality there. It would make sense that the closer we live to true reality, the better our lives are, so it is worth the pursuit. Nihilistic hopelessness is a horrible way to live. Yet, to create, mentally, a better "reality" just to give us a sense of hope is equally worthless.

Thinking through these things can be exhausting. That is why the majority of pilgrims check out at this point. The Evangelicals do the "cop-out" of saying, "It doesn't matter. I believe the way I do because God caused me to believe the way I do so I will just believe it and go on."  The majority, more than the Evangelicals, do something differ. They give up quickly and fill their minds with distractions.  The things of life, family, TV, work, sports, hobbies and the list goes no. Not that those things are bad, but they use them as a constant treadmill of distractions so that they will never have to give the questions of life a serious thought.

Now, regarding the Evangelicals, if they believe that God has done the work for them, that He has called them to believe and therefore they have no choice, and if the Christian God is truly there, then they win. So, even though I may be critical for their intellectual laziness, I do believe that the Christian God IS there, so I can't fault them as they are right . . . but accidentally right. We all end up at the same place.

But for some of us, especially as we interact more and more with the greater world (other religions, world views, cultures), we want to do the work of knowing why we believe and knowing if we are right. We are not comfortable with accidental correctness. Accidental correctness can be, just as easily, accidental incorrectness.

Friday, March 2, 2012

An Ingenuous Apologetic (. . . or why I still believe that Christianity is true . . . or more true) Part II

I always like Paul Little, having heard him speak a couple of times. The first time was an intimate group in a museum at my college. The second time was at the huge Urbana missionary conference, where there were about fifteen thousand people in attendance. But this isn't about him or his book but to be a launching point for my next turn in this story.

Following the spirit of being ingenuous (or brutally honest) I want to ask the question, why do we believe in Christianity to start with?

We all have the notion that we believe what we do because we are smart people and that we have used a series of logical deconstructions of the possible belief systems, and arrived at Christianity as the most logical. But the truth?

The truth is, that in about 99% of the time, we believe in Christianity because of social coercion.  More specifically, we were raised in Christian homes, in a Christian society and it was expected that we believe this way.

Now for some of us, the story may have played out a little differently. We may have been raised in a Christian culture but not in a Christian home. Then at some point in our life, for a variety of reasons (usually because we meet really nice people who are Christians) then we join them.

You hear urban legends, and some of them might be true, where someone searches the world for the correct belief system. They analyze each one carefully, then decide that Christianity the better argument . . . and then they convert. But this later case must be extremely rare.

The intellectual exercises of apologetic then comes to the Christian, in the same way to the atheist or other completely secular persons, is just window dressing. For the Christian, they start with the premise that Christian must be true, then they go through the discussion to prove it is true (and of course they will end up where they set to end up). The Atheists are no better. They start with the premise that Christianity can't be true . . .and of course their intellectual exercise ends them up exactly where they intended to end up.

I'm not saying that this has to be a bad thing, but just exposing it for what it is.  Many of my Christian friends take the intellectually easy path at that point. That is, it is God's sovereignty. It goes like this. If God is totally in control, and predestines you to be a Christian, then He has orchestrated each step of the way for you. You were born in the shadow of the church building and you were taught Christianity (rather than being born in Jedda and being taught Islam) because God has his finger on you from the beginning. There is comfort in thinking that way.  I am a "Reformed" Christian, speaking theologically and this is consistent with what we believe. It certainly could be true and I hope that it is.

But this is a logical "cop-out" as they would say in the sixties . . . or seventies. But, once again, it doesn't matter if Christianity is true or if it is true that God is completely sovereign over you spiritual orientation.

But for the young person, truly seeking for truth, this becomes a stumbling block. It starts as stumbling block when they first meet a real-life Mormon . . . or a Muslim, who equally believes that God put them in the their faith because He loves them and chose them to be "believers." But those positions are safe.

For some of us, the desire for truth is so overwhelming, that we are willing to dine with the devil. We are willing to sit at tea in "Doubter's Castle" and not just sip the tea, but read the books in its library. We take the risk of actually leaving the faith in order to save it.

A long time ago when I first started my walk to find truth, I remember my old Navigator boss giving me a stern warning, "I knew a man who did what you want to do . . . he isn't a Christian anymore?"

I knew that I had to take the chance. I took the chance, not because I'm a risk taker just for the fun of it. It did it because I had no choice. That boss had just spent the previous two years being very abusive to my family and me. In the midst of all of that, the "wonderful, godly" self, revealed its dark side of rage, anger and depression.  The Christian ground I was standing on was crumbling under my feet. I had to take the journey.  The default or passive position would have been to completely loose my faith.

But I'm still not one of those rare people who search completely objectively. Even though I wanted to know truth with all my heart, I was still biased. I was still rooting for Christianity to prove itself.

So, before I go further in this discussion, I just wanted to honestly explore this intellectual, psychological and spiritual bases for why we believe anything.