Believers have a hard time understanding atheists’ conceptuality of ‘spirituality’… about which, whilst I’m sure it varies considerably from individual to individual, I think I can safely say that I speak for all atheists when I say that an atheist’s conception of ‘spirit’ and ‘spirituality’ is quite different from the religious ideas on the subject:
Most importantly, it doesn’t involve any kind of ‘ghostie-thing’ that survives us in this life; if anything survives of human beings at all after death, it is the ‘spirit’ of their work! Which in turn reflects the spirit of their lives… It is that spirit which is in us, which animates us and gives us life, while we are alive… that spirit which feels as much awe and reverence for the universe in which we find ourselves as believers do from any religious epiphany.
Take, for example, the spirit of Mark Twain (an atheist), without whose classic novel ‘Huckleberry Finn’ the abolitionist movement which gave rise to the Human Rights movement might never have got under way… Huckleberry Finn’s famous decision to ‘go to hell’ rather than betray his friend, the runaway slave, Jim, is one of the most poignant moments in all literature… and I’m sure had a great influence on the decision-making of the people of his own country, for whom it was first written! And it continues to exert that effect even today. I’d advise all believers (and all atheists too!) to revisit Twain’s novels. (Alright; I know, I’m gushing; but Mark Twain’s been a hero of mine since childhood).
Perhaps now you can see what I mean when I say that even atheists can, and many judi online DO, have a very real form of spirituality, but it is not a spirituality which is in any way separate from the physical human being and his/her life and work… Until the person’s death, when it continues, if s/he is diligent and deserving, as a memory: The truly Great Spirits, like Twain, will be remembered forever. Jonathan Swift was another… Try reading his ‘A Modest Proposal’ if you haven’t time to re-read ‘Gulliver’s Travels’… which was far more than a fairy-tale for children!
The work of authors such as these (and I could name far too many to list here!) actually contribute to the spiritual development of future generations too… So it’s easy to see that atheistic spirituality is indeed a very real phenomenon; and it has a very real and positive influence on the history and culture of the world!
It would be nice if religious people could at least learn to recognize this, however, and not assume automatically that we’re all devil-worshippers or worse!
The fact is that atheist commit fewer crimes than believers… (I think the stats come from recent censuses in the USA) so at the very least let’s dispense with the religiously-generated prejudice that atheists must automatically be ‘evil’ or ‘evil-doers’; and let’s remember that prejudice is not only a great evil in and of itself, but that it is also the generator of much more, and greater evil…
Remember too, that religion is the source of all prejudice!
Being the nerd that I am, I must confess that sometimes random things bother me. This week, it’s Bart Ehrman claiming that the Bible is full of contradictions. Bart Ehrman is probably the most popular Bible critic in the world right now. He’s written a few best-sellers about how Jesus isn’t really God and, among other things, that the gospels are full of contradictions. First off, I find his attacks on the gospels genuinely hilarious. He wavers back and forth, claiming both that the gospels are suspiciously cohesive and that they’re far too contradictory. One week, they’re so similar they just obviously are the result of conspiracy. The next, so different that they couldn’t possibly be reliable. It’s confusing, I know.
So let’s end this contradictions nonsense. Imagine you (yes, dear reader, you) and I with bandar bola are walking out of a crowded restaurant and witness a car accident. A week later, we are both called in for questioning regarding the incident. When asked, you recall the accident like so: “I walked out of the restaurant and saw Derek on my immediate left. Directly in front of me, I saw a church with a huge white steeple. To my right I remember seeing an elderly man on a jog. Then I watched a head-on collision between two cars.”
Then they call me in for questioning. I remember the event like so: “I walked out of the restaurant and saw a faithful reader of the Campus Christianity website. Then I saw an ice-cream shop across the street. To my left I saw a basketball court. Then I saw the wreck, a head-on collision between two cars.” Now, we’ve just witnessed an event. But, as is human nature, we remember different details about the event. Same event. Different details. Are our stories contradictory? Of course not. Approaching the gospels, we see something similar. Each of the four writers tell the story of Jesus from four different perspectives. The stories don’t perfectly match up, but why should they? If they did—and included each detail exactly the same—we would have good grounds for believing in collaboration and conspiracy, that the Christian faith was just an intricate invention of the disciples. So the fact that there are four different stories actually gives us a good indication that these are, indeed, four accounts of an actual event.
Now, let’s say for a moment that there are contradictions. Just for the sake of argument, let’s pretend. While I do hold that the Bible is divinely inspired (and therefore true) because I’m a Christian, the non-believer has no such commitment. Still, they can’t throw the gospels out just yet. They are still historical documents recounting a historical event. Let’s look at them as such and assume, for a moment, there are contradictions. Back to the car wreck. Let’s imagine I report that the wreck involved two blue cars and you report that the wreck involved one blue car and one white car. Does that mean the event didn’t happen? Very likely, a wreck still happened—that central piece of the story a person is unlikely to forget or confuse—and one of us has just missed a minor (and largely irrelevant) detail. Someone not at the scene asking us about the event is still very likely to walk away believing that a head-on collision has happened, even if our stories don’t perfectly line-up.
On the other hand, it’s very unlikely that, as eye-witnesses, you and I would report contradictory information on major details. In other words, it’s unlikely one of us reports a fender-bender while the other reports a 50 car pileup, if we are both being honest. The main details of the story remain the same. The gospels report an event much more significant—and far more unforgettable—than a car wreck. While the gospel writers and judi bola may have recorded different details about the event of Jesus’ life and resurrection, that doesn’t make the stories “contradictory.” And even if you can’t buy that, at least understand that the main details are exactly the same: a man was crucified, put into a grave, then showed up a few days later. It’s simple investigative work: don’t let the color of the cars distract you from wreck.
If Protestants had patron saints, C. S. Lewis would be the patron saint of campus ministers. He worked on the college campuses of Oxford and Cambridge for most of his adult life dealing with students. He wrote apologetics, delightfully articulating the Christian worldview, that were read by college students rebelling against ignorant Christianity. In short, he’s awesome, and you should probably read him.
If you’re looking for a place to start, here are the 3 Best Entry Points.
This is his magnum opus (a pretentious way to say “masterpiece”). He might not have considered it that, but looking back over his work, it is. This is Lewis at his finest. Metaphors zip through the book like bees through a field of sunflowers. And his metaphors are way better than mine. Mere Christianity was originally a radio broadcast set during World War 2, so you’ll catch some references to bombings and war throughout it. Lewis never wrote about Christianity in the abstract—he always forced his faith to engage the world he saw around him.
If you’ve started this book before and had problems, try this. Mere Christianity is divided internally into four books, but try starting with book 4, then book 3, then go back and pick up books 1 and 2. Book 4 often has the most appeal for Christians, while Books 1 and 2 are usually considered the toughest. You might find the whole experience a little more enjoyable this way.
Now this is an incredible book. It’s the first Lewis book I read (and also my favorite!). Here’s the story. An elder devil, Screwtape, is writing a series of letters to his nephew, Wormwood, on how to tempt humans. Wormwood is fresh out of the tempting academy and still getting his feet wet tempting humans.
Since it’s a series of letters between two devils, all of Screwtape’s advice needs to be reversed. When he says “Our Father Below” to agen judi bola he means Satan. When he speaks about “the Enemy” he means God. At one point Screwtape tells Wormwood that if a human can’t feel God, then tempt him to believe he never felt God at all. The real advice for Christians here is that even if you don’t feel God currently, you’ve encountered him before. You have to do little work like this as you read the book, but after a chapter or two it becomes pretty natural. Here’s an easy way to read the book: there’s 31 chapters and each chapter is about 5 pages each. Pick one of those months with 31 days and read a chapter a day. Easy. And worth it.
This is the final book of the Lewis Holy Trinity and the easiest to read (because it’s the shortest). If you’ve got two hours, you can sit down and read this book.
If you’ve ever wondered how people could choose hell even when they’re offered heaven, this is the book for you. It’s psychological theology. Lewis deals with the little choices we make everyday and shows us how choices to snub our parents or control our friendships are choices that spring from the darkest pits of hell. Each time I read this book, I’m amazed by how much I still identify with the “hellish” characters who have been offered a vacation to heaven.
One of my favorite parts of the book is the sudden realization that heaven is more real than anything we’ve ever experienced. The air rushes louder, the sun shines brighter, even the blades of grass are stronger—so much so that the visitors there seem ghostly and transparent in comparison to the presence of heaven.
The Great Divorce is a perfect blend of Lewis’ penetrating insight into our souls and his ability to imaginatively communicate the goodness of God. Reading this book is convicting, but it’s full of hope for something better. It’s almost like sitting through a surgery where the doctor is cutting you open to operate, but all the while describing how you’ll be able to function and thrive once the tear is repaired. So go on and let this book (or, more accurately, God through this book) open your heart up for some surgery.
Sometimes I think Pascal’s wager gets an unfair rap. It’s arguably his most famous and least understood idea. The basic argument of the wager was found in fragment form in his unpublished Pensées (thoughts). That fact alone should at least give us pause before declaring a verdict on it. Perhaps if he had lived long enough to publish it he would have cleaned it up and explained it in greater detail in order to avoid misinterpretation. But he didn’t.
The wager is usually explained along the following lines. Either God exists or He does not. All humans must bet their lives on whether He exists or not. But reason alone is not sufficient to provide a definitive answer to question of God’s existence. So how are to proceed? By considering the stakes and probabilities and attempting to minimize our loses and maximize our gains. What? Let me explain.
If we gamble that God does not exist then we live however we want in this life with no one at all to give account to or curb our impulses. Theoretically this should result in maximum earthly happiness in this life—assuming that by living for our own pleasure we’ll freely choose to do that which makes us most happy. And if in the end it turns out that we were right and God doesn’t exist then when our life is over and that’s the end of it—no lasting consequences.
If however, we gamble that God does not exist and live accordingly but it turns out that we were wrong then we may have increased our finite happiness during the brief span of our earthly life but we will reap infinite unhappiness as we endure the eternal punishment of God in the afterlife. Hardly as wise trade-off.
On the other hand, if we gamble that God does exist then presumably we’ll have to forgo some of the earthly pleasures that we would have otherwise enjoyed in order to obey the commands of God. That might be considered a finite loss. And if it turns out we were wrong then we lost out on the experiencing the maximum amount of pleasure here on earth that we might have experienced had we rejected the idea of God and lived accordingly.
If however, we gamble that God does exist and forgo some earthly pleasure as a result but then it turns out that we were right, the gains that we win are infinite. Having chosen rightly for the side of God we will inherit eternal life in paradise—well worth any short-term sacrifices we might have made on earth.
And so, the conclusion is mathematically obvious. Betting against the existence of God will result in finite gain but could result in infinite loss—the potential small gain is not worth the potential massive loss. Betting in favor of the existence of God will result in finite loss but could result in infinite gain—the small loss is massively outweighed but the possibility of infinite gain.
And so, even though it’s impossible to determine whether or not God exists by reason alone, one would have to be an absolute fool not to believe that God exists.
Did you follow all that? Do you buy it? Do you see any holes there? Do you think God would be fooled by someone who pretended to believe in Him in order to minimize losses and maximize gains? But my problem isn’t with Pascal’s wager. In fact, I really like Pascal’s wager. My problem is with people or with http://homebet88.co membership who explain it in the way that I presented it above (which is exactly how it was presented to me when I was in college). I think that to present it that way entirely misses Pascal’s whole point. Pascal was a brilliant mathematician (hence the talk of probability) but he was also a mystic (more on that later). And the whole point of the wager (in my opinion) was to highlight the self-authenticating truth of the gospel which is not unreasonable but which cannot be reduced to mere reason. Rather, it’s a metaphysical truth that’s vindicated and confirmed experientially through living it.
So it seems to me that far from being a cold and calculating defense of Christianity in order to maximize my payoff and minimize my losses, Pascal’s wager is actually right in line with the type of experience-based affirmation of Christianity that I’ve been proposing on this blog all along. That whole Greenland thing was, as far as I can tell, Pascal’s wager in narrative form.
In the next post I’ll explain what I think Pascal was doing with his wager and why I think it’s such a helpful approach to Christian faith. And I wager that you’ll find yourself agreeing with me. (Though I wouldn’t bet my life on it).
File this under “What Not To Do When Lady Doubt Comes Knocking”: Treat every question as if it’s of equal importance and start to cultivate an all-or-nothing mindset about every issue. What am I talking about? Let me explain.
It happens every time I read judges. I get to that bit about the fox tails and I just can’t do it. I can’t accomplish the herculean mental leap that would enable me to believe that it really, in actual historical fact, happened. What happened? This:
“So Samson went and caught 300 foxes and took torches. And he turned them tail to tail and put a torch between each pair of tails. And when he had set fire to the torches, he let the foxes go into the standing grain of the Philistines and set fire to the stacked grain and the standing grain, as well as the olive orchards.” (Judges 15:4-5). That. Can you imagine the logistical nightmare of catching 300 foxes? Where would you find them? How would you catch them? Where would you keep the ones you caught while you were out catching the others? But that’s not even the half of it. HOW IN THE WORLD would you tie a torch between the tails of two foxes and not get your face scratched off in the process? And then once you’ve got 150 pairs of foxes with torches tied between their tails, what do you do? Light the torches one by one and send them out? How do you know which direction they’d run?
Granted, I’m no Samson nor http://bengkelbola.org member. Not by a long, long shot. I get it. But still, I had a hard enough time getting rid of one raccoon in my garage…I simply can’t imagine catching a fleet of foxes and turning them into roving wild torches aimed at my enemy’s crops. I just can’t get myself to believe that it happened that way.
Now here’s where the panic and fear-driven faith starts to set in. There is no shortage of people who would tell me (trust me, I’ve talked to them) “If you can’t believe in the flaming foxes, then you can’t believe in the resurrection.” The implication? If I think that Joshua 15 is anything other than literal, historical fact, then I may be putting myself outside of the household of faith and beyond the bounds of salvation.
And so then I’ll ask that person, “Do you believe about the 300 foxes?”
“Yes, of course I do, it’s in the Bible.”
“You don’t find it a little hard to believe?”
And here’s where the ultimate stopper line comes: “Listen, if you believe that God spoke the world into existence and raised Jesus from the dead then you should be able to believe that God could enable Samson to catch 300 foxes and tie torches between their tails and direct them to particular fields.”
Touché. I suppose. But that argument misses my point. Yes, I believe that God can do whatever He wants and therefore, yes, I believe that God could have empowered Samson to do that fox stuff. My question is not whether or not He could have. My question is whether or not He did. And my answer is: I DON’T KNOW!
Ah, that felt good. I don’t know. Those three words have proven to be three of the most faith-affirming words in my walk with the Lord. I don’t know.
And not knowing how God intends for us to understand the flaming foxes episode does not, in any way, cause me to doubt the fact that Jesus Christ the Son of God died for my sins and rose again on the third day. See? It’s not all or nothing. And not every question is of equal importance. And there is no slippery slope from fox denial to denying the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So just relax and breath and be honest about all of your biblical fox-related questions. It’s okay. God, and the Bible, can take it. Incidentally, I used the foxes as an example because it’s personally relevant (that story really does cause a minor faith criss every time I read it) and because it’s kind of funny (to me anyways). But you and I both know that the main place this happens for many people is in Genesis 1-3. More on that and whole faith-science thing later.