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What Sometimes Tears Me Apart

February 25th, 2007 · Posted by Who Knows? · 22 Comments

What exactly should one do with “strong, passionate feelings”, when they’re at odds with your friends’ opinions? Well, sometimes, if your opinions are strong and passionate enough, you don’t exactly have perfect control over what you utter… it just comes out. And afterwards you’re maybe a little concerned about how offensive you came across.

Nearly two months ago a friend pointed me at a rather, um, “interesting” book. The book, according to me, as well as the two good friends I shared it with (for, uh, “shock value”), is bullshit. (Excuse my crude language. It should serve to best illustrate how exactly I feel about it.) So tonight, at a “party”, I happened upon a conversation singing praises of that book. This did not really come as a huge surprise, I expected that kind of viewpoint from at least one or two people in this group of friends. Why did I find it so terribly disturbing then? Why did it make my blood boil? So much so that I ended up blurting out wonderfully undiplomatic (euphemistically described, of course) rants against it? (I might even have used the “bullshit” word in polite company. Oh the horror! <grin> And I can’t even remember if I did or not.) Was it because I was so hoping that they might just surprise me, that our viewpoints are not so “incompatible”? I think the anger is the result of months of frustrations and feelings of hopelessness trying to figure out how to deal with exactly this kind of matter – there just isn’t an easy answer, or an answer at all, rather.

I am also concerned that such rants might end up driving friends away – something I really don’t want to do, I love these people. Opinions differ. People make mistakes. Am I exhibiting judgementalness? Hypocritical judgementalness, since I so love to condemn judgementalness? (I don’t think so, since the book is bullshit… yea, I’m consciously being ironic here. Warped sense of humour.)

Should I be keeping my thoughts and feelings to myself, simply avoid getting involved in conversations where I disagree? I don’t think so, that doesn’t seem right. But I guess I could learn to be more diplomatic firstly, and secondly not barge into conversations that I am not already a part of. That is exactly what I did, and it isn’t the best approach. I guess I could first test the water and figure out if there is interest in my opinion, before sharing it. But that is disregarding the “strong/passionate feeling” again. It would require suppressing passion, which feels the same as being “untrue to yourself”?

Well, back to the book… Some friends found the book very useful, it meant a lot to them. It is not my place to deny them that? Some stories speak more to some people (have more meaning, “usefulness”, or influence) than to others, of course. If they find the book useful, why should I be bothered? If they read it agreeing that it is “fiction”, but still found it useful, would that be “acceptable”? (Fiction can be very useful for teaching.) Is it then just my frustrations with people “believing” what I (and many others), uh, “know”, to be bullshit?

OK, I have to mention the book, this is all too much in the air right now. The discussion (I’m hoping a good little discussion develops) needs some concrete material/example to work with. The book I’m referring to is Choo Thomas’ “Heaven is so Real!”. You can take a look at the book’s website to get the marketing blurb, but more importantly/usefully, take a look at this discussion, in Afrikaans (apologies to my English-only readers, but this post isn’t particularly relevant to you).

My personal opinion about the book can be summed up as “It’s bullshit like this that gives Christianity a bad name”. To further add to the example of how “judgemental” I am: no, I haven’t read the book. If I had unlimited time, I would love to read it, and provide a much more informed review. However, my time is limited and precious to me, especially right now (I have to finish my thesis), so I have to do what all humans do all the time – make a decision based on limited information. (And I feel I have more than enough information. I do have no desire to waste time on bullshit. OK, so I used that word six times in one post, does that count as one transgression, or six? ;) )

All comments welcome. (That includes those that sing praises to the book. I can suggest maybe posting those anonymously, if you feel concerned about responses you might receive from some of my other readers. You will still have to provide an email address, but only I will ever see it.)

Categories: Religion and Science
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22 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Guess! // Feb 25, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    I agree. This book is clearly bullshit. It posits ludicrous conclusions based on zero evidence.
    You say it gives religion a bad name. But doesn’t religion encourage you to believe things for which there is no evidence? Doesn’t it in fact elevate magical thinking into a virtue?
    If it does, then this book can hardly surprise you. If we can believe the other things commonly accepted by Christian churches around the world – that we were born into sin, that we must be forgiven, that otherwise we’re condemned to hell, but most importantly that there is an all-powerful entity who knows our thoughts and deeds – then why not believe a few other things? Why not believe anything that your church tells you to believe?
    This is exactly what alot of people do. In the USA, 44% of the population think Jesus will be arriving within the next 50 years. They also believe in the “Rapture”, and that if the US was attacked by their “enemies”, for instance Islam, it would be a sign of the their impending ascension to heaven. They’d wake up and see the silver lining in the nuclear cloud. This kind of irrational belief is bound to influence public policy. And it affects every one of us, religious or not.
    So I applaud you for calling bullshit on this book. But what makes it possible for people to believe this drivel, is an uncritical acceptance of what they’re told. If someone is sent off to Sunday school from an age at which they have “childlike faith” (i.e. they lack the critical faculties to dispute what they’re told), then they’ll end up believing something because it’s written in a “sacred text”. It’s not much of a leap to believe someone else claiming to have spoken to Jesus.
    One question, how do you know your version of Christianity is correct, and Choo Thomas’ is not? Isn’t it conceivable that she *really* did speak to Jesus, and that he’s on his way? To me, it’s at least as conceivable as most of what I was told in church. Actually it’s more conceivable, if you think about it… Choo’s making these statements about something *now*, whereas the church makes claims about 2000 years ago! (And 6000 years if you’re a creationist).
    Just my R0.02’s worth.

  • 2 stefan // Feb 26, 2007 at 12:43 am

    I could write a very long response to this posting, as I have passionate views on the topic (or more specifically, on this book). But maybe I should rather take Hugo’s advice and think carefully before I say things I might regret. Let me just say that I agree completely — Choo’s is a cock-and-bull story (that’s from the dictionary, so not too hefty I presume :).

    As for the comment by “Guess!”:

    While religion does imply believing in *something specific* that cannot be proven to exist, it certainly doesn’t encourage believing *everything* that cannot be proven to exist.

    I have to agree, however, that unexamined faith is extremely dangerous.

    As for the last point: Choo Thomas doesn’t claim her own version of Christianity. She writes a story that is supposedly compatible with Christianity. It does not take much critical examination to see that this is clearly not the case.

    Jesus, whether you believe that he was the son of God or not, preached profound philosophical ideas. His ideas brought a novel message (at the time) of love, caring and kindness.

    Choo Thomas’ work is not novel or inspiring, but a sad money-making scheme targeted at a world where gullible Christians too often fall pray to such pranks.

  • 3 Guess? // Feb 26, 2007 at 4:04 am

    Well said Stefan. You make some interesting points that I’d like better to understand.

    First, you said Choo’s story is incompatible with Christianity.

    My, admittedly limited, understanding of Christianity is that it claims:

    i) Jesus died and was resurrected three days later. He was also born of a virgin, walked on water, made wine out of water, healed the sick and duplicated food.

    ii) He ascended to heaven to be with God, his father

    iii) God is an all-powerful, all-knowing entity who created the universe

    iv) You must be forgiven by God because you are sinful, and you must believe in him to go to heaven, to be with him again

    v) God had to send his son down to be crucified so that he could forgive us

    vi) If you do not repent and ask forgiveness, you will go to hell

    Am I wrong about this? I believe there are many other claims (the world created in 7 days etc, but different Christians believe different sections of them, according to their denomination and/or preference).

    Choo says:
    i) I spoke to Jesus (many times)
    ii) I saw heaven and hell (and hell was a nasty place)
    iii) Our time to repent is short (George Bush is the end-of-times president)
    iv) The archangel Michael has blond hair and blue eyes

    Which of these revelations are incompatible with Christianity? Let us assume that conventional Christianity is correct, and Jesus is up there in heaven with God. Why would it be so absurd for her to speak to him? What evidence would you require from this woman, that you do not require for the beliefs you already hold?

    You also said Jesus had profound philosophical ideas. It is indeed true that he said some profound things about love and charity and forgiveness. The Golden Rule really is a wonderful moral precept. But numerous teachers offered the same instruction centuries before Jesus (Zoroaster, Buddha, Confucius, Epictetus…)

    But if you think Jesus taught only the Golden Rule, take a look at the New Testament. Pay particular attention to the morality that will be on display when Jesus returns to earth trailing clouds of glory:

    “God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you… when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might…” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9) (looks like I’m in trouble)

    “If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.” (John 15:6) (yep, I’m screwed)

    So I guess my confusion is, how do you know this woman is wrong? Is it a difference of interpretation of what the bible says, and that she contradicts something in there?

    You said: “While religion does imply believing in *something specific* that cannot be proven to exist, it certainly doesn’t encourage believing *everything* that cannot be proven to exist.”

    Of course not! Otherwise we would believe in Santa, the tooth fairy, Zeus and other preposterous fictions. But why should we believe in *something specific* for which there is no evidence, rather than *something else*? More importantly, who decides which specific something it’s okay to believe in, and which something it’s not okay to believe in, if we do not have recourse to evidence and reason?

    In short, I’m asking, is it okay to believe the improvables which the church would have us believe, and yet condemn those who ask us to believe another improvable? And what is the basis of our condemnation? Disagreement? Lack of scriptural authority? Please enlighten me!

    Finally, you mentioned that quacks like Choo take advantage of gullible Christians. I agree, but I also feel that Christians would not be half as gullible, if they weren’t required to believe things in the absence of evidence. Any culture that considers faith a virtue will be plagued by charlatans taking advantage of that faith.

    I’d like to end this note with a thank you, for having read this far… I look forward to reading a reply, should you have the time! :)

  • 4 gman // Feb 26, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    I want to comment on a few things. Guess?, you are absolutely right in saying christians are gullible, and not only that, but we’re naive too. Our pastor mentioned this fact yesterday in church. :) You have a lot of points I agree with. If we believe such and such, then it really isn’t too hard to believe choo’s story as well. I can’t prove or disprove her experience.

    What I would like to ask, is why so sceptical about the bible? Do you think that the people back then had a huge conspiricy going to fool everyone? Miracles back then was just as miraculous and unbelievable as they are now. I personally know people who have experienced miracles firsthand (people being healed etc). The other thing you have to remember is anyone can preach anything, but only those with power can prove they speak the truth. That is the purpose of a miracle. It’s a sign of power. If Jesus didn’t perform any miracles, then how would anyone know if he was telling the truth? I know, I wasn’t there, so I take these things in faith, but why would people back then die a martyrs death if they didn’t experience these things for real? Just think about it. The early church had a huge persecution when they started.

    Personally I’d rather believe the people that were there and wrote about it and died for it, not someone 2000 years later, questioning everything simply because their intellectual thinking is in the way…

  • 5 auke // Feb 26, 2007 at 1:35 pm

    Friends,
    Without having read (or ever intending to read) Ms Thomas’ literary contribution, surely it should come as no surprise that, the moment your model of the world includes the supernatural, you are most likely going to end up (in fact, are bound to end up) with nonsense?
    And if nonsense offends you, get rid of it. I don’t tolerate racism amongst my associates, because racism and prejudice is more important than a social bond (as in, friendship). I do tolerate country music listening amongst my friends, because country music, well, isn’t that important.
    So I think Hugo’s question should be: “How important is nonsense to me?”
    Best regards,
    Auke

  • 6 Guess$ // Feb 26, 2007 at 3:43 pm

    Gmain:
    “What I would like to ask, is why so sceptical about the bible? Do you think that the people back then had a huge conspiricy going to fool everyone? Miracles back then was just as miraculous and unbelievable as they are now.”

    I’m sceptical about all claims to the supernatural. The bible is no exception. There are plenty of charlatans around today, claiming to speak with ghosts and tell your fortune. You wouldn’t believe them, would you? And I use your own words “do you think people [now] have a huge conspiracy to fool everyone?” No they do not. Some of them do intentionally fool others to make a profit. Others genuinely believe they have psychic abilities or whatever. That doesn’t make it so.

    If someone happened to write down that a miracle happened yesterday, would you believe it without recourse to evidence? Of course not. So why do you believe the biblical miracles to be true? Surely the burden of proof is on those asserting the improbable. A text does not prove that something happened 2000 years ago. Especially a text written by many different authors, hundreds of years after the purported events. If the say-so of a collectively-written book is enough for you to believe something, then why don’t you believe the Qu’ran? Do you actually believe that Mohammed “in the year 621, at the age of 51 years old, flew on the magical Winged-Horse of Fire which he called Burak.” I’ll tell you why you probably don’t – you were most likely brought up in the Christian tradition.

    “I personally know people who have experienced miracles firsthand (people being healed etc).”

    Care to cite a few examples? Can you point out any studies that show faith healing works? Have you heard of the placebo affect? More importantly, if you had a bad case of malaria, would you rather go to your faith healer or your doctor?

    “The other thing you have to remember is anyone can preach anything, but only those with power can prove they speak the truth. That is the purpose of a miracle. It’s a sign of power.”

    Wait a second. All my life I’ve been told we needed “faith” to be Christian, because its claims cannot be proved. Now you’re telling me that there’s evidence, in the form of miracles? Doesn’t that make faith unnecessary? And why would God choose to reveal the evidence of his existence (miracles) to some lucky mortals, but not the rest of us? That hardly seems logical.

    If God exists, it’s the most important fact in the Universe Ever. And if miracles establish this important fact, the church should be proclaiming the best possible evidence of these miracles. And I’m not talking about a verse from the bible, or an anecdotal account. I’m talking about some statistical correlation between for instance, prayers or faith healing, and the rate of positive outcomes. If they have proof, why isn’t the church using its resources to fund studies into the effectiveness of their techniques? Enough positive outcomes, and the entire scientific community would be converted!

    If I introduce a new drug into the market, I have to prove that it works before I can sell it. The same should apply to claims about the effectiveness of faith healing. I can’t go around saying, “my friend took this pill, and now she’s better! Buy these pills!” Unfortunately this kind of thing *has* happened, and still happens (especially in the “alternative” health industry). We have a word for what they sell – “snake-oil” and for those that sell them – “quacks, charlatans and frauds”.

    One more thing. You said: “…but why would people back then die a martyrs death if they didn’t experience these things for real?”

    People are doing this today. They strap explosives to themselves and blow themselves up, killing innocents, in their glorious certainty that they will be greeted by their virgins of paradise. College-educated people flew airplanes into the twin towers on 9/11. They did this because they were utterly convinced of the irrational. Remember the “Heaven’s Gate” cult, who killed themselves, believing they were shedding their earthly “containers” to catch a ride on a spaceship trailing the Hale-Bopp Comet? This is a tragic recurrence in human history, but it hardly establishes the correctness of their belief systems.

    “Personally I’d rather believe the people that were there and wrote about it and died for it, not someone 2000 years late”

    So what you’re saying is: “this book says it happened long ago. That’s more believable than someone who says it happened yesterday.” Okay, though I don’t follow the logic.

    And “they died for it, therefore it’s more believable”. Okay, that certainly shows they were sure about their beliefs. But so are the suicide bombers. Does that make their 40 (is it 40?) virgins any more real?

    And finally, you said something I really liked: “not someone 2000 years later, questioning everything simply because their intellectual thinking is in the way…” I’m not sure what you mean here. But you seem to imply that “intellectual thinking” and “questioning” are less desirable than what you’d “rather believe”. I remind you that it is intellectual thinking and questioning that have led to progress, that are the basis of medicine, philosophy, literature, science and technology (even the internet!) so I’d be careful of throwing it out!

  • 7 Hugo // Feb 26, 2007 at 7:35 pm

    Hehe, I’m “away” for a day and a half, and war breaks out!

    This was not exactly my intention. Thanks Auke, seems you’re the closest to answering my main question, with a rephrased question: “how important is nonsense to me?” I will also be considering the question “why is nonsense important to me?” (never mind that that question is badly worded and somewhat misleading, I’m sure you all know what I mean).

    Anyway, back to the supernatural then. There was a certain direction I would have been heading with my blog in a month or two, but this post and discussion seems to have fast-tracked my, uh, “agenda” (and not the negative “hidden-agenda” kind of agenda). I had hoped to take careful steps, make a gradual journey, not introduce the most “extreme” ideas too early. Too late now, here goes…

    @Guess: I have my suspicious about who you might be, but your location according to whois doesn’t seem to make sense then. So it remains a mystery. ;)

    I do have a large problem with uncritical acceptance of what you’re told. I agree that is bad. Furthermore, if Christians exhibit such gullibility, they really are not being ambassadors for their faith, since people will just say “no wonder they are Christians, just look at how gullible they are”.

    “One question, how do you know your version of Christianity is correct, and Choo Thomas’ is not?” Isn’t it conceivable that she *really* did speak to Jesus, and that he’s on his way?”

    Yea, tough question to answer really well. Amongst other things, I try to maintain humbleness and realize that my version is just that, my version. My version is somewhat more defined by what I don’t know and don’t believe, than by what I do. (In the Hello World post, I briefly mention the idea of a “confession of doubts” rather than “confession of beliefs” – suggested by my pastor.)

    “To me, it’s at least as conceivable as most of what I was told in church.”

    Yea, chances are I disagree with most of what you were told in church. ;) (I can guess what you were told.) I do a lot of critical thinking about my, uh, “religion”.

    There are Christians (people that call themselves Christians, people that “follow Jesus”) that do indeed not believe in the supernatural. I suppose some other Christians (and non-Christians) would like to argue and say they are not Christians. Should I then start discussing how to define Christianity, “what is a Christian”, maybe?

    There are those that consider Jesus a great moral teacher. To see how great, you should look at it in context. More on that in a later post. I think real “Christianity” comes about when you accept the invitation to live in a “relationship” with what Christians would call “the spirit”, or can maybe be phrased “in an awareness of a ‘greater good’ and ‘in a relationship’ with it” – very vaguely described, in an attempt to “make more sense” to those that are uncomfortable with traditional descriptions, due to a bad experience with so-called “Christianity”. Maybe an invitation to be “spiritual”? Of course just being “spiritual” isn’t necessarily “good”. You’ll get “good spiritual” and “bad spiritual”, and I believe you can easily tell the difference, using reason, for example. (“Good spiritual” should bear good fruits, to use biblical imagery. Judgementalness is a “bad fruit”.)

    I really, really like Riaan’s comment on my “Why Believe?” post, my appreciation for how well it is worded is growing. And then I would like to point at Real Live Preacher’s “The Beginning and the End of Wisdom” again, as an example of what I believe a mature faith should be.

    “In short, I’m asking, is it okay to believe the improvables which the church would have us believe, and yet condemn those who ask us to believe another improvable? And what is the basis of our condemnation? Disagreement? Lack of scriptural authority? Please enlighten me!

    Good question. Do you suggest if we do not believe any improvables, that we can then condemn those who do? Personally, I try to not condemn anyone. Though maybe I end up condemning fundamentalists? (The most condemning remarks of Jesus were aimed at the Pharisees?)

    There are Christians that also do not believe the “traditional” perspectives of heaven and hell. Jesus didn’t really preach about heaven and hell, I don’t think we can really know what Jesus’ own beliefs were about what happens after death. Being focused on “after death” misses the point, I believe.

    @gman: “Do you think that the people back then had a huge conspiricy going to fool everyone?” – no, I don’t. I also detest doctrine that gives you only these two options: either you believe in every word in the Bible as literally true, or the whole Bible is one big conspiracy. All black and white. (All sith-like.) Why does the Bible get such harsh treatment, but none of the other ancient texts? (What do we know about the battle of Troy, or Alexander the Great?) Furthermore I think your comments were well answered by some of the other comments.

    @Auke (repeating myself a little): getting rid of nonsense will remain something I dream about. No-one is perfect – as you pointed out, one should decide what kinds of “imperfections” (country music? <grin>) one is prepared to accept. Making a hard-and-fast rule is also hard. Even if I detest racism, some friends and/or family might exhibit traces of it (or more than traces), and I will still accept them. If they insist on “exercising their racism” in my presence, I will challenge them about it. I think… easier said than done, of course. ;)

    @Guess, again: you underestimate fundamentalists, in the following places: “There are plenty of charlatans around today, claiming to speak with ghosts and tell your fortune. You wouldn’t believe them, would you?” Indeed, some do. (Probably condemning them as devil worshippers, for example.) “If someone happened to write down that a miracle happened yesterday, would you believe it without recourse to evidence? Of course not.” Oh, but they do! There are many stories about miracles doing the rounds. They so want to believe such miracles, that the rumours are sincerely spread as “truth”. (Ponder what happens when such communities write some scripture?)

    “All my life I’ve been told we needed “faith” to be Christian, because its claims cannot be proved.” – This, bizarrely enough to many, I find potentially a little at odds with what Jesus taught. Traditional wisdom is that our salvation is “performance based”. I believe Jesus’ message was that we are saved through “grace”, not through “works”. Christianity has a tendency to drift back to “works based”, with the “work” just being “having enough faith”. This is a fiddly thought, that I am not doing justice. It comes from a most amazing book I recently finished reading – I will blog about that soon as well.

    Enough for now…

  • 8 stefan // Feb 27, 2007 at 10:12 am

    I don’t have all that much to add, but I still owe Guess an answer.

    Guess, for me religion isn’t such a clearly cut thing. Personally, whether Jesus walked on water, whether he was borne by a virgin, walked on water, made wine out of water, healed the sick, multiplied food, ascended to heaven etc. isn’t the crux of the matter. Having said that, I probably don’t qualify as a Christian in the eyes of most — but, in my opinion, belonging to a specific denomination/religious group doesn’t say all that much in the greater scheme of things anyway.

    What I do find inspiring, is that I don’t believe Jesus attached much value to such things either. If there is one message he preached over and over, it is “love thy neighbour”. No matter where you find your inspiration, be it Buddha or Ghandi, if you love, care for and cherish those around you, you live (what I would call) a more meaningful life.

    So, why do I think Choo’s book is hogwash? She talks about cars and houses in heaven (big ones for “good” people, small ones for bad people). Warehouses full of aborted babies, waiting for their mothers to turn to God. These things were never important in a Christian context. I didn’t read the book (don’t intend to waste my time, either), but I think it is enough to convince me that she is a fraud.

    The books of the bible are difficult to interpret. I don’t think anyone knows how to interpret them “correctly”, but even so, we try to understand the words in the context they were written. The books of the bible were authored by a handful of people, all with their own ideosyncratic ideas and styles, not to mention their non-existing scientific backgrounds. Diseases were demons, and in those days, rather poetically, the sun darkened for the death of every great leader (it’s interesting to read about the deaths of the caesars, for example). The old testament (and the new in some places) is filled with vivid imagery that stems from mythological-style writing.

    To come back, then, to Christian gullibility: yes, I agree with you. I wish fewer Christians would accept what they were told as children at face value, and start asking those difficult questions. I wish parents would not instill the fear of God (another ironic term) in them, should they dare doubt their religious upbringing.

    After all I said above, you may wonder what I believe. It’s hard to say, it *really* is. But I *do* believe that we are incapable of fully grasping what is going on around us. Infinity, the concept of nothing — these things are too great for our mind to wrap around. Am I then advocating that, like in the olden days, we simply place God in those hard to reach places? Certainly not. Let me interject here a couple of quotes by Einstein:

    “The most beautiful and most profound experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead.”

    “A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.”

    “I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”

    Some argue that it is better to not ask questions of the religious type at all. I, on the other hand, believe that there is a lot to be learnt from pondering these things, even if the answers will elude us forever.

    For now, and to end off this much-too-long-comment-in-true-Hugo-style, just slap me with the label of Christian-Agnostic.

  • 9 thinktoomuch.net » Blog Archive » RLP on FoxFaith: Brilliant! // Feb 28, 2007 at 1:14 am

    [...] Man, I love Real Live Preacher! My next longish, “serious” post will be linking there. I just read his take on FoxFaith, and simply had to immediately blog about it. Go read it! I’d love to quote his punch line, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. (This is especially relevant to, or aimed at, those that recently read What Sometimes Tears Me Apart.) [...]

  • 10 gman // Feb 28, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    Hello, I’m not sure if we’re finished with this debate, and I suppose we could go on forever and ever, but here is my response to a few remarks.

    “Care to cite a few examples? Can you point out any studies that show faith healing works?”

    Not really, but this would be an excellent idea – seriously, but would you really believe then? If even one miracle is proven, would that really change your mind? I have seen a video of a dead baby coming back to life, though I don’t have any info on it since it was quite a few years back. Miracles usually take place in non-scientific places like churches so it is quite difficult to ‘capture’ it in a scientific way, but still it’s not a bad idea…

    “Have you heard of the placebo affect?”

    Placebo effect doesn’t make you grow back a leg.

    “More importantly, if you had a bad case of malaria, would you rather go to your faith healer or your doctor?”

    I would go to a doctor. I’m not an ‘either or’ kind of guy, but I would not exclude God to be able to heal me.

    “Wait a second. All my life I’ve been told we needed “faith” to be Christian, because its claims cannot be proved. Now you’re telling me that there’s evidence, in the form of miracles? Doesn’t that make faith unnecessary? And why would God choose to reveal the evidence of his existence (miracles) to some lucky mortals, but not the rest of us? That hardly seems logical.”

    A miracle usually happens through the faith a person has, not exclusively but I would say you won’t be healed (for example) if you don’t have faith to be healed, but my original point was that Jesus said, ‘signs and wonders will follow those who preach the gospel’. Some churches can testify with this while sadly most can’t…
    I don’t know why God doesn’t just make miracles happen to everyone, I’ve wondered that myself.

    “If God exists, it’s the most important fact in the Universe Ever. And if miracles establish this important fact, the church should be proclaiming the best possible evidence of these miracles. And I’m not talking about a verse from the bible, or an anecdotal account. I’m talking about some statistical correlation between for instance, prayers or faith healing, and the rate of positive outcomes. If they have proof, why isn’t the church using its resources to fund studies into the effectiveness of their techniques? Enough positive outcomes, and the entire scientific community would be converted!”

    I absolutely agree with you.

    “One more thing. You said: “…but why would people back then die a martyrs death if they didn’t experience these things for real?”
    People are doing this today. They strap explosives to themselves and blow themselves up, killing innocents, in their glorious certainty that they will be greeted by their virgins of paradise. ”

    Fair enough, though these suicide bombers have been trained and indoctrinated for most of their lives in contrast to the disciples that still denied Jesus on the night of his crucification out of fear, but after seeing him alive a few days later started preaching the gospel…something really changed them in a really short time. Paul persecuted the new church with all his might until a light from heaven shone upon him and spoke to him, after which he immediately became a convert (his own testimony). So in my humble view there is a difference between the two.

    “Personally I’d rather believe the people that were there and wrote about it and died for it, not someone 2000 years later”
    So what you’re saying is: “this book says it happened long ago. That’s more believable than someone who says it happened yesterday.” Okay, though I don’t follow the logic.”

    No, I’m saying I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to the bible, or rather the whole bunch of eye witness testimonies, than someone questioning it 2000 years later.

    And finally, you said something I really liked: “not someone 2000 years later, questioning everything simply because their intellectual thinking is in the way…” I’m not sure what you mean here. But you seem to imply that “intellectual thinking” and “questioning” are less desirable than what you’d “rather believe”. I remind you that it is intellectual thinking and questioning that have led to progress, that are the basis of medicine, philosophy, literature, science and technology (even the internet!) so I’d be careful of throwing it out!

    Hehe, I knew I’d be slapped on the fingers for that one. I love science and technology. All I’m trying to say like some folks earlier in this blog is that I don’t believe that everything can be proven with science. If God is God he is a spiritual being, so how do you prove the spiritual with the material?

    OK phew.
    Cheers

  • 11 Hugo // Feb 28, 2007 at 9:13 pm

    An excellent idea to prove miracles? As if that is a new idea… and hasn’t been tried before.

    This is the problem with “proofs” based on “miracles”, is this: most “miracles” are labelled as miracles by people that really want to see miracles. They then often have a perfectly valid “naturalistic” explanation as well. Obviously the person not looking for a miracle will then not see one, and the observation that “only the ‘faithful’ ever see miracles” is explained rather easily.

    A leg growing back? There hasn’t been any such miracle… I guess I’m supposed to add “that I am aware of”, so yea, there hasn’t been one that I am aware of. If there was, you could let the people at Why won’t God heal amputees? know. (Also known as “Why does God hate amputees?”) I find it rather humorous. However, it is an anti-religion website, you’re probably not interested. (For those that don’t know me well enough: I do say that completely sincerely and kindly.)

    Not that I think it matters, but where exactly is it written that Jesus said “signs and wonders will follow those who preach the gospel”?

    Then I also want to mention that it is unconvincing to take e.g. the gospels as “modern, reliable eyewitness accounts”. Firstly the authorship of a number of books of the Bible is uncertain, secondly they were written in pre-modern times, people did not have the modernistic viewpoint many of us have these days, sometimes making it hard for the modernist to understand the cultural context of the scripture, and thirdly, the books were written many years after the events (even if you want to argue that they were written by eye witnesses, which you probably will). A look at the flaws in modern eyewitness testimony should also be useful.

    And please note, that previous paragraph isn’t intended as an argument for “unreliability of the gospels”, it is intended to point out the “unconvincingness of such arguments”, i.e. to point out that any further debate about this matter will not really serve any purpose. It will have no effect on people that don’t believe in Biblical inerrancy. Oh, and those that wish to argue against inerrancy (in the strict sense… that actually does actually include me), this isn’t the place to do it. Have some patience for later posts, thanks!

    Now I’m hoping for this “debate” to end, there will soon be another post where some debate about “how to read the Bible” will inevitably occur again, so can I ask that we defer this particular debate until then? (The title will be obvious, you can’t miss it.)

    I do have one question, which should be answerable with a shortish answer: what do you think was the message, the “good news” (gospel), that the early Christians felt so strongly about, that they would die for it? (I suspect a number of people will think “hey, that’s an easy question!” – go ahead, I’m curious!)

  • 12 Guess~ // Mar 1, 2007 at 1:28 am

    This is a great debate, or conversation, or whatever it is. And Gman, you raise some interesting points that deserve an answer. But right now I’m exhausted, so I’ll defer my response until I can do it justice. Hugo doesn’t want this thread to continue here, so if his next related blog entry is up when I do answer, I’ll post it over there.
    And to all a good night! :)

  • 13 fritz // Mar 1, 2007 at 2:38 am

    [Mark16:16]>
    17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast
    out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

  • 14 Hugo // Mar 1, 2007 at 9:46 am

    @Fritz: I saw that, and wondered if that was what gman was referring to. I felt (at the time I saw that) that “them that believe” isn’t exactly the same as “those who preach the gospel”. I suppose I am being too pedantic.

    Say, another curiousness of mine… (sorry, I couldn’t resist… – I should resist because none of us should be “wasting on trivialities and arbitrary bickering”, which you may agree probably includes my following question):

    (Mark 16, NIV):
    15He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

    Pentecostal churches really emphasize the “they will speak in new tongues” part, and typically expect all their members that have been “filled by the spirit” to do so, as “proof” of having being filled. (Does that sound about right?) Of course some churches frown upon that. (I also have my opinions, but don’t want to go into that right now.) All I am curious about right now, is how such churches feel about other churches (or cults?) that do snake handling and poison drinking as “proofs” of their faith? Are they “respected”, “disrespected”, or aren’t they really mentioned? (Some churches “frown” on all of these “proofs”, I’m specifically – and sincerely – curious about any comments specifically from churches that support “tongues”.) I suspect the latter, it is a non-issue?

    @Guess: if I’m discussing such trivialities, who am I to stop people from discussing/debating more serious matters? ;) I know you handle such matters with the necessary delicacy, despite (uh, sorry, wrong word maybe… “thanks to” might be more correct?) your worldview.

  • 15 Pieter // Mar 1, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    To gman:

    Dead baby back from the dead
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/west_yorkshire/6403389.stm

  • 16 elstincko // Mar 2, 2007 at 11:58 am

    Hugo,

    I absolutely agree that this is hogwash! As I proclaim to be a christian I think I should not be judgmental but I have to have some backbone and take a stand and take the flack for it. To be honest I have only looked at the website of the book and then decided not to waste my time to read.

    Auke made a good point: How important is nonsense to me? Well not important enough to waste my time on it. As with many things in life I have realized there are always someone out there that has way more knowledge than I do have spent years asking some of the questions I have (including those ones i am too lazy to look into myself).

    So what’s my point? Well I am lazy. Not a great christian attribute but because of this weakness I tried to make a point of it to ask people I believe to know a lot more than I do about the subject. I might not learn as much in the process as doing it myself. working on it …

    So I asked someone I know his opinion (see
    http://www.douglasjacoby.com/about.php) and his reply was:

    “I agree wholeheartedly! Nonsense. Col 2:18!

    DJ”

    Maybe I felt happy that someone justified me but I tend to add a lot more value to someone’s opinion that have actually made an effort in his life to find some answers.

    So there you go. I think this is rubbish based on someone else’s opinion that I trust. A dangerous thing to do.

    Guess (don’t know who you are but that is probably what you are trying to achieve hence the name).You made some great comments. Why be skeptical about the bible? Well if the bible is what it is claiming to be: the word of God. Then I believe if there is anything in your life you should be skeptical about it should be the bible. Fear might cause one not to ask the dreaded questions. The things we don’t want to look into because we might not like what we find especially about ourselves!

    Personally I have struggled with the faith versus evidence thing and still am. In 2006 I traveled to Israel and walked around with archeologists and looked at various sites. This has boosted my faith. Can it be? Well I have come to the conclusion that if evidence boosts my faith in the scriptures then what is wrong with that. I also find it hard to approve or disprove someone else’s claims to witness of a miracle. Which is very ironic as that is what the gospels are. I have found it very interesting to look into the evidence as to what the bible claims as the greatest miracle ever: the resurrection from the dead.

    One can also ask another question: why does one want to see miracles? I find this article very interesting:
    http://www.evidenceforchristianity.org/efc/default.nsf/Article/7C9B1AD09BB5D2138825727B005E8DF1?OpenDocument

    Stefan I think you are right when you say that belonging to a denomination doesn’t matter in the great scheme of things. How you live your life does. Trying to be a good christian in the eyes of other people isn’t the greatest thing to do either. If you look at the Greek definition of hypocrite (hupokrites). You will see it is an actor under an assumed character (stage player). Accountability is good but to whaqt extend? Rather expose what you are not that might help way more.

    In the words of Acts 17:18 What is this babbler trying to say?

    To sum up: Hugo what were you thinking having a religious section? Look what you made me do :-)

  • 17 Hugo // Mar 2, 2007 at 12:45 pm

    Hi elstincko!

    So glad you could join us! I am quite impressed that you actually read through everything on this page this late in the game: it’s getting big. (Well, maybe you skimmed it, I wouldn’t know.) And my apologies for “making you do this”, though of course, I shouldn’t really be accepting the blame. <grin>

    We now have a nice diversity of viewpoints amongst the people that commented here. (I know them all personally, so I do have some idea “where they’re from”.) Hopefully I can keep this collection together long enough to get some good input in some of the posts I’ve got lined up (well, in my head and on my list, I still have to write them), hopefully next week.

    This is partly why I don’t want you all to waste time on “silly” debates, the good stuff is still coming. If you love debating this kind of thing, by all means, do! But if you don’t, or you don’t have the time, practise that self control and stay out of it! (Congrats S.! Yea, you know who you are ;-) ) I will hopefully be moving over to more practical things, and be less “time wastey”.

    OK, gotta go work… hopefully another “religion” post tonight, else tomorrow.

  • 18 Hugo // Mar 2, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    Oh, I forgot to respond to the content as well… there were at least two things I wanted to say:

    “So there you go. I think this is rubbish based on someone else’s opinion that I trust. A dangerous thing to do.”

    I love that: when people are aware of the dangerous things they do. We all do “dangerous” things, but we aren’t all aware of it. This is *so* relevant to the posts I keep promising… really, they _are_ on their way. So another hint then: we’ll be looking for these “dangers” in every perspective, from every perspective. Or so I hope! Hold onto your horses! It’ll be fun!

    BTW, some interesting book recommendations (or discussions then) coming up as well. I hope you (plural) will find them useful.

    “Well if the bible is what it is claiming to be: the word of God.”

    Sorry, I just have to throw in another “quiz question”. Where does the Bible claim that? (Referring to anything other than 2Tim3:16?)

    BTW, found an interesting page on different translations of 2Tim3:16 a second ago, just don’t have the time to read it right now.

    (My other quiz question has also not drawn any responses yet. It was: “What do you think was the message, the “good news” (gospel), that the early Christians felt so strongly about, that they would die for it?”)

    Quiz questions: I *really* hope they don’t turn into debates, I’m just looking for some simple answers, for people’s opinions, it’s a “poll”. Not an invitation to debate. (You could also mail me your answers then?)

  • 19 Hugo // Mar 2, 2007 at 1:47 pm

    Inspired by the comment “suicide bombers have been trained and indoctrinated for most of their lives”, here is a link to an article about a real suicide bomber and his experiences. (I have come across another similar argument that rather argues along the lines of “hundreds of years of convincing/tradition, vs less than a generation”.)

  • 20 elstincko // Mar 5, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    Hugo,

    As to your question: where does the bible claim to be the word of God other than 2 Tim 3:16? Well I dont know all the scriptures but one I know of is 2 peter 3:14-16.

    chau

  • 21 Hugo // Mar 5, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    Thanks. Interesting. Any others? (Yea, this is lame, using my friends/readers as a search engine? <grin>) Useful to think about, for when this topic does come up again. Which might be rather soon.

  • 22 thinktoomuch.net » Blog Archive » South Africans Love Bullshit // Jun 25, 2007 at 10:15 am

    [...] mentioned this particular incarnation of bullshit before, it goes by the name “Heaven Is So Real” by “Choo Thomas”. (I often laugh [...]

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