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Confused By Life


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hey so I wrote this today trying to explain the thoughts that are going through my head lately.. I'd really like input...

 

 

 

Why should we believe xianity over any other religion?

 

That was the question. I perused McDowell in my younger days, read Strobel about a year and a half ago, took a class on Lewis, and recently started reading more serious scholars like N.T. Wright…

 

So much of it is crap. For one thing, a lot of conservative apologetics runs along the lines of “this could be the most important thing you ever investigate, because if you’re wrong you’ll go to hell!” This is the tack strobel took. I really liked that dude when I first read his book. Between him and Piper I was 100% convinced that the whole point of my life was serving Jesus Christ and that only someone who ruled out the supernatural beforehand could contradict the unbelievably overwhelming strength of the ‘evidence’ for the death and resurrection of Christ. If you don’t believe this, you go to Hell. Well, I don’t believe anyone goes to hell for not believing in Jesus anymore. After looking into the issue more, I came to the conclusion that the Bible both offers and guarantees eternal salvation for everyone, and that this was actually the predominant belief of the early church. Hell existed in some form (perhaps it was just the pain unholy people suffered in the presence of the purifying holiness of God) but it was ultimately redemptive. Yay. The task of the Church was to build the kingdom of God, as his Spirit completed the task begun when Christ died for us. Honestly, I didn’t then and don’t now see how any other brand of Christianity would be worth believing in. The kind that’s all about getting your soul into heaven when you die seems pretty pointless in the here-and-now, and a social gospel without a universalist eschatology leads to arrogance (I’m a better Christian b/c I care more about the poor and the environment than you) and works salvation (Catholicism in recent decades has done great work with social issues…after all, you can’t know if you’re saved until you die (yes, catholics still believe this, at least according to the catholic apologetics material Shaunna had me read), so you better rack up plenty of good works while you still can)

 

Apologetic argument one gone, while I was still passionately Christian. It’s a heck of a lot easier to question the beliefs about God you’ve been fed growing up when you don’t think you’ll be tortured forever because of it. It’s like Moff Tarkin would say ”fear will keep the parishioners in line. Fear of this eternal conscious torment.” Christianity always seemed to make more sense to me than Islam or Judaism, both of which seem to think Christians can make it into heaven (although Judaism prefers not to think about the afterlife, generally, and there are certainly Islamic sects that condemn every non-Muslim), and Hinduism and Buddhism hold that we all make it to enlightenment eventually, with enough life cycles. So if you’re really concerned about your eternal destiny, it seems like choosing Christianity, the most traditionally exclusivist of the religions, is the best idea. But as I said, I lost that belief a long time ago. The fear is gone. Now I can think what I damn well please. It’s disgusting how the doctrine of Hell is used to keep people in Churches from feeling free to question. I really hate it. Actually, I hate a lot of things about Christianity, but that didn’t keep me from following it.

Ok. So reason #1 for even caring about the truth or falsehood of Xianity is gone. Except for me the vision of reality that I saw in the version of Christianity I was discovering, through writers like N.T. Wright and Jacques Ellul and the lives of some of the people around me was so beautiful. A God who loves everyone and wants a relationship with them so badly he dies for them. A God who loves ME. A concrete name and nature for the mysterious spirit being I still believe created all the wondrous creation around me (I’m sorry, but I honestly cannot put myself into the mindset of a metaphysical naturalist and not lose every trace of happiness… pretty sure there’s SOMETHING more than the physical world, but more on that later). A purpose for life, and hope for the future of the world. Good stuff.

 

If it was true. I’m taking medieval history this semester. I imagine it’s easy for most regular Christians to handle a class like that. “oh well, that was just the rotten catholics” (I HATE the ‘that was just the catholics, good thing we had a reformation, eh?’ argument…) Personally, I’ve found it to be like pulling teeth to traipse in there every day to learn about the latest horrible, sadistic, totalitarian, messed-up, stupid, or just plain absurd thing the Christians are trying to impose on the world in whichever time period we’re in at the moment. It’s damn hard to maintain any kind of rational belief in the redemptive nature of the Church when Christianity seems to really be the villain of most of history.

 

Well, shucks, people say, that only makes sense. We have a sinful human nature. I always used to go along with this. But now I think it’s, at best, a circular argument. You can’t prove Christianity by presupposing the Christian doctrine of original sin. Doesn’t it seem logical that even a few of the behaviors exhibited by Christians throughout the ages (forced conversions and mass killings, warfare, sexual repression, exclusivism and hatred of the ‘other’-be it jews or blacks or homosexuals) would be tied in some way to Christian beliefs?

 

But that’s ok. The Old Testament is filled with stories of “God’s people” being complete jackasses. I can sort of buy it in the Church. Within the Biblical narrative, it’s certainly not unexpected. So I found medieval history challenging, but that was all.

 

Then there’s the issue of the Bible. I don’t know about even universalism anymore. It still includes the idea that people are evil (original sin) and need to be expunged of their sinfulness by fire. I think this is ridiculous. There can be evil actions, sure. Anything that seriously harms people I would say is pretty bad, and most people would agree, no matter what their moral scheme. But I have a hard time saying anyone IS evil, because the very idea of BEING evil seems strange to me. In order to be evil, it seems to me that someone would have to be consciously choosing evil. Saying “I know this is completely wrong, and I want to do it because it’s wrong, because I love evil.” It’s like your stereotypical cartoon villain, which doesn’t correspond to reality at all.

 

Yes, even Hitler, to answer the obvious case everyone brings up. He thought he was doing the right thing. Granted, his actions were horrible, atrocious, vile etc. etc. but he thought he was doing it for the good of his nation. The torturers and killers of the Church throughout history thought they were doing things for the good of other people’s souls. Sometimes people do things for selfish reasons, or violate a moral code out of rebelliousness. Is this “evil”? What’s so evil about doing what you want to do? It’s a natural human tendency. Some people may not have the social or psychological controls to keep them from performing evil actions for self-gratification. But don’t we usually call these people “mentally disturbed” or “insane” or even just plain “fucked-up?” “What would possibly compel someone to rape someone else? “ we may ask… the Christian response is that people are naturally “evil.” But it doesn’t take a metaphysical conception of original sin to explain people like this. Aren’t there usually perfectly valid psychological or sociological explanation? “Evil” doesn’t seem to be a term that makes a lot of sense to me.

 

I’ve been deliberately using “evil” instead of “sin” because that’s one of the main ways people like to use the term “sinful”, to designate “evil”. But of course the other way to use the term is in its original meaning of “missing the mark.” So here’s the solution, then, a lot of Christian apologists like to say: “it’s not just that we do or are bad things, but that we don’t measure up to God’s standards of perfection or holiness”… ok. So we aren’t good enough. It’s here that even my Trinitarian, Bible-based universalism falls apart. The regular evangelical has no problem with this. Grace through faith! Instant perfection as a reward for saying the magic prayer! Problem solved! The problem is that I’d rather be an atheist than believe in the God of the regular evangelical. But any kind of Biblical Universalism has to maintain an idea of a purifying hell… if sin is not “evil” but simply “missing the mark”, it’s like we universalists are saying “people are weak and imperfect. But that’s nothing a little post-mortem suffering can’t solve.” Which seems just as absurd as the traditional idea that some people spend eternity in a lake of fire. Here I am left with no recourse. All the Christian ideas of heaven and hell seem equally ridiculous and oppressive. (and don’t even get me started on annihilationism)

 

The point here is that either way, it seems that if one is to take the bible as the inspired word of God, God is definitely cooking up some kind of Hell for someone…

 

Likewise, God has no problem with genocide, ordering the subjugation of women and slaves, ordering the deaths of children, wiping out civilizations just to prove to people how cool he is, and can’t seem to make up his mind whether the problems in the world are something bad he wants to overcome, or things he is in complete control of and gleefully doling out on the world.

 

A Christian online friend points out that people often use God to justify their own evil agendas, and so much of the early old testament might just be people doing that… but once you start chopping out parts of scripture you don’t like, how do you know where to stop? The whole deck of cards starts to look shaky.

 

Then there’s the issue of me. I don’t feel like getting into my life story on something that will be published publicly, but let’s just say that my childhood was not one conducive to learning how to develop relationships. In our Medieval History class we did a reading on how spiritual growth must happen with and through close friendships. Gee, thanks God. The one thing I seem incapable of ever having is what’s necessary to be a good Christian. I have friends, sure. Some good friends. No close friends. No one I would die for, or vice versa.

Why do I mention these things? Because a couple days ago, as I listened to some friends confide their struggles to one another, I got sick of it all. I think I’ve been using religion as a crutch to compensate for the social aspect lacking in my life. No one here loves me. But hey! Isn’t it great the invisible flying spaghetti monster in the sky does! My life seems like pointless drudgery. But hey! You can go to happy god-land after you die! And, damnit, I’m good at religion. That’s the one thing I can do well. I can run theological circles around most people. I write well about it, and I can worship with the best of them. Religion fills up the void of low self-esteem, crushing loneliness and sexual frustration that has always been the only life I’ve known. I wonder: maybe it’s time to lose the crutch and live my own life. Would I actually be able to find greater happiness without religion?

 

So several years ago I hit upon the idea that I should always read the best opposing argument to something before believing it or going along with it, yet when it comes to faith I’ve always avoided doing so. I’ve started reading seriously things written by atheists and agnostics, and you know what? Most of their arguments seem to be just as strong as those put forth by Christians. I’m not talking about evolutionary theory or first causes or anything, but about the things concerning Jesus, who I realized years ago was the only thing worth really debating about in Christianity…

 

The Christians tell me that Jesus rose from the dead because his tomb was empty and he appeared to the disciples. But it was years before this was written down. Strobel says the time isn’t enough for myth and fancy to creep in. I disagree entirely. In Medieval History class, we have all sorts of examples of absurd stories of saints doing ridiculously pointless and showy miracles, even after their deaths (through their relics) and people on a wide scale believing these clearly made-up stories within a generation. “Eye-witnesses! Miraculous signs!” Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. I don’t see why Jesus should get special treatment as a “real” miracle simply because lots of people thought he really rose bodily from the dead.

 

Likewise, the argument that it must be true because the apostles died for the belief that Jesus had risen bodily, the argument that for years I thought was the deciding proof of the truth of the accounts, seems to me now to be grasping for straws. First of all, outside of the bible, how would we know this is true? It seems that they could have been killed for any number of reasons. It doesn’t seem strange to me at all that people would try to glorify the tales of their martyrs with things like “they believed in the risen lord until the last moment!” And even if they did die believing these things until the last moment, so what? Lots of people have been persecuted and killed for any number of beliefs, that they failed to ever recant. Just this week we read about Jews who committed suicide in the Middle Ages rather than convert to Christianity.

“As they were led forth, they were told, 'You can save your lives if you will leave your religion and accept ours.' The Jews refused. They were beaten and tortured to make them accept the Christian religion, but still they refused. Rather, they encouraged each other to remain steadfast and die for the sanctification of God's Name."- Ephraim ben Yaakov

 

But, the apologists ask, who would die for a lie? Certainly the first apostles must have seen something at least to convince them that Christ had risen bodily, otherwise they wouldn’t have died for it. So these martyrs, at least, could provide “proof” by their deaths. Certainly, I agree with N.T. Wright that the early followers at least claimed to have seen a risen Christ. But what evidence, outside the Bible (or even inside it, for that matter… peter and paul and such don’t ever really get killed in the bible accounts.. Stephen dies for the faith, but he’s not one of the people Jesus supposedly met bodily with) and dogmatic church tradition, do we have for saying that the apostles died for the belief that they saw the resurrected jesus? (this is not a rhetorical question.. if you know of any please let me know… I’ve been looking and can’t find them) I’ve seen people say they could have been killed for any number of reasons, like that their religious sect didn’t follow the Jewish law (so the jewish authorities offed them), their religious objections to service to the Empire, etc. The fact that the leaders of a radical new religious sect got themselves killed doesn’t seem to prove anything.

 

The Empty Tomb Argument: Really? There aren’t any extra-biblical sources (again, please correct me if I’m wrong) claiming the circumstances of the tomb were the way they need to be for the argument to work (they seriously posted guards on a dead guy’s tomb??? Why do the romans care if the body of a dead criminal is stolen from a private citizen’s grave? But it’s a pretty handy detail to have in a story where you are trying to convince people that your messiah figure came back from the dead)

 

Wright says a dead messiah was a failed messiah, so the disciples couldn’t possibly have concocted a resurrection story for their messiah. Again, really?? Humans innovate ideas all the time. I see nothing unusual or supernatural about a creative group of radicals coming up with a resurrection story to keep the messianic party going.

 

Not that I think all these arguments are 100% bankrupt… but they aren’t terribly convincing either, looked at objectively. I see the case for Christianity, but I don’t see why Christianity really has any stronger a case than any other world religion or cult.

 

And then I look at the world. I see all the damage and hurt and pain and brainwashing and oppression done through religion. I see a Church that hasn’t really done much in the way of redemption, and lots in the way of corruption, in 2000 years. I look at my own life, and realize all the hopes I used to have because of my religion are ridiculous. “Trust God, and it will all work out.” “love God, and you’ll find purpose in life” “God will provide.”… Really? Why should I trust that God will provide for and care for me when a fifth of the world’s population is starving to death? Why should I think God has a happy ending planned for me when many of the people’s lives I know either end up broken or in a state of deluded ignorance, regardless of how much they have loved God in their lives. I see a world that doesn’t seem to have really benefited much from God’s supposed sacrifice on its behalf. Maybe it’s because I don’t have enough faith. But I can’t have faith without anything to base it on.

 

But like I said, when I look at creation, when I look at the stars, when I see real love, when I see real works of compassion and kindness and self-sacrifice, it stirs something in me. And I find myself truly wanting to believe in God, the kind of God whose very nature is Love by his triune nature, who (as the Islamic Sufis would say) for the sake of love said ‘be’ and the world was, and who cares about his pathetic, messed up creatures enough to hang on a tree for them. I still think that’s one of the most beautiful pictures of reality there is. Maybe there is a God, and the Christian scriptures, like all religions, point towards some aspects of God. I tried to think like a metaphysical naturalist yesterday. I cried for hours. I can’t completely abandon my belief in God.

 

So for the moment I guess you could call me a ‘hopeful agnostic.’ I debated whether or not I even wanted anyone else to see this, but I’ve decided to post it because I really hope to get input, to see what other people have to say. If you think something I said was a load of crap, please say so. I’m posting this anonymously both to places where Christians can respond to it and where agnostics/atheists can respond. I’m not done wrestling with all this stuff yet by a long shot, and hopefully I can gain something useful for the journey by seeking a wider variety of opinions.

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I tried to think like a metaphysical naturalist yesterday. I cried for hours. I can’t completely abandon my belief in God.

 

It appears that you are going through the trauma that so many, including myself, have gone through when we just couldn't abide the hypocrisy anymore. I think "hopeful agnostic" is the best, and probably only, path we can follow. It's a near equivalent term to agnostic deist, which is what I believe, but as the term implies, have no certain knowledge of at all.

 

If I can offer what it took me years to learn that finally enabled me to shrug off the yoke of my early indoctrination: disown prayer, prophesy, and adopt truth as your ultimate ideal/God, and things will start to fall into place. You appear to be on the right road, so the shock will subside and calm will eventually come, even though it's never soon enough.

 

Has this come up with your family yet? Most families adapt after an initial bout of anger and/or denial.

 

In any case welcome to the board. I hope we can be a catalyst for your catharsis.

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Welcome, xyz3...you'll certainly get a lot of opinions here.

 

You've already touched on a wide variety of issues. To start off, here are some of my thoughts.

First, apologists write not to convince unbelievers like me, but rather aim their pens at people like you. They write from several assumptions, the biggest being, that the scriptures are literally true. Questions like "who would die for a lie" only mean anything if it is assumed that Jesus actually lived according to the NT in the first place. There is no evidence that he ever did. Their purpose is to try and convince you to not think, question, and connect the dots, but simply accept, put aside your doubts, and stay on the plantation. Apologists make a living writing books, and that's about it.

 

If Jesus never existed, and there is no evidence that he did, christianity becomes open to doubt.

Doubt leads to rejection. Rejection leads to a search for an alternative. There are lots of alternatives to fundamentalist christianity, and positive atheism is only one. No one says you have to stop being a theist to fit in here.

 

You've come to a good place to seek out possible alternatives. Feel free to join in, question, discuss. Rather than try to respond to each one of your points, perhaps you might take them apart one by one, and pose them in the "general theological issues" forum. There's a lot of fodder for discussion there.

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Guest Thoth-Amon

Why do I mention these things? Because a couple days ago, as I listened to some friends confide their struggles to one another, I got sick of it all. I think I’ve been using religion as a crutch to compensate for the social aspect lacking in my life. No one here loves me. But hey! Isn’t it great the invisible flying spaghetti monster in the sky does! My life seems like pointless drudgery. But hey! You can go to happy god-land after you die! And, damnit, I’m good at religion. That’s the one thing I can do well. I can run theological circles around most people. I write well about it, and I can worship with the best of them. Religion fills up the void of low self-esteem, crushing loneliness and sexual frustration that has always been the only life I’ve known. I wonder: maybe it’s time to lose the crutch and live my own life. Would I actually be able to find greater happiness without religion?

 

Precisely. That was me in a nutshell. When I finally admitted to myself that the religion was BS I said to myself "Oh, shit... I've just wasted years of my life buried in obscure theological books because I was too damn afraid to actually live the life I have and face reality".

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Well, I don't know. :scratch: If you have a broken leg a crutch isn't such a bad idea.

 

Trouble is it better hold your weight when you lean on it.

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hey so I wrote this today trying to explain the thoughts that are going through my head lately.. I'd really like input...

 

 

Then there’s the issue of the Bible. I don’t know about even universalism anymore. It still includes the idea that people are evil (original sin) and need to be expunged of their sinfulness by fire. I think this is ridiculous. There can be evil actions, sure. Anything that seriously harms people I would say is pretty bad, and most people would agree, no matter what their moral scheme. But I have a hard time saying anyone IS evil, because the very idea of BEING evil seems strange to me. In order to be evil, it seems to me that someone would have to be consciously choosing evil. Saying “I know this is completely wrong, and I want to do it because it’s wrong, because I love evil.” It’s like your stereotypical cartoon villain, which doesn’t correspond to reality at all.

 

 

:grin:

Welcome to the Forums! I enjoyed your post and have had many of the same ponderings. In fact, I posted a topic that asked others what they have wondered about "orginal sin", or in other words, our in-born nature. People are both inclined towards both postive and negative behavior and i was also wondering about that. I also had a hard time seeing others as "evil" in the truest sense of the word, but of course we human do do some harmful things. We also do very good things. So, like you said, if we are inherently evil from the very day of birth (as would be what original sin implies), then we would have to do the evil action full well knowing that it was wrong/evil. So I totally agree with you there. Now, something else to think about is that IF (as christian doctrine says), IF we are born spiritually blinded and have no concept of God until we are 'born again', then HOW can we still be held accountable for actions we did that were bad or wrong, when we did them in ignorance? I used to always think about some stuff I did in the past and think to myself "well I didn't know it was harmful or bad at the time" so how come I am now having to ask forgivness for it. Do we ask a blind man to say sorry because he can't see? Its not his fault if he was born that way, right? I think that the Wiccan concept of "harm none" as one of their philosophies sums up how we determine whether something is good or not. I really think we have a lot more personal power than we ever thought possible. The very thoughts we have and words we speak contain pure energy that translate into material reality in this world. Well anyway, good luck on this journey. PM me if you want.

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