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Just To Set Off The Guilt Trip While They're At It


R. S. Martin
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Just to keep myself from responding to the guy I'll post the thing here.

 

One day in surfing the internet I came across an article of Focus on the Family about the questions skeptics ask about the resurrection. The title was something like this: How to answer the questions skeptics ask about the resurrection.

 

I informed them that the questions they present are not the questions skeptics ask. I suggested that they might like to find out exactly what questions skeptics ask before telling their people what answers to give.

 

Within 48 hours I got an acknowledgement of receiving my email. I did not expect more and did not respond. A few weeks later I got an longer email from somebody--I'll use initials: TM. I forget what the answer was about. It did not address my topic and I informed TM about this. I clarified that I was not asking a question; simply giving information.

 

Just now I got this:

 

Thanks for writing back to clarify the intent of your original e-mail. Apparently I should have followed my first inclination. I'll return to it at this point and close this conversation by saying "thanks for taking the time to share your input with us" – with the added caveat that you should be careful about presuming to speak for all skeptics. After all, some of them may be asking questions that you don't regard as particularly important.

 

OK. I never said I was speaking for all skeptics but the article implied that it sure was speaking for skeptics in general. I guess that little word was put in there for the guilt trip while they're at it.

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Yeah, I got a similar response one time from Focus on the Family when I sent them an e-mail about their article on how to make sure your son doesn't turn out gay. I never even mentioned being a non-christian and yet they ended the e-mail with, "You're obviously very lost and we will be praying for you. God bless". Don't let it give you any grief. I've found that nine times out of ten the people who write articles for many Christian websites don't know how to properly respond to the opposition.

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I just had to look this up, since I was curious.

 

Is the the article that presents these three questions as the ones that skeptics ask?

 

“Maybe Jesus wasn’t really dead, and He just rolled away the stone himself.”

 

“Maybe the disciples moved Christ’s body.”

 

“OK, so maybe the soldiers stole the body.”

 

For crying out loud! In the dictionary next to the term "straw man" there ought to be a link to this page!

 

They say what they want about the questions skeptics are likely to ask. I'm with you, Ruby: anyone studying those questions so that they can answer ME is going to be ill prepared for my questions and objections.

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SNM, I don't remember the exact questions but something along those lines. All stuff that the NT lists as things skeptics might say.

 

I did reply to him. I'm not sure if it was wise. Here's the entire conversation, including a link to the article:

 

I read your article "What to Say to a Skeptic:

 

How can you respond when a skeptic questions Christ's resurrection?" I found it here. I think you are somewhat misinformed regarding the questions skeptics actually ask. Let me explain.

 

I was born with a skeptical brain. I was born into a strong Christian family and lived most of my life as a Christian. I believed the creation story, I believed the flood story, I believed all the miracles and wonders—the virgin birth, the resurrection, the ascension. I believed it all because there was no reason not to—and there still isn't, except for some basics that will become clear. My biggest problem was that Christianity failed to address my deepest question. After seeking half a century for an answer I gave up the search; it's time to do some living before I die.

 

Anyway, the questions you assume that skeptics ask are not even related to my Big Question. Nor have I heard any skeptics ask those questions in my day. QUESTION: Would it not be a good idea to actually know what questions real skeptics are asking before writing refutations?

 

I am thinking that as an international representative for Jesus, you may want to be better informed regarding the questions skeptics actually ask in the 21st century. I will take a bit of time right now to write a brief outline of the information you are missing.

 

1. Your article assumes that the skeptic accepts that Jesus actually existed.

 

2. Your article assumes that skeptics would question the supernatural.

 

Your article is wrong on both counts. Here's why:

 

1. Resurrection: There is no conclusive evidence that Jesus of Nazareth ever lived. If he never lived, the question about the resurrection does not arise. The skeptics and the Christians look at the same evidence regarding Jesus' historical existence. Skeptics do not accept the New Testament as evidence; they work only with extra-canonical references to Jesus. The Christians interpret these extra-canonical references as evidence that Jesus existed. The skeptics see it as evidence that *a group of people existed who **believed** Jesus existed*. (Actually, that statement comes from a highly educated but devout and fervent Christian; however, I think any skeptic will accept it as legitimate.) But that does not make it historical fact. Without the conviction that Jesus ever existed, the question of the resurrection (and virgin birth, miracles, etc.) is irrelevant.

 

2. The Supernatural. History teaches us that most of what once appeared supernatural has scientific explanations. You will have to read science written by people who accept evolution if you want to see these explanations. A few rare phenomena of human experience remain for which we have no scientific answers at this specific point in time. There is every reason to believe that scientific explanations exist for those few remaining phenomena; we just haven't found them yet. Perhaps we have not yet developed the necessary technology to observe them. For this reason, the question about the supernatural is not of great consequence for skeptics today.

 

If you want to know what questions skeptics actually ask, a good place to start your search might be "Testimonies of Former Christians" at http://www.ex-christian.net. The section on "General Theological Issues" on the same forum might also be relevant. Read a couple hundred threads in each section. These are real live people and they talk about issues that concern them as they find their way through life. In real life, however, most of us do not speak out because of the severe retribution we experience at the hands of Christians. Not only do we risk losing our jobs (or not getting any in the first place, e.g. would you hire a professing atheist or pagan as technician?) but in some areas of the South our very lives are at stake. All the same, for the sake of truth we have deconverted. We will not compromise our deepest convictions just because of the severe retributions we risk at the hands of Christians.

 

Just to be clear. Even if you do adjust your arguments to our actual questions, we will not convert; we have sifted through the questions and there are no logical answers. The only benefit to you will be that you will look as though you are living on the same planet as we, and in the same historical era. If you insist that faith is not logical, well, it's your prerogative to believe what you want. When I say "I believe that I am saved through the shed blood of Christ" I mean that it actually makes sense in my brain. And it doesn't. I will no longer lie.

 

Since I deconverted about more important matters, I no longer profess to believe in smaller items like the miracles, the virgin birth, and the resurrection. They are irrelevant--they just don't matter. Make of this what you will; you cannot change fact.

 

************

Dear Friend,

Thank you for writing to Focus on the Family (e-mail, May 26, 2007). It was good of you to contact us with your frank reaction to Bill Myers' and Michael Ross's article "What to Say to a Skeptic." Honest feedback like yours is always welcome here at Focus headquarters. We're pleased to have this opportunity to respond to the thoughts you've expressed.

 

Since, by your own admission, you wouldn't consider revisiting Christianity even if we were to "adjust our arguments to fit your actual questions," there doesn't seem to be any reason to prolong this discussion. We'd be more than happy to close the conversation with a simple "thanks for sharing your opinions" if we didn't feel obligated to point out how, from our perspective, your critique of Ross and Myers' article falls wide of the mark. Permit me to elaborate.

 

First of all, you need to understand that this piece was written with an adolescent audience in mind. Mike Ross is the editor-in-chief of Focus on the Family's Breakaway magazine, a publication aimed at teenage guys. Although "What to Say to a Skeptic" now appears as part of a series of faith-related articles posted on our main Web site, I can assure you that it was originally designed to speak directly to the needs, interests, and concerns of boys between thirteen and nineteen years of age. It's not surprising that an adult who has been pondering profound theological questions for "half a century" should find it a bit shallow.

 

Second, it's important to bear in mind that this short article has a very limited purpose. It focuses specifically on a few of the best known and most commonly voiced objections to the legitimacy of the Resurrection story. It isn't meant to serve as a comprehensive apologetic for every aspect of the Christian faith. That's probably why it doesn't address the bigger and deeper problem that led to you to "deconvert" in the first place.

 

Unfortunately – and this is our third and final point – you never got around to telling us exactly what that bigger and deeper problem is. As you must realize, this puts us in a rather difficult position. How can we attempt to frame an answer when we don't know the question? Then again, perhaps you're not really interested in receiving answers. We get the impression that your mind is already made up.

 

We're sorry that we couldn't be more helpful. If you'd like to write back with a fuller explanation of your position, we'll do our best to provide you with a thoughtful response. Thanks again for caring enough to get in touch. God bless you.

*****************

 

Hello T___________,

 

Thank you for taking the time to explain more about the article in question. I think there has been some misunderstanding. I am not asking a question; I am providing feedback.

 

It seems the purpose of the article was to provide guidance for the Christian on how to address questions skeptics raise about the resurrection. I think that is good. Your young people will need those kinds of tools as they face the world.

 

However, there is a problem. The authors posed some questions that they think skeptics ask. But they're wrong. We don't ask those questions. In my first message I explained why we don't ask those questions. I also directed you to a source, i.e. http://www.ex-christian.net, where you can learn what questions skeptics do ask. It seems your young people would be better served if they were given the actual facts about skeptics.

 

I realize that the source I give does not provide a cut and dried list. It will require some research, time, and effort on the part of the authors to do the necessary reading and summarizing required to come up with a list. However, if I correctly understand Christianity, Christians are not afraid of hard work, and they believe their cause is worth living and dying for.

 

The questions I personally asked are but a drop in the bucket of what skeptics as a whole ask. This being the case, it seems superfluous for me to elaborate on my own personal questions. You will get a better picture by looking at an entire group's questions.

 

Thus, as stated above, I am not asking a question. I am merely providing feedback to help you do your job better. Whether or not you accept it is entirely up to you.

 

I hope this clarifies the issues.

 

R.S. Martin

 

Dear R.S.,

 

Thanks for writing back to clarify the intent of your original e-mail. Apparently I should have followed my first inclination. I'll return to it at this point and close this conversation by saying "thanks for taking the time to share your input with us" – with the added caveat that you should be careful about presuming to speak for all skeptics. After all, some of them may be asking questions that you don't regard as particularly important.

 

*****************

 

T___________,

 

You seem to feel a need to pick a fight with me. Why? Your organization made a mistake. Fine. All organizations make mistakes now and then. No reason to be embarrassed about it. Just fix it and let it go. Possibly next time FOF will want to do a fact check before posting articles about unfamiliar topics.

 

What I find disturbing is that people (FOF) who take it upon themselves to educate the young (teenaged boys) will knowingly feed erroneous information. It is understandable that you did not know too much about skeptics before you got my message. What is more difficult to understand is the resentful attitude you take when shown your error.

 

I am trying to help you do your job better. FOF owes it to itself, to its audience, to provide accurate information. More people deconvert from Christianity because it teaches inaccurate information than for any other reason. Talk to former Christians if you don't believe me. Truth can stand on its own. If my message is false, please inform me with the evidence. If my message is true, then you may want to fix things.

 

No where do I claim to speak for all skeptics any more than does the article in question.

 

R. S. Martin

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Just want to add that my last response is probably enough to make them cry "Persecution!!!!!!"

 

I sent it on the odd chance that it cuts through the religious daze.

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I'd expand upon what you told FOTF in your e-mail (Your article assumes that the skeptic accepts that Jesus actually existed.) to note that the article also assumes that the skeptic accepts that Jesus was actually the god that christianity claims, and more generally, that the bible represents the Ultimate TruthTM (the answers it gives after all, just regurgitate bible verses). It really assumes that the skeptic is just nitpicking the resurrection without questioning any central tenants of xianity! This is NOT a "skeptic!"

 

He did respond that the audience wasn't REALLY skeptics, just brainwashed teens who needed a minor boost in their indoctrination (he wouldn't have put it that way, of course, but that's essentially what he said). However, there was NOTHING in the original article to indicate that the audience was xian teens, it did say skeptics.

 

These sorts of superficial answers are given to teens who just have a few questions all the time, and usually it works. Sometimes it doesn't.

 

I would have liked to see him try to defend a REAL skeptics inquiries. He would have faltered there. I expect that for most of us, his comments about not being receptive to answers (from him) and having our minds already made up has an element of truth to it.

 

I know that if I were having a dialog with him and he provided a compelling, defensible argument for his position that led to an epiphany for me, that I would be persuaded by his logic and reason. I also know that he'd have no more chance in succeeding at persuading me to believe his apologetics than he would of persuading me that the world is flat instead of spherical. We considered these questions, deeply, critically, agonizingly, for years. Most likely, you and I are more versed in xianity than he is.

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Yes, I think we are more versed in scripture.

 

A word about the original article. I take it that the article was written by a Christian to teach teenaged Christian boys how to answer skeptics' questions about the resurrection. It was not written for skeptics.

 

I'd expand upon what you told FOTF in your e-mail (Your article assumes that the skeptic accepts that Jesus actually existed.) to note that the article also assumes that the skeptic accepts that Jesus was actually the god that christianity claims, and more generally, that the bible represents the Ultimate TruthTM (the answers it gives after all, just regurgitate bible verses). It really assumes that the skeptic is just nitpicking the resurrection without questioning any central tenants of xianity! This is NOT a "skeptic!"

 

That would be as far over his head as the sun. Gotta start where they're at. And he's not even getting the more direct stuff I'm saying. I think all he is getting is that I'm an atheist and therefore in need of evangelizing. I think that is why he can never let things be, but always has to add a "caveate." He feels it's his "sacred duty" to not just let things be. That is my guess.

 

Anyway, it always takes him about a week to respond and it was only last night that I sent my last message. No response yet. Maybe never. This is about the point at which Chrisitans with his level of insight retreat in "righteous indignation."

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Give him time - he needs to meet with his buds and figure out some snappy comebacks. It's hard to keep canned answers handy sometimes ;)

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