Monday, December 14, 2009

Ex-Christians and William Lane Craig

Earlier today, Demian Farnworth, author of the blog Fallen and Flawed, sent me a link to this podcast from Christian apologist Dr. William Lane Craig.

Tonight, I will be live-blogging my reactions to Dr. Craig's commentary, having never heard this podcast before. Let's see how this goes.

Question: It seems like more and more Christian apologists are leaving the faith and actively promoting atheism on the Internet. What do you think? Further, is it really possible to leave the faith for intellectual rather than emotional reasons?

Dr. Craig: You could say that the increasing number of people leaving the faith who have studied apologetics is simply a function of the increasing number of people who are studying apologetics.

Other Host: I think we have to look at in on a case-by-case basis. Could someone leave the faith for any intellectual reasons, or is it emotional?

Dr. Craig: I think it's for moral reasons, frankly...I say that not on the basis of case studies or investigations, but on the basis of what Scripture says.

Me: Whoa, I was with you up until then. You haven't done any case studies, you haven't done any investigations - you don't have any stories or rumors. Just Scripture...not very convincing.

Dr. Craig: Scripture says that if you inculcate godliness into your character, you will not fail [emphasis mine].

Me: 'The Scripture says'. I've read entirely too many deconversion accounts where people have specifically related that losing their faith was the last thing they ever wanted to do, that they wanted to serve their God but just could no longer believe. 'The Scripture says' isn't doing it for me, because unlike Dr. Craig, I actually have read up on "case studies".

Dr. Craig: This is why Christian apologists must make sure that we're keeping our lives clean and pure and holy before God.

Me: Fine. But you honestly think every other person who ever deconverted didn't try that? That's the great thing about defending Christianity: it's so difficult that no one can reasonably be expected to live it, so easy that you can get a child to do it.

Dr. Craig: I think, ultimately, that no one either fails to come to faith or falls away from faith due to intellectual difficulties alone. Ultimately, it's a spiritual matter about the orientation of that person's heart, and whether that person truly wants God and is open to God, or whether that person is closing God out of his heart and mind.

The Other Host and Dr. Craig: Some other stuff about Paul.

Dr. Craig: Some of these Christian apologists who have fallen away will often be very open about the moral difficulties which have led to their falling away: immorality, pornography, adultery"

Other Host: It's pretty easy to get burned the last thing we want to do is to start taking a hardened stance towards people.

Me: That sounds like fairly good advice to me for any profession.

Dr. Craig: Another danger is becoming too cerebral...Alvin Plantinga, his book talks about how because of sin we love ourselves instead of God...the Holy Spirit helps repair that and help us respond emotionally to God and love Him. And if we ignore that side of our personality, then we can become dry and burned out.

Other Host: Sometimes people need just a human touch.

Me: Again, that sounds like good advice.

Dr. Craig: I think when you look at the some of the narratives of those who have left the faith, you will find a bitterness and a disappointment with those in the Christian Church because people did not come along side of them and help them when they were going through their time of struggle.

Me: And that's pretty much the end of the discussion on that subject.

Dr. Craig is clearly sincere about his beliefs. When presented with the potential problem of people who shared the same beliefs as Dr. Craig and no longer believe what he believes - it's only natural that Dr. Craig should find a way to reconcile his opinion that he has correct beliefs with evidence that contradicts his beliefs. By dismissing those accounts, which very obviously contradict his beliefs if he grants that some of the people who've deconverted may have done so for intellectual reasons, he's reaffirmed his beliefs from doubt. Once one begins the path of 'there may be intellectual reasons against my belief', one's priority is going to be critical thinking, and one is going to end up questioning one's beliefs.

Of course, there are plenty of religious people who are good critical thinkers. But the beliefs of Dr. Craig clearly have the most important place in his life, subordinating all other interests and motivations. Intellectual reasons for deconversion? No way. It can't be. Get out of here. There must be some other reason for this incident - they must have sinned or something, or maybe they were never Christians in the first place? It's easy to rationalize, and in the end, that's what I think this process is.

When sincere religious believers such as Dr. Craig become aware that other people around them no longer share their beliefs, there's some tension that has to be resolved. If the belief is correct, then logically people wouldn't leave the faith for intellectual reasons. If people may have left for intellectual reasons, then the faith may not be all it's cracked up to be, and that's clearly an unacceptable option for Dr. Craig and for many others who present similar arguments about the true nature of ex-Christians.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Occupational Hazard: Eternal Damnation

I read a wide variety of commentary on religious topics so I can understand and empathize with those who have different beliefs than I do.

One of the Christian blogs I read frequently is Demian Farnworth's excellently written Fallen and Flawed.

He has recently returned from a one-month blogging sabbatical, and in his return he certainly has not failed to provoke much introspection and discussion, especially in his latest post From Believer to Unbeliever: The Lie We All Fall For.

Demian also has many thoughtful commenters, several of whom have even at times inspired me to rethink opinions that I have held about certain elements of Christianity.

Al is one of the commenters who has earned my respect. He never fails to express himself clearly, fervently, and above all respectfully in accordance with his beliefs.

For this entry, I'd like to post part of Al's response to my comment on Demian's latest article and share my reactions to it with all of you. Please forgive me, Al, for posting so much of your speech on my blog, but I hope you won't mind exposure to an audience of mostly non-believers?

Now, I’m not going to restate what Demian has said so wonderfully above, so I’ll close with this thought: If you don’t “get it,” it’s because you haven’t properly sought it!

By "it", I believe that Al is referring to an understanding of "genuine faith" in Christianity. Now, I know that 'understanding' is far too weak of a word for this context. A more appropriate word would encompass not only comprehension, but also a certain degree of attitude and receptivity. I believe that word may be 'attuned'.

That may be because you don’t want it, and that’s understandable– after all, the free gift of life will ultimately cost you everything if you receive it– If Jesus bought you with His precious blood, that means He must get what He paid for: You and everything that pertains to you: your independence, possessions, opinions, reputation, associations– everything!

Al, if you're right about this, I don't wish to be wrong. Now, what I am about to say in no way do I intend as insult or mockery, but as a sincere and fully non-judgmental observation, perhaps even a compliment: I can tell that you and Demian have given "your independence...opinions, reputation" over to your beliefs. They are secondary to your committment to Jesus. There is nothing I can say that can change that. I know - and that's not why I reply to Demian's articles.

We are in some sense stuck. You believe that I am blind to the spiritual Truth. I believe that there are people just as committed as you and Demian who have given their "independence...opinions, reputation" to Islam, to Judaism, that there is no discernible difference between you and the people who have "lost their faith". I don't list Ken Daniels or Charles Templeton because I believe they earned divine favor through the strength of their alleged works...I listed Daniels and Templeton because I see no difference between their early faith and yours presently. Lots of people have given their "independence...opinions, reputation" to Christianity only to no longer have the capacity to believe it. I know it seems unlikely to you, but it's where I am, and that boils down to why I am engaging you now: I'm not here to talk to you because I'm an agnostic atheist and you're a Christian - I'm here to listen to you and converse with you because I'm a human being who happens to be an agnostic atheist and wishes that people could understand where I've come from.

Or it may be that you DO want it, but just don’t realize it yet or don’t know how to ask for it. Your desire must be wholehearted– holding nothing back. No half-baked idea that you’ll try it out & see if you like it, then decide. Ask, beg, plead– persist; don’t take ‘no’ for an answer!

I do admire and highly respect your attitude: holding nothing back, not taking no for an answer. It's my approach, too. I refuse to hold back any doubts of my former religious beliefs, not taking any answers that are contradictory or fallacious.

As an agnostic atheist, these are a few of the things that I have accepted about Christianity and about religion:

1. I accept that morality has been derived as a product of naturalistic altruism and cooperation.

2. I accept that there are many flaws and contradictions in the Bible, which render much of it to be unreliable and untrustworthy.

3. I accept that evolution by natural selection is the best explanation of the diversity of life on planet Earth, that this scientific facts precludes any literal interpretation of the Biblical text, and that the process of natural selection displays no indication of divine guidance whatsoever, especially from the all-good, all-loving, all-knowing God embraced and proclaimed by most Christians.

4. I accept that there is no evidence for a physical soul which survives death.

5. I accept that there are a multitude of religions, several of which condemn me to eternal suffering or to annihilation for disbelief in their individual religious tenets.

6. I accept that faith reveals just as much to the Muslim and the Mormon as it does to the Christian, and that faith reveals just as much to the Baptist and to the Methodist and to the Roman Catholic as it does to the Lutheran - I accept that each new theological innovation is a product of fallible human beings.

So here comes the big question:

If you don’t get it, God has not yet opened your eyes and, unless you strive with Him to do so, He may never, in which case you will go to your grave still guilty of sin against Him and will be judged and condemned to eternal hell. That’s because you will have embraced the LIE that Demian wrote of in this post, and God will have given you the desire of your heart, allowing you to be absorbed in strong deception, to your undoing forever.

Will I allow myself the chance to "be judged and condemned to eternal hell"?

As I've said before, if you're right about this, then I certainly don't want to be wrong.

But that's a risk I'm willing to take.

It's the occupational hazard of being a skeptic.

And that's something I accept. I accept the possibility that I am "absorbed in strong deception", that I have "embraced [a] LIE". However, I cannot accept the possibility, that there exists some kind of God out there who leads not only atheists and agnostics in deception, not only Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Mormons in deception, but also Methodists, Anglicans, Baptists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Calvinists, Arminians, the non-denominational, the prosperity gospel crowd, and the Pentecostals and the Seventh-Day Adventists in deception.

If your God exists, then the history of civilization must be a deception, the history of the Christian churches must be a deception, the history of human religious practice must be a deception.

If you don’t see, it is because you are blind in the grasp of spiritual death. Looking at the first comment on this thread I see our old friend, Teleprompter (and I mean that, Tele)– someone whose intellect I greatly respect, even though it is his worst enemy. I read your comment, Tele, and right smack-dab in the middle of it you state your problem: “…but I definitely don’t see…” I love you, my Friend, as Christ loved me when I was His enemy (if you wonder why, I have no answer), but your eyes are sightless in spiritual death– that’s why you don’t see. The god of this world has blinded your eyes.

As a skeptic, spiritual death is an occupational hazard I'm willing to risk. I hope my previous statements in this response explain adequately why I have such a strong willingness to take this risk. I am not trying to be cavalier about this enterprise, but to candidly state my beliefs and why I continue to maintain them even against such high potential stakes as the possible damnation or annihilation of my eternal soul.

We will each and all spend eternity in someone’s service. Pray God it may be His who loves you, and not one who hates you.

I am genuinely grateful that you are concerned for my welfare - I mean this wholeheartedly. If you sincerely believe that my intellect is indeed my worst enemy, then it is only love that could move you to subvert its machinations. However, I believe that this is not the case.

Al, if your God exists, then why would He give me an intellect that He knew would destroy my faith in Him? Perhaps I am misusing the intellect that I have been given. But I do not believe that I am misusing my intellect by applying it in the manner in which it has been entrusted.