The Doubtful Promise of Nothing

I like Captain Cassidy over at Roll to Disbelieve.  She’s a fantastic writer who seems to share somewhat of my distaste for confrontational debate tactics (she left a very nice comment on my mission statement for this blog) — I recall having several pleasant discussions with her on her blog and mine.  Plus, I infer that she shares my appreciation for RPGs 🙂

She recently wrote what I regard as an excellent article, where she gives her point of view on the Christian doctrines of being born again and of the existence of an eternal afterlife.  I say it is excellent not because I agree with her viewpoint (I, in fact, thoroughly do not, much to the surprise of no one) — but because it is, as most of her works are, brilliantly crafted and even, in the beginning, quite beautiful and poetic.  I found myself legitimately moved by her ode to the purpose of life on this planet, which serves as a sort of introduction to her assessments of the aforementioned doctrines themselves.  I thoroughly recommend that everyone give it a read from top to bottom.

I wasn’t a few paragraphs in before I knew that I desired to respond to her strong points and opinions, and as I read I took notes on the statements in particular I wished to comment on.  I quickly found that my response fit better as a post on my own blog rather than as a comment on hers — for though I usually try to comment on others’ blogs for the sake of keeping the discussion on their platform, at the same time I do not wish to be inhospitable to her site by posting a novel in her comment section.  Plus, posting my response here gives me the opportunity to plug her blog, which in my opinion is well worth a subscription.

The rest of this entry will be directed at the good Captain, in direct response to her latest article:


 

Hello Captain, I look forward to discussing with you again — it has been awhile 🙂

While I loved your post and found it brilliantly executed, I must say it ultimately made me a little sad, for two reasons:  1) Through your writing, I could feel the pathos in your own journey away from Christianity and the negative feelings your experience in the church have engendered, and 2) I felt the doctrines you discuss in your article were somewhat misrepresented, and if taken at face value might do more harm than good by taking away hope from those who are in the most need of it.

To the first point, I’m not sure if anything I could say would be helpful, other than that I’m sorry you had such a negative experience in the church.  I hope yours is not typical, though I wouldn’t be surprised if it were to a degree, especially in the West, where everything has become so politicized and polarized.  In any case, I hear your story and I respect it.

To the second, I may have a bit more to say.

When I say the doctrine of the afterlife has been misrepresented, I am referring to comments like this one:

Watch out for groups that claim to sneak you out of that universal experience, that promise to show you a way out of having to face those troubles, heartbreaks, problems, and situations….

I’m not sure what brand of Christianity is claiming this, that the promise of an afterlife (or even of a rebirth here in this life) is akin to a promise that troubles and heartbreaks and problems will magically dissolve.  If there are such Christians, they must not have read James, or Paul, or Peter — nor can I imagine they would be familiar with the sufferings and troubles of the early church fathers or of any Christian since.  If that is the promise of Christianity, then it is a deluded and a false promise indeed — and I think I would be justified in saying that myself and everyone else I know in the faith has been thoroughly ripped off.  Fortunately, though, I believe I have good reason to interpret it another way.

The promises of Scripture, as I read them, don’t at all offer a false promise of escape from trouble — in fact, often the opposite seems to be the case, both from the warnings of the apostles and from the state of our current world, where Christians are being mowed down like grass in most other parts of the world.  Rather, Christianity — for me, at least, and for many other Christians — offers a means by which troubles and sufferings can be contextualized.  You have in the very article attempted, brilliantly, to do just this from a secular standpoint: contextualize suffering in such a way that the pain we experience in life isn’t altogether meaningless, but has ultimate purpose and crafts us into who we are.  Well and good, but this isn’t contradictory at all to what James and Paul and the rest wrote about suffering — indeed, your perspective seems hand-in-glove in line with theirs when it comes to the context of suffering.  Your perspective on this issue is nothing original, and certainly nothing I would need look outside the Bible to find.

I wonder, though, how beneficial this perspective would appear on its own to our earthly neighbors in the Third World whose daily sufferings so consummately eclipse ours in the West.  It’s fine to speak to other Westerners about the awkward beauties of learning from our parents and stumbling through life as we find our way — though I don’t imagine someone being able to relate to that very well in a society where armed men can come into your home at any moment and blow your brains out because they don’t like your religion, or where rape is so rampant that a 10-year-old virgin girl is an unheard of thing, or where you’re in constant danger of contracting a disease that threatens to wipe you out in painful ways before you ever have the chance to appreciate the beauty of your life’s sufferings and how they have lovingly formed you into the person you are now.  How do we contextualize suffering from the point of view of someone like that?

When you hear the stories of Christians in situations like that, they cling to the promise of a heavenly afterlife because it’s all they have.  It’s the only way they can contextualize their suffering in a way that doesn’t lead to despair.  Would you take that away from them based on the strength of your personal belief that what they believe is false?  Are you that sure that you’ve put your chips on the right color that you would take the last ounce of hope from people whose chips happen to be on the opposite color, hope that their lives and the sufferings they have undergone have actually meant something, have had some significance?

Because if this is all they get, if naturalism is true, if all they can expect is the rottenness of this life and then nothing — then their lives are meaningless, and they know it.

I fail to see where the harm lies in believing in an afterlife.  If, at the end of the day, everyone ends up having to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune anyway (and we do, regardless of creed), what bearing would a belief that after life things will be different have on that?  Naturalists, it turns out, also believe that things will be different after we die, that there will be no pain or suffering or betrayal or anguish — because there will be nothing.  It often seems the humane thing to do to “put someone out of their misery” if they are undergoing fruitless, continual suffering — in essence, what is the difference, then, in the two outlooks?  The promise that things will be better when you die is the common thread in both of them, and I don’t see how they are harmful in either case.

Now, moving on to the doctrine of being born again in this life:

I find it interesting that you almost seamlessly integrate your discussion on these two doctrines, which to me are quite distinct — though one is, in a way, a shadow or a type of the other.  As far as I know, the promises that are given in Scripture concerning the afterlife are not meant to be applied to the new birth — the latter is an inner transformation that points, imperfectly, towards a much more complete fulfillment in the afterlife.  Nowhere in Scripture (again, as far as I am aware) is the promise made that our flesh would cease tempting us to sin after our baptism, or that the sufferings we can all expect to go through by living as broken people in a broken world will magically disappear.  Along these lines, you make a list of all the things Jesus doesn’t do after someone is born again — and I say, if He did these things, they would actually detract from your beautiful portrayal of what life is about.  Why would He do such a thing?

You are, in fact, absolutely right when you say that baptism doesn’t make someone a completely different person, with no temptations or struggles — just as a marriage ceremony doesn’t magically turn someone into a faithful spouse.  If God did not respect and value the wisdom and maturity that comes from living one’s life to the full, He would just rapture us the moment we got saved.  This life isn’t about protecting and isolating ourselves from the world, but living it, dammit!  And I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know for a fact that I am living my life more fully now with Christ than I ever did before Him.

Speaking of my own story:  Something else you discussed was the fake-ness of Christians who claim that their struggles all disappeared the moment they gave their life to Christ.  And though I do know of a few examples of this sort of thing happening in a limited sense (e.g. addicts who in a moment left their drug of choice cold turkey and never had the desire to go back), I agree that this is not the typical situation, nor is it a realistic expectation.  However, I would not go so far as to conclude, from this, that nothing happens — for myself, my situation was the opposite of what you presented, where Christians are  “great at pretending they were better, while their intimate friends knew the truth.”  My closest friend at the time of my conversion, who wasn’t a Christian, once gave me the greatest compliment I ever received:  “I may not believe in your God, but there’s no denying the change in you.”

So, in closing, you say this:

Don’t talk to me about the incomprehensibly childish desire to start one’s life all over again. I wouldn’t be reborn even if it were possible. I don’t want to be “a new creation” or a “child in Jesus.” I need the terrible lessons I’ve learned, the skills I’ve gained through navigating troubles, the mistakes I’ve made, and yes, even the losses I’ve suffered. They weren’t fun to go through, but they made me the person I am today.

I will not surrender my maturity, experience, and hard-won wisdom to someone else just because it’d really help them out if I would.

And I say in response:  Christ is asking no such thing from you.  This is not the deal He is offering.  He doesn’t want to take your experiences and your hardships from you — He has led you through those experiences from the beginning, He orchestrated them to the very ends that you so wisely recognize and appreciate.  It was His plan that we go through struggles and trials in our lives, in order to make us more mature and more ready and able to receive the blessings He has for us.

This is, of course, my personal interpretation based on my beliefs, and I don’t expect you to agree with them — however, hopefully it illustrates that not all Christians, at least, interpret the implications of the doctrines of heaven and rebirth in the way that you do.

Peace to you, and thanks for your thoughts!

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22 comments

  1. Oh, Seth. You really buy into a lot of the most toxic beliefs and practices I did as a Pentecostal. Let me run through them:

    * Don’t assume, please, that I don’t know that nothing about Christianity is monolithic. 40,000 denominations, 2000 years of everyone saying their little variant is the real deal and individual Christians with their own weird quirky lil takes on it. No belief in the religion is monolithic–not even a belief in a literal Resurrection. It’s so weird…

    * Naturalism = meaninglessness? Really? You regularly read my blog and seriously think that lacking belief in the supernatural means life is meaningless? I don’t feel like reinventing the wheel so I’ll just drop some post links: The Meaning of Life, and Captain Cassidy and the Cosmic Purpose. In short though, you’re making some HUGE assumptions there that simply aren’t true, and trying to dictate non-believers’ lived experience to them. Christians keep trying to go there; their faith can’t be that strong if they must downgrade other people and spread lies about them to make themselves feel like the SOLE ARBITERS OF MEANING IN LIFE. Definitely doesn’t seem very loving to me, but not much about Christianity does. Just so’s ya know, my life has much MORE meaning now! I’m totally at peace with myself and confident about my purpose and know what my life’s meaning is. I could not say a single bit of that while Christian, and neither could any Christian I knew. We were all floundering to discover “God’s will” for our lives, and even when we thought we knew, often we realized we were wrong. Oopsie! So please, for your own good as a witness, stop that. You say that, and non-believers just check out. We know that you won’t have anything to offer us except other tired old apologetics talking-points that we’ve heard and rejected a thousand times over already.

    * The Bible doesn’t promise a release from trouble. True. Wish more Christians knew that. It promises a lot of other stuff that it doesn’t deliver, but not that. But Christianity does make that promise and many others besides which are not true. Often. Regularly. You state (along with a veiled threat against me–Pascal’s Wager? REALLY? I expected more from you, seriously, than that tired, hateful old tactic) that belief in fairy tales helps believers get through tough times so I’m totally meaniepants for stealing their faith, like it’s a pebble on their desk that I can snatch. Sorry, but nobody can threaten anybody’s faith if it’s built on the truth. Are you really saying that I should shut up because what I say might make a believer realize something they shouldn’t? Because I will not. Thought control is such a huge part of Christianity; I’m not surprised you went there. Here’s why I’m not worried about the location of my “chips”. Stop making threats. It’s not loving. If you have credible, objective evidence for your faith system, offer it. But I’m sure you would have already if you did; instead, threats are all you’ve got.

    HAHAHA OMG A ‘DEAL’.

    * Christianity does not offer a “deal.” It extorts compliance, as you attempted to do to me and which clearly was done to you. Why is it soooooo dangerous to “gamble” against the wrong color, hmm? Because I might be tortured eternally, get set on fire forever by magical bad men, or maybe get annihilated for noncompliance? Because I might risk not getting the supernatural aid you imagine you receive?

    The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree; the religion is nothing but an extortion racket, and its believers learn to do the same thing. It’s sure not loving, though even many of the nicer versions of Christianity fall into that thinking. If you buy into the idea of Hell, or think you get some kind of perks that non-believers don’t get, you aren’t getting a deal. You’re surrendering your freedom, independence, and resources to an ideology in hopes of escaping the fate you imagine non-believers will face or getting a leg up over them.

    Sorry, but I do not negotiate with terrorists, or make decisions from greed.

    Greed is Not Good.

    * Faith is not a choice. It’s a reaction and an outgrowth to learning and experiencing things. Even if I suddenly got all skeeeered by your veiled threats, I couldn’t force myself to believe that the Bible is divinely authored or that prayer works, or that some mythical being is floating in the clouds waiting for my telepathic communications or that some part of me survives after death. I’m glad I realized that those claims weren’t true. I’ve had some bad stuff happen to me since leaving Christianity, of course. Facing reality has always been better than clinging to hopes built on false promises. Night and day better. It was when I believed in fairy tale nonsense that I suffered most during hard times–because the promises made by the Bible simply were not true and did not materialize. That only added to my misery!

    * If you want to talk about contextualizing experiences and living fully, I’m ten thousand percent ahead of where I was as a Christian. Maybe you should consider deconverting if that’s important to you, because most ex-Christians would agree with my experience. If you’re Christian because you think you got a “deal” in exchange for your freedom… well… it’s going to suck when you realize how raw a “deal” that actually is and how cheaply you’ve sold yourself. Don’t assume that your religion has a monopoly on producing contextualized, full-living people, when it very clearly does not. I’ve never met a more miserable, petty, grasping, greedy, unforgiving, merciless, bigoted in every way, and downright nasty group of people in my life than Christians as a whole. BTW: happiest and nicest religious group? Pagans. By a landslide. Most genuinely generous, community-oriented, group and best at follow-through? Atheists. Christians score lowest by these and every other marker of “decent people” I use. Maybe pagans and atheists contextualize better than your tribe does. Just a thought.

    It seems very important to you to belong to the tribe that confers the most benefits on believers, but this one’s a non-starter. That you managed to find personal growth in the religion speaks more about you than the religion, Seth. You won’t lose your meaning or anything else by deconverting, if you’re wondering. It’ll change, is all, to reflect reality.

    The Big Kahuna: Suffering.

    * You may believe whatever you wish about why Jesus doesn’t do the things I mention or help the people suffering in the ways you describe… but I maintain that if a truly loving person sees another suffering, they help however they can. If I had the power to remove an addiction from someone, or ease serious depression, or stop a crime, I would do it in a heartbeat. It’s monstrous to think that an omnibenevolent and omnipotent, loving and merciful god would allow that suffering to continue for Jesus Reasons. Maybe you should try to be more loving there rather than parrot a very common apologetics routine that most non-believers saw straight through years ago and rejected. Believers only say that because none of them has ever, even once, seen a real live miracle, so they think that the way the world is now is the perfect-est way that a world could possibly be under that kind of god. But it’s a world that shows us, in every way, that no god like the one you describe is overseeing any of it. Your conceptualization of a god swivels on his thumbs and lets little girls get their brains blown out by terrorists. And you dare to use that as some kind of scored point against non-belief. You’re so in thrall to your ideology under its extortion terms that you cannot see how monstrous your conceptualization of the Christian god is. You worship a god who stands right there and watches little boys get raped by priests, children starve, people suffer, all over the world, every minute of the day in an unspeakable litany of torment and pain, and does nothing at all to stop any of it. He lets babies die deformed and in agony because it helps them mature, apparently, or serves some purpose he couldn’t achieve in some other way I suppose.

    NO. I reject that brutal, barbaric, grotesque argument with every fiber of my being. I push it away with every bit of force I can muster. You have touched on the best reason I could ever offer for why I reject your religion. Its claims aren’t true, but even on a metaphorical level, its excuses for why its god allows such suffering are MONSTROUS. You worship a being of purest evil and call it good. No wonder you’re so confused about how to behave lovingly toward me!

    So… don’t talk to me about how wunnerful you think your fucking imaginary “deal” is with this god you imagined up. You have that illusive “deal” at the expense of millions of your suffering fellow humans.

    And that’s okay with you.

    Well, it’s not fucking okay with me.

    I don’t think that your god exists, but even if I did, I would refuse such a “deal.” My self-actualization, bought at such a cost in human lives and suffering? Sorry, no, not worth it. I only worship good gods. If “he” won’t help those people, I don’t want the religion’s “deals.” I am fortunate to live in a country where I am safe from most of that harm, have access to excellent medical care, education, and opportunity. It wasn’t a god that brought about that fortune, any more than a god allows misfortune. Your “deal” is far more self-serving than you imagine, and more based on blind luck than you realize: your personality, the exact flavor of the religion you gravitated into, where you live and were born, what your level of education and experience in the world is, and what your family was like. Most Christians do not have the experience you do, and the poor wretches in other countries suffering the way you yourself described certainly aren’t getting any sweet, self-affirming, actualizing, contextualized “deals.” The sheer myopic vision that Christians routinely exhibit in their worldview just staggers me. Boggles me. It’s a lack of compassion, empathy, and humankindness that brings me to genuine tears.

    You’ve reminded me anew of why I’m glad I’m not Christian anymore. Good job..?

    * On that note: “Because Shut Up, That’s Why” doesn’t work on me. Neither does threatening me. If you want me to change my tune, offer me evidence. You know why your religion’s on such a downturn and losing so many believers? Because you and your tribemates can’t make non-believers shut up anymore. I’m sure it sucks for y’all! Learn what evidence is, and why it matters.

    Anyway, I know that this is the first time you’ve parroted those apologetics lines at me, so to you this is the first time. I’ve heard them so many times I can just about tell which direction you’ll be turning your sub at the top of the hour. You talk a lot about why you’re Christian here: the benefits you imagine you get, the threats you imagine you’re escaping. If you were getting none of those perks in reality, and discovered that the threats weren’t real, would you still be Christian? Because when I found out the truth, my answer was “absolutely fucking not.”

    It seems to me that many Christians think of themselves as very nice, but if you scratch the surface then you discover all kinds of roiling horrors underneath the surface of that veneer that they probably never even thought about before being challenged. That’s why I don’t think most people actually change as a result of conversion. They just learn new Christianized ways of expressing their old opinions, develop that creepy Jesus Smile to look more non-threatening and childlike, and craft their sales pitches to suit. If they really thought about what they were chirping, it’d horrify them beyond all belief–as it does me. All I can imagine is that you’ve never really thought about this stuff. I’d really rather think that, than that you’ve been challenged on these points before and still think this way.

    You’re happiest in chains. That’s fine. But oh, what a happy and joyful day it was for me when I realized that all those threats weren’t true, and the reason the false promises never materialized had nothing to do with me! On that day, I cast off my chains and took off into the sky. You’re happy in shackles on the ground. In Jesus, as the saying goes, slavery is freedom and freedom is slavery. In my world, however, slavery is slavery and freedom is freedom. And I’m happier because that world makes a hell of a lot more sense to me now, and better fits the reality I see all around me, than the doublethink world I inhabited as a Christian.

    Sorry for the length. You brought up a lot of stuff and I still didn’t touch on everything I wished to, but I think I covered the main stuff. Gotta fly! I don’t know if I’ll have time to write back. That thing I wrote about the fluffed deadline? Yeah, that’s staring me in the face right now. Oops.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Well, and here’s me off to visit the in-laws for the weekend! 😛 Didn’t want to let that much time go by before acknowledging your response.

      I earnestly thank you for your thorough answer — and though you say you didn’t get to say all you had on your mind, I don’t imagine I would even be able to address in detail the points you did choose to share. I also humbly apologize, for I’m cut to the quick at the thought that I had offended you, or “threatened” you in any way — this was not, of course, my intention, as I hope you can accept. Please forgive me, if you can.

      It’s difficult, I admit, to take your attacks of me to heart, especially given how little you know me — it seems I might be inheriting, in large part, the backlash from wounds given by others in the vehemence of your response. Nevertheless, I shall do my best to give your bleak assessment of my character the benefit of the doubt, to put my intentions and motivations to the test yet again — for though I can understand how your accusations of me might well be true (especially from one of your perspective regarding my worldview), it is much more interesting to me to ponder whether they actually are true, in my case. I’m sure you would do the same, were you in my shoes.

      In any case, have a pleasant weekend, Cap’n! And thanks again for your response — you do me honor to spend such time and effort to answer me such 🙂

      Like

      1. Enjoy the in-laws’ first off. I love mine and I’m very glad I married into such an amazing and loving family. I feel like Ian when he married Toula in a lot of ways, though the number of relatives is much smaller!

        See what I mean about Christianese though? You’re not a terrible person. Very few Christians are. You’re just the product of about 40 years’ worth of evangelical jockeying for dominance in a culture that has been steadily drifting away from it year by year. You’ve learned a lot of stuff that isn’t true because they think that teaching you this stuff will buoy their sagging privilege back to its former glory (GLAW-RUH!), and some of that stuff centers around how to treat people and assess behavior.

        For example: I wasn’t wounded. That would imply you hurt my feelings. I hope you know I’m tough enough that it’d take more than a few shopworn apologetics arguments to do that! What I actually was, was mightily annoyed, in that “oh jesus christ not this shit again” way. I even told you that at the end. I know that for you this was our first exchange; but for me, it was one in a very long, long line of bright-eyed Christians saying exactly the same things, in the same order, in the same words, in the same ways. I took out about half of the F-bombs, if that’s any indication, and rewrote the reply once from scratch because the first one would have seared even my readers’ eyebrows. You didn’t deserve that.

        But when you’re challenged on the subject of suffering, the problem of evil… listen, really listen. Don’t drill down on the old evangelical “OH IT’S FOR THE BEST!” warbling, because that’s grotesque. It’s one of the reasons people oppose Christianity and speak out against it (ahem). And I genuinely believe that Christians’ adherence to that apologetics response is one of the reasons they are growing less and less, well, Christlike every day. Talking about suffering like it’s part of some great and glorious plan tells people that you have totally lost touch with what good and evil can really be and mean–and warns others to be on guard because to someone like that, they can easily start doing really awful, inhuman things to other people because they think it’s good and in those people’s best interest (which is exactly what we are seeing today in Christianity as a whole).

        When Christians chirp about how wonderful they think their “deal” is, or (as many Christians do; you didn’t here and hopefully you never do this around non-believers) gush over some picayune and totally unverifiable “MEERKUL” they think they got, the first thing a non-Christian thinks is “Gosh, that’s really swell. What about people facing death at the hands of abusive family members today? The people facing torture? The people dying of horrific diseases, the babies born doomed? Why does ‘God’ give you a nice deal but ignore them?” And we will be repelled, repulsed, and even disgusted far more often than we are impressed by this “god’s” generosity.

        And.. I mean this in the very sincerest way. You need to learn about “arguments from X.” Here’s my primer on the subject. Most of your post boiled down to a breathless “OH MY GOSH, IF CHRISTIANITY WASN’T REAL, THEN THIS TERRIBLE THING WOULD HAPPEN.” That is called an “argument from consequences.” (Most of the rest of it was, as one of my commenters pointed out, a #notallchristians, TRUE CHRISTIANS™ screed.) It means that instead of giving anybody any real reasons to believe your premise (that a god exists, that this god cares about mortals and wants to give them “deals,” that there’s a terrible afterlife that one may avoid by “gambling” on this god, that this god is the only source of life’s meaning, etc.), you just threatened them with the terrible consequences of disbelief. That is not a reason to believe or disbelieve. Every religion has threats built into it, well most of ’em anyway I reckon, and those don’t scare me any more than yours did. Threats only work on people who already believe or are at least inclined toward belief. When you say that stuff around people who completely do not believe, you’ll seriously harm your credibility–because we know, instinctively, that people use arguments that work on them. Your whole post was a series of threats and promises–which means those work on you. That’s something I really suggest you think about really hard. Evidence works on me. I’ve had to change my tune about a lot of stuff in life because of evidence (equal marriage, reparation therapy, abortion rights, the death penalty, gun control, GMOs, other stuff even besides). But someone who threatens others is someone who respects the language of threats.

        Last… I’ll be touching on this soon on the blog because the idea merits much more discussion than I can afford here, but … why is this world, the beauty in it, the glory of its sheer potential, the amazing vitality of its people, the shocking amount of LIFE and potential here, not enough? Why must your world also promise you things? Doesn’t it matter to you that the promises your religion offers people are not actually true? Why are you happier with false promises than no promises? This is another error that Christians often make, especially regarding atheism/skepticism. They think that atheism makes promises too, just — as you put it — “doubtful” ones. No. Atheism and non-belief in the supernatural (which you conflate with “naturalism,” erroneously–another evangelical fillip you’ve absorbed that is not true, incidentally) doesn’t make doubtful promises. They make no promises at all. None. The promises we get in this life come from ourselves and the people around us. And those are way more reliable than the ones made by religions and supernatural beliefs, because people are real and the supernatural… well… is not.

        I cannot even fathom anymore the arrogance and hubris of looking at this beautiful world, this huge universe, this array of people and experiences, the sheer opportunity you are afforded by being a member of the culture in which you have very luckily found yourself, and saying “Nice, but who’s gonna comfort me when Aunt Maddie dies and my car conks out?”

        Seeya 🙂

        Liked by 7 people

        1. Hello Captain! Thanks for keeping the discussion going. I wrote an article in response, but I wanted to respond to a few specific points here:

          1) I know atheism and naturalism are not the same — I’ve just found that, in my experience, most thinking atheists are naturalists. Atheists seem very quick to use the “null position” language when defining their worldview, but I find this both boring and unrealistic — only potted plants have null positions. If you subscribe to another worldview philosophy other than naturalism or materialism, I apologize for making assumptions – though I can’t imagine you, in particular, being content with “just null”.

          I also know that atheism (or naturalism, for that matter) don’t technically “promise” anything. I just can’t resist parallel structure 😉

          2) Several times you refer to some permutation of “tired old apologetics arguments” when referring to my points. I’m not sure what your intended effect is — whether it is to express to me that you’re not interested in really discussing these topics because you’ve become bored with them, or in order to muddy the waters in some way against my points, or something else entirely. In any case, I don’t understand the motivation — I could just as easily dismiss your “problem of suffering” objection as a tired old anti-Christian argument, but that wouldn’t do much to further the discussion. I understand you are busy, and if you’re not interested in discussing these points with me I completely understand — but, if that’s the case, that’s all you have to say 🙂

          3) Thanks for the links to your previous work — I’m sure there’s a lot of great discussion points in there, and I’ll have to “put them in the queue”, so to speak. I’m sure you understand that I cannot respond to them all now. Your discussion style reminds me of the late Hitchens, who excelled at presenting an impresive array of interesting talking points. For instance, the lack of unity in the worldwide Christian church when it comes to specific doctrines — a very fascinating topic, and one that one the surface seems to undermine the doctrines of Christianity. However, what’s really important, of course, is whether Christianity is true or not — and, as I’m sure we both agree, the number of sects within Christianity has little to no bearing on that. However, when presented rapid-fire, such points can seem on the surface to count as evidence against Christianity, even when we both know that a top-to-bottom discussion would probably yield something somewhat less compelling when we get to the bottom of it. It’s a powerful tactic, and you use it well. However — and please forgive and correct me if I’m wrong — I infer that you have neither the time nor the inclination to discuss all of these points you’ve brought up in detail, especially since you’ve demonstrably already written articles on most of these topics. If you have one or two favorites you’d like to discuss now, I’m game to do so — just let me know where to direct my efforts.

          4) That said, there’s one point I wanted to address in particular: In regards to the problem of suffering, you started off by saying: “If I had the power to remove an addiction from someone, or ease serious depression, or stop a crime, I would do it in a heartbeat.” However, it seemed a major part of the premise for your OP on rebirth was your rejection of any system that allows people to opt out of the human experience. Without making an argument one way or the other, I’m having trouble seeing how these two viewpoints coincide.

          5) Finally, no need to make it personal 🙂 I know you’re exasperated, but still, you made a lot of character-level accusations and made a lot of assumptions about my motivations, story, etc. It’s not a big deal to me — I’m not here for my ego to get stroked, that’s for sure — however, I was a little taken aback, as I seem to remember our past exchanges being somewhat less… charged, I suppose, is a good word for it. I’ll allow for the possibility that I totally put my foot in my mouth and said something (or several things) I didn’t intend to say — however, I guess my question is this: Are we cool? Are you willing to give me the benefit of the doubt and accept that I’d never willingly try to threaten or offend you? Because, if not, I’d rather not risk needlessly offending you again — if I offend you, I want there to be a need behind it 😉 LOL

          Thanks again, and take care 🙂

          Like

    2. Captain C,
      in the words of the boy at the end of the movie “The Incredibles”…. “that was totally WICKED!!” meant as a compliment. translation: that was Awesome! thank you for saying and explaining what i am feeling but can’t yet put into words nearly as eloquently.
      -KIA

      Like

  2. Hello Seth, I read Cassidy’s blog regularly, so that’s where I saw the link to yours and to your post above. My response to yours is already “contaminated” (in the source-critical sense) by the previous discussion. For what it’s worth, here is the closest I can get to a direct response to what you wrote.
    1. I was guessing that you’d employ these two common tactics:
    a. “you didn’t practice Christianity right”
    b. “sorry you were hurt by those other Christians (so-called) but I and my group are not like them.”
    What you wrote uses forms of both of these, from what I can see.
    2. You chide Cass because by advocating naturalism, she is, in your view, “taking away” the hope that struggling, persecuted Christians have. I think you see it this way because you conceive of what you call naturalism as though it’s a privation or absence of some important thing. I could go on about this point.
    3. From here I’d just be endorsing stuff that Cass wrote, so I’ll stop with “but is Christianity true?”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hello ficino! Welcome, and thanks for commenting 🙂 I appreciate your response.

      1) I would like to push back a little bit on this assessment, if you don’t mind. I find the way they are phrased to be highly loaded, for one thing, to the point where I could say something somewhat like it and come under attack for the connotations in your phraseology: a) I offered an alternative interpretation, which is not the same as “you didn’t practice Christianity right”, and b) I offered sympathy and attempted to illustrate how my point of view on the matter is different that the caricature she offered — not the same as “sorry you were hurt by those other Christians (so-called) but I and my group are not like them.” Thus, we have two responses that I feel are cordial, relevant, and tactful — but that can be dismissed in a hand-waving fashion by rephrasing it into something offensive that was not said.

      2)

      I think you see it this way because you conceive of what you call naturalism as though it’s a privation or absence of some important thing.

      Well, yes, I do — naturally, as a Christian, I view a redeemed relationship with God as a thing to be desired, and that confers a number of benefits. You and the Captain disagree. That’s okay, disagreements happen. I invite you to further expound your point, if you wouldn’t mind — I’m having trouble finding something to respond to 🙂

      3) That’s the question, isn’t it? In my response to Captain Cassidy above, I mentioned the importance of making a distinction between topics that concern the veracity of Christianity directly, and those that are better categorized as “talking points”. The latter, though interesting and worthy of discussion, usually have little direct bearing on whether or not Christianity is true. Here’s the nutshell version of why I feel Christianity is true.

      Thanks again for weighing in!

      Like

  3. “She recently wrote what I regard as an excellent article”

    What a strange way to phrase it. Why not just say, “She wrote an excellent article” instead of trying to insert yourself in the middle and make it all about YOU? We figure that, on your own site, you’re going to be presenting your own perspectives – that’s a given.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Ralph! Thanks for weighing in 🙂 Thanks, incidentally, for padding my article with comments — the untrained observer might mistakenly attribute a higher-than-warranted degree of interest and intrigue to my writing because of it 😉 I’ll respond to all your points here.

      So I guess you know better than Scripture, right?

      Well, no — but neither do I accept your interpretation of it 😉 I discuss this topic here.

      So we should lie to the suffering? Encourage them to believe nonsense? THAT’s a good thing??

      Of course we shouldn’t. Then again, it’s only lying if you say it without believing it’s true — I happen to believe it is.

      Because they’re so much *lesser* than WE are and obviously *need* fairy tales and Santa Claus because their lives suck?

      Not at all what I said, brother. I need it too — I’m no better than anyone in that department! But I would invite you to read my response to Captain Cassidy, where I discuss the reason why I formulated that argument the way I did.

      Those of us who left Christianity can tell everyone what it’s like to be on *this* side of Christianity, the having-been-there-and-done-that outside. Those who are still on the inside, like you, Seth, have *no way of understanding* what it’s like on *this* side, since you’ve never been here and, more importantly, you’ve never been anywhere similar.

      Haven’t I? I find it very interesting that you would make this assumption.

      If all they can expect is the rottenness of this life and then nothing, that’s better than having to constantly wonder how your “god” and “jesus” can love them so much WHILE DOING NOTHING TO HELP THEM, and fearing that they may be burned and tortured in screaming, writhing agony forever and ever after they die, just because “god” and “jesus” appear capricious and not particularly caring at all as far as they can see.

      Interesting take. Is this assessment from their point of view based on speaking to them directly, or is this your guess as to how they must feel based on your own assumptions?

      I met someone online who had worked in hospice, and he said that the patients who were devout Christians were the most fearful and anxious about their impending deaths – BY FAR.

      Interesting, I know of others in that field who report the opposite observation.

      Thanks again! Have a great day.

      Like

      1. I know it’s been some time already and it’s reply to somebody else’s comment. However I want to point that just because you believe something is true it doesn’t mean it is true. And just because many people believe in the same thing doesn’t make it true either.

        I also wonder why, if your God exist and is omnipotent and loving, he not only allows people to suffer (I strongly agree with Captain Cassidy about suffering so I won’t write specifically about it since she did it so much better) but why is there so many religions and even in Christianity people can’t universally agree about its basic points and above all if your God knows about doubts and need for evidence atheists (and other people) have why he can’t provide such evidence? If humans are supposed to have free will and make the choice shouldn’t they be able to make an informed choice? We expect that of doctors and yet the God that is supposed to be so merciful and loving can’t even give that to people he supposedly created in his own image. (and no, supposedly ‘holy book’ that is full of contradictions is not evidence, nor are anecdotes of supposedly changed life after conversion)

        I’ve been Christian for many years and obviously I had good times and bad times (more of the bad actually) and once I freed myself from religion I feel so much better – even in bad times. And I know many former Christians who feel the same. I’m definitely less hateful and judgmental of others and of myself.

        And lastly, while I don’t feel too comfortable with making assumptions about people I don’t know (and I hope you won’t feel offended, because it’s not my intention). I think it’s easy to assume that you don’t understand how it feels to be on the other side. As I said I was Christian for many years, very devoted for most of that time, but ever since I became atheist I have a problem with understanding the way religious people think, to the point where I can’t even fully understand myself from that time (not in the intellectual sense, but rather on emotional level).

        Liked by 1 person

  4. ” It was His plan that we go through struggles and trials in our lives, in order to make us more mature and more ready and able to receive the blessings He has for us.”

    So I guess you know better than Scripture, right?

    John 14:12-14 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.

    No “mature and more ready”, you’ll notice. “ASK AND I WILL DO IT.” But that’s not what happens, so that’s why *some* Christians will insert all sorts of sneering, condescending, it’s-all-your-own-fault subtle digs in there to defend the all-important religion from legitimate challenge: “YOU’re not ‘mature’ enough, obviously, or Jesus would do what he promised.” “YOU’re not ‘ready’.” “You’re obviously not ‘able’ to receive that, or Jesus would do what he promised.”

    How about YOU, Seth? Jesus says that those who believe can do all his little magic tricks AND MORE. So have you walked on water lately? Fed the entire city of Detroit on a single chicken pot pie? Have you restored an amputated limb to its original state? No? Why not? Is it because you don’t believe? Is it because NO Christian apparently believes? Or is it that Scripture is full of false promises – like John 14:12-14?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “When you hear the stories of Christians in situations like that, they cling to the promise of a heavenly afterlife because it’s all they have. It’s the only way they can contextualize their suffering in a way that doesn’t lead to despair. Would you take that away from them based on the strength of your personal belief that what they believe is false? Are you that sure that you’ve put your chips on the right color that you would take the last ounce of hope from people whose chips happen to be on the opposite color, hope that their lives and the sufferings they have undergone have actually meant something, have had some significance?”

    “Oh, won’t someone think of the *little people*?? It’s all they have! They NEED this!”

    So we should lie to the suffering? Encourage them to believe nonsense? THAT’s a good thing?? Because they’re so much *lesser* than WE are and obviously *need* fairy tales and Santa Claus because their lives suck? Because they just can’t handle the truth so we should never even give them the opportunity to see it?

    If you’re interested in this creepy, condescending argument, also known as “the dying grandmother scenario”, there’s a good discussion of it at “Atheism: a luxury for the wealthy?” over at Why Evolution Is True.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. In my years as an anti-cult activist, what I’m seeing here is absolutely textbook. Those who are still in thrall to the cult/religion/MLM/whatever will look at whoever has left and shake their heads, proclaim how miserable that person must be, how sorry they are for him/her, and how much better off they are because they’re still in the cult/religion/MLM/whatever. Christianity is well known for shunning those who leave; this is just one piece of that nasty behavior, regarding those who have moved on with disdain and contempt.

    It’s like someone who’s on a plane traveling to Japan for the first time compared to someone else who left earlier and has already been on the ground in Kyoto for a week. All the person on the plane can really relate to is the anticipation, the quality of the food, what movies are available on the screen on the seatback in front of them, that sort of thing. But the person who’s been in Kyoto for a week can tell you about what Japan is like – the food, the architecture, the people, the temples, etc.

    Those of us who left Christianity can tell everyone what it’s like to be on *this* side of Christianity, the having-been-there-and-done-that outside. Those who are still on the inside, like you, Seth, have *no way of understanding* what it’s like on *this* side, since you’ve never been here and, more importantly, you’ve never been anywhere similar. Yet there you sit, smug, disdainful, condescending, declaring to one and all your position is the preferred – without even acknowledging that you have *no idea* what it’s like to be who WE are – post-Christianity, post-imaginary friends, post-magical thinking. It’s perfectly natural, but it’s not something to be proud of. It’s ignorance, that’s all.

    Liked by 5 people

  7. “Because if this is all they get, if naturalism is true, if all they can expect is the rottenness of this life and then nothing — then their lives are meaningless, and they know it.”

    There’s another alternative that you apparently haven’t thought of. If naturalism is true, then all they can do is their best, and that’s that. If all they can expect is the rottenness of this life and then nothing, that’s better than having to constantly wonder how your “god” and “jesus” can love them so much WHILE DOING NOTHING TO HELP THEM, and fearing that they may be burned and tortured in screaming, writhing agony forever and ever after they die, just because “god” and “jesus” appear capricious and not particularly caring at all as far as they can see.

    See?

    I met someone online who had worked in hospice, and he said that the patients who were devout Christians were the most fearful and anxious about their impending deaths – BY FAR. The atheists and agnostics he interacted with were far and away the most calm, the most accepting of the end of their lives. Religious belief did not bring “the peace that surpasseth understanding”; instead, it brought anxiety and terror. Food for thought, because part of your argument is “I say it works this way so that means it works this way.” If real life were like that, then the hospice worker would have noticed that it was the devout Christians who were the most at peace with their imminent deaths, right? Yet he observed *the opposite*. So perhaps with this example in mind, you can understand why I can’t accept your pronouncement of how things look to people whose experience you have no knowledge of, with whom you haven’t even spoken once. And I think MY scenario is better than yours, naturally.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Seth, I’ve read both Cassidy’s comments and your reply … and have just a couple of quick comments.

    Your wrote: ” … it seems I might be inheriting, in large part, the backlash from wounds given by others in the vehemence of your response.” This kind of statement makes me see RED! Just because a person responds negatively and with strong emotion to Christian claims does NOT mean they were “wounded.” In most cases, they are simply fed up with the rhetoric that believers spew over and over and over again in an attempt to justify their faith.

    Cassidy wrote: ” … my life has much MORE meaning now! I’m totally at peace with myself and confident about my purpose and know what my life’s meaning is.” I personally agree with this and if you were to “take a survey,” I think you would find those who have left the faith would say the exact same (or similar) thing. I actually find it rather fascinating that those who are still believers simply cannot accept that life “without God” can be fulfilling. But I, and thousands of others, can most assuredly tell you it is.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hello Nan 🙂 Good point, “wounded” was probably a poor choice of words. I just got the strong feeling like I was “inheriting” something that couldn’t have come exclusively from what I said. The Captain seemed to admit to as much in her response.

      I actually find it rather fascinating that those who are still believers simply cannot accept that life “without God” can be fulfilling. But I, and thousands of others, can most assuredly tell you it is.

      Oh, I can certainly accept this! I honor and respect the decisions of each individual, and imagine that whatever worldview choice is made, there are probably good reasons for it. That’s why I’m more in favor of discussion than debate 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Seth

        First, this discussion has been great. It takes guts to take on the captain. ☺

        Reguarding inheriting stuff, have you ever met someone with a name like Larry Potter? They hear the same freaking joke several times a day, every day. So the random bank clerk may think she’s being clever when she asks about Hogwarts. After all she has never told that joke before. She can’t understand why Larry is pissed about one little joke.

        We have heard all the apologetics before. Most of us learned them all as christians. So can’t smile and tell someone how clever they are over something debunked decades ago.

        Cheers

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Greetings kelpie, and welcome to the discussion! I appreciate you weighing in, and hope you stick around 🙂

          I completely get it, I do — I feel the same way about certain arguments myself. I imagine great debaters like Hitchens and Atkins feel or felt similarly as well — a significant part of their career involves or involved hashing out these concepts and arguments with people who thought differently. So yes, I understand where the feelings come from.

          However, in the case of Hitchens or Atkins, no one forced them to agree to the debate. Regardless how they feel about it, they chose to be there time and again, arguing the same points, probably encountering the same counter-arguments time and again. There are only so many arguments to go around for either side, so of course I’d imagine that anyone with the longevity and experience of the Captain will have probably heard and discussed the major arguments for and against Christianity, and for and against naturalism. It’s not like new arguments are popping up all the time — these are millennia-old ideas, after all. I’ve probably gone around the same old “If the universe needs a creator, then who created God?” argument a hundred times myself.

          So, for anyone who has a platform from which they regularly provide their arguments in favor of a particular worldview, I think it’s fair to expect them to be open to criticism, and to be willing to engage with those who have opposing viewpoints. Not saying that this next statement categorizes the Captain perfectly, but if such a one simply cannot be bothered to engage with the opposition because they have had similar discussions with people in the past, I would ask them why they are insinuating themselves into the discussion in the first place. True, the Captain didn’t pick a fight with me in this particular case (it was the other way around this time); however, she is putting out information against my religion that I find to be misrepresentative, and that might be worthy of some discussion. If I challenge her on these points, I think it’s fair to expect a respectful dialogue about it. If not, then she’s just a preacher.

          Also, there’s nothing to prevent one who has already put out copious material on a subject to respectfully allude to their own work.

          Have a good one, mate! And thanks again — I like your discussion style 🙂

          Like

  9. Hey Seth.

    Cassidy’s use of “a way out” is telling, as it references 1 Corinthians 10:13. That verse, in turn, is used to justify a lot of assertions regarding people not receiving more temptation than they can bear. It expressly promises a way out from such temptations.

    From there, it’s not a leap to treat the promise as being protective or a transformation. Being reborn in Christ is seen as a change, as even you’ve acknowledged above. What this change promises is different from Christian to Christian, and can also be expressed differently depending upon the circumstances. Thus, Cassidy’s point still remains valid. All it means is that different views weren’t addressed in her post.

    Specifically to your points, though, you’re taking one school of thought and criticizing it for not addressing other issues. Naturalism and even atheism do not expressly promote things outside their definitions. Atheism, for example, isn’t always a necessary component of secular thinking; secular thinking just tries to make arguments without resorting to religion.

    Similarly, naturalism doesn’t hold much meaning for anyone in any kind of post-death way because it’s just trying to describe what is. In this way, your critique is like faulting biology for not developing a proper counting system of numbers. Sure, you can do that, but one can always resort to mathematics for the answer.

    Therefore, your criticism of robbing people who suffer their way of dealing with pain might be technically correct with regards to naturalism, but it isn’t correct in regards to how secular people might address their problems. Secular thinkers don’t exist in a vacuum of “atheist only” or “naturalism only” thought. Hell, religious thinkers don’t exist in a vacuum of “theist only” or “religion only” thought. Everyone uses different tools for the job.

    But they still get the job done.

    Like

  10. Funny, isn’t it, that the things you think Christ wants you to go through are exactly the kinds of things you would expect to be going through if Christ (and his Daddy) didn’t exist at all? Don’t you think that makes them a little bit — well — redundant?

    Liked by 1 person

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