Saturday, February 13, 2010

Are you sure?

There's an old proverb that says, "Beware the sound of one hand clapping."

The book of Proverbs says it like this: "The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him."1 

The idea here is that there is always more than one side to an argument, and wisdom dictates that if we are genuinely interested in truth (not just 'seeming right' to others), we should always be careful to examine all sides of an issue.

Unfortunately, this little morsel of wisdom is all too often ignored, even by those who should know better. Just today I read an exchange between some friends about an issue that probably none of them were qualified to speak about, but did that little fact stop them from giving their opinion or even lead them to wonder if there might be a perspective besides their own? You can probably guess the answer to that. As the Avett Brothers say in one of their songs, "Ain't it like most people, I'm no different--we love to talk on things we don't know about."

Regrettably, the church is no exception to this problem. Though it saddens me to admit it, the exchange mentioned above was between Christians, and it was by no means an isolated incident. We all have our own ideas of what God is like and how the church should work, and we rarely pause to examine these ideas, much less compare them with others to see how they fare. Why do we do this? Is it pride? Is it ignorance? Is it just plain laziness?

The answer to all these is probably often yes, but I wonder if the prevalence of this attitude among Christians might go a bit deeper. As Christians (particularly evangelicals) we are taught something unique among world religions: that we can have certainty. In fact, if you read my first post on the knowledge of God, you probably noticed that I began by showing how the Christian can legitimately have this very thing. As Paul himself put it, "I know whom I have believed." 2

I wonder, though, if we do not confuse this certainty that we can have regarding our relationship with God with the way that we know most other things. As Christians, our certainty comes not through ourselves but through revelation--it is the gift of God in the form of the Holy Spirit. However, on most every other issue, God has not given this kind of revelation. It is a grave mistake then to assume that we can be as sure of everything as we are of our salvation.

Another problem is that we only know what we are taught, and we rarely seek to learn anything contrary to what we already believe. Josh Billings said it this way: "Education is a good thing generally, but most folks educate their prejudices." When was the last time you intentionally read something that you knew you would disagree with? Now, I am not saying that every Christian should read all the atheist literature or anything like that. As an apologist, I have to and believe me, it (usually) isn't any fun. But I do think that we should be more critical of our attitude when we are confronted with views that differ from our own, especially when dealing with fellow believers.

So, the next time you are about to give your opinion to someone, ask yourself, "Am I really sure enough about this to say what I was about to say?" And if the answer is no, I challenge you to say something more honest instead. Maybe even "I don't know."


1 Proverbs 18:17 (NIV)
2 2 Tim. 1:12 (NIV)

14 comments:

  1. I like this post very much because you are able to acknowledge the (unfortunately very true) fact that many christians are biased when it comes to other religions. I think if someone is young in the faith that they should probably just work on growing, but that as we do grow stronger we need to open our eyes to the world around us. I admit that I have tried to appear as if I knew more about other religions than I really did, and that just made me look(or perhaps opened my eyes to being)like so many other hypocritical christians out in the world today. Now I cannot see many other better ways to reach someone or to at least have a good debate on our differing religions without knowing the opposing argument.
    I do have a question though, would there be a way to talk to someone who does not believe in Jesus about the Holy Spirit? I am pretty sure that if that whole concept had been explained to me when I was younger, that I would indeed not have been one of the kids in the back pew snickering at the Gifts. Just wondering if that was another way to reach people or to at least help them understand.
    Great job.

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  2. Oh Religion, what a topic to write about. I will start off by saying "I don't know" but do seek. I didn't expect this entry to come from you, the same person who laughed at the mayan prophecies that I believe in, however you managed to give others good advice even if you didn't take it yourself. I think the Rig Veda said it best: "Truth is one, sages call it by various names." My opinion is that we are humans, we have a divine connection with God, if we choose to earnestly seek the truth (God) we will experience him. This is where I have a problem with Christianity... In other cultures people who have devoted their ENTIRE lives to the path later become "enlightened." These enlightened beings have the ability to read minds, heal, and move around in time-space. Dewey Larson proved time is 3D and not linear, which would make these feats possible, though still unbelievable to some. Many studies have been done on "enlightened" men ranging from Paganism to Buddhism, and our science says their brain chemistry and abilities are extremely different than ours.

    Now I have been to quite a few churches and never have I met an enlightened man. I meet typical American seekers preaching to other American seekers. Afterwards we all go home and watch American Idol and eat some high fructose corn syrup, not exactly what I call "the path." On the flip side I have studied with a Hindi who woke up to do Yoga, meditate, and fill his entire day with things "God" would approve of. He also encouraged me to use any spiritual book I wished, he never tried to push his ideas. Christianity must learn to give an experience. People don't like to work on their minds and bad habits without reward, and fearing hell is no longer the reward. Meditation from other religions teaches one to still their mind in order to let the divine in (something we can feel and experience). Science says sensory deprivation (darkness, meditation) increases Melatonin and Dimethyltryptamine (dubbed the spirit molecule). Matthew 4:16 says the same thing: "The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up."

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  3. Amber: When you say "would there be a way to talk to someone who does not believe in Jesus about the Holy Spirit?" what exactly to you mean? There are many things to say about the Holy Spirit, and some are easier to explain to unbelievers than others. Judging from your reference to the 'gifts' I assume you mean something about the gifts of the Spirit as discussed in 1 Corinthians 12. If so, then the answer to this may vary depending on the situation. As Paul makes clear, some gifts are 'for the unbeliever' (1 Cor 14:22) and can be useful for evangelism in that they show God's power in a (nearly) undeniable way. But explaining how the Holy Spirit does the things He does is another matter entirely. Personally, in talking with unbelievers, I stick to Jesus until they ask about something else. And even then, I tend to think that the conversation should always go back to Christ. For example, if someone new to the faith asked me about the Holy Spirit, I might explain briefly Who Christians believe He is, and then point out that His main role is to point people to Christ and to validate what He taught while on earth. In this way, I am both explaining Who the Spirit is and still keeping the discussion centered where it should be. If you could be a bit more specific perhaps I can give a better answer. Hope that helps anyway.

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  4. Bobby: Thanks for commenting man! I really appreciate it. Also, let me apologize once more for the misunderstanding regarding the Mayan stuff we discussed a while ago. That was totally my ignorance showing through, as it so often does. You say a LOT in your comment that deserves attention, and I'm sure I won't be able to cover it all here, but I'll try to hit what I take to be your main points.

    First, let me just clarify that none of my posts so far have dealt at all with 'religion,' properly called. What I have discussed is knowledge of God as regards Christianity specifically, and now this last post about fairness and honesty in our discussions. I do plan to get to more 'religious' topics in the future, but I have not yet. This is important because I believe that the tendency to view Christianity in its entirety as one of many 'religions' is a mistake. There obviously is a sense in which it is a religion, but there is also enough unique about it to set it apart from this broad category.

    You quote the Rig Veda as saying "Truth is one, sages call it by various names." I'm not sure of the context of this quote or of its intended significance, but if you are implying that all religions are somehow basically the same at their core, or that they are all 'paths to the same place' or something like that, then I have to politely disagree. It is my view that every religion is at bottom exclusivistic. This may sound a bit surprising, but I find it interesting (and a bit ironic) that you quote one of the very scriptures that was rejected by Buddhism as being authoritative. So even in what are usually considered the most inclusive of the major religions (Buddhism and Hinduism), we have clear elements of exclusive thought. I should also note that your 'problem with Christianity' seems a bit inconsistent here...is it not, on your view, also one of the 'paths' or a part of the ultimate 'truth'?

    I'm not sure what to make of your comments on what you call 'enlightenment.' I'm familiar with the concept as expressed in Buddhism and the like, but I'm not following what you mean here. Also, what studies are you citing here?

    Your points about American Christianity seeming a bit more, how shall I say, 'lax' than your experiences with the Hindi are well-taken. I, too, am discouraged at the attitude of much of the church, but it would be a mistake to credit their abuse of Jesus' teachings to the teachings themselves, just as it would be a mistake to criticize the core of Hindu thought because certain Hindu activists wage war on Catholic populations in India.

    You say, "Christianity must learn to give an experience." I'm not sure what you mean here, since Christianity at its core is experiential. Could you elaborate? Also, Christianity has a very rich tradition of meditation and prayer that continues today.

    You also say, "Science says sensory deprivation (darkness, meditation) increases Melatonin and Dimethyltryptamine (dubbed the spirit molecule)." I don't really know what this means. Also, could you provide a source for this molecule? I'm also not sure what you mean by the reference to the passage from Matthew. In context, it is revealing how Christ fulfilled a prophecy from Isaiah 9. He actually is the light mentioned in the verse.

    I hope this is clear. Thanks again for commenting. I look forward to your response. :)

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  5. You're right, I was pretty vague. I was wondering how to talk to someone who has not experienced Christ about..how about the Spirit Language as an example? I know that before I became saved, I would go to church with the grandmother of a friend's. She was Pentecostal and at first, I was frightened with what I saw, then I began to mock them. It was because I was uncomfortable seeing something I'd never heard of and it was not explained to me. I've always loved to learn and understand new things. I feel if someone had told me even a bit about it, I would have at least respected it. I hear so many people talk about seeing that and how "freaky" it is and yet I don't know what to say to that. I hope I've elaborated a bit more but you know how I am, it may take a few more times to explain what I mean.

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  6. I will start with enlightenment. Only until recently can we begin to understand what true enlightenment is. Ancient scriptures have tried to describe what enlightenment is like, but words can only do so much justice to something that must be felt. Much like describing an orgasm, until one experiences an orgasm it is just words, and if words where not able to describe it, the orgasm would be just as real because you can experience it. Now that we have science, it gives us a wider perception and vocabulary to understand things like feelings. With this we can now describe things like the orgasm using words like serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. Take that same concept with enlightenment and you get Pinoline, Melatonin, and Dimethyltryptamine. We know this because we can recreate the orgasm (or enlightenment) by using man-made medicines that stimulate these brain chemicals and receptors (work of Dr. Rich Strassman). Knowing this now we have to look at why people using certain techniques (usually prescribed by their religious text) are achieving this brain chemistry and others are not. Using science we find 3 things that create these chemicals we call enlightenment.

    01)There is a very distinct line between emotions, and the "good" emotions stimulate these enlightening chemicals (the feeling of love especially), and "bad" emotions are releasing chemicals that hinder the enlightening ones.

    02)A "still" mind that is not constantly busy helps the brain release these chemicals

    03)When your eyes close you become sensory deprived. The body releases Melatonin at this time which aids the other chemicals towards enlightenment

    So when I say Christianity must learn to give an experience, I mean it must put together a practice based on its teachings that can help people experience what other cultures call "enlightenment." At that point it becomes just like the orgasm, nobody will every have to describe it again, we will have all experienced it :)

    The Bible:
    With all that being said I have faith in the Bible. I do not have faith in the people trying to decipher it. Knowing what I know about brain chemistry, and having experienced enlightenment myself, I find that what people are doing in Church is opposite of enlightenment. We are very active and preach constantly (opposite of stilling the mind), instill fear (the idea of hell, the opposite of feelings of love), and preach different forms of the path, even the "laxed" ones. The path is not easy now, nor has it ever been and preaching that will only set the preacher and seeker apart from each other and God. Of course you will always have the brainwashed old lady (or man) that just LOVE their preacher, but I can assure you that old lady is not enlightened. What those people should love and admire is God and his creations (one another and earth).

    A Binary God:
    The idea of the Rig Veda quote (my opinion only)is that there is either true or false in life, on or off. God is the truth and all ancient scripture preach truth. Some may be more diluted or encrypted than others, but given the fact that were all written by imperfect man they also contain false.

    The Cure:
    The cure is the truth. It took 200 years to fill the library of congress, we create that much information every 15 minutes. The truth is out there but it does require one to not be attached to anything but God and the Truth. I believe we are in prophesied times, using the internet we can all speak in the same language again (tower of babel.) That being said it's time to use the cumulative knowledge of the world to become better evolved humans who understand God more to live in harmony with him and his creations(earth, cosmos). Maybe if we stop trying to figure out who God is, and try to figure our who we are (his greatest creation) and our purpose here maybe, just maybe we can start to understand.

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  7. Bobby: I appreciate your reply but I'd really like to keep comments relevant to their respective posts. As such, I'll reply briefly to your last comment but ask that any future comments be somehow about honesty in dealing with controversial issues or certainty or some other idea contained in the original post. Thanks.

    I won’t say anything about enlightenment, as this is pretty far off-topic. Thanks for clearing up your points though.

    You say, “So when I say Christianity must learn to give an experience, I mean it must put together a practice based on its teachings that can help people experience what other cultures call ‘enlightenment.’” I don’t see why this should be the case, unless you are assuming that this ‘enlightenment’ is in fact the only way to truth. If that is the case, then you have granted my point about exclusivity, and I can simply make the counter-claim (as I do) that enlightenment in the Buddhist sense is in fact not the correct path to truth. I would then posit the central claims of Christianity and invite a comparison to see which best accords with reality. My conclusion is (no surprise) that Christianity makes much more sense of the world around us, as well as of modern science and various philosophical problems, than does any other worldview, including Buddhism. I would also claim that it is internally coherent in a way that these other systems aren’t. I’ll almost certainly post on these things in the near future though, so perhaps it would be best to withhold comment on them until those posts arrive.

    You also say, “With all that being said I have faith in the Bible. I do not have faith in the people trying to decipher it.” This gets into the issue of how to properly interpret historical texts. I plan to do several posts on both hermeneutics and textual criticism that should make these issues much clearer. So stick around.

    “The idea of the Rig Veda quote (my opinion only)is that there is either true or false in life, on or off. God is the truth and all ancient scripture preach truth.” There are several problems with this, but I (again) hope to do a post soon on exclusivity and laws of logic and the like that will deal with this very thing. For now I’ll just say that the idea that everything is simply either true or false is pretty clearly a Western idea, not an Eastern one. Perhaps there is some confusion here. As for the various scriptures and their individual proximity to truth, that will have to wait.

    You conclude with, “Maybe if we stop trying to figure out who God is, and try to figure our who we are (his greatest creation) and our purpose here maybe, just maybe we can start to understand.” My point (and Jesus’ point and the church’s point historically) is that it is simply impossible to answer the questions of personal identity and purpose apart from the question of who God is. Our position (as well as that of Judaism and Islam at least) has always been that any attempt to answer these questions divorced from God’s specific revelation about Himself is doomed to failure.

    I’d love to say more, but it will have to wait for future posts. Thanks again for the interest. :)

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  8. Amber: I understand your question. Thanks for clearing it up. I am afraid though, that I will have to practice a little of what I preach and say, "I don't know." I know faithful Christians who would respond differently to your question, and I just don't feel qualified to decide between their positions. In fact, I'm not convinced that there is a clear answer that holds in every situation. I will say that I am obviously all about education and I think that it certainly cannot hurt to explain what is going on to the questioner. In my experience, honesty is always the best policy (forgive the cliche) and I have had some very good discussions that started with this very topic. At the same time, this is definitely not the first place I take the conversation, either. Other than that I stand by the comments in my first response. Sorry I can't help more.

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  9. The last paragraph of this blog has been a topic I've been thinking much about prior to reading this. Actually, all of these blogs and even more so, being around Kyle encourages me to really consider if what I say is really what I believe.

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  10. I am glad that you venture to offend all of us by suggesting (to put it mildly) that we are neither fully educated about our beliefs nor about the beliefs of anyone else. Challenging our own beliefs is the first step to discovering what we believe and the validity of that. I agree that this should be done with caution, not to be led astray, and with the Spirit's guidance. However, how can we ever defend our beliefs, opinions, etc, if we know nothing about them or what we are defending them against?

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  11. "Now, I am not saying that every Christian should read all the atheist literature or anything like that."

    As an atheist, I encourage all atheists, agnostics and even Christians to read all Christian literature, even if they don't want to.

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  12. Sure, but of course I would not expect every atheist on the street to have read all the latest Christian works.

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  13. Most atheists were once religious folks. I'm sure they became atheists once they saw the hypocrisy of the texts. Or the fallacies, or the contradictions, or the blatant anti-science, or the...

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  14. My experience has been that most atheists who have 'de-converted,' if you will, were generally at best weakly religious, and that they almost never sought genuine, scholarly Christian answers to their questions. Of course, there are exceptions. Also, I can name many atheists (including scholars) who have converted to Christianity. But this would not make my case for me that Christianity is true, just as citing former Christians would not say anything useful about the truth of atheism.

    You mention "fallacies...contradictions...anti-science..." I hope to eventually post on all these things. Stay tuned.

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