Faith Within Reason: The Closed Minds of Free Thinkers

So one of the most hilariously mislabeled groups of all time are the “Free Thinkers.” You may know them by different labels, but the best way to identify a “free-thinker” is that they will deny any claim that cannot be backed up by empirical evidence. So heavily confined to their own logic are they that the will outright deny any reality that contradicts their ability to comprehend and logically sort out. Free Thinking is ironically one of the most binding, limiting, restraining, and mentally crippling schools of though. I can hardly think of a more close minded view than the one that says “If I cannot understand, it cannot be so.” This worship and deifying of the human mind is not only limiting in its ability to fully appreciate and comprehend life, but it is also extremely (and ironically) un-logical in its approach to denying the miraculous.

I always come across the same two arguments when ever I find myself in a discussion with a free-thinker. They love these arguments wield them like faith smashing sticks ready to bludgeon any feeble religious mind they come across. It is always kind of humorous to see these arguments flipped on their head and see their own weapons of choice used to poke holes in their own philosophy. Let me explain:

Argument 1: 

  • Premise: Those that testified to the miracles in scripture are unreliable because they are superstitious and unscientific.
  • Reasoning: They are superstitious an unscientific because they attest to miracles.
  • The Problem: If testifying to a miracle disqualifies one form being credible, how then could one credibly attest to a miracle if one were encountered?

In case that didn’t make sense, the “free-thinker” who uses these arguments to deny the miraculous creates a circular vacuums that makes it impossible for anyone to ever attest to a miracle. Testifying to a miracle makes you lose credibility, therefore no one can credibly attest to a miracle. This is not a very open-minded approach to the proposed question of miracles because it already presupposes that the denier is correct and that the one making the claim is false, as well as setting up a fallacy in which the one making the claim can never move around. It is really only a few steps above sticking your fingers in your ears and saying “I’m not listening because you are stupid and I am not.”

Counter Argument 1: 

  • Premise: Those that testified to love are unreliable because they are superstitious and unscientific.
  • Reasoning: They are superstitious an unscientific because they attest to love.
  • The Problem: If testifying to love disqualifies one form being credible because these properties cannot be empirically tested, how then could one credibly attest to love for those who have  never encounter it?

You see, there are many things in life from theoretical physics to the binding love of a husband and wife that are beyond the empirical. People denied the existence of the Okapi for many years though many people had claimed to have seen it. Why was it denied? Because every credible person knew that no such creature existed. It was clearly the in the realm of fantasy, and yet we now know that it does in fact exist. Miracles by nature can only be observed by those who happen to be there to observe them, and they cannot be empirically explained and prove or else they cease to be miracles. This is not the only argument, however, that is used to attack the miraculous events described in scripture.

Argument 2:

  • Premise: Those that testify to the miracles in scripture are unreliable because they were looking for miracles and were not observing subjective.
  • Reasoning: Those that look for miracles will find them, though they would not have found them if they were not looking for them.
  • The Problem: If looking for something disqualifies one from being credible then are the only credible discoveries those that are found by pure chance and happenstance?

Events of a miraculous nature have been testified throughout human existence from our very earliest records. Some miracles have more documentation to them than many ancient events we consider facts, and even today accounts of miracles in day-to-day life are not unheard of. I myself have witnessed several “miraculous” events in my years on this earth, but of course none of these are acceptable to the free-thinker.  The common dismissal of these claims is to dismiss the ancient man as a superstitious creature who lacked scientific understanding of the universe, but when one questions why we are to assume ancient man was superstitious the answer is usually that he attested to miracles. This logic is used even today every time a miraculous event occurs, one cannot attest to a miracle without being labeled superstitious and stupid based on the presupposition that belief in miracles is superstitious and stupid. This creates a circular logical fallacy where if one was to witness a miracle one could never attest to it because by attesting to the validity of the miracle one was also dismissing his own credibility.

To those people I raise this counter argument:

Counter Argument 2:

  • Premise: Those that testify to the existence of scientific laws are unreliable because they were looking for scientific laws and were not observing subjectively.
  • Reasoning: Those that look for laws of nature will find them, though they would not have found them if they were not looking for them.
  • The Problem: If one never supposed that the universe was bound by laws of nature then would have never discovered any of the laws of physics, chemistry, or many of the mathematical principles.

Is the assumption that the universe is somehow innately bound by physically consistent laws of nature really more logical than the assumption that God could involve himself in history through miraculous means. The only reason I can find that one is readily accepted and one is so cautiously denied is because one is testable and the other is not. We cannot invoke a miracle any time we wish, but to test whether gravity is consistent, one only needs to drop something from a height. To assume that because something is not testable it cannot be true is scientism, which is one of the most closed-minded views a man could take. To assume that his senses and logical reasoning are the only masters of truth in the universe is arrogance to the highest degree. This also becomes problematic when one raises the question of why the universe is bound to certain physical laws of nature. The scientismist (if that is even a world) would most likely attempt to dismiss the question without providing an answer while the monotheist could point to a grand designer.

Notice I am not writing this to attack science, but scientism. Science is a wonderful thing that explores the inner workings of the grand design. Scientism is the denial of all empirically unprovable aspects of life. Where science would look at a miracle and say “We cannot prove, test, or recreate that instance” scientism would look at a miracle and say “This cannot be!”

So why do I claim to believe in the miraculous events attributed to Christ? Because I find the testimony of these events both credible and highly likely. After Christ’s crucifixion the twelve men who had followed Christ (that were said to have run and hid during his death and burial) somehow became so convinced that they had seen the resurrected Christ that they spread his gospel all over the world. These men would rather die horrific deaths (which almost all of them did) rather than deny the truth of the risen Lord. This is not something one does on a whim, these men believed with all their heart and soul that Christ was risen and sin defeated.

Look a the life of Saul of Tarsus who by his own account and the account of Luke was a persecutor of the faith and a killer of Christians. Saul has a miraculous encounter on the road to Damascus that convinced him that the people he was so eagerly killing were actually the proclaimers of the true gospel of God. After changing his name to Paul this “Jew among Jews” whom had lived by the Torah and avidly fought against the “heresy” of Christianity, now became its biggest avocate. He planted churches all across the world and did a complete 180 turn form a life of self-righteous legalism to a servant like devotion to God and an advocate of the spiritual freedom found in Christ.

In the first few centuries Christians were fed to lions in colosseums, crucified in the emperor’s gardens, and burned alive or stoned for their refusal to deny the miraculous and life changing power of Christ. Even today there are thousands (possibly millions) of Christians all over the globe who would rather die than deny the miraculous and radical God-man who was Jesus the Christ. Considering that only around 3% of the world’s population outright denies the existence of the supernatural, maybe it is time for Free Thinkers to free up their minds a bit.

 

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The Human God: A Post on Suffering and Why God is Still Good

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So today the question was posed to me “How can God be good when the world is full of so much evil?” This is a fairly common question for those who are struggling with faith or coming to grips with the realities of Christianity. We do, after all, look at this world and see all sorts of tragedies and terrible things that haunt us. There is starvation, murder, rape, genocide, abuse, greed, and a myriad of horrors that grip our world. So how do I still find hope in Christianity? How can I still worship a God and call him good? While some people can’t believe in a God who would create a world full of suffering, I can point to my God and say that he understands suffering and refuses to let us participate in it alone.

Pessimism is easy, and hopelessness is the natural state of man in a sinful and broken world. One could easily become very pessimistic when one focuses only on the evil in the world. Christianity openly admits that there are terrible things in this world and suffering exists. We don’t claim a perfect world, but rather a world gone wrong. This reality is not perfect, but it is also not abandoned. Suffering is, in Christian thought, the result of a broken world that has left its proper order and strayed away from God. By allowing man to choose his own destiny and to have the free will to choose between good and evil, God had to allow for evil to exist. In order for love to exist a choice has to exist, and in order for a choice to exist the wrong choice must be an option. Every time we choose selfishness over love, pride over humility, greed over generosity, comfort over justice, or pleasure over aide, we make the world a little darker. This world is full of evil, and God allowed it to be so. So why is God worthy of love?

For starters the fact that anything exists regardless of its good or evil nature is completely due to God. We’ve focused a lot on the negative so far, but let’s deviate and look at all the wonderful things that life has to offer. That means that every good thing you have ever experienced came from God. Your very life originates from him. Our world is broken  but not abandoned. Beauty, love, grace, mercy, kindness, generosity, joy, patience, goodness, self-control, gentleness, and faith still exist. Life still has to opportunity to be wonderful and we are surrounded by more blessings and beauty than most of us realize. All of this originates from God. So while evil exists, so also does good and for that we are thankful.

The question of suffering is still lingering despite the fact that goodness and life exist. So why does man suffer?  The better question would be “Why do you think you deserve not to suffer?”

That’s a thought that usually comes off like a slap in the face to most people, but honestly consider it. Why do you think you deserve comfort and a life free of suffering?  Are you so entitled that you think by your very existence (which you played no part in) that you deserve a life completely devoid of pain and misery? Do you think you deserve all good and no bad? Perhaps you would argue that you are a good person and therefore God owes you something.  For those people I offer this helpful info-graph:

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You see, being good some of the time doesn’t mean you deserve to be blessed all of the time. By Christian understanding the fact that you are evil some of the time (and you are evil some of the time) disqualifies you from being worthy of any blessings at all. So by that logic the fact that you have even one blessing makes you blessed beyond what you deserve.

You see, Christianity believes that human beings are sinful, which basically means by choosing evil even once we have become imperfect. This imperfection causes a rift between us and God who is perfect, and also contaminates the world around us since a world filled with imperfect beings would cease to be perfect. The world is messed up because evil exists, and evil exists because man was given the option of following God or choosing evil and abandoning the natural order.

Man when held to a standard of holiness, finds that he is not holy and therefore doomed to be separate from what is holy (God) forever. Man is unable to redeem himself, and scripture says “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).  As a result is in need of a redeemer. We believe that in spite of the fact that we chose evil, God willingly took human form to show us the way and then took the price of our sin (suffering and death both spiritually and physically) so that we could be made whole.

Let me put it this way: Christians worship a God who created a perfect world that man screwed up, but because he loved us he chose to participate in the suffering of man so that he could make a way for us to be redeemed from our own mistakes. God does not just sit back and observe suffering, he is a willing participant in it because he loves us. We worship a God who loves us more than he loves his own comfort (imagine if we could only do the same). Through Christ God showed both justice, mercy, and grace to humanity. Because of Christ we are living in a period of renewal and we have the promise that one day all wrongs will be made right and all suffering ended.

God knows what it was like to be cold, to be burnt by the sun, to sweat, to starve, to be sick, to want, to need, to be tempted, to be weak, to lose a loved one, to be beaten, to be tortured, to suffer, and to die. God knows what it is like to offer up a prayer of deliverance and have to deal with the reality that this trial is not one that you will be spared. He knows what it is like to fear death:

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

– Luke 22:42

God knows what is like to feel abandoned by God:

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”–which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

– Mark 15:34

God knows what it is like to lose your only son….

Suffering

Life, at times, can seem pointless. We are born into a world where suffering exists and as much as we run from it, it eventually catches us. We are here one day and gone the other and as we seek out purpose the weight of the world can come in and seem quite overwhelming. So what hope does Christianity offer? We offer the hope that God is good, that evil is in retreat and that eventually all things will be made pure and good. We offer the hope that all are welcome in the house of God, and that repentance, forgiveness, grace, and mercy belong to all who are willing to reach out and grasp them. The difference between Christianity and any other theology is that, we worship a God who knows what it is like to be completely human. We worship a God who knows our pain and relates to us on our level. We worship a God who is no stranger to suffering, but allows it because he believes that those who cause suffering are still capable of good. He never gives up on us.

 

 

Mr. Spock and The Loneliness of the Human Condition

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Mr. Spock played by Leonard Nimoy

The inspiration for todays’ post comes from an unlikely source, that being the highly logical mind of  the fictional Mr. Spock from the show Star Trek. This show has so permeated pop-culture that even those who have never seen any episodes or movies in the series probably at least have some idea of who Spock is. For those of you who somehow have lived under a rock long enough not to know anything about Star Trek or Spock, he’s the science officer of the star ship U.S.S. Enterprise. He’s half Vulcan (an alien race that suppresses all emotion and relies entirely on logic) and he is arguably the most popular character in all of Star Trek. He’s also the last person you would expect any deep theological truth to come from. Honestly I never would have guessed that my casual love of Star Trek would ever amount to anything theological significance, but in a strange twist of fate, the ever logical Mr. Spock has gotten me thinking about spiritual matters.

Last night I was watching an episode titled “Is There In Truth No Beauty” which really wasn’t a “great” episode. It was ok, but as far as Trek episodes go this one was pretty weak. It was goofy, ham-fisted, and had more 1960’s sexism than any other episode I remember. In spite of this, there were a few lines of dialogue towards the end of the episode that really made me take pause. I don’t know what the writers were trying to get across, but there was a real existential beauty to what was said.

To give a little bit of context here Spock’s body was being shared by the combined mind of both Spock and Kollos, an alien who lacks a physical form and has different senses than we do (yeah… Star Trek is weird like that).  This allows him to perceive the world around him with a new level of understanding (which somehow help’s him save the ship… I didn’t get it either…  it wasn’t a great episode). Anyways, right before Spock and Kollos separate back into two separate minds the combined mind of Spock and Kollos utters this little monologue:

“How compact your bodies are, and what a variety of senses you have. This thing you call language though… most remarkable… and you depend on it for so very much, but are any one of you really its master… But most of all… the aloneness… you are so alone… you live out your lives in this shell of flesh, self-contained… separate… how lonely you are… how terribly lonely…

– Mr. Spock

This surprisingly insightful moment really struck me as a moment in which the realization of human limitation set in for the first time in the mind of this fictional character. Perhaps you have had a similar moment, or perhaps it has never occurred to you just how limited you actually are. Most of us have been blessed with five senses (taste, touch, sight, hearing, and smell) but that is all we have to observe the reality around us. If something were to exist outside of these senses we would need to invent special tools to help us comprehend it since its presence would be utterly unknown to us.  We are limited to our senses and to this one singular body. I am only aware of this tiny field of sensory that my body can comprehend, and as hard as I try I cannot know what is happening just a block away from me unless I venture forth myself or use some tool to do the observing for me. We are limited by senses, space, time, and possibly numerous other factors that we are not even perceptive enough to know exist.

We use language to try to understand and comprehend the things around us. We give names and assign words with meaning so that we can communicate the thoughts to each other, but as we constantly try to compartmentalize and break down the world around us into simple concepts we become increasingly aware that the vastness of what exists out there is beyond us. Our minds can only contain so much information, and there are still countless mysteries and so many unknown things on this little rock called Earth that we do not yet understand. To think of all that there is in this one tiny planet and then to consider the universe… it is beyond us. We are so small and so limited, we could never in a million lifetimes hope to understand everything.

One of the most frightening things I can fathom are those cold moments when we realize just how insignificant we truly are. When you consider yourself among all those who have lived, died, and who have yet to be born you should feel very small, but when you consider how small our little planet is in the solar system, and how small the solar system is in the galaxy, and how small our galaxy is in the universe… you come to the dark realization that you don’t really matter. You… we… are alone.

If this isn’t sinking in let King Solomon explain it in Biblical terms:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”

– Ecclesiastes 1:2

If you haven’t read Ecclesiastes I highly recommend it even though it’s probably one of the most depressing books of the Bible. Solomon was a man who had every pleasure and resource at his disposal and in the end he found it all pointless and stupid (sorry hedonists). In the end only the Lord proved to be able to give Solomon any hope of significance or meaning, but let’s get back to the human condition. We as human beings are singular functional units that can sustain themselves for over one-hundred years or so if they put a lot of work into sustaining and maintaining their bodies, but we want so much more than survival. Human beings desperately crave meaning and purpose. We cannot deal with being a tiny insignificant carbon coincidence. We fear death because we know that that’s the end and after all that time we spent in life it was all for nothing. We’re just gone. Everything that was you… poof. Nothing you could have done would have had any real cosmic significance, you were simply here one day and then gone…

Isn’t it interesting that we desire for something unobtainable. It seems to me that a creature that is designed for survival (as we surely are) would not have come into a need for something that did not exist, after all what purpose would such a desire serve? It seems to me that man’s loneliness, his desire for purpose, his desperate need for truth must have an answer. Why else would we ever develop a desire to find it? I don’t know about you but I’ve found my answer.

We seek to reclaim the connection with God that we lost through sin. Though many may not have realized it, we all desperately crave for a connection to something greater. We may be trying to fill the void with all sorts of things good and bad, but in the end each of us has a gigantic need for something more. This life, as grand as it can be, pales in comparison to something… even if we don’t know what that something is. For those of us who know the joy and peace that comes from a relationship with our creator the answer seems obvious, but so many are still out there in the dark searching for something to drive away the loneliness.

I was like that for most of my life, but the things that used to frighten me no longer feel me with dread and terror. I do not fear the unknown, I no longer am gripped by the crippling need to fill the void in my heart, and when I face death I can do so knowing it has lost its sting. The moment I came to faith it was as if the missing puzzle peace that I was lacking fell into place. I was no longer a carbon coincidence seeking meaning in a meaningless universe, but a creation and child of a living and gracious God. I was no longer a tiny speck in the cold and dark universe that had no rhyme or reason, but instead I was a tiny speck in a bold and beautiful plan that was too large for me to grasp. I wasn’t alone, because I now can walk with my father and commune with the one who made me. Rather than seeing the universe as a dark and terrifying reminder of my insignificance and pointlessness, I can now look on it in wonder as a beautiful creation made by one whose wisdom is so beyond me. I am still limited and small, but I know have reason, purpose, faith, and a relationship with God himself.  While Mr. Spock might have realized the human condition, I doubt even he could have seen the beauty that lies at the end of those questions.

For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

– Romans 8:6

 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

– Colossians 3:15

Book Review: “The Moral Teachings of Paul” by Victor Paul Furnish

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The author’s desire in writing the book is to address many of the false interpretations of Paul’s ethical teachings. This is accomplished by pointing out the flaws of the two extremes commonly taken in approaching Paul’s ethical teachings, as well as responding to several commonly misinterpreted or falsely applied teachings of Paul. As a result, the majority of the text is devoted to interpreting Paul’s understanding of marriage, sex, divorce, homosexuality, women in the church, and Christianity’s response to the Non-Christian world. The author goes into extensive detail on each issue in an attempt to uncover what Paul’s view most likely was on the subject. While the author’s conclusions may be questioned by readers, Furnish does accomplish the goals set out in the text and, for the most part, presents strong arguments from the text to support his claims.

While making his arguments, the author prefers to approach Paul from the viewpoint of the historical context in which Paul wrote. Furnish seems to believe that forming an accurate understanding a passage is heavily based on one’s able to read the passage as it would have been read by Paul’s original audience. Historical context is highly valued by the author and provides a backbone for many of the arguments made. Language also plays a valuable part of Furnish’s argument style, as his knowledge of Greek terminology is frequently used to defend his arguments and attack the views he disagrees with. The author seems to view himself as a valid authority in these regards because he rarely bothers to cite a source outside of the works of Paul and his own knowledge.

The Moral Teachings of Paul proves to be a mixed bag of strong and questionable arguments. There is a tendency on the part of the author to deny Paul’s teachings of any universal nature, claiming that Paul was reserved in the use of his authority and avoids an authoritarian view of himself (p. 51-52). The author prefers to present Paul as one who provides interpretations and opinions rather than direct command. This reviewer finds this to be a weak point in Furnish’s writing, in that he can at times fall into the “white elephant” category of interpretation that he speaks out against. While not all of Paul’s teachings were direct commands, Paul did claim authority directly from God (Gal. 1:11-12; Eph. 3:3-5) and made direct commands of the highest authority (1 Cor. 14:37). In this way it seems a misstep to so readily dismiss Paul as one who merely interpreted the faith and scripture that already existed. The most prominent issue with Furnish’s book, however, lies in the author’s inability to accept the notion that Paul could have changed or grown in his understanding with the passage of time. Furnish dismisses the pastoral letters of Paul because they contradict his understandings of Galatians 3:28 (p. 97-98). Ephesians and Colossians are also dismissed in the mind of Furnish because they reflect a change of Paul’s understanding of the immanence of Christ’s return (p. 102). By doing this the author has not only forbidden Paul to adapt and grow, but he has also created a means to negate many verses that could call certain arguments of his into question.

In spite of the aforementioned issues, Furnish does provide some very strong arguments that prove to be very well thought out and informative. In the chapter devoted to sex, marriage, and divorce, this reviewer found the majority of the author’s conclusions to be very well argued.  The author points out that Paul practicality in dealing with such matters (p. 42) and notes how in spite of Paul’s limited eschatological understanding,  there is still practical application which can be drawn from Paul’s writings on such topics (p. 46-48). In a similar way, Furnish’s chapter devoted to Paul’s understanding of the world proved to be informative and consistent throughout. This reviewer had no qualms in dealing with either of these passages.

Furnish’s third chapter deals with the homosexuality and devotes a strange abundance of time and effort to the topic considering how early in the chapter Furnish argues that “there is nothing in the Bible, including the letters of Paul, about Continue reading