I know you’re out there. I can feel you now.

So, I was at Homerton the other day and went along to a cafe type-o-thing run by the Christian Union. Ended up talking to someone we shall call Bob (disclaimer: Bob may not actually be called Bob), who asked me about my time at university. We chatted a bit. And then he threw in one of those good conversation starters: “So, was there a Christian Union at Churchill while you were there?” Zoiks.

FADE IN:

EXT. ENTERPRISE, RUSHING STARS

ENTERPRISE: [deep bass rumbling noise]

A shimmering patch of space appears behind ENTERPRISE. It resolves itself into a hideously beweaponed ship, shaped somewhere between a cross and a sword.

INT. BRIDGE

WORF: Evangelical Alliance Bird of Pray de-cloaking off the port bow.

TROI: Sir, I'm sensing... moral outrage.

WORF: They are charging weapons! Targetting overseas students and people with low self-esteem.

PICARD: Red Alert! Raise shields, arm photon torpedoes.

DIVERS ALARUMS

<lj-cut text=”OPENING CREDITS”> I’m exaggerating, it was all very civilised. Bob was friendly and terribly apologetic (ba-da-boom!) about asking personal questions, something which no longer bothers me since I stopped being embarrassed about what’s happened to me. I explained that I was in that very CU at Churchill but left church a few years after leaving university, as I felt there wasn’t much evidence for what I believed.

Bob asked what I thought of Romans 1, where the Apostle Paul says that people are without excuse for their disbelief, since God’s nature is clearly seen in creation. I’ve come across that argument before, and my response was the same as it was back then. Writing in the 1st century AD, St Paul has no better explanation for creation than that it was God what dunnit. As science provides progressively more powerful explanations, it is no longer self-evident that there’s a creator. It’s not clear what we can learn of the creator’s nature, either, other than that God is a mathematician with an inordinate fondness for beetles. Arguments from creation mean you end up with a God of the Gaps.

We then talked about the rest of the Romans 1 passage. I’m not sure I correctly understood Bob here. He seemed to be saying that because St Paul says that there will be unbelievers, the existence of these unbelievers shows that validity of Paul’s argument. That seems to boil down to “people disagree with Paul, he predicted this, therefore he’s right”. Putting on my (somewhat tattered) evangelical hermeneutics hat, it’s not what the passage is about, either. Paul’s not using all the moral outrage at the end of chapter 1 to demonstrate his own acute observational skills, which then also allow us to trust him when God-spotting, but rather, he writes to people who already believe in God but need convincing of their own sinfulness, as chapter 2 shows.

We went on to talk about what I thought about the historical claims made by Christianity, especially the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. I said I wasn’t really sure what I thought about that, but it was a bit hard to chose between the stories of how God intersected history which are found in most theistic religions. Since Judaism is a bit of a special case to Christians, I chose Islam as my example. Bob argued that early Muslims didn’t have to die for their faith, but rather, in line with soldiers everywhere, they were keen on the idea that the other fella should die for his. But again, having people willing to die for a religion is not something special to Christianity. Throughout history, some people have been willing to die for the strangest of things.

Bob was curious to know what I thought of Jesus. I said that the Jesus of the Gospels was still an attractive figure, although he does say some odd things which make me wonder about the church’s later decision to convert Gentiles (Peter and James seem to have had similar qualms, of course). However, the God of the Old Testament seems somewhat nasty at times, especially if one is taught to regard the OT as pretty much an accurate description of what happened. At this point, either Bob mentioned C.S. Lewis’s “Mad/Bad/God” trilemma or I pre-empted it. I talked about Andrew Rilstone’s taking to task of Christian evangelists like Josh McDowell, who want to use the trilemma as a proof of Christianity. Lewis’s own ambitions are smaller: he merely uses it to argue against the watered down version of Christianity (perhaps more popular when people in this country would claim to be “C of E” for the sake of respectability) which states that Jesus was a great moral teacher, but not God. Bob owned that he was sometimes disturbed by the pat arguments of some Christian apologetics, especially those which seem intellectually dishonest.

This lead on to thinking about arguments in general. I made the not very original point that what you consider to be supporting evidence depends on where you stand to start with, and mentioned the phrase “paradigm shift” for good measure. Arguments won’t win someone to a religion (or away from it). I’m not sure what else is in the mix, but I know that despite the evangelical desire to maintain the notion of absolute truth and push messy emotions aside, eventually, feelings will have their say. As the discussion became more personal, I said that, as well as the lack of evidence, I also left because of how Christianity made me feel.

That’s why, even though Christianity seems logically inconsistent to me, I sometimes say that if I had started off somewhere less brittle, my faith might have flexed rather than broken. After all, we tolerate inconsistency elsewhere in life, building up the a selection of Swiss Army notions we find useful in certain places, a Heath Robinson mechanism where the edges don’t fit together and are joined with string and sealing wax. We might even share bits of it with friends. Though the actions of some Christians (not Bob, of course, who was unfailingly polite) draw me towards fire breathing atheism, I wouldn’t like to rule out going back to some sort of faith one day. Embarrassing U-turns are becoming my forte. But it’d have to be a form of faith which is conscious of where the edges don’t join up.

So, it’d better not hide the rough edges beneath a shiny surface of facts and faith and pat answers. It’d better not claim to be the only way to the truth. It’d better not be entirely dedicated to enlarging itself, to the power and the glory. It’d better not try to order every aspect of other people’s lives for them (however much some of them so want to be ordered), sending forth alternate waves of joy and guilt until they’re assimilated. I claim that the only moral response on encountering such a jumped up, runaway machine is to go straight to its major databanks with a very large axe and give it a reprogramming it will never forget.

5 thoughts on “I know you’re out there. I can feel you now.

    1. Subject: Re: ???????
      Good question. I’m an agnostic or an atheist depending on how you define those words: I doubt there’s a God, although it’s not something I can prove. I used to be an evangelical Christian. I still know quite a few Christians, and I’m still quite interested in talking about this stuff, which is why I often find myself chatting to people about it.


  1. Good day Paul,

    During my Christian days there were many verses in the Bible that made me question the religion I was following (Christianity). There was one particular verse, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 which says; “pray without ceasing,” that lingered heavily in my mind. I often wondered how a person (Christian) was supposed to pray (be in a state of worship) without ceasing? Without any biblical or divine guidance, the only way I thought this to be possible was to always do good deeds and keep the remembrance of God on my tongue and in my heart.

    However, I found this to be impossible to do as a human being. But when I was introduced to Islam in 1987, and began to read and learn more about this way of life, I found that Islam provided divine guidance both from God (Allah) and Prophet Muhammad (SAW) by which a person could pray (be in a state of worship) without ceasing, if it was the Will of God.

    Whether waking up, eating, sleeping, putting on clothes, being in the presence of a woman, looking at a woman, going shopping, going to the bathroom, looking in the mirror, traveling, visiting the sick, sitting in a non-religious meeting, taking a bath, having sexual intercourse with one’s wife, yawning, cutting you nails, sneezing, greeting people, talking, hosting guests at home, walking, exercising, fighting, entering one’s house, praying and many other acts, Islam and the guidance therein of the Quran, and the acts and sayings of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), provided ways in which I could observe 1 Thessalonians 5:17. In addition, it allowed me to be at peace with myself and in submission to the one True God – Allah (SWT).

    This divine guidance of Islam taught me greatly about my duties, responsibilities and birthright to my Creator (Allah), and more about the religion of Christianity as a Muslim, I [By the Will of Allah (SWT)] felt it necessary to share with you how the Bible led me to Islam.

    ……….

    Abdul Malik LeBlanc

    Click here to read the whole story.

    http://thetruereligion.org/modules/xfsection/article.php?articleid=198

    1. I’m slightly curious about your comment. There seem to be lots of links to the essay you mention all over the web, and I do wonder whether this is some sort of religious blog spam (in which case it won’t work, as LJ does not permit commenters to create links, as you’ve just discovered). Nevertheless, I will treat your comment as genuine for the purpose of discussion.

      Having read your essay, I am certainly not motivated to turn to Islam. Firstly, your criticism of Christianity stems in part from your own ignorance about it (for how long were you a Christian, and when?), and your determination to read the Bible more literally than almost any Christian I can think of.

      To take but a few examples:

      • There are MANY Bibles on the market that are used by different Christian sects and all of these sects say that their book, though different, is the word of God. No: while some unorthodox sects like the Jehovah’s Witnesses do insist on their own translation, most Christians use a variety of translations in an attempt to get closest to the original languages, and Christian ministers and other educated Christians often learn Greek (the language of the New Testament) and possibly Hebrew (the language of the Old).
      • the word “Easter” (as mentioned in Acts 12:4) is a mistranslation of “pascha,” the ordinary Greek word for “Passover.” As, you know Passover is a Jewish celebration not a Christian holiday. The word used in Acts 12:4 is literally “pascha”, as it refers to the Jewish Passover. The King James Version translation of this as “Easter” is not helpful: other Bible translations get closer to the original Greek, which is why many people prefer to use these than to use the King James translation. The English word “Easter” appears to be a corruption of a Pagan festival, in fact, not of a Jewish one.
      • there should exist in the Christian’s mind some acceptance to the fact that maybe every word of the Bible is not God’s word. Well, you’re right about this, but I’m not sure what your point is. Christian attitudes to the Bible vary between Christians. Again, I am surprised you did not know this if you were a Christian. Almost no Christian believes that the Bible was dictated by God in the way that Muslims believe the Koran was. I found a web page which talks about how Christians interpret the Bible, which gives the range of views held by Christians.

      Now, I am not a Christian and do not wish to defend Christianity too much, but I believe you knowledge of it is lacking.

      I don’t know very much about Islam myself, but I believe it is susceptible to many of the same problems that Christianity is, such as:

      • There is little evidence of a God. Why does God not show himself plainly?
      • A God who would send people to Hell for eternity cannot be called compassionate, loving or merciful.

      To me, Islam is quite similar to evangelical Christianity in some ways (in the way it makes rules for believers and interprets a scripture quite literally, for example). Since I did not find evangelical Christianity believable, I doubt that Islam would be either.

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