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Religious Conversation With An Old Friend - Part 4

This is a really long one. Please bear with me. Also, for any Christian friends reading this, please take my challenges to Stephan and apply them to yourself. Specifically, I ask a number of questions in this post that I challenge Stephan to answer before coming up with a retort. I would be interested to see how others would answer these questions as well.

And now, a funny graph:



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Forgive the delay in our transactions, Stephan. Thanksgiving season, you know?


Let's get right to business.


You start by saying 
I believe the Bible because it is true.
I hear this phrase often by Christians, although it was never a tactic I employed against the godless when I was among the elect. I especially heard it used in this context: "The Bible isn't true because I believe it; I believe it because it is true." This has always seemed redundant. One will always believe "X is true" as long as one is willing to say "I believe X," unless of course the latter sentiment is intentionally misleading. 


Karl Marx isn't right because I believe him; I believe him because he is right. 


Santa doesn't exist because I believe in him; I believe in him because he exists.


The earth isn't the center of the universe because I believe it to be so; I believe it because it is true.


etc etc ad infinitum


Nobody will ever say, "I believe in the theory of relativity, even though that theory is not true." That would be absurd.


Maybe you can help me out, here. Why do Christians use this tactic? In my experience, all it does is shock the other person for a while while he tries to figure out what, if anything, was intended by the remark.


It seems next you lay out some criteria for truth, although the order and categorization of some of your claims are hard to sort out. If this isn't an accurate breakdown, let me know: 



  • God has changed your life through the Bible
  • You have a mind that sees the Bible as truth
  • Historical Evidence
    • Jesus' life, including contemporary writers' comments
    • Post-Jesus church growth
  • Christianity has been historically influential 
  • OT prophecies are fulfilled
  • The Bible has been reprinted with very few textual errors
  • Christianity emphasizes a personal God rather than human self-justification



Before I go through these points, Stephan, ask yourself these two questions. Really ask them. Answer them before you move on. In fact, before reading past them, type out your answer to both questions in your response. I'm really interested in what your answers will be.


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What evidence would it take for me to doubt the veracity of the Bible?


If there were another text that could claim all of these things, would I believe it to be the inspired word of God?


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Are they answered? Good. Now hear me out.


I was once a very devout, faithful, sincere, soul-searching Christian. I believed with all my heart. I believed the Bible to be the word of the creator of the universe. I knew he loved me and died for me. I was absolutely positive and oh-so-grateful that his sacrifice enabled me to spend eternity in union with him and his elect. When Christians talk about seeing the Bible through new eyes, when they talk about having a renewed, radically-changed life, when they talk about discerning spiritual truths that non-believers see as folly, I know exactly what they are talking about. I have myself experienced each and every one of those sentiments when I was a Christian. I am intimately familiar with them.


So please don't claim that you can somehow see some truth that others cannot. Every ideological tyrant will claim this. Communists will say that non-Communists do not understand the tenants of Communism, but if they did, everyone would join in. 


Atheists could say the same thing. It won't have quite the pedagogical flair, because I have no text from which to quote to emphasize my point, but I'll give it a shot:


Stephan, you religious people are delusional. Your psyche is twisted due to your recycled mantras, your repeated authoritarian truth-claims, your ego-petting beliefs about the nature of the universe and mankind, a propensity for seeing intentionality where there is none (some call this 'over-active agency detection' - it is a fairly well-understood concept), etc etc. As long as you continue to put yourself in this religious environment and surround yourself with bias-strengthening peers, books, music, or what-have you, you are only coddling your delusion. Atheists can see the folly in your beliefs because they are outside of it, but as long as you surround yourself with folly, you will think like a fool.


Read over that statement a few times to get the real gist of it (by the way, I used the language of folly and fool only to imitate the passage in Corinthians, not because I think you are foolish!).


Of course, any religion can (and does) claim to have insight that all outsiders lack. You will find no shortage of Muslims claiming that their lives were changed as a result of the work that Allah achieved through his inerrant word, the Koran, and that poor infidel Christians lack the spiritual goggles to read it and understand it. Ditto for Jews. Ditto for gnostic mysticism. Ditto ditto ditto for your religion of choice.


So for claim 1) and 2), there are two general ways (among others in between) to respond:



  • Either one of these religions really does have a truth that genuinely changes people's lives and whose truths can only be correctly interpreted by adherents (I'll even generously ignore - for the sake of simplicity - the intra-religious dissension as to the correct interpretation; apparently not all spiritual goggles are made equal) - all of the other religions are false, man-made, perversions of truth.



OR



  • All religious claims to changed lives due to special divine insight are bogus.



The first statement is very unlikely (but not impossible). The second is very likely (though not certain).


Allow me to skip 3 and 5 for now, as I want to devote an entire post to just those claims.


Claim 4 is true, to be sure, but completely useless as an argument, since (a) the historic influence of an ideology has no correlation to its truth or falsity, and (b) it is completely non-unique to Christianity. Other religions and strands of religious thought have, over time and throughout the world, had more historical influence than Christianity, especially when we leave the domain of the West.


Claim 6 is also true, but fails as an argument for the same reasons claim 4 failed.


Claim 7 is odd. This is another argument that I read from apologists quite a bit but never really adopted, because I couldn't see the use for it. Nowadays, it's almost comical.


Why? Because it seems to me that by trying to show how Christianity is unlike any other religion, how it is so unique, so odd, so different, apologists are trying to draw people's attention away from one blindingly obvious fact:


The story of Jesus, when boiled down to it's big parts, is almost identical to many, many, many older religions. Sometimes to a shocking degree. Elements like:


The Virgin Birth
Prophesied Birth
Carpenter for a father
Birth attended by wise men and/or angels
Star signifying birth
Born in poor conditions
Said to crush a serpent's head
Taught in a temple at age 12
Had 12 disciples
Was baptized in water
Spoke in parables
Performed miracles during life
Body and Blood consumed as a ritual
Walked on water
Died on a cross (between two thieves (for all of humanity))
Buried for 3 days
Resurrected after 3 days


etc
etc
etc


Who besides Jesus could fit this description?


Precursors like Krishna, Horus, Dionysus, Mithra, Buddha, Osiris, and many more share many or most of the above traits. 


This was a problem back in the early church too. Some of the church's early giants recognized it. Irenaeus, Tertullian, Justin Martyr all claimed that the similarities were a Satanic deception.


A satanic deception. Really?


Other Christians claim that it was divinely-inspired foreknowledge that pre-Christ cultures incorporated into their mythology. In other words, those myths were just foreshadowing Jesus.


Again, I have to ask myself what is more likely.... and I think you know the rest.


Even though the big picture is obviously borrowed, there are fine points that are unique to Christianity or the Bible. However, there are fine points in other religions too, for that matter. Maybe a Muslim would say that, because of the way Islam unifies government and religion into one entity (Sharia law) proves that it is superior to other religions, because it puts the focus not on the individual, but on the way an entire community interacts with God's precepts. Between that claim and your claim #7, I have no reason to pick one over the other, or to use either as a way to prop up the alleged truthfulness of either's sacred texts.


Furthermore, I could easily one-up your #7 by discussing the things secular humanism focuses on, but I would never use that as proof that secular humanism is true - only that it has a better ethical framework than your religious alternative.


Sorry, that was really wordy, and I didn't even get to #3 or #5 in this post (but I will). For now, I'd like you to be sure and answer these questions:



  • Why do you say, "I believe the Bible because it is true?"
  • Is my breakdown of your criteria accurate? Does it need any revision?
  • What evidence would it take for you to doubt the veracity of the Bible?
  • If there were another text that could claim all of your criteria, would you believe it to be the inspired word of God?
  • What do you make of my claim that I too once believed I was reading the Bible with an enlightened heart and mind, through the grace and power of the holy spirit? Was I lying? Was it, too, a satanic deception?
  • What would you say to somebody who claimed your religious delusions prevented you from seeing the world as it really is?
  • What do you make of the astounding similarities between the story of Jesus and the story of other gods or god-men?



Please, take your time in answering these. I sincerely believe that if you go about this search with an open heart, you will find the truth. Always be honest with yourself. Preserve your integrity!


And for goodness' sake, forgive me for the length of this post!


Deric
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