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Religious Conversation With An Old Friend - Part 6

Hi all. I'm posting this one earlier than usual because my sister is coming later today to visit for the rest of the weekend! She's been back from China since early January, but I still haven't seen her. Goodness gracious...

More people are following this conversation than are commenting. I know this because I am receiving private comments on Facebook, through text messages, phone conversations, and personal remarks.

Please do not be afraid to comment on the blog. As far as I'm concerned, here is where the conversation is primarily taking place. I won't deride you for asking a stupid question or attack your personality for questioning my reasoning, and I know Stephan won't either.


Hey, Stephan. I was waiting to say anything in regards to your "mini-response" since there were some things in my last post that covered some of the questions you were asking, and I wanted you to digest what I'd said a little bit more before repeating anything.

Your question about self-authenticating truth is something that I already spoke to in my last post. I'll summarize it here:

  • I cannot replicate your experiences for myself. I have never known and can never know what experiences Stephan Duval has had. I don't know how exactly you feel when you say you feel the Holy Spirit or hear God speaking to your life. Nobody can know this. I have no idea how you experience time or tangerines. Nobody can know these things about you.
  • Likewise, you do not know what my experiences are like. Not exactly.
  • To extend that, let's just say we can never really share anybody else's experiences.

Here is what I do know:

  • The language you use to describe your spiritual experiences is almost exactly the language I would use to describe myself when I was a Christian.
  • This language is used by millions of other Christians and ex-Christians.
  • The spiritual ideas couched in this language are expressed in a very similar (yet culturally specific) language by Muslims, Jews, Shamans, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and in the past by Greeks, Romans, Chinese mystics, you name it.
  • Many or even most of these astonishingly diverse and mutually-exclusive religious groups claim that only true adherents of their faith (or careful readers of their faith's texts) can share in these special experiences.

Confronted with these facts, I have a few different ways to look at what's going on here:

One system, out of the literally thousands of beliefs, actually does have the truth. The others' claims of spiritual authenticity are fraudulent, empty, copy-cats of the "real thing" at best or evil delusions at worst. (this, as far as I can tell, is the position you take)


None of these people are receiving magical signals, thoughts, feelings, ideas, or inclinations from an invisible, all-knowing deity. They are practicing something we call being human, and part of this process includes trying to coat everything that happens to us in this varnish of meaning. Whether we call that varnish God, Allah, Fate, The Great Spirit, WakaTiki, or Jumanji is less important than that it is something that literally billions of people have experienced. The ones who want to attribute these special moments of ultra-meaningfulness or meta-meaning to a deity are doing so because that is what they want to believe (or have been taught to believe). This is the position I take.

And it is not surprising in the least that people sometimes think the universe, Fate, or God is trying to guide them in some way. It's called confirmation bias. It's the same reason that, when I tell you to listen to Led Zeppelin backwards and listen for these lyrics -

Oh here's to my sweet Satan. 
The one whose little path would make me sad, whose power is Satan.
He will give those with him 666.
There was a little tool shed where he made us suffer, sad Satan. 

 - you hear those lyrics. Does that mean Led Zeppelin put them there? No! Of course not!

If I tell you to look at the tile in my bathroom and find a face, I don't even have to show you where to look - you'll no doubt find a face somewhere in the tile pattern. Does that mean the bathroom tiler was feeling especially artistic on the day he put my tiles in? No - it means that the human brain is extremely adept at finding patterns in things where they weren't intended.

So am I surprised when I hear a story about a Jewish rabbi who attributes a series of remarkable coincidences to Yahweh? Or a Christian to the Holy Spirit? Or am I surprised when I hear the Muslim say that, just as he was reading the Koran, he felt an immense peace befall him? Or the Christian who just felt God speaking to her in an hour of need? Absolutely not. It would be surprising if I didn't hear hundreds or thousands of stories just like these.

What is surprising is that, knowing as much as we know about other cultures, other beliefs, other religions, people still maintain that they are receiving a direct line from the true deity, that they know this because they can *sense* it, and that any mutually exclusive claim to this sense or feeling is just plain wrong. That is what is surprising.

Of course, maybe I've got this all wrong. Am I missing something here? Is there another piece to this puzzle? Is my understanding of what you mean by self-actualizing truth just completely off-base?

Please enlighten me. And next, we can talk about the historicity/reliability of the gospels.

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