Me: Hello, once again Jesus, today’s conversation will be a little different.
Jesus: How so?
Me: I probably should have mentioned this earlier but I think the subject today dictates full disclosure. I used to be a devoted follower, an evangelical Christian.
Jesus: Our conversations make more sense now, although I must admit I suspected your interest was personal.
Me: Our conversation today will address some important topics, so before we go any further I want to mention a few things. First, we will assume those who decide to listen to our conversation may have missed one or more past discussions which contained important data. Therefore, we will at times briefly restate something already covered for clarity and reference. Second, for the purpose of this and other discussions we should clarify a few key terms.
The first is, “The Bible,” which Christians use to refer collectively to both the Hebrew writings and their Christian or, “New Testament” writings. They believe the New Testament to be perfectly compatible and prophetically validated by the Hebrew writings thus seeing the two as one whole. The use of “new” implies rather condescendingly the Hebrew writings are now obsolete. Christians refer to these as the, “Old Testament” with this in mind. For the record, I think the two are mutually exclusive but will use the term as they do for the purpose of our discussion.
Related to this are the, “Gospels” which are four separate writings that provide varied details about your birth, life on earth, death and resurrection.
The next phrase is, “American evangelicalism.” We have made repeated references to evangelicalism but must differentiate a particular brand which finds expression in the country of America. While evangelicals exist throughout the world, none are more influential or distinct as those in America. Their close connection with the nation of Israel has had profound consequences which relates directly to their interpretation of the Bible.
Jesus: I do find it preposterous a religion exclusively Gentile without any attachment to Judaism claims to be a product of it. And how a relationship could exist between the two. Back to your departure from the faith. I would also like to know how devoted you were.
Me: Looking back, in terms of sacrifice and commitment to following what I thought were your teachings, I was deeply devoted, willingly giving up my time, energy, desires and future to serve you. I lived a life of self denial, discipline and dedication but considered it an honor in light of what you had done in my life.
Jesus: What happened to make you change your mind?
Me: The loss of my faith was a slow erosion not a decisive point in time. In the end it was a matter of whether to trust my God experience and the Bible or rationalism as the most reliable guide to truth.
Jesus: By rationalism you mean you choose men’s thinking over God’s revealed truth?
Me: I choose my own findings which were the product of honest critical thinking over unquestioned allegiance to the Bible.
Jesus: The mind is an unreliable source for truth especially when it contradicts God’s revealed truth. Are you sure you made the correct decision.
Me: Sorry to keep mentioning this, but that is a pre-scientific perspective and not one which carries much weight except with Theists who reject scientific findings or compromise their view of God. Putting aside the reason we’re having these conversations in the first place, I know with absolute rational certainty I made the right choice. Maybe for a little while I had my doubts. It takes a lot of courage to give up the things in which you once invested your entire life. At first I suffered a lot of emotional anguish but gradually things became clearer. In the end, I wondered how I had not seen what was now so obvious to me. I was blinded by emotional devotion. When I did have doubts I cast them aside since my experience of God was so powerful and life changing.
Jesus: So God transformed your life but you still doubted him?
Me: Not at first, it was the particular brand of Christianity we have talked about, evangelicalism, which caused my initial intellectual discomfort. To be honest, I was perfectly content with you and God in my life. My goal was to find a better expression of Christianity and deepen my faith not lose it. After an honest and heartfelt investigation which ended with rejecting your resurrection and you as God, I abandoned Christianity altogether.
Jesus: While I have no choice to agree with you on rejecting Christianity as a false religion, why didn’t you convert to Judaism and follow the statutes and ordinances of the law? I think we both agree my disciples and Paul got it wrong about my resurrection, but that doesn’t mean the Hebrew prophets are wrong. When the messiah does come, you will want to be prepared.
Me: There are religious Jews who would agree with you that another messiah will come and fulfill all the prophetic promises. For the same reason I left Christianity, I could never embrace any religion. I don’t believe Judaism is any more valid than Christianity. As I stated in an earlier conversation, historically its view of God and rabid tribalism seem inconsistent with who God would be. Also, much of the writings are myths, legends and folk tales. Unless and until you appreciate how fundamentally different we see the world and religion through the lens of science, you can never understand the reasons humans first believed in God or gods and why those reasons no longer exist.
Jesus: I can’t imagine things could be that different.
Me: Surprisingly, you are not alone. More people believe in a God or gods than do not despite all the evidence contrariwise. After decades of research and observation it seems abundantly clear to me the reason is primarily not intellectual but emotional. Faith provides people with answers to some of life’s most troubling and terrifying questions which science does not. Fear of death paralyzes reason and hope is a powerful motivator. We also have talked about other intangibles like comfort, peace, strength, guidance and love. Science, on the other hand, has allowed humans to live longer and better. It offers cures for disease and treatment for other ailments. It invents ways to grow more food, provide cleaner water, make the world safer and healthier. It, however, like religion can be used to harm and hurt others but almost no one would want to get rid of science.
Jesus: Why can’t you have both since each has tremendous yet separate benefits?
Me: You can but it really is a question of which is the greater authority in one’s life: Faith or science?
Jesus: Ultimately one must choose faith in God over faith in man, I think.
Me: Again, that is a determination easy to make two thousand years ago but one this side of the scientific revolution, things look much different. I don’t think I could ever convince you of my choice unless you were standing where I am and had been exposed to the information currently available.
Jesus: If you don’t believe in God, in what do you believe?
Me: I haven’t ruled out the possibility in something or someone greater than ourselves beyond our world. However, in this world I suppose I would say I place my faith in myself and mankind’s ability to evolve, progress and improve the world. While this may sound egotistical to you, really everyone, yourself included, believes mostly in themselves whether they admit it or not. You believed in your ability to discern God’s calling for your life. You trusted you were doing what God wanted you to do even if you thought God was telling you to do it.
Jesus: I was guided by his spirit not my own desires. I had no choice.
Me: You chose to believe it was God’s spirit not your own. You trusted in your ability to make that determination. It is funny evangelical Christians will claim to trust their own ability to not trust in their own abilities by referring to writings they claim to interpret accurately with theses same minds. It is an endless circle of absurdity. At the end of my journey I realized the changes I had made in my life were not the result of God working in me through his spirit but through my own efforts. Faith unleashed a confidence in God I lacked in myself.
Jesus: I don’t think we’re getting anywhere here. I saw the power of God in my life and so did others, nobody can prove otherwise.
Me: Let’s approach it from another angle. I too witnessed the miraculous power of God in my life. For many years my experience with God was my main argument against those who tried to dissuade me. Though I knew nothing about the Hebrew or Christian writings upon which my faith was based, my relationship with God sustained me. Eventually as I spent more and more time studying the scriptures doubts began to creep in and I had to make a choice. Either to continue denying what my mind was telling me or investigate my doubts. Only reason can dismantle faith.
Jesus: I still don’t understand why if your experience with the Lord was real, how could you question it?
Me: One word: Skepticism. I read a book about the unreliability of religious, spiritual or mystical experience. For thousands of years people have been having euphoric and ineffable encounters with various gods, spirits and unseen powers. Think of the Zeus and Apollo. All of them are dynamic and affirming to those experiencing them. All of them can’t be true because many are contradictory and mutually exclusive to one another. Therefore at least some must be untrue, but which ones? It is easy for an adherent of a religion to discount the experiences of others and their belief systems as being manufactured and contrived. Isaiah famously decried belief in any God but the Lord. But who is to say whose God is superior and how does one prove it? These questions opened a door of doubt. I needed more evidence than a subjective experience which is a universal constant.
Jesus: You are forgetting the ancient writings are divinely inspired and older than any other. The record miracles only God could perform especially Israel’s deliverance from bondage in Egypt. Also, the prophets spoke of events before they happened and performed miracles through the Lord’s spirit. I think Isaiah was right.
Me: We are entering into a complicated and controversial area now. I am certain you believe every word of what you have said. But if I told you we now possess the ability to investigate all these claims to determine their accuracy, and except those with a vested interest in these writings, nobody else believes them to be accurate.
Jesus: I would say their accuracy is self evident and any investigation would surely prove it.
Me: We know of writings older than those of Israel’s from Sumer, Egypt and India. Does that make them superior to the Hebrew writings? Much study has been devoted to investigating these claims in the Hebrew writings and nothing miraculous can be definitively proven. Did you perform or witness any miracles?
Jesus: Yes, many times, mostly healings.
Me: Has the Lord God always performed miracles and will he continue to perform miracles?
Jesus: Yes especially now since the kingdom is here. When you see a miracle, who do you think performed it?
Me: I have never witnessed a miracle from God. In fact, no one has that can be independently verified or not explained easily by science. Only those who believe in miracles claim to have seen one. Science can test whether something “miraculous” happened and it has yet to find a single case of an incontestable miracle. Do you think casting out demons or healing the blind is a miracle?
Jesus: If someone is being tormented by an evil force and it is cast out by the power of God, what other explanation is there?
Me: We now know demon possession does not exist. It is a mental sickness or disorder which can be treated by medical science. Did you ever walk on water or feed thousands of people with a few loaves of bread and fish?
Jesus: I read about that in the gospel writings but I never did those things. I did many of the other things though.
Me: If people believed you had been raised from the dead, all the other sign and wonders you were thought to perform are more believable. Consequently, people still believe you did those things. However, if it can be established you did not rise from the dead, it calls into question the accuracy of all the other supernatural occurrences.
Jesus: All it does it disprove my resurrection. The other things are still true like the miracles I performed and the divine origin of the ancient texts.
Me: It seems we have reached an impasse and must pause our conversation and spend a bit of time talking about science.
Jesus: Do you really believe it is that critical to this conversation.
Me: I think it is indispensable and impossible to have a conversation about God or miracles without it. You have to understand from your perspective, you cannot possibly understand the impact science made on the world. It changed how mankind literally saw everything. The invention of devices allowed us to see things which before were invisible to the human eye because they were so small or too far away. One is called a “microscope” which allowed one to see the basic building blocks of atomic matter. Another device called a “telescope” allowed us to peer into the farther reaches of the universe and see things previously too far away.
Jesus: Are you saying you could see whether God exists?
Me: Not exactly but for the first time man was able to see what God was thought to have done but didn’t. I realize we are entering into a dimension completely unfamiliar to you with language which has no meaning. It is only to make you aware of why much of what you are saying is no longer accepted. Let me illustrate. Why does the wind blow or it rains? What causes the tides to rise and fall?
Jesus: God controls the wind and rain in the same way he orders the sea, sun, moon, planets and stars.
Me: What if I said, there is a natural explanation for all of this and many more wonders which does not include the need for God?
Jesus: What do you mean, “It does not include God?”
Me: There are things today most children learn in school like gravitational pull causes tidal rise, temperature and pressure changes cause the wind and rain is a water cycle of evaporation, condensation and precipitation, none of which have anything to do with God. We know why volcanoes erupt or what causes earthquakes. We understand why people are blind, or crippled, have diseases or seem possessed by a demon. And none involve God. These are just a few of countless other things we now understand that people did not for thousands of years. Let me ask you what is the shape of the earth upon which you walked?
Jesus: Flat but I have heard some Greeks believed it was round.
Me: It is most certainly round which almost every person who is alive or has lived in the last five hundred years knows. In fact, a few men have flown to the heavens in something called a rocket ship and looked with their own eyes from a great distance and some have even stood on the moon and observed its shape. I have another simple question: “Where does the sun go at night?”
Jesus: Each night the sun dies and a new sun is born each morning. This is easy to observe by anyone.
Me: It is known by virtually every person on earth the sun you saw has never significantly changed. It is exactly the same one that Moses saw each day or you or me. It only seems to move when actually the earth is moving, actually slowly spinning as it moves around the sun. This makes the sun appear to disappear or die when it is not.
Jesus: All of this is far too strange and foreign to me. I struggle to understand these ideas. But despite so many people knowing what you are telling me, most still believe in God if I understand you correctly.
Me: I suppose if everyone has always believed in the same God or gods without variance, it would be a strong argument in favor of his existence, but this is most certainly not the case. Throughout history belief in god(s) has been vastly different from culture to culture and age to age which continues today. Who these gods were and their involvement in the known world widely varies. There has never been a consensus about God. However, you have raised an important point which deserves investigation. Let me begin first by saying, belief in gods has been around a lot longer than science. Many defer to this as a reason to believe but for the reasons just stated, I think argues against God. Second, religious belief is often closely connected to culture making religion part of the national fabric and almost impossible to transfer without changing or damaging it or the culture to which it is introduced. Third, while science has answers for most things, it cannot answer one of life’s most vexing questions, “Is there anything beyond this life?” Fourth, Religious belief is deeply rooted in fear and hope not intellectual rigor. People embrace religion primarily to satisfy emotional not mental needs, although many claim the latter after having first fulfilling the former.
Jesus: It sounds like you are making an excuse for people believing in God.
Me: Consensus about who God is and his role is in this world and people’s lives is varied. When it comes to God and science almost everybody chooses both. They desperately want the benefits of each and many are willing to modify God to conform to science.
Jesus: It sounds like God is being given a reduced role. Is he seen as submitting to science?
Me: We talked about the dawn of science and the age of Enlightenment as redefining our understanding of God. The sovereignty of reason may have displaced God from his throne but it did not render him impotent. In answer to your question, many religious people of different faiths see the both as compatible with each occupying its own place of prominence either in the natural or spiritual world. Some even suggest God “created” science and is content to sit back, figuratively speaking, and watch his creation from a distance.
Jesus: I don’t have to tell you this is not how I see God. God is intimately acquainted with every aspect of his creation.
Me: Many today still agree with you. Science is multi disciplinarian, reaching into every corner of the natural world and covering every topic. Since its inception, it has suffused society providing answers to almost all of life’s questions with one exception. Conclusive proof God does or does not exist still defies our finite understanding and sciences limitations. It is within this tiny sliver of uncertainty most religions live. God has been given a reduced role by many that allows them to find compatibility between religion and science. Their God is distant and largely impersonal perhaps occasionally answering prayers. He dwells in the heavens and awaits those who believe in him. Others refuse to diminish the role of God in their lives or the world. As I mentioned in an earlier conversation, science confronted religion and religion lost although many religious people choose to ignore science’s findings in favor of irrationalism.
Jesus: You have mentioned irrationalism before with regard to religion. Can you elaborate.
Me: Before modern science entered the natural world belief in a supernatural God who interacts with the physical world through miracles and prophecy was considered a legitimate means of understanding complex phenomena like the weather, natural disasters, sickness, disease, planets and cosmic anomalies. God was “trans-rational” because he was thought to operate “beyond” the realm of rational inquiry. He was non-rational and metaphysical. The primary reason religious belief existed then was it was the only explanation available to man’s limited understanding of his world. It made sense out of a world of mysteries. In today’s world, all of these “mysteries” are now easily explained without appealing to the supernatural. In other words, before science, religion was the only “reasonable” explanation for life’s complexities and uncertainties. After science, traditional religious belief became irrational in that it contradicted the uncontradictable. Those who espoused religion had basically two options, either modify and modernize their beliefs to conform to these new findings or reject these discoveries by appealing to a supernatural realm which exists in direct contradiction to the natural world.
Jesus: Is there no other option which preserves the best of both?
Me: Groups like evangelicals have created a pseudo-third option. We spoke in our last conversation about evangelicals propensity to compartmentalize the spiritual and the secular world. Today many devout religious people are unable to ignore the every expanding and penetrating reach of science, nor do they want to. At the same time they are unwilling to concede the existence of an imminent personal God in their lives, the possibility of the miraculous and all this provides. Faced with this dilemma they simply separate them into two distinct parts which prevents science from encroaching on God and religious belief, while still allowing them to take advantage of all the benefits of scientific findings such as medicine and technology. However, this dichotomizing only makes sense in the delusional mind of the religious. There is no place for the God of the holy writings, or Bible, in the world of science. Either he is the unchanging God
who causes earthquakes, famines, plagues, drought, sickness, disease and every other disaster that befalls mankind or he is distant impersonal. You must choose one or the other.
Jesus: Again, I feel I am at a disadvantage by being unable to challenge the very thing you claim is religions greatest enemy. Are you suggesting if I knew what you do, I would stop believing in God because science demands it?
Me: Not necessarily, and you would not be alone. It depends on how determined you are not to give up that belief and how powerful your experience with God is. While knowledge is available to all, not all choose to avail themselves of it. Those in a scientific world who believe in God or gods have figured out a way to preserve their faith in spite of science. Most evangelical Christians fall into two distinct categories when it comes to their understanding of science and religion. Either they are uniformed or misinformed about one or both. The uninformed do not possess the necessary knowledge to make an informed decision while the misinformed think they have sufficient knowledge but in fact have fallen victim to religious propaganda which obscures facts and truths. As we mentioned before, very few people are willing to give up the promise of eternal life if there is any possible way not to, even if it means ignoring their own intellectual promptings.
We have spent a lot of time talking in the theoretical I think me and every other non religious person would happily make this concession: If religious people, especially Christians who are the biggest faith group, lived out their faith, their God would be welcome.
Jesus: I agree believers are called upon to help the needy and suffering and oppose injustice. God has no patience for those who ignore the plight of others while themselves basking in riches and comforts. Without God commanding his creatures to treat one another better, do you not think men would take advantage of the weak and vulnerable?
Me: I think the issue of whether we need “God’s Laws” in order to function as a just society is definitely worth exploring. It is a regular and wellworn argument used by the religious. They postulate society would devolve into anarchy and moral depravity without a divine “higher” standard to restrain mankind’s propensity toward violence, thievery and immorality. The counter point to that is we currently live in a world which predominantly believes in God yet there is little evidence if his influence were removed society would worsen. I would staunchly argue most societies would improve immeasurably if religion were removed. There may have been a time when belief in God brought order to society, perhaps when you lived, but that time has long passed. Men needed to be told not to kill their neighbor or steal his wife because God prohibited it which was beneficial and necessary to societal harmony. But this same God was said to tell one tribe to slaughter another tribe who had a different God. It may have been necessary for survival long ago but it continues even today.
Jesus: How can you be sure removing God and his statutes would not destroy society?
Me: Today most civilized countries have a strong legal system in place and those who enforce it. Men and women are dissuaded from breaking the law because of this deterrent. Punishment awaits those who choose to commit crimes in the form of fines or removal from society and forced containment. I should add, most people willingly submit to these rules and regulations because it makes for a better and safer society not because of belief in God. I think the Roman society in which you lived demonstrated this.
Jesus: Surely Christians and those who believe in God are more law abiding than the non religious of society.
Me: The evidence would strongly suggest the opposite. There is no difference between these two groups. Prisons which contain the most serious offenders of the law are not full of atheists but those claiming some religious faith.
Jesus: I would question the authenticity of their faith to begin with. Perhaps they were false believers.
Me: We are entering another important area of discussion concerning what constitutes true faith, how it is attained and whether those who claim the promise of eternal life are bound to live in accordance with the biblical teaching that offers it.
Jesus: I don’t understand why someone who has been promised life after death based on obedience to God would not strive to be righteous to ensure they keep it.
Me: I place the blame on evangelical leaders who promote the false teachings of the pre-tribulation Rapture theory, easy salvation and eternal security, and a population of evangelicals who follow them out of blind trust rather than honest inquiry. I think I have made the point before how incredibly attractive American evangelicals version of Christianity has become. It offers all the world has to offer in the name of, “God wants us to prosper,” as well as easy and instant salvation without fear of judgment. What could be better so why question it?
Jesus: I never taught salvation was easy, in fact I stressed the cost of discipleship was high. It began with a repentant attitude followed by the fruit of that repentance as proof true repentance had been initiated. Furthermore, a believer had to maintain a righteous life until the kingdom fully arrived or risk falling under divine judgment. How any Christian arrives at any other teaching contradicts my message.
Me: I would blame Paul but that would be unfair. Despite Paul’s insistent the law was no longer binding, he still advocated a virtuous lifestyle reflective of the law. God’s righteous moral standards were still in effect outside the law. Not being circumcised or attending the festivals did not make one better but justice and love did. Paul emphasized righteousness was the mark of a true believer thus assuring him his salvation was guaranteed. A believer must exhibit the “fruit” consistent with salvation to prove his salvation.
Jesus: I agree in principle though I will always argue the promises were for Israel alone and those who converted as taught in the prophets. At least Paul was trying to make Gentiles better members of society. I’m surprised Christianity has moved away from his teachings given his prominence in Gentile Christianity.
Me: Evangelical theology has drifted so far from traditional Christian belief as to be in many cases unrecognizable. When a breakaway sect of Christianity, such as evangelicalism, decides it will chart its own course based on a strictly personal interpretation of the New Testament, anything is possible. Evangelicals will ignore centuries of ecclesiastical tradition whenever it deems it has erred from orthodoxy and profess an uncontaminated interpretation of the New Testament devoid of man’s theological missteps. While no doubt an idealistic and romantic notion, it is nevertheless a fantasy. It proposes Christians have followed an inferior version of Christianity for hundreds of years until evangelicals appeared on the stage of Christian history and rescued the faith by reclaiming and purifying it. Somehow they have been able to interpret the Bible in a way previously unknown.
This may sound ridiculous yet evangelical Christians unapologetically and unabashedly claim they are following the New Testament as originally intended while the bulk of Christendom adheres to a substandard version.
Jesus: What percentage of the overall Christian population is evangelical?
Me: It is hard to answer that since what an evangelical is has become indefinable. Remember the cloud analogy? Because Christian belief is so variegated, and has become more so among evangelicals in recent years, it is difficult to quantify. Roughly, one-third of the world’s population identifies as “Christian” covering the spectrum from fanatical to nominal. Of these perhaps one quarter to one-third adhere to conservative Christian beliefs, but there is so much overlap among denominations as to be virtually impossible to accurately gauge. Here is another example of why Christianity could not be God ordained. It is the most fractious and divisive religious group on earth and has been since it began but especially in about the last five hundred years when it suffered a major upheaval and split. Christians disagree on almost every topic imaginable from the mundane to key doctrinal issues such as your two natures we talked about earlier and how one procures salvation. I have always said, Christians are the best argument against Christianity. If Christianity were true, the world would be a much better place. In fact, if Christianity disappeared today, the world would be a better place tomorrow.
Jesus: That’s quite an indictment
Me: It’s well deserved and few nonChristian would contend it.
Me: I will end this part of our conversation with this statement. The best evidence God does not exist is one of pragmatism not idealism. Despite the world being filled with those who believe in their gods, evidence of it making the world more peaceful, just, compassionate, caring and generous does not exist and never has in recorded history. In fact quite the opposite because people use their beliefs as weapons to harm others. I should be clear, Christians and other religious people are often good people who perform acts of kindness and charity but no more than non religious people. And who is to say what their motives are? Christianity is notorious for profiting from its humanitarian work as well as abusing its spiritual authority. It’s long and storied history contains many atrocities against non Christians. These ethical blotches are well documented and persist to this day.
Jesus: What about the history of Israelites who have been under the requirements of the law? Have they committed similar acts against others.
Me: The Jewish people sadly have most often been on the receiving end of others injustices against them. It has been less than one hundred years since they were regathered as a people to their homeland. It is mostly a secular nation with only a few ardent followers of the Mosaic law. My issue is more with what we read about in their ancient writings as I mentioned at the beginning of this conversation. In defense of Judaism, many non religious scholars or experts consider much of these depictions to be grossly exaggerated for religious impact. The merciless slaughter of Canaanites as described was more likely fiction. It is believed Joshua’s massive army was grown from within the land and not the product of those from the Exodus. But the historical accuracy of the prophets and writings is best left for another conversation.
Jesus: We began with your testimony as being a former evangelical. How did we end up here?
Me: I think it always comes back to what each person allows to be the premier authority in their life, either a divine book or science and reason. We have discussed how most people find room for both and defer to one or the other as necessity or desire dictate. I personally think it dangerous if the Bible is ever accorded supreme authority that overrides scientific findings for the simple fact the Bible has basis for its absolute claims. Science is purely evidentiary, highly scrutinized, widely investigated and endlessly skeptical of its own findings. Religion claims exemption from all the above preferring to default to divine validation based on nothing more than the vague and unreliable experiences of its devotees.
Jesus: Perhaps our next conversation could be on why you are so certain evangelical Christianity is baseless.
Me: I’ll give it some thought.