Blaming God for my deconversion?

My thanks to Lydia McGrew for making me aware of a recent piece she wrote on deconversions away from Christianity. Reading it it does sound a little bit like a reply to my post where I explained my own deconversion from Christianity (‘My journey away from Christianity’). This reply will make more sense if you read Lydia’s piece first so here’s the link:

http://lydiaswebpage.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/why-do-bad-doubts-happen-to-good-people.html

Now I’m obviously not going to defend every deconversion story (I don’t know them all for starters) or even all the ones Lydia had in mind but I will respond to what seems to apply to my own story.

Lydia explains why she does not like the excuse (if it really is such a thing) that a person might say they didn’t want to deconvert but they ended up doing so after struggling with their faith and God did not meet their expectations in some way since it is making God to blame.

I’m not sure what to make of that. I can honestly say I don’t think I’m blaming a being I don’t believe exists (that really would be quite irrational and require more help from a psychologist than a theologian). I became convinced, and still am, that the New Testament (NT) suggests some genuine degree of companionship between God and a follower of his not just in the afterlife but in this life also. Numerous Christian theologians of late have emphasized this by drawing attention to Jesus’ teachings on the Kingdom of Heaven sayings of Jesus (eg. N.T. Wright). I also explained why I thought this was so due to what the NT seems to suggest about the companionship of the Holy Spirit. Even as a Christian I was always a strong believer that God is not our slave and not bound by our orders or whims. Yet, at the same time, I believed in the companionship of God. But as days became weeks and weeks became months and months became years there came a point where I had to admit that I had absolutely no companionship with God at all. And I want to be clear it wasn’t just the experience of that that caused the deconversion. It was reflecting and thinking about it that caused that. I could not reconcile many NT passages with my own experiences. I could not understand the value of a God who is willing to die for us and yet appears to play hide and seek when we need him the most. What good is his presence in heaven where there will be no suffering? The time for it is in this life. And even if God would keep it from us for some mysterious greater good then I think he is asking us to be fideistic about our faith.

So, in brief, I cannot believe in a God who essentially requires us to believe in him in only some academic, rational way and who denies us genuine experiential companionship in this life.

Now, I know, this will leads many Christians to reply that I am requiring God to meet a standard he does not have to. Fair enough. So I am accepting that the fault is mine if that is the case. I’m not blaming God. If it turns out my requirement of God was wrong then I’ll take that on the chin when the time comes. I’m okay with that. I don’t want to be with, or worship, a being who claims to love us and yet who cannot (or will not) be with us in our sufferings. Being with someone like that would not be heaven to me – that would be hell. So, if the Christian God does turn out to be real he will not be punishing me by denying me heaven. He will be saving me from being in the presence of a being whom I hate with all my being. So, if Christianity does turn out to be true, I will not be uttering Bertrand Russell’s immortal words but rather choose my own. I’m not sure I need say anything in fact. God isn’t to blame I just don’t want to be anywhere near him if that’s the God who turns out to exist.

Now, even though I have huge respect for Lydia and the form of Christianity she adheres to, I do take some offense at the charge that my deconversion story is due to having too “childish” a view of the Christian God (as if I’m describing some parody of God Christians really don’t believe in). I am annoyed at that charge because I have spent enough time in churches, Bible Colleges, study groups, talking to top Christian theologians and philosophers, and reading Christian literature to get my criticism spot on. Even though in recent years my church experience had been in charismatic churches most of my years were in non-charismatic, and even anti-charismatic, circles. Even then, the VAST majority of Christians gave testimony to their experiences of God in their lives and how they could see him at work. They talked about God teaching them, comforting them, answering their prayers, and guiding them. Christianity is soaked with such accounts of God at work. A God who is active in the world is the bog standard view of God in Christianity and is not some childish parody. Even in the (almost Plymouth) Brethren church I grew up in talk of God in action in people’s lives was the default view. Now if this view of God is faulty then it appears Christianity is in a very bad position since most of its adherents have misunderstood their own religion and if that is the case that has serious implications for how badly God communicated himself in the Bible.

I know that Lydia would be the first to reject any charge of sounding fidestic in her response and she even says as much. But I think her response is open to that criticism. As Christians are generally quite prone to doing we get offered the God whose thoughts are above our thoughts and whose ways are above our ways. When God doesn’t make sense we have to put it down to our human reasoning limitations. This really does look like fideism is sneaking in through the back door here.

This is not in response to Lydia but, in the last 18 months, I have become interested in how disturbing some Christians find deconversion. This is something they clearly feel they cannot be fideist about. They must explain it. Most opt for the “You’ve not understood my God!” charge (see comments underneath Lydia’s post) which is interesting not least because Christianity has so many differing versions of what God is like for starters. I guess these Christians probably think most Christians throughout history were not real Christians but only the ones in their own little sect. Then you might get the ad hominem charge that your faith was never a genuine one. I laugh at that one. Or you get the ‘poor theology’ charge. This one usually comes from a Christian who has read less theology than Benny Hinn. I like asking such people what the most recent systematic theology is that they’ve read. (They’re unlikely to even know what a systematic theology book looks like!) Some of them haven’t even read the whole of the Bible either! I would suggest Christians get so uppity about deconversions because it resonates with the fact that they themselves have their own doubts and they spend a great deal of time trying not to think about them too much. That someone could have genuinely been a Christian, studied Christian theology deeply, and spent decades in church listening carefully yet walked away from it all bothers them profoundly. Yet, in this case, the fideistic wall filler isn’t enough. Instead we get a barrage of pretty flimsy responses ranging from logical fallacies through to plain old insults. This is why I won’t bother engaging with most Christians in comments sections anymore.

My thanks to Lydia for her piece.

My apologies for not making my reply more sequential. I started that way but it all end up in the mixer!! (Writing it at 3am probably didn’t help either!)

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About aRemonstrant'sRamblings

I graduated in philosophy of religion many years ago and have since acquired my PGCE and now teach religion, ethics and philosophy.
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21 Responses to Blaming God for my deconversion?

  1. Lydia McGrew says:

    “I know that Lydia would be the first to reject any charge of sounding fidestic in her response and she even says as much. But I think her response is open to that criticism. As Christians are generally quite prone to doing we get offered the God whose thoughts are above our thoughts and whose ways are above our ways. When God doesn’t make sense we have to put it down to our human reasoning limitations. This really does look like fideism is sneaking in through the back door here.”

    Do you remember, AR, when you wrote your older piece, and in my reply, what I kept doing was talking about the evidence for Christianity? Over and over again.

    When I talk about that, I don’t mean “God working in my life.” I have sometimes put things I put down to that–to God’s working in my life or speaking to me. I don’t consider them to be totally valueless as evidence. But they are sufficiently open to other interpretations that I would never in a million years ask anyone _else_ to base _his_ faith on them. And even speaking for my own part, I don’t base my own faith on those experiences. That God worked in my life in this way or that is a _conclusion_, not a _premise_. And in the vast majority of cases, if the claim is some special providence or (ipso facto) a miracle, it’s not a super-high-probability conclusion, either. It’s somewhat tentative. The *premises* are the public evidence for the truth of Christianity. That’s what I ask you to turn back to. Because if that is true, then you really *should* (for your own sake, not in some abstract sense of “should”) want to be with God forever. If that is true, then you’re just wrong to think that the God of Christianity would be unjust, etc., if he were to exist. Because if Christianity is true, he does exist, and he isn’t. If that is true, then your truest happiness is to be found, and can be found, in being eternally in his presence.

    There is an old book that says something like this, “If someone tells me that my house’s foundation is cracked, I go down with my lantern, and I pass through the cellar, and I view the foundations, paying special attention to that place on which the doubt has been cast. I thereby see and assure myself that, in fact, no such weakness is there as has been alleged. Then I take my lantern and I go back upstairs and go to bed.” That’s a very rough paraphrase, but it’s the metaphor used. The author is comparing this to the evidences of Christianity. And that’s what God has given us the opportunity to do by sending Jesus to die and rise again and present himself before his disciples. And by giving us other evidences of his existence as well.

    That kind of foundation will be there through storm and tempest and even horrible suffering. It doesn’t go away or dissolve because of what we go through or because of what God doesn’t seem to be saying to us. It may seem dry or unpalatable. But it doesn’t in fact disappear. Christianity is founded on those sorts of hard, cold, uncompromising facts on which you can, literally, bet your very life. The very _last_ thing that someone is doing who asks you to go there, to found your faith on facts, is suggesting a fideistic approach to Christianity. Exactly to the contrary. If anything, the charge more fairly leveled (which I don’t let bother me) is that this is a kind of Christian rationalism. Very well, then. Let us be Christian rationalists, because Christianity can hack it. Because God has not left himself without witness.

    And, having not left himself without witness, he invites you thereby to the truest eternal joy, where you will see his face and know that it was all worth it.

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Thank you for taking the time to reply Lydia. I enjoy dialogue with you.

      Yes I’m certainly not accussing you of methodological fideism. There is clearly sufficient evidence in your writings to demonstrate you are not. What I mean is that it appears a little fideism is sometimes considered useful even by the most rationalistic of Christians when all else fails. Instead of the Christian then admitting there could be a problem (since there is, in this case, no good response) an appeal is being made to the unknown or even the unknowable. This may offer the Christian some comfort but it’s deeply frustrating for the non-Christian who will see it as dodging while pretending to answer the issue.

      I do also understand that you do not base your faith on what you take to be personal experiences of God at work in your life. My point does not need that to be the case however. It is enough that you take such experiences to be, most probably, God interacting with you in your life. Since most Christians make this claim it is worth asking why it is not the case for all and whether Christianity seems to deliver on its promises to those of us who have no such experiences. For people who endure such silence it is worth asking whether they might be justified in concluding that Christianity is not true (or virtually all Christian are deluding themselves).

      I fully accept the argument which says I ought to believe in what is true. I find there to be sufficient evidence to accept some form of deism (which I’m still currently working out!) but I do not agree that there exists sufficient evidence to say ‘Christianity’ is true. I italisize in this case because I wish to point out that there are many interpretations of what Christianity is (not least by Christians themselves).

      I like the metaphor of the foundations. But as I apply that in my case I have found that these foundations are crumbling. I am still sufficiently convinced by arguments, such as the moral argument, to conclude that there needs be some sort of deity. But I am not so impressed by the arguments Christians use for the truth of Christianity. That might come as a shock to some since I was heavily involved in Christian apologetics for nearly two decades but that is the case. I don’t think there’s anywhere near a strong enough case for Christianity once one removes all the arguments which argue for some sort of nameless generic deity. In fact I would go so far as to say that, once one does that, almost nothing is left. The ‘witness’ appears to be an argument about the probability of the resurrection of Jesus which doesn’t even impress all Christian philosophers / theologians sufficiently for them to accept it! They cannot even unite on that one! Unless there are some other arguments I’ve missed I would say that is not a very strong case and when I weigh it against the plethora of very real intellectual problems Christianity faces (which normally get glib fideistic polyfiller replies) I think the probability is that Christianity is not true.

      You will disagree with me but I am following the evidence wherever it leads and it has lead me away from Christianity. This has been inconvenient in many ways I cannot explain here. It has hurt people I love dearly. It has caused many practical inconveniences. It has required me to rethink my entire worldview which is, to say the least, arduous. It has not been convenient in the slightest but I have to be honest with where the evidence has led me.

      Thanks again for your time.

      • Lydia McGrew says:

        “The ‘witness’ appears to be an argument about the probability of the resurrection of Jesus which doesn’t even impress all Christian philosophers / theologians sufficiently for them to accept it!”

        Popularity, much less unanimity, has never been a good test of truth nor anything remotely like it. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that this sort of argument is so far from being worthy of an exclamation point that it shouldn’t be featuring in your calculation at all. All the less so since you are both highly intelligent and have access to the apologetics community and the apologetics literature. Feel free to ask me anything you like about the argument for the resurrection of Jesus, by the way!

        Not that that is even the *only* argument for the existence of a God who intervenes. The argument from prophecy is another such. The liar, lunatic, or Lord trilemma is largely independent of the resurrection argument. There is also the argument from design. There is also what I call the “glory, jest, and riddle” argument for *something like* the Judeo-Christian idea of the fall of man–the argument from man’s peculiar combination of badness and capacity for great goodness. These all (and I”m not claiming to list everything) contribute along with the arguments for a more generic theism to a cumulative case.

        I notice that you make a sharp distinction between arguments for generic theism and arguments for Christianity, specifically. Of course, as a matter of categorization, these conclusions are not the same. However, arguments for generic theism are *relevant* to the overall case for Christianity as they raise the prior probability of Christianity. It’s like having evidence that your friend has children. Obviously that doesn’t tell you specifically whether he has a son or a daughter, but it’s relevant to the proposition, “My friend has a son” since he can’t have a son if he has no children at all. For that reason, evidence for “My friend has children,” unless they are specifically related to the child’s being a daughter or daughters *rather* than a son, do raise the probability of “my friend has a son.”

        “an appeal is being made to the unknown or even the unknowable.”

        In my own case, I will say that I don’t know *all* that God is doing or *all* the reasons or all the *specific* reasons, but I’m not a skeptical theist (you’re probably familiar with that phrase) because I do think both Scripture and experience show us the outline of the *types* of reasons. In your own case, I tend to feel like I’m getting a better and better idea all the time (I hope you don’t find this too offensive) of why God didn’t speak to you in the way you were looking for. So I don’t think I’m appealing either to the unknown or the unknowable.

        “It is enough that you take such experiences to be, most probably, God interacting with you in your life.”

        Well, most of them (I don’t tell them to you because I don’t want to give the impression that I’m asking you to agree with my interpretation or asking _you_ to accept them as evidences) concern the actions of other people which seem to fit into a providential pattern, or after I had prayed, not so much personal experiences of feeling God’s presence, etc.

        Now, in your own case, as far as whether God did or didn’t help you, I’m reminded of the old joke about the man in a flood who was sitting on the top of his house praying. Along came a canoe, but the man said, “No, go ahead and rescue someone else, I’m expecting a miracle.” Then came a big rescue boat, and the man said the same thing. Then there was a helicopter, but he yelled up, “No, I’m not going to get in that dangling basket, I’m waiting for a miracle.” So the flood waters rose, the man drowned, and when he saw God he asked, “Why didn’t you rescue me!” And God said, “Well, I sent you a canoe, a boat, and a helicopter.”

        I know that various Christians have stepped forward to work through this with you. That happens to include me, and I may just be one of the more annoying and rude among them, but I also know that I’m by no means the most godly, kind, and wise of those who have striven to help you in your crisis of faith. I think various of us were your canoe, boat, and helicopter. But you wanted a different kind of rescue, and now you’re saying that if God did exist you would hate him and not want to be with him because he didn’t send you the experience of his presence or sense of the truth of Scripture or sense of comfort, peace, etc., you were looking for. I’m not saying that the actions of Christian friends are some kind of heavy, additional, evidential argument for the existence of the Christian God. But I am saying that you should consider that, if the Christian God exists, maybe he was reaching out to you in more mundane ways than you were willing to accept.

        • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

          I can assure you that I find you neither annoying or rude Lydia. I have the highest regard for your work and your husband’s. It’s intimidating having to discourse with a McGrew! I wish it were possible over tea (or coffee if you must!) and cake as I think we’d get a lot further. If you’re ever touring Britain…

          I do hear you on the point that God’s ways could be seen in less miraculous ways. I cannot prove that God has not been ‘at work’ through these numerous people. I held on to that kind of reasoning for quite a long time as it happens. But, as time went by, it felt more and more like I was grasping at straws. I felt I was trying desperately to find excuses for God ‘finding’ him in anything I possibly could. Then I came to see I was playing the game some charismatics do when they find God in every single significant event of the day or lurking under every pillow in the house. I was playing the game I so despised others for playing. Could God have been reaching out to me? Possibly, but I’m not convinced that is the best explanation. I think the simpler explanation is merely that people often have good instincts and can be caring and well meaning. This accounts for their actions just fine without introducing the unnecessary element of God behind it all.

          I’m not sure I agree with the canoe, boat, helicopter analogy. You see, in that story the person ends up looking plain stupid for not seeing those as legitimate forms of rescue. Yet in my case it’s clearly not demonstrable that such forms of help came from God. I am most grateful for all the time a very few Christians have spent not being afraid to talk to me since my deconversion. I clearly regard them as helpers and friends and am deeply grateful for their time (and I gratefully accepted their help unlike the analogy) but what I cannot clearly deduce is that they are small evidences of God’s care and concern. So that analogy does look like a cheap shot to me. Sorry.

          Of course I agree that an argument should not be judged by its popularity but I do think that there are Christian philosophers and theologians of such intellect who do not hold to the argument from the resurrection that this should be a concern. You will know better than I that there are some who also have concerns about using certain probability models to come to the conclusions you and Tim (and some others) do about the resurrection. Alas I cannot critique your argument specifically as I need a decade or two to read up on probability theory! All I can wonder is why God would have such a good argument in the public domain but hide it from people who don’t know about, or sufficiently understand, Bayes’ theorem!! Does God favour the mathematicians among us?

          I read a few books on the argument from prophecy but that argument never impressed me much even as a Christian. Again – plenty of disputes to be found on what constitutes a fulfilment and how such prophecy came to pass. I think the argument from design is a generic argument which tells us little of the nature of the God behind creation. Of course, Paley’s argument is all but useless but there are more interesting forms such as ones proposed by Craig / Robbins / Swinburne. I don’t think Lewis’s trilemma is a very intellectually satisfying argument either. That is the kind of apologetics which makes me wince – kind of like a Lee Strobel book! It appears to rely on the assumption that there are not more polite interpretations of his life without calling him a liar or lunatic.

          I would agree that the generic arguments could be added to a cumulative case for the Christian God IF specific arguments for the Christian God were persuasive but I do not find them to be. The generic arguments for the existence of a god have given rise to huge interest and interaction among philosophers of all worldviews. By comparison, arguments for Christianity seem to lack that level of appeal and I think that’s because they’re not very convincing arguments at all. Not to say I’m not open to hearing them of course but I am aware of most you mentioned and I see little strength in any of them. I’m not aware of the one you mentioned about man’s capacity for great goodness or badness but that does not sound like a unique concept to Christianity. Many religions think humanity has such capacity so I don’t see how such an argument helps Christianity specifically.

          Kind regards…

  2. Lydia McGrew says:

    “You will know better than I that there are some who also have concerns about using certain probability models to come to the conclusions you and Tim (and some others) do about the resurrection. Alas I cannot critique your argument specifically as I need a decade or two to read up on probability theory! All I can wonder is why God would have such a good argument in the public domain but hide it from people who don’t know about, or sufficiently understand, Bayes’ theorem!! Does God favour the mathematicians among us?”

    I would like to clarify this. In no way at all would I or Tim ever say that people have to understand Bayes’s Theorem to understand the argument! In fact, the old evidentialists of the 18th century didn’t apply such a model because most of them didn’t know about it.

    Bayesian probability theory, or any probability theory, is a *model* of good reasoning. It’s an explanation at the meta-level of *why* this reasoning works. It can also help to avoid certain mistakes, such as the tendency to underestimate the cumulative force of various lines of argument or the tendency to think that no argument can possibly overcome a low prior probability. Those points can, however, be explained in more informal ways. Good reasoners are good Bayesians whether they know it or not. An auto mechanic is tacitly using Bayesian reasoning all the time to figure out what’s wrong with the car.

    Similarly, you can think of the argument for the resurrection as an inference to the best explanation without formalizing it in probabilistic terms. Tim does this sort of thing all the time in his talks. For example, what is the best explanation of what the disciples said and did after Jesus’ death by crucifixion? Were they just lying? How well does that explain their behavior in the context of the risks they took? What sort of hallucinations would give rise to the specifics of their testimony, and how plausible is it that such polymodal hallucinations should afflict all of them at once so that they thought they were in a room with, eating with, and having long conversations with a person they had all believed were dead? How does the hallucination hypothesis for the disciples explain the conversion of Paul or the testimony to the empty tomb? And so forth. (Obviously this is really brief.) No formalism is necessary to think about these kinds of considerations, though formalism can help to sharpen the perception of how strongly the argument supports the conclusion.

    You shouldn’t think that this is all just above your pay grade and therefore set it aside as irrelevant and too hard for you to access. It isn’t like that at all, and it’s too important to take that attitude to. There are many Christian laymen who can see that this argument has force even if they know nothing about mathematics at all.

    “but what I cannot clearly deduce is that they are small evidences of God’s care and concern.”

    Well, again, remember that I didn’t suggest to you that these people’s coming to you should be regarded as additional *evidence* for the existence of God. That’s not the role that point is playing in what I am saying. Rather, I’m saying that a) there is enough evidence independently of God’s giving you a _special_ sign in relation to your own situation, and b) it is unreasonable to say that you would hate the Christian God (if it turns out that he exists) for not giving you such a special sign, since what happened to you was consistent with God’s loving you, desiring to help you, and having your best interests at heart. The events don’t have to provide *additional* strong evidence for the existence of the Christian God, explicable on their own only as special providences, in order for them to answer the charge that God must have abandoned you if he exists or must be unloving if he exists.

    “Again – plenty of disputes to be found on what constitutes a fulfilment and how such prophecy came to pass.”

    Forgive me, but this repeated reference to disputes just sounds a little lazy. Nobody is telling you that you have to be a great intellectual, but for goodness’ sake, this is a matter of your own ultimate well-being, so you really shouldn’t be constantly punting to the existence of disputes. I don’t endorse every alleged argument from prophecy, but the apparent fulfillments of messianic prophecy, particularly Isaiah 53 and portions of Psalm 22, in Jesus of Nazareth, are pretty noteworthy and, again _contribute_ to an overall case. No one part of the case has to bear the weight alone.

    “IF specific arguments for the Christian God were persuasive”

    If the existence of the Christian God is a better explanation of various facts than its negation (that he doesn’t exist), then each one plays its role in a cumulative case. No one has to bear the weight of being persuasive alone.

    “It appears to rely on the assumption that there are more polite interpretations of his life without calling him a liar or lunatic.”

    Very much to the contrary. The more polite interpretation, against which Lewis was arguing, is that Jesus was “just a great teacher” or a good man or something. The whole point of the trilemma was to be harsher than this. One doesn’t decide that Jesus was God in order to be polite! The point is that his being a liar or lunatic doesn’t explain well what he said and did. In fact, I think many skeptics tacitly recognize this, because most don’t actually think that he was a liar or a lunatic. They usually opt for some version of the more polite idea that he was a good teacher but a little confused or something like that. Or that he never made these claims to godhood for himself at all.

    “Many religions think humanity has such capacity so I don’t see how such an argument helps Christianity specifically.”

    Sure, anyone who can observe can see that there is little that is either too bad or too good as to be beyond man’s scope. Mankind includes both incredibly generous and self-sacrificing people and horrible, sadistic murderers and torturers. Now, why is that? Where did mankind come from? What is the explanation for man’s simultaneous sense of right and wrong and the fact that man so often goes wrong? I think it can be argued that something like the Judeo-Christian story explains this better than other theories. As this story goes, mankind was the special work of God, the source of all goodness, who made man originally good. Then man screwed up, and ever since then man has had this “bent” or inclination to do evil (though not deterministic–I’m not a Calvinist myself) coupled with a tacit knowledge that he should be doing better, a knowledge of right and wrong and a desire to attain a higher ideal, rooted in his origin as created by God. I don’t know of any other theory that explains this combination very well. For example, if man is merely the product of non-intelligent forces and/or amoral forces, whence comes either man’s mind or his knowledge of and striving for the Good? If there is no real, objective good or evil, why does it seem to us that there is? If man is inherently good, full stop, as some Victorians thought, why so much human evil, which cannot seem to be eradicated by education or progress or anything else? The teaching of the creation and fall explains both sides of this.

    ” I think the argument from design is a generic argument which tells us little of the nature of the God behind creation.”

    Even if that’s true, it certainly isn’t consistent with deism. It points rather to intervention.

    I wanted to say more about anomalies and the idea of grasping at straws and/or fideism, but I may be coming up against a WordPress word limit, so I’ll save that for another comment.

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Thanks Lydia. Forgive me for not keeping up with you but it’s a busy week. Let me take each comment one at a time. I will reply to the others when I can.

      I’m glad to hear that serious consideration of the argument for the resurrection does not require comprehension of certain probability models. That’s a relief indeed.

      Now here’s why the argument for the resurrection did little for me even as a Christian (and does even less for me now)…

      The inference to best explanation argument depends almost entirely on assuming that the gospel writers correctly described the events of the resurrection and what the disciples did subsequently. Even if one considers the ‘minimilist facts’ approach, such as in Habermas and Craig, we’re not left with much. Clearly some of the disciples believed (sincerely) that Jesus had risen from the dead. But how many of them was that? If it was lots then we could start discussing how unlikely polymodal hallucinations are (and I accept they are unlikely to be a reasonable explanation) but the documents which suggest it are only a very few sources. And these same sources have some rather troubling contradictions to them. Even after reading numerous evangelical scholars on the Easter accounts in the gospels I could not get the accounts to add up. It’s not that there are merely different versions in the gospels but that they cannot all be true at the same time. There are differences of opinion on the historical events. Added to this most scholars agree that we are talking about less than four sources and even the earliest scholarly dates put them at a good thirty years after the events. I also do not need to buy into Humean scepticism or methodological naturalism to think that evidence for a resurrection requires more substantial evidence than some other natural event. If my daughter says she got a lift home with her friend’s mother I am justified in taking her word for it. If she claims she got a lift home in a UFO after making friends with two extra-terrestials I would not be justified in taking her word for it. I do not necessarily agree that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence either but I do think the bar has been raised substantially. A claim that a miracle has good historical evidence supporting it does, in my opinion, require more evidence than a claim for an event which is natural. Surely the reason is because the prior probability, all other things being equal, has to be less? How could it possibly be the same? This is where you can, no doubt, reveal my ignorance of probability theory but this seems to be common sense to me (although formal logic often annihilates ‘common sense’ too!).

      Then when considering their willingness to die I don’t think we need entertain that they did so for a lie but rather the possibility that they did so because they were simply deceived. Jesus was such an incredibly charismatic person, and had changed their lives so radically that they passionately wanted to believe he had risen from the dead and so on the basis that a few had asserted he had risen the rest believed it because it gave them hope and they trusted the few sources who told them. Now people are unlikely to die for something they know to be a lie but they are far more likely to die for something they desire to believe in very strongly. We see this all the time. Christians would explain other religious martyrdom as acts of people being sadly mistaken about their passionate beliefs so why should this not be a probable hypothesis in the case of the early Christians? I think this is a very probable explanation. Add to this the fact that accounts of the early disciples being killed for their faith are written, again, much later than they happened and these accounts also have differing versions of what took place and again we don’t seem to have a particularly strong argument to build I don’t think.

      The reason OT prophecy doesn’t impress me is because the key passages are usually chopped up and context around those verses is often left out. Many who find such prophecy will then divide the prophecy up so that the bits which do fit = Jesus’ first coming and the bits which don’t fit = Jesus’ second coming. That methodology looks suspicious to me and did so even as a Christian. If one looks at Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 what predictions WHICH WERE OUT OF JESUS’ CONTROL (and that’s important because Jesus knew the OT intimately) are made? Not very many in my opinion. So it predicts people will mock him. Well Jesus can ensure that takes place through his teachings. Psalm 22:7 says “all” would mock him but that was not true. 22:14 says “all” his bones are out of joint but that is unlikely to be true, or at least we cannot know. This poetic language lends itself to being moulded around the events very nicely. What we seem to be left with is that his hands and feet are pierced and his clothes divided. That’s not much to go on. Why should those be read more literally than him being “poured out like water” or his “heart has turned to wax” (v.14)? In Isaiah 53 v 7 it predicts the suffering servant would go to death silently and not “open his mouth” and yet Jesus is often not silent during his trial or on the cross. We give such verses lots of latitude when fitting it to Jesus’ passion do we not? Both chapters are essentially predicting the death of such a messiah but this seems to be less than impressive if being used as examples of prophecy which came to pass. They certainly don’t substantiate the backbone of an argument in my opinion. In fact, I would go further and suggest that one has to twist them a little bit in order to get them to apply to the story of Jesus’ death as told in the gospels.

      I’m sorry that you think I’m merely “punting” to the existence of disputes. That’s certainly not my intention. I would agree that their mere existence is not something that ought to influence us unduly and that there can be genuine reasons for them. However, as with all academic subjects, consensus of experts in a field is generally considered to be something worthy of note. The fact that the vast majority of biologists accept evolutionary theory tells us something about the strength of that theory. The lack of dispute by the experts tells us something about the paucity of arguments against it. This is what I am getting at. I think that if the argument for the resurrection was as strong as Christian evidentialists take it to be then it would be far more widely accepted with Christian scholars who are historians / theologians / philosophers. Instead of that there is quite a wide set of views and I do think that tells us something about the strength of the evidence.

      That quote on Lewis, “It appears to rely on the assumption that there are more polite interpretations of his life without calling him a liar or lunatic.” should have read, “It appears to rely on the assumption that there are NOT more polite interpretations of his life without calling him a liar or lunatic.”

      I missed out the rather crucial word ‘not’ (I added it in later when I spotted my mistake). Lewis is guity of rhetorical hyperbole in my opinion and it makes his argument really very lame. I am not forced into thinking Jesus was either a liar or a lunatic if I reject him as Lord. I can think he was perfectly genuine and that he was often an extremely wise teacher who said things other wise teachers were also saying at the time too. I don’t have to agree he was a ‘lunatic’ even if I accept (which I do) that he taught he was equal to God. I can simply think he was mistaken in teaching this. Lewis is trying to force one of three interpretive frameworks upon people when clearly they are not the only ones. Politer version do exist quite clearly. I’m sorry to say that I concerned that anyone would be impressed by this argument.

      On the goodness issue I think that sounds more like the moral argument and I think that is a more general argument for deism / theism. The same with the design argument. I don’t think it points to a God who intervenes though. The only form of the design argument I find impressive is the argument from the fine-tuning of the constants which govern the universe. That would be wholly consistent with deism. No interventionist God is required there.

      I’ve not come close to answering all four of your posts but that is a far as I can get today. I will add some more tomorrow. Thanks.

  3. Lydia McGrew says:

    On grasping at straws, alleged fideism, and saying that one doesn’t know:

    Two points about scientific theories are relevant here. First, scientists usually can’t explain all of the reasons for a particular event, yet that doesn’t undermine their theories. For example, a physicist wouldn’t be able to tell you *exactly* why a car skidded on the ice and had an accident, because he wouldn’t have all the precise initial conditions and so forth. But he could still give a *broad* explanation in terms of velocity, friction (or lack thereof), speed, mass, direction, and so forth. Similarly, Scripture and experience allow us to give general explanations of God’s reasons for allowing suffering and even not making his presence more obvious, reasons like soul-making and deepening understanding of his character. That we don’t have all the details of how that was intended to work in a particular case doesn’t mean that the events undermine Christian theism.

    Second, all good scientific theories have particular facts that are *anomalous* for those theories. Any rational approach to science requires a certain amount of theoretical toughness of mind, the ability to live with some tension in the form of anomalous results that are unexplained or incompletely explained by one’s theory as one has the theory worked out thus far–which may continue until one’s death. This becomes irrational or “grasping at straws” *only* when the anomalies are such that they clearly outweigh the evidence _for_ the theory.

    Similarly, it is a fallacious approach to matters of religious doubt to become fixated on one particular objection and to say that, if one doesn’t have a fully satisfactory answer to *that* objection, the entire theory (in this case, Christian theism) must be abandoned.

    Even if you were right (which I don’t actually concede, see the first point) that the absence of a sense of personal acquaintance with God for you in your time of trial was/is an anomalous result for Christianity, you are treating this, unreasonably, like some sort of on-off test. That is to say, you are fixating on this one thing to the detriment of the big picture. It’s not as though what you went through should be regarded as a single, falsifying _test_ of Christianity. The truth of Christianity doesn’t lend itself to that kind of on-off switch any more than a good scientific theory does.

    Now, I realize that you are going to say at this point, “Well, I don’t think the evidence for Christianity is that good,” and I was discussing this in the other comment. But I’m here *just* addressing this whole idea that there is something irrational or grasping at straws or “fideistic” about saying that God was reaching out to you in mundane ways, that God had reasons for not revealing himself to you more directly, and so forth. There is nothing *inherently* irrational or desperate about those kinds of answers. They may just be true. To say that they are inherently grasping at straws or to call them “a little bit of fideism” is to fail to understand the way that people should rationally achieve cognitive equilibrium taking all evidence into account. Sometimes the evidence is somewhat messy and so the true explanation is somewhat messy as well. Working scientists do this all the time when they hypothesize (for example) operator error in trying to reproduce a particular experimental result. Tough-mindedness and putting everything together is exactly the opposite of fideism or desperation. *Your* approach, which implies that the apparent silence of God in your situation was sufficient grounds in itself for abandoning Christianity and that it would have been unreasonable for you to accept other explanations, is a faulty kind of “crucial experiment” model that is not workable either in science or in life and hence shouldn’t be expected to be the right model in religion either.

    • I think you two are trying to cover too much ground by mentioning briefly many arguments pro and con Christianity and theism.

      Since Lydia mentioned prophecy as an argument, I wonder if she has seen responses to her husband’s argument from prophecy http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2016/05/timothy-mcgrews-sermon-response-to-me.html

      To which I would add my own pieces on NT claims of fulfilled prophecies: http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/search/label/prophecy

      My own questions concerning the truth claims of Christianity grew in number after comparing NT citations of OT passages in their original OT context, and after noting all of the prophecies of a soon coming of the Son of Man or Lord throughout the NT.

      • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

        Well thanks Edward. I would agree we’re hitting lots of different subjects but I’m not sure that qualifies as “trying to cover too much ground”. Everything which has come up does seem to be integral to the issues at hand. It’s also the nature of conversation in general so I’m not sure that’s a very fair criticism. Both of us admit we’re not able to cover all the ground in fact. And who, on the internet, ever covers all the ground sufficiently well?!?

        I don’t mind the odd link but I would prefer comments on my blog which don’t keep directing people to other places as if to give them homework. Thanks for your understanding!

        • Thanks for the reply. I was replying to Lydia’s brief mention of the evidence from prophecy. Anyone interested in further information on the question of whether there are convincing OT predictions of the first coming of Jesus could click on those links if they wished. Both feature points that agree with the ones you brought up concerning the inadequacy of claims of predictive prophecy, and raise additional points that Lydia and yourself might find of interest. Be that as it may, I see from reading what you have said on the topic that there is nothing I need add to the conversation you both are having.

          My idea that you were covering too much ground was based on my personal desire to see both of you discuss the pros and cons of each apologetic argument in isolation. On the other hand I agree with you that people disagree as to whether any isolated topic has been covered sufficiently.

      • Lydia McGrew says:

        I have not actually watched, nor was I present at, Tim’s recent talk on prophecy. My own work on messianic death prophecies, which I assume agrees with everything he says despite not having checked, was very focused and was published in Philosophia Christi some years ago. I wrote and researched it largely independently of Tim’s work, except insofar as he is always an influence on me, and his book recommendations are always extremely useful. Yes, there, is some probability theory in my Phil. Christi paper, but I encourage anyone not conversant with that to “hum the equations” and read the exposition.

        It’s important not to anachronistically attribute to Jews of Jesus’ time our own (and later Jewish) assumptions that, e.g., a passage can have only one meaning or only one fulfillment. The gospel authors and apostles are being very 1st-century Jewish, not doing some weird, sneaky, Christian thing, when they interpret passages that don’t necessarily have to be taken as messianic to be messianic or to be fulfilled in Jesus. Michael Brown’s books are very useful in this regard. I myself have focused on only a small number of passages which I believe even we at this distance of time can see to be messianic. Nor, of course, are messianic prophecies the only ones. If RA is interested in reading it, I will be happy to send him my article by e-mail.

        I agree that we are in a sense covering a great deal of ground, but I don’t claim to be _really_ covering it, merely referring to the scope and extent of what is out there. I’m merely trying to get past generalizations such as RA seems to take to imply that there’s no point in getting into the details. E.g. “The McGrews’ argument means that you can only appreciate the argument for the resurrection if you can do probability theory.” For real discussion of these things, I generally prefer old-fashioned, one-on-one e-mail as being the most profitable venue (of course assuming one cannot meet the person face-to-face). I would be honored to have such discussions with RA if he were interested. My e-mail is lydiamcgrew@gmail.com, and I warmly invite him to write to discuss any specific point or argument.

        I like the Lewis quotes and had read most of them before. I especially say “bully for Lewis” for making divine goodness, in a meaningful sense of “goodness,” primary, even over inerrancy.

    • I wonder what you think of some of these quotations from C. S. Lewis? Starting with the first concerning apologetics… But also note what he has to say about the “grin and bear it” approach to suffering in the third quotation, as well as the rest on this page: http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2010/03/c-s-lewis-provocative-poignant-profound.html

  4. Lydia McGrew says:

    A couple more points that may be helpful:

    On the question of why philosophers and/or theologians are more amenable to arguments for a more generic theism than to arguments for Christianity, there are abundantly sufficient explanations for this without any need to invoke the explanation that the arguments for Christianity are no good. Here are just a few.

    1) Academics tend to dislike interdisciplinary arguments. Academics are very fond of staying in their own wheelhouses and doing what they feel they do best. The arguments for generic theism are things that theologians and philosophers are more interested in because they largely concern their disciplines rather than, say, history or biology. (One exception to this rule is that philosophers of religion are often more friendly to physics. I believe this is partly because the philosophy of science is already embroiled in the details of physics.) Philosophers and theologians assume, without checking, that it would just be too hard or too troublesome to learn enough about concrete history to evaluate a miracle claim, and trying to do so is generally distasteful to them.

    2) For several centuries an idea has been prevalent that it would be unworthy of God to perform miracles–a kind of deistical bias. I myself have no sympathy for this perspective and find it just puzzling, but as near as I can figure, the idea seems to be that there is something messy or “lowering” about the Ultimate Being’s reaching down and intervening in nature. God should be “above” that sort of thing. Sometimes this is worded in Spinozistic fashion as the “argument” (though it scarcely deserves that name) that a God who performs miracles must have messed up in the creation of the world to begin with. The question-begging assumption there is that the only reason for performing a miracle would be to fix something that was messed up at the original creation. Obviously, traditional Christianity holds that that is false. God often performs miracles as signs, for example, or because he has a special reason for intervening in that particular situation.

    3) David Hume is wrongly thought to have argued decisively against the very possibility of believing rationally in miracles. Tim once said to me that when one chased down the arguments of 19th-century biblical critics, time and again what one came up against was the face of David Hume “looking up from the bottom of the beer mug.”

    4) These kinds of historical and sociological factors produced an *enormous* anti-miraculous bias in discipline after discipline (including not only theology and philosophy but also history and science). This gave rise to methodological naturalism in history and science, so that the very disciplines that might otherwise have corrected the deistical tendency in theology and philosophy instead deliberately and pointlessly handcuffed themselves with rules to the effect that (for some reason) an historian or a scientist can never conclude that a miracle has happened. In biblical studies in the 19th century, extremely poor arguments (e.g. from Strauss) were put forward that purported to “explain” the miraculous stories in the Bible in a non-miraculous fashion, starting from an undefended anti-miraculous supposition. These writings, in turn, were treated as if they were new results of Biblical scholarship, as though something new had been *discovered* by 19th-century German scholars, when in fact nothing of the kind was the case. Thus the anti-miraculous bent in scholarship became self-reinforcing.

    5) Various matters (including the age of the earth, the very possibility of miracles–see earlier points) were taken to mean, wrongly, that Christians had been “burned” by giving scientific or other empirical content to their beliefs and hence should avoid doing so in the future. I consider that the example of this kind that has had the most long-lasting effect is the sociological success of Darwinism in the scientific world. The bad moral that was drawn, and is still drawn, sometimes explicitly, is that Christian doctrine should be separated as much as possible from claims of empirical fact. That way, it cannot be undermined by such considerations. This fear of the empirical, combined with the other factors, caused too many Christians to abandon an evidential approach to Christianity, which helped to cause historical evidentialism to drop off the map. One can still see statements to the effect that Christian evidentialism and the application of historical arguments to Christianity is a wrongful concession to “enlightenment rationalism,” even among relatively orthodox scholars. This tended to reinforce a kind of semi-deistical bias even amongst orthodox Christians, because biblical miracles were isolated from investigation and it was assumed that one should not subject God’s doings to evidential investigation, thus undermining the concept of a miracle as a sign.

    6) In the 20th century, a strong focus on the top-down defense of biblical inerrancy further moved Christian scholarship away from an historical defense of the faith, so that things like the argument from undesigned coincidences found in Paley and J.J. Blunt fell out of fashion and even out of knowledge among educated Christian theologians and apologists. The rise of van Tilian presuppositionalism and other forms of reformed theology further contributed to this trend.

    All of these reasons show why one should be extremely hesitant to argue that, since X type of argument is heavily preferred by philosophers and theologians over Y type of argument, X type of argument is probably good and Y type of argument is probably weak.

    • I disagree with such an interpretation of the history of decline in belief in the miraculous, and also with the interpretation you present as to why J. J. Blunt’s “undesigned coincidences” argument fell out of fashion. But I am eager to read your book after it appears.

      Instead of your interpretation it seems like attempts were made for centuries to give the Bible the largest possible benefit of a doubt when it spoke about creation, cosmology, epidemiology, why plagues came and went, why floods and droughts came rather than being blessed with more moderate weather, why lightning storms came and went, why earthquakes came and went, why harvests were bountiful or sparse, why a nation was invaded, conquered and/or set free, why kingships were necessary (a priority was placed on kingships and the necessity of rulers to maintain standards of faith and worship, stamping out blasphemers and heretics), along with maintaining priests and temples/churches. This was important because God’s pleasure or displeasure seemed to be able to account for just about any and every major and often minor event or phenomenon taking place in nature or in the life of a nation, or in the lives of certain individuals. People saw a direct connection between pleasing God who was believed to personally direct natural, political and personal events. If one pleased God with worship, sacrifice, prayers, priests, temples/churches it was assumed that would lead to good things happening in nature and politics and in one’s life. Conversely, if bad things happened, one must turn toward God all the more. There were not a lot of alternatives back then, like knowing the weather a week in advance to be able to prepare for storms and floods and tornadoes, or knowing about the Pacific circle of volcanic activity and why that is due to plate tectonics. Or knowing that the stars we see are nothing compared to all the ones we don’t, same with the moons we don’t see that light planets other than our own, but to no apparent purpose since we also know such planets are unoccupied and don’t need to be lit at night, and don’t need their moons for signs and seasons. Per the book of Job, the constellations are moved by God, and the lightning is His voice. He moves the clouds. He sends, he denies. See also the Psalms, and the books of Exodus, Chronicles and Kings.

      So there is a cultural gap in how the ancients viewed the cosmos and how we tend to view most of it today. More about that gap here http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2015/03/the-cultural-divide-between-ancient.html

      For centuries many Christians defended phenomena in nature or politics as augurs of God’s direct and personal pleasure or displeasure, and claimed that biblical cosmology as it appeared to the writers of the Bible also must be viewed as the prime datum and must be defended against free thinkers who openly endorsed alternate points of view. Even today you see Christian organizations dedicated to young-earth creationism who continue to attract plenty of adherents both in the U.S. and even in the Middle East where an Islamic version of young-earth creationism has grown up, inspired by Christian versions and their arguments in the West.

      So the idea of God as the personal determiner of changes in nature and nations, due to his pleasure or displeasure, seems to have grown more tenuous an idea over the centuries. More here http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2015/07/how-and-why-did-scientific-revolution.html

      Also, Blunt’s argument from undesigned coincidences never could compete as a solution to the synoptic problem overall, which introduced ideas such as Markan priority, and when scholars began discussing how Gospel stories appeared to have been mixed and remixed to some extent both orally and textually, especially from earlier to later Gospels. We also know that stories from all four Gospels were merged in some early 2nd century harmonies such as one used by Justin Martyr or even the Diatessaron, or the Epistle of the Apostles, pretty early works, but Christians felt little need to distinguish which story or incidental detail came from which Gospel, so there is also no way of telling what sorts of incidental details scribes might have introduced in retrograde fashion even from the fourth Gospel to the first, not after they were busy copying all four of the earliest Gospels and recalling incidental details from memory.

  5. Lydia McGrew says:

    It may be helpful to realize that there can be a great asymmetry between the force of positive evidence for something and the force of the absence of evidence as an argument against that same claim. This is why many arguments from silence are so poor.

    Here’s an example. Suppose that your friend idly remarks to you that he heard on the radio that there was a car accident at a certain location in town. This is quite decent evidence that such an accident took place. On the other hand, if that friend happens not to say such a thing, this is in a great many scenarios barely worth mentioning as evidence *against* the claim that such an accident took place. After all, your friend is presumably not obsessively listening to the radio, the radio doesn’t report every single accident, and your friend might not mention it even if he did hear it. So there is a great asymmetry between the force of his positive testimony *for* the occurrence of the accident and the force of the mere absence of his testimony *against* the occurrence of the accident.

    Similarly, one can say that, if you *had* felt an overwhelming sense of God’s presence in your time of trial after praying for it, that would be *some* evidence for the truth of Christianity (though I would say not very weighty) while consistently saying that the *absence* of such a sense of God’s presence is no evidence worth mentioning *against* Christianity. There just is no necessary symmetry between the force of the presence and absence of evidence for and against a particular conclusion, and very often the assumption, “If this were true, such-and-such would have happened” is just false.

    I think sometimes people have an incorrectly informed “epistemic conscience,” for want of a better word. They say to themselves something like this: “Well, if that prayer had been answered as I was requesting it to be answered, I would have regarded that as some evidence for my beliefs. So to be consistent I have to regard the absence of that answer as equally strong evidence against my beliefs.”

    That just is epistemically incorrect, as many examples of the faultiness of arguments from silence attest.

  6. I suspect that disagreements on all manner of topics as well as inherent difficulties in communicating all that one knows to others (in experience and readings), and them communicating all they know back again, are inherent difficulties. Not sinful but inherent in the cosmos itself. After all, we construct what we know or think we know based on countless experiences and readings, and we are all subject to cognitive biases as cognitive scientists have proven via experiments. No one has all the same experiences, reads all the same books, likes all the same songs and movies. And all we can convey to each other are linear streams of words, not the gushing inter-related three dimensional matrix of thoughts and ideas inside the brain-mind system.

    We don’t have USB3 ports by which we might download our entire brain-mind matrices to another person to allow them to see with our eyes, our lifetime of experiences and readings.

    Also, most of what we read or hear we don’t recall verbatim. Instead we tend to summarize how thinks affect us, be it a book or a conversation, as either having been a positive or negative experience overall, as something we wish more of, or wish less of in future. We like it or don’t like it. So our feelings — how we felt about what we read or saw or heard — leave a larger mark on our consciousness than total exactness of everything discussed.

  7. Just came across your blog while looking for discussion of Peter Boghossian, who is our zany village atheist here in Portland.

    First and most importantly, I’m very sorry for all your suffering. Some Christians say that suffering is noble, ennobling, beautiful, etc. That is not true. Suffering is terrible. Jesus begged to be spared it, and that tells us everything we need to know.

    I’ve been a Christian for almost 25 years and have never had any “experiential companionship” with God of the kind you describe. During times of difficulty, there’s never a heavenly word in my ear or a heavenly arm around my shoulders. What to spread on my toast remains my own decision (although I’m quite partial to lots of butter and good marmalade.) How I share in the life of God is through the sacraments. Baptism and confirmation to establish us in Christ and in the Holy Spirit. Confession and the Eucharist to heal us and feed us. Anointing to strengthen us in serious illness. That is how I see God sharing his life with us humans on our humble earthly level, the only level on which we can experience anything during this life. At this particular moment, for me, sharing in his life just means great compassion for the poor Remonstrant, whoever you are, who has been through so much in the past couple of years.

    The saints have said not to make major life-changing decisions during times of great turmoil. Of course that advice will seem impossibly glib during those times, when making a major life-changing decision seems like the only thing to do!

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment Kerry. I sympathize with you if you have to share a place on this planet with such an unintellectual plonker as Boghossian. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone!

      I tend to think the opposite way. I think we find out who we really are and what we really believe in times of great turmoil. If our beliefs don’t stand that test then we should question them I think.

      Thank you for your sympathy and I hope you might find some more humourous moments reading what I’ve written about your beloved Boghossian!

  8. stgeorgeds says:

    Just coming across your blog now. Was sad to read about your painful experience with the aneurysm. As a Christian was also sad to hear about you denying the reality of Jesus Christ as God and Saviour.

    I don’t know relaying my experiences will be of any help to you but I just felt compelled. I am assuming that an aneurysm is far more painful than anything I’ve experienced. But I have had very severe headaches in the past. Typically migraine symptoms like aversion to light, vomiting, my vision became a total blur for about 1 minute one time. But the worse part of it was that these headaches came in clusters, one day after the other. It could last weeks where most days I would have such a headache, and usually it was so bad, that the only solution was to go to bed and try to sleep. The worse part of it was the fear the it would happen again. At times I felt completely terrorized by the experience, I found myself begging God to prevent another one. I don’t know how God responded but there were times where the pain still came. But I would usually just say this when I felt a headache coming on and was just hoping for a supernatural fix. At the time I was not really that bothered that God did not respond, but I was not really a committed Christian at that point either.

    I came across this blog because of my frustration with Calvinism. Up until recently I have been going to a Baptist church that doesn’t not hold to a reformed doctrine, but is heavily influenced by the neo-reformed movement through various forms of media. When I first was aware of this theological argument, I really disliked Calvinism. I believed accepting the Calvinism interpretations of their few favourite Bible passages lead to many logical contradictions, and direct contradictions to much clearer and contextual relevant Bible passages. But I was able to let it go at that time. More recently I looked into it again, more through a church history lens, and also in terms of the implied motivation of God in the incarnation and death of Jesus Christ. The history of Calvinism is dark, I wish every Westminster confession came with an explanation of the English civil war and the Puritans who murdered King Charles. And the implied motivation of God under Calvinism is vanity not self-sacrificing love (exact opposites). I had to take a step further away from Calvinism. If you are so inclined pray that I will be able to let go of my disdain and love people who claim to be Calvinism: it can be hard at times. But I have found many who are mostly innocent, just taken in by false teachers.

    I did kindof want to try and discuss my experience of painful headaches from the theological perspective. I do not have these headaches anymore, and I attribute this becoming more physically active. While one could easily conclude that God had no role in this process, I disagree. As a Christian I would say that taking care of what God was the solution to my problem. I would say I believe in synergy, that I have to cooperate with God in his intended solutions. And that God has normal(or perhaps natural or even intended) means of grace. God can supplement those with supernatural means of grace when he deems necessary. But he often chooses not to, particularly when the natural means of grace has been forsaken by the person. I would say in my experience if I misuse my body, then I might expect problems to arrive, and that God may not bless me with supernatural grace to solve those problems. I have noticed this principle working in many other moral struggles I have had, most notably, in my struggle with pornography.

    I don’t want to be one of Job’s friends saying that you must have done something wrong, or forsaken some grace, and that’s why you suffer. I believe the book of Job clearly contradicts the notion that suffering always has it’s cause in sin. But I would encourage you to use natural graces God has given you. If you need compassion, call on a friend. If you need healing, call on a doctor. These things a graces which God has given us as well. He is the Lord of the natural and the supernatural, and always a force for good.

    I would say I definitely understand your experience of the silence of God. Most Christians I know speak boldly about hearing directly from God, claiming a “still small voice”. I don’t know their experience, and I do not want to judge it. But I would say in my experience I doubt I have experienced such a thing. This “still small voice” is only found in the Bible once (as far as I know), in 1 Kings to Elijah when he was on the run from Jezebel. Yet in a lot of evangelical circles this is emphasised. Fortunately I think some teachers do have a similar idea as what I described before as normal means of grace, and when wanting to communicate with God, the Bible being one, the Church (his body) being the other.

    I also want to mention that I used to believe that God had definitely spoken to me, only to find that what I thought he said was wrong. Over time I have found that I was just conflating my internal voice with this “still small voice”. I believe God still does communicate to people through supernatural means, but most of the time does not. I do think God communicates to his people all the time.

    So I guess this leaves the naturally when can you expect to witness the outward supernatural power from God? As far as I know the charismatic church believes regularly through the Holy Spirit. Looking at the Wesley quadrilateral, I don’t believe this is confirmed by any 4 sources. Certainly neither ancient tradition, or our experience. I guess we could debate scripture and reason.

    I did also want to address the inconsistency between beliefs of churches as well. But I am out of time, if you respond to this I will write it.

    With Love,
    (I will tell you my name if you want but I won’t post my name online)

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Hi there St. George!

      Thank you for stopping by and reading my piece.
      I cannot respond to everything you say but a few things stand out.

      I’m afraid I cannot pray for your disdain to diminish. Firstly because I don’t pray anymore at all. Secondly because disdain is the most rational response to have to such a worldview. I tried hiding my complete and utter contempt for Calvinism for a long time (in the spirit of brotherly love) but it has been so liberating to now say that I have nothing but contempt for that philosophy.

      I’m sorry to hear what you’ve been through and I’m genuinely glad for you that you have retained your faith. I have no interest in arguing people out of their faith. But, for me, it wasn’t so much that there was no healing or relief to the pain. Rather, I realized that there was no companionship to be had with God in those early hours of the morning when you sit alone in the dark in agony. I have no time for friends who abandon me in times of need so why should god get a free pass on that one?

      Feel free to write something on any other matter.

      Best wishes!

  9. stgeorgeds says:

    Hello again, glad to see you responded.

    I noticed a few mistakes my previous post; I didn’t have time to proof read. I guess the largest was a unintended double negative. The church I attended didn’t hold a reformed theology. If there was anything unclear in my meaning because of these please let me know.

    As I said I wanted to write my thoughts and experience with the inconsistencies between modern denominations. First I think it’s necessary to point out that even I believe that people engage in mass delusion. Obviously there are many religions, and while each may have some truth, and may be preparatory to the revelation of God, they also have many beliefs that are irreconcilable with the truth God’s salvation. But mass delusions exists outside of the realm of spiritual beliefs as well. Next I think it’s necessary to realize that even when truth is effectively communicated, people reject it. Consider the following passage.

    “Acts 28:25-28 King James Version (KJV)
    25 And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers,
    26 Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive:
    27 For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.”

    I think Paul effectively communicated at this time. And I don’t believe that the reason they did not understand the truth, was because they were “totally depraved”, or because God intervened in their mind to prevent them from understanding, or because God “shut them all up under sin”. Rather I think they were given the grace of preaching of Apostle Paul and choose to reject it. Their wounded nature made worse by their previous choices to sin, hardened their heart to the point that they choose to reject God and grace Jesus Christ has died to afford them. I think this grace is metaphorically right within everyone’s grasp, provided for and available to all. I’ve really been moved by this recently, the grace that Jesus gave is literally all around us, so close to every person, they just need to use it, and yet some don’t.

    I admit I don’t know your beliefs that well. But given the title of the blog I would think you have some affinity for Arminianism. I would say after the first time I confronted Calvinism, Arminianism seemed like a sensible alternative. However after looking at it more recently, I would say I think it’s too close to Calvinism. It does depart from Calvinism in some of the clearest and most important aspects, for example the competing five points. However I think it still shares the binary view of our nature and salvation. I believe their is a binary aspect to our Justification, the indwelling and marking of the Holy Spirit. I do believe in the early church that was received by faith at baptism. I believe this should normally (normal means of grace) occur at baptism but because of the fractured state of the church God will work in other ways (such as sinners prayer). However I believe there are many aspects of our “salvation” that are not binary. The most important Protestants might refer to some of this as sanctification, Roman Catholics and Orthodox as theosis or deification. John Wesley emphasized sanctification a lot, and Orthodox consider theosis to be the primary aspect of salvation, I believe God has influenced me though both. I bring this up because I want to contrast with the binary view of salvation and how it makes people think about fellow churchmen. If you look at the “schisma ad naseum” of the Protestant world, I think it proceeds partially from this. While people may say differently, there is this almost subconscious idea that “if they were really ‘saved’, they would know this doctrine” that is very prevalent. This has lead to many new denominations, I remember watching a talk about denominational history in Canada, and the story is essentially the same every time. Someone or some group with a new doctrine holds their personal interpretation above that of their church and eventually concludes the Holy Spirit must not be guiding the other people and decide to split off. It’s almost become the tradition of Protestantism. For the record, as part of my search for a new church I am attending a Methodist church, but would very much like to attend an Anglican church if it existed as it did even 100 years ago.

    I feel like I’m rambling a bit, but I point out the binary view of salvation for to reasons. One I don’t believe it’s true, and we should allow for the possibility that people are following Jesus and yet because of their own not yet fully transformed character as well as possible false teaching they may have full understanding of the truth. And two that believing in this binary view of someone’s salvation, has devastating consequences to Church unity.

    But actually there is a whole other side to this phenomena. I think that historically, this intensely individualist mindset which first saw salvation more in this binary way started with Luther. I have not read his works myself, but with what second hand knowledge I have I would say he say justification as binary and not something to be worked toward, or merited and certainly not purchased, and in this I would agree. But I think he opened the door for madmen like Calvin and Zwingli. I think to justify their separation from the historic church and it’s doctrine forced them into this kindof mindset of inspired personal interpretation. I think this kindof thinking would naturally lead to mass delusion, endless schism, and ultimately makes Christians (but I pray not Christ) look bad. I feel this what you have experienced, and I say I and everyone else has experienced it. I have had non-Christians directly tell me this is not a good testimony and is one of the reasons they are not a Christian. It saddens me to tears sometimes. Church unity is a biblical command, but it’s either forgotten or perverted into “my church is the only true church”, it’s so sad.

    But ultimately I think this problem comes from false beliefs, that originated in the reformation, and an arrogant mindset that found it’s perfection in Calvinism. I myself will always strive to have a spirit of ecumenism and but will also correct false teachings. It’s a hard situation to be in, because I dislike this mindset of inspired individual interpretation and yet felt called to leave my church over doctrinal issues. I suppose you would call the opposite of this individualist mindset to be the Catholic mindset. I think churches with this mindset can ultimately reunite and that doing so would be a wonderful witness to the world.

    Are you from England? I was contacted recently by some UK recruiter for a job in London. I’m currently excited about the opportunity (I’m a PhD student from Canada), but it’s some crazy high finance research job so I have to jump through some hoops and prove myself.

    I did have a bit more I wanted to say in terms of this binary view of salvation and how it affects our expectation of how we will experience God in our daily lives but again I need to go and get some other things done. But I have enjoyed expressing all this stuff, usually I just keep all this stuff internal, don’t know any “theologians”. But hopefully we can keep the conversation going. Hope to hear from you again.

    With Love!

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