Why become a Christian?

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I wrote briefly on this once before, but this comment on Kurt Willems’ blog is worth highlighting:

I tend rather to think about the reasons why someone would not become a Christian:
1.  You have to adopt a peculiar ethic.  This means abstaining from things which are often fun and enjoyable.
2. You have to live a life of sacrifice for others.
3.  You have to love your enemies.
4.  You have to pray for those that persecute you.
5.  You have to admit your inability to satisfy your own deepest desires.
6.  You have to face the living God.
7.  You have to join a community of people who will betray, fail, disappoint, frustrate, anger, and annoy you.  And love them.
8.  You have to abstain from using force and manipulation to get your way.
9.  You have to become as a little child.
10.  You have to believe that God became incarnate through a virgin birth, died, rose again, will return someday to judge, and has sent His holy Spirit to literally indwell you.
I don’t see why anyone would choose willingly to adopt this set of requirements, unless of course, they have met and experienced God.

 

update:

Thanks to a mention by Chrys on facebook, this is getting a lot of attention from Atheists who follow her, many who appear to have wrongly assumed a number of things about what it is I meant to highlight.

It is NOT a list of what Christians are always like. Often we fail to live up to our calling and that which we claim.
It is NOT boasting that Christians are better.

It is NOT boasting that being a Christian is “soooooo hard”.

It is NOT in any way saying that non-Christians cannot or do not do any of these things.

The point is that many things on this list are not in and of themselves attractive or the natural position adopted, and that they would not normally be adopted in and of themselves. The point is that it is an experience of a person which has persuaded us (well, me and the guy who write this at least) to adopt these. That’s all.

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72 Responses to Why become a Christian?

  1. Murray says:

    Like this one Andrew – happy NY to you and Peta. Look forward to youtr regular updates and thought provoking posts. God bless.

  2. Chrys Stevenson says:

    This irks me a bit, Andrew. OK, it irks me a lot.

    This set of 'requirements' are largely only the requirements of social animals living in communities. They're common sense rules for living peacefully and co-operatively in a way which gives humans the best chance of survival. It irks me because it's one of those "Oh it's so hard to be a Christian because we have to be so much better, kinder, more moral, more loving, more humble than the rest of you" passive-aggressive diatribes. The fact is, as a group you're not better, kinder, more moral, more loving, more harmful or less hateful than the rest of us. You're just like us – good and bad.

    Some of you are lovely some of you are pains in the arse. Some of you are good, honourable decent human beings, some of you aren't.

    Lists like this are just bloody annoying and divisive and the 'aww shucks it's so hard for us to be better than you' thing really gives me the irrits.

    1. "You have to adopt a peculiar ethic. This means abstaining from things which are often fun and enjoyable."

    Atheists are not necessarily hedonists. We also abstain from things which are fun and enjoyable for a whole host of reasons not related to being Christians.

    I'd like to sit back an eat chocolates and watch television all day. Instead I've nearly killed myself working 18 hours a day for the last couple of weeks opposing a woman who tells parents not to vaccinate her kids. Was it fun? No, not really. Were there things I would rather have been doing? Absolutely. But kids' lives were at stake, so my desire to have a quiet peaceful Christmas were set aside.

    This doesn't make me a hero. It doesn't make me a Christian. It makes me a human being who cares about other human beings – enough to set aside some of my own comfort, sleep and selfish desires to contribute something simply because I could.

    2. "You have to live a life of sacrifice for others."

    Many atheists and non Christians are parents, carers, volunteers, medics, paramedics, defence force personnel, volunteer fire fighters, life-savers, etc. Living a life of sacrifice for others is not exclusive to Christians. And, remember, we atheists sacrifice our lives with no thought of a reward for our sacrifice in the hereafter. We do good stuff for free.

    3. "You have to love your enemies."

    I've always found this a slightly smarmy self-righteous invocation which is self-evidently not true of the vast majority of Christians. I've yet to meet a Christian who genuinely loves their enemies. If Christianity was dependent on people loving their enemies history would not be littered with holy wars in which good, god-fearing Christians took to their enemies with swords, cannon-fire and, latterly, bombs.

    But putting this aside, I've found the atheists of my acquaintance are routinely anxious to make a distinction between hating what someone does and hating (or wishing actual harm upon) an individual. Sure, there are exceptions .. but there's also exceptions (many!) within Christendom. I've found far more pacifists within the atheist community than among Christians who always seem to find some Biblical rationalisation for going to war.

    4. "You have to pray for those that persecute you."

    An infamous troll who has been targetting atheists for well over a decade and making increasingly scary death threats has recently been arrested by the Montreal police.

    Did the atheist community scream, "Stick him in the slammer and throw away the key?"

    No. Almost universally they said, "He's obviously mentally ill (something later shown to be true), let's hope this results in him getting the help he needs."

    Many also expressed concern for his elderly mother.

    That's a practical 'wish' for the well being of a persecutor and close enough to 'loving' those who trespass against you, I think.

    5. "You have to admit your inability to satisfy your own deepest desires"

    Again, atheists are not necessarily hedonists. Very few people, Christian or otherwise, get to satisfy all their deepest desires.

    Is this good or bad? It depends. Some of our 'deepest desires' may be harmful (to ourselves or others) so to abstain from satisfying them may be laudable. Nobody, for example, would suggest that a pedophile should fulfill their deepest desires.

    But, in general, to deny the natural human inclination to simply be who and what we feel we *must* be because of some arbitrary social or religious injunction is, to my mind, counter-productive and destructive.

    (continued below)

    • AndrewFinden says:

      Again.. because I too quickly dismissed your comment earlier…

      I'd like to… Instead I've…. Was it fun? No… But…

      You actually make my point – you put aside what was "fun" to do something less so, not because of anything attractive in the thing itself (i.e. because you "wanted to") but because something else compelled you to (in this case, a concern for the safety of babies). My point is – it's not the ethic itself I "want" but because of something else (an experience of a person) I feel compelled to take up the ethic.

      Living a life of sacrifice for others is not exclusive to Christians.

      Of course not.
      Such real altruism is, however, an anomalous phenomenom for naturalists to explain. Why do we regard something that goes against normal evolutionary impetus so highly? Even Dawkins can only come up with suggesting it's a 'misfiring'.

      If Christianity was dependent on people loving their enemies history would not be littered with holy wars in which good, god-fearing Christians took to their enemies with swords, cannon-fire and, latterly, bombs.

      Christianity is dependant upon Jesus. The C20th shows well enough that people can (mis)use any ideology, even atheism and science, to wreak havoc, no religion required.

      I've found the atheists of my acquaintance are routinely anxious to make a distinction between hating what someone does and hating (or wishing actual harm upon) an individual.

      I trust you give your Christian opponents the same room to make such a distinction as well?

      • Trigger says:

        So all you are saying Andrew, is that God exists in some philosophical arguments.

        "This much seems apparent, that a simulation does not disprove a thing — it rather helps prove it." (from that dreadful anaology above) This is just plain wrong. It provides no evidence whatsoever either way. Just as, if we did have the ability to simulate the experience of God via Neurology, it says nothing about the existence of God. How could it – running a simulation would be based on science and science, founded on naturalism as it must be to function, doesnt deal with God(s) (as you are so fond of pointing out)

        • Trigger says:

          This got posted in the wrong place and needs to be moved

        • AndrewFinden says:

          So all you are saying Andrew, is that God exists in some philosophical arguments.

          er… no… that's not what I'm saying.

          "This much seems apparent, that a simulation does not disprove a thing — it rather helps prove it." (from that dreadful anaology above) This is just plain wrong. It provides no evidence whatsoever either way. Just as, if we did have the ability to simulate the experience of God via Neurology, it says nothing about the existence of God. How could it – running a simulation would be based on science and science, founded on naturalism as it must be to function, doesnt deal with God(s) (as you are so fond of pointing out)

          While you're correct that science requires methodological naturalism, and that it certainly can't prove or disprove God's existence because of that working assumption / scope, it is not out of the question to take several simulations, note that they have a corresponding reality, and posit that perhaps this other simulation also has a corresponding reality.

          • Trigger says:

            "not sure I can move it… it'll be ok where it is.". I have no idea what happened :S

            "er… no… that's not what I'm saying."

            Ok, what ARE you saying? In what sense does God exist?

            " it is not out of the question to take several simulations, note that they have a corresponding reality, and posit that perhaps this other simulation also has a corresponding reality."
            Of course its not out of the question. But you have to provide a rationale for doing so. Automatically concluding that this is acceptable is inductive reasoning and prone to criticism. No rationale has been provided so I dismiss it – it provides no 'proof' either way. The logic simply does not hold water.

          • AndrewFinden says:

            Ok, what ARE you saying? In what sense does God exist?

            He exists, really, is what I would say. However, this post wasn't really about an argument for God's existence per se, so I'm not sure what more you actually want me to, or think I'm saying…

            Of course its not out of the question. But you have to provide a rationale for doing so. Automatically concluding that this is acceptable is inductive reasoning and prone to criticism. No rationale has been provided so I dismiss it – it provides no 'proof' either way. The logic simply does not hold water.

            I didn't cite the analogy as a 'proof', I cited it to point out that neurology etc. has not 'disproved' God. Whether being able to simulate a religious experience it is a good reason to think that a true experience also exists is something we might well debate, but wasn't really the point.

          • Trigger says:

            *If* you are citing your experience of God as evidence of his existence, if that experience could be reproduced by natural methods then one has to question your attribution of your experience to a deity.

            The analogy you cited falls down because the author is comparing things that we know exist with something, the existence of which is up for debate, and using an inductive argument to make a claim. Its badly flawed.

            So whilst neurology etc. ceratinly hasnt disproved God (how could it?), by the same token your experience does not provide positive proof.

            I have no doubt that you will accuse me of a strawman – but when you dont state a position clearly and succinctly then one is prone to error.

          • AndrewFinden says:

            *If* you are citing your experience of God as evidence of his existence, if that experience could be reproduced by natural methods then one has to question your attribution of your experience to a deity.

            As the analogy points out – sexual experience can be reporuced by brain stimulation, that obviously does not mean sex is not real.

            The analogy you cited falls down because the author is comparing things that we know exist with something, the existence of which is up for debate, and using an inductive argument to make a claim. Its badly flawed.

            No – that's what analogies do – they compare slightly different, things that have certain things in common. Just like being able to reproduce a sexual experience via brain stimulation doesn't do away with the reality of sex, neither does being able to reproduce religious experiences via brain stimulation do away
            with the potential reality of a deity.

            I was rebutting a claim, not making one.

          • Trigger says:

            What things do sex and god have in common precisely?

            Claiming that sex isnt real because one can simulate it is quite illogical because we know sex is real TO START WITH.
            Because the existence of God is indeterminable, the ability to simulate emotions that people associate with God leads quite rightly to the conclusion that these emotions may not be caused by God on every, or indeed any, occasion.
            Your cited article only works if one assumes something about the providence of emotions attributed to a deity in the first place – the very thing he is trying to rebutt.
            Note that this says nothing about the existence of God(s) in the first place.

          • AndrewFinden says:

            It appears you haven't yet grasped the point of the analogy properly. Let me try and walk you through it again.

            What things do sex and god have in common precisely?

            That both can be simulated by stimulating parts of the brain.

            Claiming that sex isnt real because one can simulate it is quite illogical because we know sex is real TO START WITH.

            Right! So.. we have something which can be simulated and which really exists therefore simulation does not (necessarily) mean that the reality is non-existent.

            Because the existence of God is indeterminable, the ability to simulate emotions that people associate with God leads quite rightly to the conclusion that these emotions may not be caused by God on every, or indeed any, occasion.

            No.. why should it lead to such a conclusion? As the sex example shows – ability to similuate does not rule out the existence of the reality. The sex example gives a good reason against assuming such conclusion.

            Do you see now what the analogy is showing?

            He does take it a step further – if we have several things which we know are real, yet can be simulated in the brain, we've good reason to think that in the case of not being able to verify a particular reality, the ability to simulate it points to the existence of said reality. It's certainly not a proof, but it's a reasonable thought. Even if you disagree with this second part, the first part of the argument – the part against simulations disproving a thing – remains.

            Your cited article only works if one assumes something about the providence of emotions attributed to a deity in the first place – the very thing he is trying to rebutt.

            Note that this says nothing about the existence of God(s) in the first place.

            Eh?

          • Trigger says:

            You haven't got it at all have you?

            "That both can be simulated by stimulating parts of the brain."

            I rather suspected that you might say that.

            We have 2 things A and B. They have one feature in common, Y. Tell me why that gives you a logical basis to conclude that, by extension, because A has 'X', B must have 'X'? Do tell.

            You need a rationale for comparison. One hasn't been provided. The analogy falls apart before you have even got started.

            "No.. why should it lead to such a conclusion? " By using logic. Please read what I wrote. Where in the piece that you quoted did I say anything about the existence of God? Please show me.

            People have emotions that they say are caused by God. However, those emotions can be also be caused by entirely natural processes. You have to make a choice between saying:

            The emotions people ascribe to God may not always be caused by God
            The simulations aren't actually down to natural processes at all, but God is causing them because he knows when people try to simulate him.

            Its a choice. I'm ruling out the second one.

            The logical strand then goes – if people are using the emotions they ascribe to god as evidence for the existence of God, then the ability to simulate the emotions ascribed to God rather undermines their evidence.

            However, what it categorically DOES NOT do is provide any proof either way about the existence of God.

            "Eh?"

            So you are claiming that emotions of god and god are one and the same thing are you?

          • AndrewFinden says:

            We have 2 things A and B. They have one feature in common, Y. Tell me why that gives you a logical basis to conclude that, by extension, because A has 'X', B must have 'X'? Do tell.

            Look.
            If we take it that A = Sex, B = God, Y = ability to simulate via brain stimulation, X = real experience. We have the following:

            YA – a simulation of a sexual experience via brain stimulation.

            We also have XA = the real, actual sexual experiences

            What this means is that YA does not do away with XA.

            Now. If YB = simulation of religious experience, and XB = the reality of religious experience, neither then does YB necessarily do away with XB.

            Ability to simulate is NOT evidence against the reality of a thing.

            Do you get it yet?

          • Trigger says:

            You are completely and utterly wrong. You still havent provided a logical basis for extending your claims about sex to religious experience.

            And the reality of WHAT thing? Have you read any of my posts?

          • AndrewFinden says:

            Have you read any of my posts?

            Yes – which is why I keep having to explain the point which you don't seem to have grasped.

            You still havent provided a logical basis for extending your claims about sex to religious experience.

            My claim (which is really a rebuttal of a claim) is this:

            Being able to simulate an experience by brain stimulation does not disprove the reality of the experience. Sex is an example of this: we can simulate via brain stimulation, yet it is also real experience

            To put it another way: it was claimed that as we can simulate religious experience by stimulating the brain, this disproves religious experiences. Sex can also be simulated by brain stimulation yet we know that this does not disprove or do away with the reality. Therefore there the reductionist claim regarding religious experiences is an unjustified assumption.

            Again, because you just don't seem to grasp this:

            Ability to simulate something is NOT evidence against the reality of a thing. To say that brain simulation disproves real religious experiences is unfounded and presumptive.

            If you don't get it yet, sorry, but I'm not going to keep repeating myself.

          • Trigger says:

            "To put it another way: it was claimed that as we can simulate religious experience by stimulating the brain, this disproves religious experiences." You missed a bit – it should read "are always caused by God" at the end.

            "Therefore there the reductionist claim regarding religious experiences is an unjustified assumption. "

            You cant make this claim. It doesnt follow. I'm sorry that you dont seem to understand this but your argument is one of convenience, not logic.

            It is the CAUSE of the experience that is up for debate. If you want to say that the reality of God mirrors the reality of sex, then YOU MUST provide a basis for that comparison.

            It really DOES cast doubt on the cause of the religious experience. People can think about sex and achieve orgasm without touching themselves. Why do you doubt that they can think about God and have a religious experience when there is no supernatural intervention whasoever?

            And one more time – note that this DOESNT SAY ANYTHING ABOUT THE EXISTENCE OF GOD. He might well still exist and he might well cause religious experiences inside peoples heads, but there is reason to doubt this.

            And besides, the idea that God interacts with the universe in this way is no more or less correct that the idea that God doesnt – they are both philsophical arguments and there is no way of choosing between them.

          • AndrewFinden says:

            You missed a bit – it should read "are always caused by God" at the end.

            Well now I see why we appear to be talking past one another. That addition was not part of the original claim I was responding to. In fact, I don't claim that "all" religious experience are necessarily caused by God. I was simply refuting the claim that neurology has done away with God.

            And one more time – note that this DOESNT SAY ANYTHING ABOUT THE EXISTENCE OF GOD.

            So then I take it you actually agree with me, that the simulation does not disprove the thing: Neurology has not disproven the existence of God?

            You cant make this claim. It doesnt follow.

            Yes I can. The existence of one (or more) examples of a simulation not doing away the real thing disproves the claim that simulation necessarily does away with the reality. And if simulation doesn't necessarily do away with the real thing, why should we simply assume it does in this case?

          • Trigger says:

            "Yes I can"

            No you cant. God and sex are similar in one regard. That's only a basis for a naiive comparison. What is difficult to understand about this? Once more, no matter how you twist the causal chain around the thing you are looking for evidence for is God. Next you'll be saying that because houses have builders, the universe must have one.

            Chrys didnt claim that neurology had disproved God. Here is what she said "The illusion of a supernatural presence in your life is well explained by neurology and more recently neurotheology……all point towards the 'experience' of God being a byproduct of the slightly weird (but evolutionarily and neurological explicable) workings of the human mind"
            What is incorrect in this statement? If people are using the experience of God as evidence for God then the fact we can simulate that experience means that one has to draw the conclusion that God may not be involved. To go back to your cited analogy – the claim that it sneaks in is that the experience of sex is evidence for the act of sex – not so.

            "So then I take it you actually agree with me, that the simulation does not disprove the thing: Neurology has not disproven the existence of God? "

            It has NOTHING to say on the matter. Thats the THIRD time I've stated that. However, the analogy you cited does not work and doesn't disprove the strawman you attacked

            "I don't claim that "all" religious experience are necessarily caused by God. "
            This is the star phrase. If you aren't claiming that all religious experiences are caused by God, how do you tell the difference between the ones that are and the ones that aren't? Curious.

          • AndrewFinden says:
            "So then I take it you actually agree with me, that the simulation does not disprove the thing: Neurology has not disproven the existence of God? "

            It has NOTHING to say on the matter. Thats the THIRD time I've stated that.

            I'll take that as a yes, if only to save me beating my head against the wall.. again.

            Neurology no more points to the supernatural being and illusion than it points to sex being an illusion. All it does is show that we can simulate both. That's it.

            I'm not going to be dragged further into an argument I'm not making, despite what you appear to have assumed.

            Thanks.

          • Trigger says:

            You havent made an argument. You have used a dreadful anaology to attack a point that was never claimed.

            And *sigh* the fact that you can simulate the experience of God DOES SHOW that it might not be God causing those experiences. What is tricky or incorrect about that?

            You attacked a strawman. Havent dealt with that point have you?

            Not going to respond to this either then?

            ""I don't claim that "all" religious experience are necessarily caused by God. "
            This is the star phrase. If you aren't claiming that all religious experiences are caused by God, how do you tell the difference between the ones that are and the ones that aren't? Curious. "

            Thanks.

          • AndrewFinden says:

            As you can see, the comments are getting thinner.. so is my patience, to be honest.

            I don't think we're going to achieving anything beneficial by going around in circles, talking past one another.

            I don't think your objection hits the mark, you don't think the analogy hits the mark.. let's leave it there.

          • Trigger says:

            No answer to the substantive points I raised. Fine. At least the next time you have a 'religious experience' you might think about what the cause of it is.
            But if you enjoy swallowing bad arguments and then regurgitating them then so be it.
            "so is my patience, to be honest"; thanks for the condescending tone.

          • AndrewFinden says:

            I have a (bad?) habit of subconsciously mirroring tone.

  3. Chrys Stevenson says:

    6. " You have to face the living God."

    Really, what does this even mean? Give us a date, place and time to meet this 'living' God who seems to exist only in your imagination and we'll happily say hello (though we won't promise to like him).

    The fact is, man created God in his own image. The illusion of a supernatural presence in your life is well explained by neurology and more recently neurotheology. The bicameral brain, the illusion of transcendence, the brain's propensity to create auditory and visual hallucinations (yes, even in the completely sane), selective memory, our instinctive need to 'see' patterns and anthropomorphise and much more all point towards the 'experience' of God being a byproduct of the slightly weird (but evolutionarily and neurological explicable) workings of the human mind.

    There is no doubt that God *seems* real – but that doesn't make the illusion real. In other words, rather than facing 'the living God', it would be worth while facing scientific fact instead.

    7. "You have to join a community of people who will betray, fail, disappoint, frustrate, anger, and annoy you. And love them."

    Sheesh! Don't we all?

    We are social animals. Whether at work or in our voluntary, domestic or recreational activities we all have to learn to deal with people who drive us batty. If we didn't society would disintegrate. Yes, we roll our eyes and grumble about those who let us down, but most people – Christian, non Christian and atheist – accept our co-workers', family members', friends' and neighbours' eccentricities and continue to work with them or, at least, not to throttle them (as tempting as it may sometimes be).

    I've worked with some really, truly, ghastly people. I reckon the restraint I showed by not shaking them until their teeth fell out can only be explained at some level by me loving them as fellow human beings more than I hated them for their many, many assaults on basic human decency.

    Why, no matter how much others drive us nuts do we tend not to commit similar offences against them? Not because we're Christians, but because that's how societies hang together and that's what social animals do.

    8. "You have to abstain from using force and manipulation to get your way"

    And who says that non-Christians routinely use force and manipulation to get their way? We tend to use words, reason and persuasion rather than weapons. That's a lot different from force and manipulation. Take Fred Nile. No, really … PLEASE! Take him! Nile is a devout Christian MP who recently tried to hold the New South Wales government to ransom by saying he may not back their industrial relations legislation if they wouldn't agree to scrap ethics classes. Force and manipulation, thy name is Reverend Nile.

    9. "You have to become as a little child."

    Oh, fuh-crying out loud – grow up! There is nothing more harmful to the future of this planet (nor so insulting to your human dignity) than apparently intelligent adults setting aside reason and evidence to effect the kind of child-like credulousness required to accept the literal truth of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and other imaginary friends. I'll say it again. Grow up!

    • AndrewFinden says:

      The fact is, man created God in his own image.

      Assuming that you use the word 'fact' colloquially, I find it quite interesting to see this claim made, very often, by the same people who claim that the Judeo-Christian God offends their humanism-inspired morality (also leaving aside the problem of how to hold someone accountable without any objective moral values and duties to which they are held).

    • AndrewFinden says:

      The illusion of a supernatural presence in your life is well explained by neurology and more recently neurotheology.

      An analogy (not mine):

      Let us say there was such a thing as sex. Let us say that, scandalously, a large part of the population claimed to have it, and worse, claimed it to be quite an elevating experience, attributing to it all sorts of supernatural terms — “love”, “spiritual union” etc. etc. Let us then go on to say that, at the same time as all this sex, there lived a Scientist. Now our Scientist performs an experiment in which he stimulates all the necessary parts of the brain involved in sex. After much hard work, a painful divorce, and difficult dealings with awkward volunteers, he managed to perfectly simulate the sexual act by the power of electro-magnetic waves. He then publishes YouTube videos claiming the following, “The experience of sex in its entirety can be simulated by electromagnetic waves. Thus all claims of spiritual union etc. etc. are false. Ladies and gentlemen, I regret to inform you that there is no sex.”

      Now put in this context, it sounds ridiculous, because the reality of sex is self-evident. God is not. But the same false assumption is made nonetheless: Because a thing can be simulated, it can only ever be a simulation.
      This is ridiculous. We can chemically simulate every emotion under the sun; does this mean emotions don’t exist as anything but simulations? We can simulate hunger, flying, love, courage, drowning, dreaming, and dying; do these things become unrealities as a result? Of course not. This much seems apparent, that a simulation does not disprove a thing — it rather helps prove it. We have parts of our brain that, when stimulated, can make us nervous. Well, there is such a thing as being nervous. We have parts of our brain that, when stimulated, make us believe that there is a world beyond what we can perceive. Well then, it would seem to follow that there is a world we cannot perceive.

      From the same source:

      The logic that simulated religious experience disproves God would only hold water if an essential doctrine of Christianity was that God does not work through the physical world — our brains — but is confined to undetectable spiritual planes. This is not an essential doctrine of Christianity. In fact, it is a rejection of The Only Freaking Central Doctrine of Christianity — that God became man, and thus deigns not only to work through matter and flesh, but to be matter and flesh.

      Once again, the Atheist expects far more from God than the Christian. The Atheist demands magic. The Christian is comfortable with chemicals. The Atheist demands that God operate entirely outside of our bodies. The Christian is comfortable with religious experience being just that — an experience, and thus experimental. He knows himself to be an inseparable union of body and soul, and that the God-Man, of all beings, would never interact with just one of these two. If God touches my soul, he touches my brain. Sure, and why not, and duh, and I would hardly expect otherwise.

      What was that Minchin says about 'not magic'? ;)

      • Chrys Stevenson says:

        Nice try at sleight of hand, bait and switch, Andrew but you'll have to take some lessons from Penn and Teller. :-)

        You begin by talking about 'sex' and then suggest because your hypothetical scientist cannot find evidence for 'spiritual union' he determines that 'sex' does not exist. Not much of a scientist, is he?

        The 'feeling' of 'spiritual union', the 'feeling' of sexual pleasure and the 'feeling' of 'love' is not supernatural. It comes from neurochemical and neuroelectrical processes in our brains. That doesn't mean it isn't special or wonderful, that it isn't good for us (in fact there's evidence that it is) or that our love is not real – it simply means it's not supernatural. I'm not a scientist but I'd be pretty confident that with the right equipment 'love' could be viewed and identified as a neurological process.

        God, on the other hand, can't. Nor can we identify this 'thing' you call a 'soul' – there is no evidence for it. Nor for 'the other plane'. All this stuff you go on about is pure conjecture based on your desire to believe in something outside 'this realm'. But it's just conjecture – nothing more.

        • AndrewFinden says:

          Seems like it's the day for you missing the point, Chrys ;)

          The analogy (which is not bait and switch, btw, but a deliberate comparison of certain attributes) makes very clear that while sex is self evident, God is not – the point, then, is that both experiences can be simulated by stimulating the brain but, as we know with sex, is not reduced to that. Why then, would we assume that experience of God must be reducible to the simulation?

          Of coure, the objection that 'there's no evidence for the "other plane"' is entirely circular, as I've written about before. And really.. after all this you still want to try and suggest that tired old chestnut of "wanting" to believe? Maybe it's you who wants to believe that's the case. I beg to differ.

          • Chrys Stevenson says:

            You see the experiences (of sex and God) as simulable (is that a word?) but not not authentic. How do you know the 'simulation' isn't the authentic experience? How do you know the simulation isn't in fact, all there is? How do you know that God isn't just the simulation? The fact is, you don't, you can't. It's not a matter of assuming that God must be reducible to the simulation. It's a matter of assuming that, as there is no evidence for, or function dependent upon, God, then the most likely possibility is that he doesn't exist. *God disappears in a convenient puff of smoke.*

          • AndrewFinden says:

            You see the experiences (of sex and God) as simulable (is that a word?) but not not authentic.

            eh?

            How do you know the 'simulation' isn't the authentic experience?

            That's what the analogy shows.

            How do you know that God isn't just the simulation? The fact is, you don't, you can't. It's not a matter of assuming that God must be reducible to the simulation.

            I'm not the one who asserted that God is simply the simulation.

            It's a matter of assuming that, as there is no evidence for, or function dependent upon, God, then the most likely possibility is that he doesn't exist. *God disappears in a convenient puff of smoke.*

            Your argument is circular.

            I reject your assertion that there is no evidence. Clearly, there's no evidence which you find persuasive, but there is evidence, and reason which I find persuasive. Of course, science, dealing as it does with the physical, is not going to show us God (as the previous Eddington link argues).

            The point is, you tried to argue (or so it appeared) that being able to simulate supernatural experiences via brain stimulation proves that God is nothing but brain tricks, but this argument from reductionism is flawed because of the faulty assumptions that the analogy pulls out.

            If, as your latest comment appears to say, you agree that it can't necessarily be reduced to the simulation, then your original argument breaks down to being merely assertions based on prior assumptions of naturalism.

            You're seeing smoke alright, but I'm afraid it's your argument going down in flames.
            The only thing conveniently disappearing is an exit from the circularity of your argument. (though points for the Douglas Adams reference).

    • AndrewFinden says:

      There is nothing more harmful to the future of this planet (nor so insulting to your human dignity) than apparently intelligent adults setting aside reason and evidence

      Remind me where a naturalist grounds human dignity? (I agree we have it.. Imageo Dei and all that)

      Generally, children do not cast aside reason and evidence when they trust their parents – though it is largely instinctive, and sadly, sometimes misguided.
      Faith does not operate without reason and evidence, despite the popular strawman defintion that tends to get thrown about the atheist blogsphere and by popular writers who should know better.

  4. Chrys Stevenson says:

    10. "You have to believe that God became incarnate through a virgin birth, died, rose again, will return someday to judge, and has sent His holy Spirit to literally indwell you."

    OK, you've got us on that one. We're just never going to be that gullible.

    "I don’t see why anyone would choose willingly to adopt this set of requirements, unless of course, they have met and experienced God."-

    You haven't 'met' God (except in your imagination) and your set of 'requirements' are largely only the requirements of social animals living in communities. They're common sense rules for living peacefully and co-operatively in a way which gives humans the best chance of survival.

    The fact is, good people will be good people whether they're Christian, Buddhist, Muslim or jumping calathumpians. Horrible people will be horrible people even if they're Christians – and sometimes they'll use their religion to rationalise and even get leverage for their horrible-ness. Those people who are 'good' Christians are simply good human beings. If their faith was stripped from them tomorrow, they'd still be out helping people and fighting selflessly for the rights, dignity and welfare of their fellow human beings – alongside a whole slew of non-Christians and atheists.

    If someone is only good because they're a Christian you really have to wonder how long their inner vileness can be contained. If Christianity is the only thing stopping them from being greedy, hateful, rapacious, hedonistic, selfish gits, they are simply ugly people wearing a fragile veneer of religious respectability. Some day that veneer is bound to crack and split and show the monster beneath.

    So, I'm sorry Andrew but I find your list really rather silly. It's one of those 'Oh Lord it's hard to be humble when we're perfect in every way" lists. And yes, it really does give me the irrits because I see incredibly selfless, humble, non-religious people putting themselves out every day to help others – sometimes at incredible personal cost – and I haven't seen any of them writing lists about how hard it is to be so virtuous.

    • AndrewFinden says:

      I think you've quite missed the point, and are reading something into that which I certainly did not mean (although it is not my list) in highlighting this. Perhaps the context would have made it much clearer. There is no 'us and them' as you appear to have taken it. It is self-reflective.

      The point is that it's often claimed that we believe because we want to – far from being a list showing how we're perfect or better (of course we're not) it's a list that gives lie to that claim. The point is that most of us wouldn't just subscribe (and fail to uphold) such a calling because we "want" to, indeed, we've good reasons not to want to, but because something compels us to – an experience which you're happy enough to write off (not everyone shares your naturalist and reductionist assumptions btw).

    • AndrewFinden says:

      OK, you've got us on that one. We're just never going to be that gullible.

      But C1st Jews were? How patronising. Rather, it's just that your naturalist worldview has no room for the possibility (I know, I know.. you allow the possibility you've just not seen any evidence… but, hey, if it quacks like a duck..)

      The rest, as we've already seen, completely misses the point, so I won't go over that again.

  5. doug says:

    8. You have to abstain from using force and manipulation to get your way.

    well that leaves out about 99.9% of people who call themselves Christians

    I thought it was part of the Christian creed to try and convert others to your way of thinking.
    If that is not getting your own way then I do not know what it is, I am guessing you justify your actions by saying you are doing "God's will" But almost every christian I have ever met has tried to get others to convert to their beliefs in some way shape of form.

    • AndrewFinden says:

      I'm puzzled by your implication that presenting an idea, which someone might change their mind and accept is considered 'force or manipulation'. I very much doubt that if I suddenly agreed with you know you would consider yourself to have manipulated or forced me, would you?

  6. Chrys Stevenson says:

    Because, Andrew, we have all been witness to the manipulative way in which Christianity is evangelised. We see the poor, the ill, the bereaved, the helpless delliberately targeted when they are at their weakest. We see the strategic effort of Christian organisations like Access Ministries and Scripture Union Queensland to infiltrate secular state schools so they can recruit the children of unchurched parents into the faith. Evangelisation is routinely a game of emotional manipulation. In fact, Christianity as an institution is buiilt on emotional manipulation – believe this and you will go to heaven, reject it and you will burn in hell. You may put it more delicately as believe and you will be 'saved' but it doesn't much lessen the manipulation inherent in the concept.

    • AndrewFinden says:

      Another case of 'fundies in the dunnies' Chrys?

      Again – presenting an idea, even with a view to persuade (as you appear to do here) is not the same as force or manipulation.

  7. 1. You have to adopt a peculiar ethic. This means abstaining from things which are often fun and enjoyable, like having consensual sex with consenting adults. On that note, one of my ex-girlfriends is now an ex-Christian as well, according to your logic.

    2. You have to live a life of sacrifice for others. Because atheists and other religions don't sacrifice anything at all, do they?

    3. You have to love your enemies. You mean, like how God loved the Egyptians when he dumped them in the Red Sea?

    4. You have to pray for those that persecute you. Because even though God condemns those that persecute you, according to Christian faith, He still needs to here you beg for his mercy for them.

    5. You have to admit your inability to satisfy your own deepest desires. That is, if you're insecure enough to have unreachable desires and expectations of yourself to begin with. Nothing a little friendly councilling can't fix right there. I know this from personal experience.

    6. You have to face the living God. You know, the one that no one has ever actually seen or proven exists apart from a single-edition piece of anecdotal literature

    7. You have to join a community of people who will betray, fail, disappoint, frustrate, anger, and annoy you. And love them. Cuz once again, there is no other community in existence like this one except for Christian communities

    8. You have to abstain from using force and manipulation to get your way. Just like those Christian prayer clinics that try to convert gay people to straight. No manipulation there at all, right? I'm sorry, this whole post is a guilt trip – that's called manipulation. Christians are manipulative by nature.

    9. You have to become as a little child. This would explain the immature belief system of children that believe in Santa Clause, at least.

    10. You have to believe that God became incarnate through a virgin birth, died, rose again, will return someday to judge, and has sent His holy Spirit to literally indwell you. Of course, the recorded 400+ times that God was supposed to have returned in history so far, according to Biblical evidence by the various people that predicted these returns, have come up trumps: we're still awaiting that one time that the Bible hasn't mentioned yet.

    You know, just as a footnote, I have to add, I used to be a devout Christian. I believed with a faith that was like a child's faith, as you say: pure, unquestioned belief. You know what made me change my mind? None of my prayers were ever answered. Not one. Ever.

    Then, I studied the Bible, closely, on my own. And counted, by myself, at least 15 contradictions that made the Bible much less pliable to me, so I asked my pastor, "can you explain?" He couldn't, not with anything that made sense. But of course… that's the point, isn't it. It's not supposed to make sense, we're just supposed to believe without question.

    How is it that God, who is supposedly a just God, would so unjustifiably hide His existence in everything but anecdote from His own creation, a creation that he made to be intelligent and with free will, and then so quickly condemn us when we refuse to believe He exists because there is no evidence that we can make any sense of, and all the while there are so many things in the world that our own intelligence has explained implicitly with science to discredit creation theory and other Biblically-discussed phenomena that 200-500 years ago were accepted as things that "only God can explain."

    I'm surprised Christianity still exists, TBH

    • AndrewFinden says:

      Hi,

      Please see the update in the OP..

      • Seen. I appreciate the explanation – I hope you understand that the judgemental nature of many Christians (that I've experienced personally) will often trigger outburst like that in regards to posts like this. To be made to feel bad just because people don't believe the same thing as others is belittling, and condescending, but I understand your blog better now.

        I have a few Christian friends, and we enjoy heated debates on the issue, but have somehow managed to avoid abusive or judgemental rhetoric. It can be fun sometimes :p

        • AndrewFinden says:

          I hope you understand that the judgemental nature of many Christians

          Sadly.. yes!

          My highlighting of the list was never about making people feel bad but a kind of what reasons might I have for not wanting to be a Christian..

          Cheers.

  8. Chrys Stevenson says:

    Just one example of the kind of thing I'm talking about:

    Writing on a Baptist forum, ‘Stacie’ (in Gourley, 2009) says: When I was young (probably 6 or 7- you know that vital age in which the use of logic starts to kick in) my parents had me listen to a cassette tape in
    which a young child wakes up to find that the resurrection has occurred, and her parents are no longer there … she is left behind. Not only was the thought of being abandoned utterly terrifying to me as a young child, I can still remember the sinister music playing in the background! The methods that are used in this area (small town in Texas) to scare children into committing to God are simply deplorable! I can not even begin to express the psychological torture that I went through when I started to become aware of the moral paradoxes that existed in what I was being taught in Sunday school, and eventually began to loose [sic] my faith. (And it is this very thing that makes so many atheists so hostile against religion- I am not;
    I understand that my parents were simply trying to do what they thought was the right thing- but I can understand why those who are hostile feel this way.) I thought I had bumbled through most of the psychological baggage that accompanied my de-conversion. However, due to my daughter I am
    now revisiting it … I refuse to allow my daughter to be part of something that I consider psychological abuse."

    Don't dismiss this as aberrant fundamentalism. THIS is what your Bible teaches. Believe and you will be saved and taken up to heaven. Reject belief and you will be left behind. My own nephews were taught this and one has spoken to me of the incredible fear he experienced – so much fear he was afraid to sleep at night in case he woke up to find his whole family had been raptured without him. So please, Andrew, don't respond with wide-eyed disigenuousness when it is suggested that manipulation and force is Christanity's stock in trade.

    • AndrewFinden says:

      Chrys, I'm not denying that manipulation can and does at times happen, nor am I being wide-eyed, I'm suggesting that what pre-tribbers do is not me or what I do. It's unfair of you to drag your hobby horse in here when it is not the point of the post.

  9. Chrys Stevenson says:

    Andrew, manipulation happens as a matter of course. You cannot say Christianity is what *I* am and therefore anything that *I* wouldn't do is not Christian! YOU joined the club, you take on some of the responsibility for what the club members do – and not just the ones in your particular clique. The fact is that throughout the world, people marching under the very same banner as you are using force and manipulation in their evangelisation in ways that are coercive, psychological damaging, often abusive, culturally insensitive and in some cases deadly. If you are going to identify as a Christian, I'm afraid you are going to have to wear the baggage of those who share your delusion.

    • AndrewFinden says:

      manipulation happens as a matter of course.

      I disagree.

      You cannot say Christianity is what *I* am and therefore anything that *I* wouldn't do is not Christian!

      I didn't. I mean that this post is about what I identify with in being persuaded to adopt a particular ethic.

      YOU joined the club, you take on some of the responsibility for what the club members do – and not just the ones in your particular clique.

      I'm a Christian because I'm a follower of Christ not because I joined a club. I'm responsible for what I do, and to a lesser degree, those with whom I choose to fellowship. Are you responsible for what others in the atheist / humanist / secularist "clubs" do (state atheism anyone?) of course you're not.

      I suggest you worry about your own delusions before lumping anyone elses on me ;p

    • Trav says:

      Chrys, If you are going to identify as an atheist, I'm afraid you're going to have to wear the baggage of those who share your delusion.

      To this end, I would like to point out that manipulation and force is atheism's stock in trade. Almost all of the atheist regimes of the past century have been violent, bloody failures.

      This is what YOUR worldview teaches. Without God, anything is permissible, and this has been evidenced by the actions of those who call themselves atheists. People marching under the same banner as you, Chrys, have been responsible for bloodshed and tyranny to an extent none of us have ever imagined in our lifetimes. To this end, Chrys, you must wear this baggage. Down with atheism!

      • Chrys Stevenson says:

        Oh Trav, such a wearisome old argument, showing such little knowledge of political history it's almost not worth answering. The 'atheistic' regimes you speak of were not, in a true sense 'atheistic' because either the state or the leader of the state became, in effect, 'deified'. They may not have been worshipping your God but that was because YOUR God was seen as competition for the deity of the state or the leader. 'Atheist' regimes didn't reject religion, per se, they simply replaced the figurehead.

        As Sam Harris explains (far better than me!): The problem with fascism and communism … is not that they are too critical of religion; the problem is that they are too much like religions. Such regimes are dogmatic to the core and generally give rise to personality cults that are indistinguishable from cults of religious hero worship. Auschwitz, the gulag and the killing fields were not examples of what happens when human beings reject religious dogma; they are examples of political, racial and nationalistic dogma run amok. There is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable."

        • Trav says:

          This is a red herring. The fact is, they all rejected God- they all clearly stated and believed that God does not exist- and thus they march under the banner of atheism. Ergo, it is just as valid for you to have to "wear their baggage" as it is for me to have to wear the baggage of fundamentalist churches who manipulate their children into believing.

          I should point out though, that my initial post was intended as a parody. It was a mocking response to your comment, which had forcefully struck me as the most inane thing I've heard this year.

          I don't think it's fair to cast aspersions on Findo for his association under the wide umbrella of people who decide to label themselves "Christian" and nor do I consider it fair to point out the evils of atheists when discussing these things with people in different contexts and no doubt with many differing views, such as yourself. As you aptly demonstrated, the atheism of the Khmer Rouge was significantly different to the atheism of yourself, or Sam Harris. But similarly, you must allow that the Christianity of Fundamentalists in the Bible Belt of the US has some elements that neither Findo nor myself would share.

        • AndrewFinden says:

          The old (as wearisome) no-true-atheist gambit… hmm.. Sadly, you can't ignore that they literally had groups such as "The league of militant atheists' who went around beating up believers.

          The suggestion (a favourite of Hitchens) that State Atheist regimes are just 'religious' is spurious and removes any real meaning of the word 'religious', and replaces it with 'anything I don't like'.
          See here.

          As is well-known, Hitchens indiscriminately criticizes Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, Judaism and Hinduism. In the face of objections that atheist regimes like those of Stalin and Kim Jong-Il can be extraordinarily violent, Hitchens simply includes them under the rubric of religion too. Totalitarianism aims at human perfection, which is essentially a religious impulse, according to Hitchens. Religion poisons everything because everything poisonous gets identified as religion.

          At the same time, everything good ends up on the other side of the religious/secular divide. Hitchens says of Martin Luther King Jr, "In no real as opposed to nominal sense, then, was he a Christian." Hitchens bases this remarkable conclusion on the fact that King was nonviolent, and the Bible preaches violence from cover to cover. What is not violent cannot possibly be religious, because religion is defined as violent. So Stalin is religious but Martin Luther King is not.

          • Trav says:

            Yes, well, atheists are fond of circular reasoning, that's hardly a revelation, pardon the pun. One only needs to consider how often they trot out David Hume's discredited arguments against miracles.

            Having said that, it might be harder to avoid circular reasoning that one would like to admit. We all have different presuppositions, and it can be easy to assume these presuppositions and then reason back to them.

      • Delusion is believing in fairies in the sky, mate. You wanna talk about violent, bloody failures? Don't get me started on the crusades.

        The "worldview" of atheism does NOT teach that anything is permissable – it doesn't teach anything at all, but encourages learning and reasonable and substantiated understanding. The day science proves God exists, I'll believe in God. Religion has been responsible for much more bloodshed than lack thereof; muslim fundamentalist terrorism; the jailing of scientists and scholars by catholic and christian churches in the dark ages; You should go learn some history, Trav. I would shout "Down with Christianity," but I, as with many atheists, don't care what other people believe. Just don't push it on others, and now I can take your holier-than-though, self-righteous, monumentally arrogant and terribly ill-educated attitude and file it away with "typical things that Christians say."

        • AndrewFinden says:

          Who said anything about fairies in the sky??

          The crusades are rather interesting – a very good example of how religion can be coerced into trying justify a political expansion (or reclamation in some cases). The problem with this common argument is that it creates a false plural out of religion – some religion does cause violence, just as some politics does, but not all, and the reasonable thing is to make such a distinction.

          We could point out that the officially Atheist regimes of the C20th have killed more people than in any other period of history, but what would that prove? It doesn't mean atheism necessarily leads to violence or that politics is all bad.

          The "worldview" of atheism does NOT teach that anything is permissable – it doesn't teach anything at all, but encourages learning and reasonable and substantiated understanding.

          Putting worldview in quotation marks doesn't stop it being one. I agree that it doesn't "teach" that anything is permissable, but it is the logical outcome that Dostoyevsy points out. It is not too different from Dawkins' summation that in the naturalistic-atheistic view, at bottom, there is no such thing as right and wrong or justice. Of course, most of the so-called 'new atheists' shy away from having to deal with such implications, unlike their forebears like Nietzche.
          In fact, it's a bit rich to say it doesn't 'teach' anything and then turn around and say that it encourages 'learning and understanding' – how does it encourage that? It is merely a lack of belief in gods / a belief that no gods exist. You have to rope in some other ideology or foundation for encouraging a positive view of learning.
          In fact, we do see one of your other underlying ideologies / philosophies there:

          The day science proves God exists, I'll believe in God.

          Good old Scientism, eh?

        • Trav says:

          Aspie Warrior, I think your comment is best left unreplied to. It well and truly speaks for itself.

  10. Nathanael Snow says:

    Andrew,
    I'm glad someone picked up on my little list. I came up with these reasons for not being a Christian one day at university when a visiting "soapbox" preacher was haranguing students in a Bible-thumping manner. I stepped in front of the preacher with this list.
    My point is not to persuade atheists to believe in God, but to persuade Christians to drop utilitarian arguments for Christianity. We should probably drop apologetics as an evangelistic technique altogether.
    After studying the reasons to believe in God for many years I realized that none of my reasons would be persuasive in honest discussion with careful skeptics, such as the atheists who have commented here.
    Folks, I don't expect you to believe in Christianity. I honestly don't know why any of you would choose to, particularly given the poor track record of most Christians.
    I choose to believe because I have had an existential experience.
    Some of you have said that I did not have the experience I claim to have had. Fine. I think it would be silly to try to defend a vision of pink unicorns in my backyard, even if I really did have them, so I won't try.
    I think the defensiveness on this count is because some Christians want to enforce the peculiar mandates of their beliefs through the state. On this count, I think they are right.
    Which is why I am an anarchist. (Or anarcho-capitalist.)
    I have recently written more along those lines here: http://www.failuretorefrain.com/naturalaw/
    For those of you who write that atheists make sacrifice, abstain, etc.:
    I am making a claim the true believers should go beyond what is reasonable in long run sympathetic behavior, to the point of actually reducing personal long run utility (not wealth). That is, I am urging Christians to adopt not just altruism, which is reasonable for most people, but a form of sacrificial altruism which many would regard as foolish. That most Christians fail in this regard is granted. Maybe they are just Christians for the reasons many of you would point out: they are part of a nice little club that they get utility from participation in. Maybe they are not Christian in the sense I am trying to point out. Maybe I am not either. But that is the standard I am aspiring towards.
    Then Chrys rightly points out that I have joined the club, and am therefore responsible for the whole. Fine. Guilty as charged. Most of my efforts are directed at reform within, and I think it personally reasonable for Chrys to reject Christianity because of Christians. Chrys, don't believe. Not on account of what anyone says to you. Don't be persuaded by human minds and words which are almost by nature manipulative. Don't believe unless you have the pink unicorn experience, which I doubt you want to have.
    I had such an experience, and it is the only reason I believe. Christians who discount the experience are more willing to impose institutional structures on others which give their "Christian" agenda an advantage. They can want to believe because it is beneficial to them in this life to do so. My reasons for believing make it only a burden to do so in this life, though I have the experience of joy which cannot be measured, and if you were to have it you might change your mind, too.
    Thanks again Andrew for sharing my thoughts.
    Nathanael Snow
    [email protected]
    @jurisnaturalist

    • AndrewFinden says:

      Hi Nathanael,

      thanks for dropping in and expanding on your thoughts. Appreciate it.

      A.

      • Chrys Stevenson says:

        Hi Nathaniel, thanks for your interesting post. I'd just like to clarify something. I don't reject Christianity because of Christians. I reject Christianity because it is irrational. I reject it because there is no evidence for the supernatural (including Gods) and there is ample evidence that 'pink unicorn' experiences, while convincing for those who have them, can routinely be explained with reference to coincidence, waking hallucinations (surprisingly common and perfectly natural), auditory hallucinations (surprisingly common and perfectly natural) or any number of other natural explanations.

        As Tim Minchin says, "Throughout history
        Every mystery
        Ever solved has turned out to be
        Not Magic.

        I will concede that it is the guilt, misery and psychological damage inflicted upon someone I loved by their conversion to Christianity that motivated me to take a greater interest in the evidence (or lack thereof) for God and the supernatural. But it would be irrational indeed to reject Christianity because of such an experience. Even if believing in God and the divinity of Jesus is demonstrably harmful, both to the individual and to societies, it is not a good reason for rejecting the hypothesis. None of us are too chuffed about infectious diseases, but we still believe in them!

        The only reason to reject the existence of God and the divinity of Jesus is because there is no evidence which supports either. The 'pink unicorn' experience is an excuse to believe rather than evidence. Consider, if you had been born into some other culture and had a 'pink unicorn' experience you would almost certainly interpret it as evidence for that culture's deity.

        Anyway, good luck to you for reforming the Christian church from within – it bloody well needs it.

        Cheers, Chrys

        • Trav says:

          It would not only be irrational to reject Christianity because of the experience of the person you loved, Chrys, it would also be irrational if you were to believe that the "guilt, misery and psychological damage" your friend experienced was the status quo for those who convert to Christianity. On the contrary, religious believers are generally happier and healthier than others. This may be due to a social element, or otherwise, so I do not claim causation, merely the correlation which has been proven.

          When you say that there is no "evidence" for God or the divinity of Jesus, it's pointless continuing until you reveal your definition of evidence. Most atheists I've encountered online wouldn't know what evidence actually was if it were to slap them in the face with a dirty face flannel.

          • AndrewFinden says:

            When someone says "there's no evidence" I usually just assume the "…which I find persuasive" appendix, which is really what they inevitably mean.

          • Trav says:

            And there are many atheists for whom the evidence will never be enough. So perhaps it'd be easier if this insurmountable impasse were acknowledged at the start, by asking questions like both my ones and yours- eg: What does "evidence" mean to you? What type of evidence would you expect to see if a God did exist, and how much? What type of evidence would persuade you?

          • This is a fallacy of epic proportions. As a Christian, I was far more miserable than I am now as an atheist. So your correlation has been shattered there, Trav. Sorry

          • AndrewFinden says:

            err… statistics aren't shattered by a single anecdote. Though, to be fair, Trav didn't cite a source, and even if it is statistically true that Christians are, in general, happier (I imagine quantifying 'hapiness' is not at all simple either) it doesn't prove anything, which is presumably why he pointed out he wasn't claiming causation.

          • Trav says:

            Aspie Warrior, I'm sorry to hear you had such a bad experience with religion.

            But Aspie, please do proof read before you respond mext time. No single example can possibly turn a generalised principle into a "fallacy of epic proportions", and a moment's reflection would've allowed you to respons constructively.

            An example can be found here: http://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/en/Publications/F… . For the main results, check out the first few pages of the pdf and then the discussion and conclusion on pages 94-96.

          • Trav says:

            Next* time.

            Touche. Haha.

          • Trav says:

            And respons* into respond. Dear me, I am having a bad day. Good thing I'm not going back to work till Monday!

        • Nathanael Snow says:

          Chrys, I agree with your reasons for rejecting Christianity.
          But much of life is irrational, as Dan Ariely and the Behavioral economists are having fun demonstrating. They, however, like to point out that the irrationality has long run benefits.
          Now, this is odd.
          It seems rationality has been given a short-run definition, and benefits has been designated to the long run.
          I think it *is* rational to do what seems by pure calculation to be irrational in the short run if such action has long run benefits. It all depends on one's personal discount rate, or time-horizon.
          I often like to say that one's wealth is how far they can see into the future.
          So, I'm proposing that Christianity ought to be looking into infinity, with a personal present discount rate of zero, or even perhaps negative infinity.
          We ought to see Christians dying for their enemies more often.

          That all of this is predicated on an experience is simply logical.

          If God exists, then supernatural experiences with God should be expected.
          If God does not exist, then experiences with God are rubbish.

          If experiences are *purely* experiential, then they are non-falsifiable. Which is a harsher standard than non-provable! You cannot falsify my experience. Neither can I. Therefore you should not believe in it. It is completely unscientific.

          However, we do see people who are not Christians acting sacrificially! Often people who are not Christians have a more Christlike behavior than Christians do. I attribute the bad behavior of Christians to distractions with politics, or power grabbing.
          I attribute the good behavior of non-Christians to God. That ought to be offensive.
          That is, I don't think anyone is capable of good behavior beyond what can be motivated by self-interest. But God often manipulates people to do good for God's own purposes.
          How's that strike you?! Yet another reason to think Christians are awful!
          God manipulated Pharaoh to do evil for God's purposes.
          My claim is that the capacity to willfully do creative sacrificial good is only available to those who have experienced regeneration. However, God sometimes enters in and provides that capacity to others, and that intervention is a blessing to the one who does the good.
          The good work *is* the blessing!
          That intervention produces joy and has a potentially transformative effect on the one who has been used to do the good.

          Again, doing good beyond what self-interest dictates is just as irrational as believing in pink unicorns or God. The desire for community can always be reduced for a desire for self-preservation, particularly if you look at evolutionary game theory. Every rational action is selfish (now I sound like Ayn Rand) in the long run.

          How can one defend the claim that it is rational to act sacrificially?
          Why does anyone do what is good, if not either eventually and probabalistically selfish or otherwise irrational?

    • I like this, it's very enlightening

  11. Chrys Stevenson says:

    "The point is that many things on this list are not in and of themselves attractive or the natural position adopted, and that they would not normally be adopted in and of themselves. The point is that it is an experience of a person which has persuaded us (well, me and the guy who write this at least) to adopt these. That’s all."

    And yet, they are listed as requirements of being a Christian. And they are listed in the context that the difficulty in taking on (or at least aspiring to take on) these requirements is a reason why people would shy away from being a Christian.

    My argument (which I seem to have to keep restating – and as Helen Dale has argued elsewhere) is that apart from taking on the fairy story bits, the practical requirements are not really that difficult at all and, in fact, most decent human beings practice them. The other point is that they are not 'unnatural' .

    Rather, we have evolved to adopt ethical positions like self-sacrifice, and rejecting revenge because that is what allows us to live in civil society in relative peace. I will concede your point (made elsewhere) that there may be earlier instincts which sometimes prevail – or at least compete with our more evolved tendencies – but I can remember only two instances in my entire life where I really had to struggle not to thump someone. In most cases I prefer the advice offered in Romans 12: Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. By the way, Andrew, next time you're in Oz, the coffee's on me. :-P

    My cousin, by the way, has perfected the art of being calm, reasonable and charming to his enemies … until their ears bleed.

    • AndrewFinden says:

      And they are listed in the context that the difficulty in taking on (or at least aspiring to take on) these requirements is a reason why people would shy away from being a Christian.

      More that they're not in and of themselves attractive – whether that be because they're hard (some are, not all, as you say) or because it's unpleasant, or uncomfortable or inconvenient.

      in fact, most decent human beings practice them

      I'm sorry I dismissed this earlier.. I should have given it more consideration. Having considered it, I still disagree :)

      1. You have to adopt a peculiar ethic. This means abstaining from things which are often fun and enjoyable. >> An obvious one is the sexual ethic. Most people do not follow the 'only within marriage' ethic.

      2. You have to live a life of sacrifice for others. >> Most people are selfish.. sure they might put some money in the Salvo's tin occasionally, but most people buy into the great Aussie / American dream and live to supply those desires, even if that means a child in asia is being exploited.

      3. You have to love your enemies. >> Very few people do this, and is not the natural response. Read the comments in any article on politics if you don't believe me.

      4. You have to pray for those that persecute you. >> This is linked to the one above.

      5. You have to admit your inability to satisfy your own deepest desires. >> This runs counter to the modern, humanistic view that we are all we need. It runs counter to the Disney dogma of 'you can do it, just believe in yourself'.

      6. You have to face the living God. >> We accept that we have to stand before a holy, righteouss judge and give account for what we've done, every stone turned over. I'd rather not, you know.

      7. You have to join a community of people who will betray, fail, disappoint, frustrate, anger, and annoy you. And love them. >> Most people quick groups that do the above.

      8. You have to abstain from using force and manipulation to get your way. >> We learn how to get our way by manipulation very early – watch any two year old long enough and you'll see it. Turn on the news and you'll see how we easily try to get our way by force. Sure, most people are not dictators, Some times it's bribery, often it's far more subtle than that.

      9. You have to become as a little child. >> This is linked to no 5. We are called to recognise our inabilities, to rely on someone bigger than us, just as children rely on their parents.

      10. You have to believe that God became incarnate through a virgin birth, died, rose again, will return someday to judge, and has sent His holy Spirit to literally indwell you. >> Not exactly popular with modernists, now is it?

      I'm not saying we're all the opposite, and I think what Nathanael says about being called to a sacrificial level is worth noting too. But clearly, Christianity is counter-cultural, or else, why would you care when Christian groups started trying to impose their ethics on others? You wouldn't know the difference if there wasn't any difference.

      Jesus said several times that it would not be an easy road to walk – in the West we've had it easy. Ask a Chinese house pastor what the cost of following Jesus is (which reminds me of my NY goal – to read Bonhoeffer's Cost of Discipleship in german..). No, there is something which carries more weight than the costs.

      In most cases I prefer the advice offered in Romans 12

      As do many who've grown-up in a culture whose ethics bear a not insignificant debt to it's Christian past ;)

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