Various topics about my beliefs...


I've enjoyed your Web site and have visited it a number of times. Although I read a lot on the Web about religious issues, as an atheist, I can't say I've actually ENJOYED any of the pro-religion sites (although some have been informative regarding what others believe). (I sent my responses to your survey questions in a separate mailnote via the Web page form.)

[thanks for the feedback--I hope you liked my lightbulb jokes--I take particular delight in those!]

I'd be particularly interested in knowing what you think on some specific issues. I'm a busy person too (although I'm not spread nearly as thin as you appear to be at the moment), and I'll understand completely if you don't want to write long "essay-type" answers to all of these questions. I'd appreciate at least a sentence or two on whichever ones you find interesting enough to answer, though -- I like your approach and I'm sure I'd find your comments interesting.

[I will try to do these briefly--without support--but I am somewhat hampered by a lack of understanding of YOUR background...I HOPE my answers don't assume too much/too little familiarity with the terminology I use...

--what's your position on the premillenialism/postmillenialism controversy?

[good question...I was 'raised' since I became a Christian in college as a premil...I studied it for 2 years of bible college, and 4 years of grad school...currently, I don't know...I TEND to buy into an earthly reign of Christ--but my faith in very precise versions of that is waning...I am definitely NOT post-mil...I DO believe in a personal, bodily return of Jesus Christ to the earth, but am NOT convinced that our pictures of what happens THEN (as described in the apocalyptic lit of the OT/NT) were meant to be 'photographic' representations of that form of existence...the pictures of the leaves of the Tree of Life for the 'healing of the nations' at the end of the book of Revelation portray SOMETHING--but I don't feel very comfortable today taking that very 'literally'...but, generally I am 'more pre-mll' than anything else, I suppose...

--what do you make of the numerous books that have been published recently reporting "life-after-death" experiences?

[not much--even the deathbed experiences of 'real' Christians--in general conformity to my understanding of the soul, death, afterlife, heaven, etc. I don't accept as being of much consequence...the experience of consciousness in such an extreme state as dying would be expected to generate bizarre, vivid, livid, experiences (IMHO)--much as livid dreams, driven by traumatic life experiences, do...what I am saying is that I think NDE's and the like tell us MUCH MORE about the person, THAN ABOUT the afterlife...they are extrema of the interactive vortex of mind/brain...

--do you think that once a person is "saved", that person is always saved, regardless of what they do in the future, or do you think it is possible for a person to "fall from grace," so to speak?

[this is a tough one, and one I have been working on for decades in my mind...right now, I am convinced that a person who has entered into a substantial relationship with Christ CANNOT be 'cast out of the Family'...he can even forget that he is 'saved' (2 Peter 1), and be so rebellious against His Lord that he will die prematurely to avoid further misery on earth (I Cor 11)...but I do believe there are practical limits--over time--of the behavior of true children of God...I am saying that incidences of major failure, even small periods of relapse, do NOT constitute proof of a lack of character-renewal...

[I do believe, however, that the vast majority of those individuals who call themselves 'saved' and then live lives that consistently embarrass the Lord and disgrace His name in the world--probably NEVER were saved...

--have you read Dan barker's "Losing Faith in Faith"? If so, what did you think of it?

[never read it, never heard of it...but I have never had much faith in faith--it is always the OBJECT of trust that is the critical issue! I used to have a pat-answer kind of formula for identifying the appropriate object of our trust and confidence (it still is useful in the main)--pick something and substitute it in the sentence " did X die on the Cross as my substitute?"...if you try that, you get sentences like:

[did my Church die on the Cross as my sub...
did my good life die on the Cross...
did my faith die on the Cross...
did my bible die on the Cross...
did my religion die on the Cross...?

[you get the idea...

--what would you do if you became convinced that you were mistaken on the issue of whether a god exists? I'm not talking about momentary doubts, but a situation wherein you thought about the matter for several months, and after that time found yourself more clearly convinced than ever that you had been wrong -- what then?

[I personally believe that some beliefs can become irreversible...for example, I don't think I could ever come to believe that my mother never existed--I just have way too much consistent and corroborative data about her--even though I only see her now about twice a year...

[to be quite frank--and I think about this a lot--I think it is too late for me in this regard...the last 25 years of my life have been a process of building an interactive relationship with this dis-embodied Mind that we call "God"...there is just too much data and experience and even psychological 'awareness' of this in my life...and, I might hasten to add semi-defensively, I have NOT accepted this 'stuff' uncritically--I have pondered and analyzed and played the devil's advocate and abandoned evangelical positions of fluff etc...I have not always been certain of this, but the certainly has definitely been progressive and cumulative over time...

[I think about what KIND of data counts against the existence of God--and the closest I can come up with is the problem of evil...but even there I cannot formulate the anti-God argument rigorously (as the professional philosophers have noted in the textbooks)...it can raise considerable doubts but cannot actually contribute any POSITIVE DATA AGAINST! But this is a very complex and long subject...and you wanted a sentence or two (I do discuss this issue in a number of places in the Tank, actually)...

--have you ever thought about the possibility that your approach to life, religion, philosophy, etc., is pretty much guaranteed to have a very positive impact on your life for purely naturalistic reasons? For example, regularly taking stock of your life and evaluating your direction in terms of goals and values, facing facts -- both external facts and internal facts of your own thoughts and feelings -- honestly and acting on what you see, believing that you have been accepted by God and thus need not constantly strive to be "enough", trying to maintain a long-term perspective, etc.?

[I KNOW that that element plays in the situation, but that it is NOT the sole source of the 'conviction'. The Christian system PREDICTS that certain types of belief/behavior PRODUCE (generally) certain types of results--The Lord made the universe and human social underpinnings that way. What this means is that the 'success preachers' of notoriety are sorta right--but only partially. But this is no different than, say the book of Proverbs--where it says that 'hard work produces gain'...that is not rocket science, nor is it a mystery of religion(!), but it is merely 'pointing out the obvious'...

[But having said this, for ME what comes up now is my historical lack of ability to DO THOSE 'SMART' things...Given that behavior X (reasonable self-examination, goal adjustment, etc.) produces positive results Y (personal growth, increasing sense of fulfillment, etc.) and that evil behavior A (e.g. murder, chronic worry) produces negative results B (incarceration, ulcers and deformed personality styles), WHAT IS STILL MISSING is perhaps the ability/motivation/education of the individual to eventuate/avoid THOSE behaviors. In other words, it may not be the 'what to do' that is the problem, but rather the 'how to make myself do it'...I have found HUGE discrepancies in all but a few people between the OUGHT and the CAN (practically speaking)...

[So, in my own case, even the ability to be honest with my failures and limitations (neither under NOR overstating them) escaped me for decades and decades. By sense of self-worth and sense of 'calling' in the world was not clear enough to facilitate needed assertiveness in my life until very recently. (and this is not a simple maturation process--the vast majority of people like me, demographically speaking, suffer from these 'shortages'--maturation processes seem rather to hone/refine/solidify these, for some reason)...EVERYONE 'matures'; FEW grow healthy!...My sense of significance in this universe derives solely from my worldview--I BELONG in my Father's universe...as a son, I FIT!...I was created to enjoy this world and to help it (and the other people in it) reach its greatest possible potential of beauty, health, development, balance...this would apply even if I were the only person ever created!...my feeling 'welcome' or 'at home' in my Father's world is a function solely of the Christian revealed worldview...I no longer feel the alienation that so many feel--the existentialist feels this about the universe in general: the cold, impersonal, valueless, purposeless universe into which he is thrown is SO INCONGRUOUS with their consciousness which feels, which values, which seeks purpose...to me, the universe is rather a beautiful garden created by my Lord, with expressions of His beauty in the flowers, and sunsets, and rainbows, and oceans...my worldview floods my existence with quiet grandeur....

[Others feel extreme isolation from people, from community, even from self...their sense of belonging is compromised at critical points...I, although being somewhat reclusive, sense a family connection with others who seem to know and love this same God...

[Anyway...(the one liners have gotten a bit long-winded, no?)...so, the net is that attainment of the orientations REQUIRED to realize the proper patterns of belief/practice, for me, has been largely unexplainable from a naturalist perspective...again, practically speaking...

[I have always found it interesting that one of the 'fruits' of the Spirit listed in Gal 5.22-23 is 'self-control'...as I have pondered this over the years I have discovered that the goal of much of God's activity in the life of the believer is FREEDOM TO ACHIEVE THEIR POTENTIAL--and actually to achieve BEYOND that as well...if my experience of having multiple self-limitations (acquired from bad environments, or developed through bad choices--a la addictions) can be called a 'slavery or bondage' to pathological patterns, then reaching higher and higher levels of self-control would constitute 'freedom'--one of the major benefits of a relationship with God (in my opinion--2 Cor 3.17)...a freedom to truly 'be yourself--in all of your capabilities'...

[Also, for me personally, there is a STRONG intellectual 'transcendental' issue. I personally care MUCH MORE about knowing the truth (and being sad, lets say), THAN about deluding myself (and being blissful)...for ME, the issue of self-delusion is a constant 'enemy'--I work hard at self-examination, and work hard at knowing what data is 'hard' and what data is 'soft'...

[But let me hasten to add...what I have been blathering about for the last few paragraphs is the effect of this on my life/character....and this constitutes ONLY ONE of the evidences of His involvement in history...for me I still have a few really strange answered-prayer situations, and a couple of longer term prayer-patterns; I have the historical evidences surrounding the NT and the life/resurrection of Jesus of Naz (esp. in the context of 'inference to the best explanation' justification methods), and I have the phenomena of fulfilled prophecy (esp. messianic) that I cannot honestly explain away...

[To be quite frank, J--------, at this point the cumulative evidence is overwhelming--both cognitively, emotionally, intuitively, even volitionally...I cannot imagine even Decartes' demon being able to create and sustain such a illusion so perfectly over 25 years...

[In epistemology, one of the common replies to the skeptic is that NO illusion is indefinitely sustaining--that the skeptic has been mislead my making the "sample sizeof time" too small. For example, I can be deluded into believing I can fly and after jumping from the top of a tall building, may actually believe that I AM flying--but this illusion will obviously not continue...I may be misled by darkness into thinking that the t-shirt lying over the chair is actually a ghost, but eventually (maybe even in the morning) I will see that it is not...

[I have lost the reference, but I remember reading in a book an anecdote about a young atheist who hounded this old Christian to go hear a popular traveling atheist speak in a nearby town--Robert Ingersoll...The old guy went to the meeting and patiently listed to the presentation. When they were returning to their hometown in the car, the young man asked the thoughtful old man what he thought about the presentation. The old man quietly and tearfully replied that he had heard the speech 30 years too late--for in the last 30 years he had seen God do all the things the speaker had said was impossible: He had answered his prayers, He had changed his life and character, He had kept His promises...

[My situation is very similar. I can maintain a theoretical or intellectual 'suspension of conviction' for the sake of research, of understanding, of arugment, but it is almost impossible for me to suspend the incredibly strong perception of His presence that has accumulated over the decades...I realize this sounds a bit mystical, but I really think that the reality DOES HAVE a 'mystical' aspect to its experience...it is MORE THAN mystical: there are considerable cognitive dimensions to the faith, obviously!...but the sense/intuition/perception of God's reality is also one of the goals of the Christian experience...

This last bit is a comment, not a question. At one point, you said, "I get a lot of kudos for my thinking and my writing (from believers and non-believers alike), with the result that I 'worry' sometimes that the radical importance of the work of Christ is not 'explicit enough' in my life to others. In more pietistic words, I am concerned that I often get the 'credit' for being 'smart' when more properly the 'credit' should go to the pervasive and consistent work of my Lord in my life. . . . I attribute any sections of 'high caliber' thinking or of any particularly 'brilliant' work on my part, to the effects of Christ's work on the Cross (and its subsequent 'application' in my life)." False modesty is, in its own way, just as dishonest as boasting or arrogance; both entail ignoring or denying reality. Whether you believe it to be a gift from God or an accident of nature or whatever, the fact remains that you are significantly brighter than most people, and the fact remains that you have chosen to use your gifts well. it's not always easy to admit one's own strengths - among other things, it can lead one to feel unbearably lonely sometimes. Nonetheless, facts are facts.

Regards,

J---

[your gentle rebuke is probably right on target...this issue of credit/blame etc is a complex one in the Christian worldview--ranking up there with sovereignty/freedom...the view of 'its all from God' is affirmed by Paul in I Cor 4.7--to preclude boasting--; and yet he also affirms that God will 'reward us' for our usage of those gifts (I Cor 4.5)--to encourage us to do good and to challenge us beyond complacency...

[I am no doubt inconsistent in this area of my life, and you are right to point that out...thanks, glenn



The Christian ThinkTank...[http://www.Christian-thinktank.com] (Reference Abbreviations)