Relucantly Christian

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Given recent events in my life and the shift in readership of this blog, I have found the need to lay a different sort of foundation for my thoughts and this forum.  It has occurred to me that I have kept many of my thoughts buried for many reasons, not the least of which was fear of being alone in my position and fear of being rejected by those in my faith community.

However, circumstances be as they may, I have come to a place where I must either make the leap or pack up and head home.  And I have not been one to pack it in.  What follows is largely a private journey that I have been on for more than the last decade.  It began as my faith and worldview began to be deconstructed in the course of college classes, oddly enough at a private Christian university.  My journey had led me to places where I have had the honor of rubbing shoulders with schizophrenics, prostitutes, and criminals as well as “Christians,” atheists, and the spiritually apathetic.  In the course of the last several years I have come to the firm belief that we all have much more that unites us than separates us.

In the course of seeing life for myself, I have come to a very controversial and potentially alienating conclusion: the church is dying.  For a time I did not want anything to do with it, but never have recanted my faith.  What follows are some of my candid thoughts about the state of the church, its (our) sins and my hope for its redemption.

A Sad State of Affairs

The church in America has gone to the doGs.  Things have become so mangled and twisted that many can no longer even spell the object of our worship.  As books on atheism mount the best seller lists for spirituality, Joel Osteen’s Your Best Life Now seems to be the best that the church has been able to produce, though it seems to be more at home in the self-help section.  Many churches are neglecting or forsaking what they hold as the inspired Word of God.  If they have not put it in a box they irreverently pull phrases out of context and use it to support their latest agenda.  Once sacred halls of worship now offer nothing more than the latest in popular psychology and other quick fixes.  In the words of Dr. Rod Rosenbladt, “There is not enough theology in mainstream churches to make people mad anymore.”

This is not an admonishment of popular psychology, but as a philosophy it does not authority from God, which is essential in the context of the pulpit of a church.  The trouble is that by calling themselves a church they perpetrate a lie when they claim that these answers come from Scripture.  Instead of speaking from the authority of the Bible, they instead push more popular agendas in effort to get more butts in the seats, as if that is the true test for success as a pastor.

Other large groups of Christians mutilate the Bible, pulling verses from every which way and use them to support their own hate-ridden agendas.  Whether it is racism in the 1960s, slavery in the 1800s, or hatred of gays and atheists in the 21st century, groups of “Christians” have easily felt no remorse for taking words from their holy book and slaying people both philosophically and literally.  Somehow they have forgotten Jesus’ expressed love for other races, those who were sexually promiscuous, and those who exerted authority to take advantage of others (though it may have been expressed in different ways).

My Reluctance and My Hope

No doubt much of this is not new to you.  No doubt that many of you have left a church or left Christianity for these or similar atrocities.  For a while I felt very much the same and for years I took my desire to help people more fulfilled lives and put it into developing my discipline of counseling.  All the while I never left the faith, although there were times I was not the least bit excited about attending religious services.  I gradually began to feel that I was the only one who was concerned about such things, and began to allow my mind to glaze over again and accept that, as Prof Pangloss says to Candide, we live in “the best of all possible worlds.”

The spark that ejected me from that delusion was not from the church, but from outside.  I began to have conversations with gays and atheists, many of whom had felt the ravaged sting of the viper that I suddenly realized I was crawling back into bed with.  I realized that while that did not define who I was and what I believed it was something that I have associated myself with.

Christianity, in its present form, is not a gift of God.  Religion of today is a system of belief that over the centuries has been corrupted by wealth, power, and blood.  People who claim Christianity across the centuries are responsible for the Crusades, for the Spanish Inquisition, and for silent observation of the Holocaust.  People who claim Christianity have used the Bible to support the buying and selling of human beings, the dehumanization of men and women according to the color of their skin, and the murder of people who preform abortions and who profess attraction to members of the same sex.

It was never intended to be that way.  Christianity was  an original design of a man named Jesus who lived in the region of Palestine that was called Nazareth.  He was a historic person who challenged his people’s wildest expectations for a Savior and whose legacy is alive today.  The details of his life are locked in ancient writing and his testimony endures in the lives of those who have been changed by that message.  He modeled the expression love and acceptance of those who society had forgotten, and he modeled what it means to criticize those within one’s own faith community and challenge them to return to the truth.

Jesus Christ is the reason I am a Christian, not Christianity.

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Shun therefore the evil ways of Christians, but cleave to the way that is Christian. . . . Take heed therefore of picking up a quarrel with Jesus Christ, and with His ways, because of the evil doings of some of His followers. Judas sold Him; Peter denied Him: and many of His disciples went back and walked no more with Him; but neither Himself nor His ways were the worse for that. — John Bunyan (1628 – 1688)

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About Aaron Gardner

Aaron is a counselor and student of the Bible, passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He lives in central Indiana with his wife, one-year-old son and their two dogs. View all posts by Aaron Gardner

62 responses to “Relucantly Christian

  • Chad Estes

    Interested. Listening. And on a very similar journey.

  • Twitted by worshipfanatic

    […] This post was Twitted by worshipfanatic […]

  • darkhornet

    Much like you, I too have spent the past 8-10 years on a similar journey. It seems to have come to a head over this past year and a half though. I am very interested to read what else you might have to say on the topic.

  • Carlos

    Voltaire’s best of all possible worlds delusion is one I’m not ready to let go of, it’s all I have. I will focus on relationships and trust that truly Jesus will build his church and the gates of hades will not prevail against it. My theology, all my opinions and cleverness have completely crumbled. All I have left is Christ.

  • darkhornet

    Carlos — “My theology, all my opinions and cleverness have completely crumbled. All I have left is Christ.”

    That is a great place to be!

  • Aaron

    I have to agree with darkhornet… it totally sucks to be there, but it is not necessariily a bad place to be. I have found that giving up the safety of what I “knew” meant leaping into the blackness of what really is.

    Chad Estes (above) has the book “God.com” on his book list. That book certainly helped me to gain perspective on what I am white knuckling and what is required to honestly pursue truth.

    Thanks for your comment!

  • John in Tampa.

    I too, took that Journey…my road finally ended when I realized that Jesus was just a popular Jewish cleric. No more, no less. It was kinda sad really. We had built him up to be so special, but it was just the wishful thinking of superstitious ignorant fools.

    I took the road less traveled.
    I was enlightened.
    I cried.
    I smiled.
    I was free.

  • Aaron

    I think you may have missed the whole point of my post, but thanks for your comment. I hope that you will continue visit and begin to engage in dialogue here. Challenges are very rewarding to me.

  • RBH

    Some day you may come to the realization that one can value (some of) the teachings of Jesus without deifying him or accepting his self-deification.

  • Sabio Lantz

    Very touching, seriously. And I don’t want to play down what such writing must mean to the Christians who are reading it. Such writing can only move them in a direction I can only hope for.

    But I must ask that you remember, many other men and women have “challenged … people’s wildest expectations…. [by modeling what it means to return to truth.]” Jesus is not alone in this. If that is your god, god has incarnated many many times. (I wager you disagree with this, but I don’t know how you can weave in godhood into your Jesus without eventually running into all the problems the church has created with that idea over the last centuries. It is that godhood and salvation (savior) notion which has been the demise of the church because of its inevitable outworkings.

    IMHO

  • Michelle

    From my earliest memories, I have never understood the draw of a guru, and that is what Jesus is to many. Is he that to you? That is to say, someone who is the only one that can lead you where you think is in the correct direction? How do you know when you have outgrown the guru and need to stand on your own two feet and make your own way (and we all have to do that eventually)? Is it even possible to realize when you have become imprisoned by your unchanging focus on that one historical figure who you claim is the ONLY light and the way?

    All I see in Jesus is that he is a continuation in humanity’s quest for psychological/emotional fulfillment. He built upon what came before, and others have built on his legacy. Why the burning interest in the person and not upon the process (which is still ongoing)? That process shows many players, and I find them all interesting (some more than others, I prefer scientists and psychologists over theologians and philosophers for the most part). I loved when Dawkins mused that if Jesus was brought into the present, he would become an atheist, because he would be wise enough to update himself on all the progress that humanity has made and would want to be on the side of reality. His compassion would behoove him to do that.

    This focus on one historical person seems strange to me. It really does. I just don’t get it. Is it because your self-identity is so fragile that it would dissolve without this charismatic person close by (in your imagination, that is, of course, as he has been long dead). Why embrace that kind of being stuck-in-the-psychological-mud? Why go around and around and around, focusing on just one person as if that one person is everything? Why not instead focus on the many people around you (including yourself)?

    I sincerely do not get what I consider to be Jesus Junkies’ (I apologize for the slight as I know that you do not regard yourself in such a negative light for adoring Jesus) focus upon fixing up on what seems to be merely a drug–one POWERFUL, PURE, ABSOLUTELY CORRECT, COMPASSIONATE individual. It seems like an easy way out to me.

    Compassion is in most of us (except for those of us who are psycho/sociopathic), in some degree. Why do ‘Jesus Junkies’ need to crystalline something that is quite common (though very desirable and positive) into some extraordinarily special? I have not lived a day without compassion, and I have been an atheist since my earliest memories (I am now sixty). I just don’t get the–what seems to me, rather primitive–emphasis that a historical person possesses the well springs of compassion. It seems a way-over-the-top way of reference. Triggers/symbols that can jolt compassion into our consciousness and have us act upon it, abound. Why put all your compassion cards on the Jesus table? Again, I just don’t get the narrowed focus.

    Even if you do leave behind the church, why cleave to an obsession, the obsession of Jesus? Why do you see yourself as nothing without Jesus? And if you do believe that he is a supernatural being, why do that to your brain? You have to do all kinds of mental-capital-wasting contortions to take that type of cognitive dissonance into stride.

    Again, I just don’t get it. You are welcome to your beliefs of course, but I do find them very odd. I wish all of you thoughtful Christians the very best and must say, that compassion is a lovely thing. However, evolution gave it to us, not Jesus, for goodness sakes!

    Anyways, I took Aaron’s offer which he made at Pharyngula to come and post something at this blog. So, I did. I hope that I was not too harsh. I am just being honest with my perceptions.

  • Renier

    Well written.

    Carlos wrote: “My theology, all my opinions and cleverness have completely crumbled. All I have left is Christ.”

    I too was at such a point, years ago. But I got tired of the effort to maintain a one-way relationship with my own make-belief friend. All the effort came from me.

    No offense meant, honestly.

  • Tyler

    Christianity was an original design of a man named Jesus who lived in the region of Palestine that was called Nazareth.

    As laudable as a christian putting the christian church under a microscope might be, statements such as the above indicate a failure to use that microscope comprehensively. There is absolutely nothing original in the alleged words of the character Jesus. Assuming he existed, his most revered (humanistic) teachings were around long before he was. Further, sure, those teachings are worth reverence (whether he uttered them or not), but ignoring/glossing over his utterly anti-human teachings is dishonest. ‘Liberal/moderate’ christians, quick to denounce violent crusades and inquisitions perpetrated by christians, are doing themselves (and, more sinisterly, the impressionable minds they teach) a terrible disservice by ignoring/glossing over the fact that crusades and inquisitions are just as authoritatively sanctioned by Jesus as his humanistic teachings; humanistic teachings which, again, existed long before he’s purported to have come on the scene.

  • Aaron

    Have you read Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore? It has Jesus (in the years of his life not recorded in the Bible) running around in Asia and talking to mystics where he really did pick up his teachings. Totally great and it is one that pastors read behind locked doors for fear of excommunication…

  • darkhornet

    To Michelle and Renier…this may sound very simplistic and child like — so be it. The most wonderful thing in my life IS Jesus — not religion, not a church building, but my relationship with Him. This is something that is difficult to explain…it is akin to explaining what the color green looks like to someone who has never seen “green.” All I can tell you is it is wonderful, and real — that is my experience. It is not a one-way relationship, or a make believe friend that my psyche has created….I truly hope and pray that everyone has the opportunity to experience it. Remember one thing….having a relationship with Him is not about you…it is always about Him.

  • Renier

    darkhornet wrote: “that is my experience. It is not a one-way relationship, or a make believe friend that my psyche has created…”

    I do not doubt that your experience is real to you. It was to me. But I must ask you, since you appear to differentiate between my “make-belief friend” relationship that I had and the supposedly real relationship that you have. What is the difference? How my I differentiate between a make-belief friend from what you claim to have?

    Countless Christians say things like this, “if only you had what I have”. There are zillions of ex-Christians that had what you “have” darkhornet, people who in earnest sought a relationship with Jesus. Does he talk to you darkhornet? Does he hold you at night when you are fearful? Does he sit and discuss everyday life with you? Does he explain how to help other people, to cure cancer and aids, to put a stop to the wars? Does he, your personal Jesus, know anything that you do not know? Can you ask him something you do not know so that you can check up on it to validate your belief with reality? I don’t think so, yet such an easy validation of belief is possible.

    Is there any way I can differentiate your relationship with Jesus from that of a make-belief friend, a Child’s fairy friend or a Hindu’s house god? How do you *know*, a claim to knowledge that goes beyond belief?

    Thanks for responding though.

  • Aaron

    Michelle,

    First I have to say that I appreciate that you took my invitation, as sarcastic as it was, to make a comment here. I hope that you will continue to do so!

    All I want to say as an additional response at this point (mainly because I am planning a series of posts addressing these very issues) is that I have been nodding and smiling while reading your comment. Not because I have ammunition against it, but rather because I share many of your concerns.

    As a counselor, I am not sure that I can agree that compassion is as ubiquitous as you seem to have experienced. But I am also confident enough to say that Christianity, and Jesus for that matter, has NOT cornered the market on truth.

    Thanks again for your comment. No doubt some of my readers will think that you have been “harsh,” but I cannot help but to solidly connect with your position.

  • Tyler

    It’s on the book shelf in the other room, though I’ve only had portions read to me by my significant other. Would you mind explaining what this has to do with my post?

  • Tyler

    darkhornet wrote: “This is something that is difficult to explain…it is akin to explaining what the color green looks like to someone who has never seen ‘green.'”

    Which simply begs the question: What is one to make of the “green” seen by, say, muslims who make the same claim regarding their superstition? What do you make of it?

    ====

    darkhornet wrote: “It is not a one-way relationship…”

    vs

    “… having a relationship with Him is not about you…it is always about Him.”

    I’d be interested to see the blatant inconsistency in these two statements reconciled.

  • Aaron

    My attempt at humor.

    Actually there is a phenomenon where pastors keep things from their congregations regarding biblical scholarship. Not sure if it is because they fear rejection or if they do not believe the evidence itself (because it may fly in the face of their own white-knuckled beliefs).

    The reference to the book was to say that and to also point out that I indeed am aware that Jesus’ teachings are not extraordinarily unique. Christopher Moore has Jesus talking to people in China and the “far east” about their beliefs, but even within the thought of his Jewish contemporaries, his teachings were not entirely new.

  • RBH

    Aaron wrote

    As a counselor, I am not sure that I can agree that compassion is as ubiquitous as you seem to have experienced.

    Um, as a counselor you have seen a pretty skewed sample. ‘Ware of generalizations from skewed samples. Compassion, like almost every other human trait, varies in the population. Some are more compassionate, some less. It’s a continuous variable, not dichotomous. Counselors tend to see just one tail of the distribution. And that variability, incidentally, is what one would expect if ‘compassion’ (i.e., empathy for others) is a trait with (at least partial) evolutionary roots.

  • Aaron

    Agreed! But isn’t a person’s experience present a skewed sample as well? It would seem that your comment does not only challenge my perspective, but Michelle’s as well.

  • RBH

    A counselor’s sample is systematically skewed toward one end of the distribution. The average person’s sample does not have that systematic bias and is more likely to be a representative sample, or at least is less likely to be a systematically biased sample.

  • Aaron

    What, now I am not an “average person”? 😉

    I agree that there may be a more representative sampling of people outside the clinical environment. However, I don’t know that the people with whom anyone chooses to spend time with would be considered a random sample in the sense of good research. I would think that you, seeing yourself as a moral person, are likely to spend time around other people who share the same values and interests.

    Either way, there is no doubt the existance of a moral code that both extends from and is separate from the authority of the Bible. Again, as I have said, neither the Bible nor Christianity has the corner of the market on truth. For me that means on moral and ethical truth as well.

  • Sabio Lantz

    God.com was written by James Langteaux — writer, producer, and director for the 700 Club — arghhhh !

  • Sabio Lantz

    If I prayed to Ulysses (AKA Odysseus, from The Odyssey) and looked for him as a model in my life, would you worry about me or think me noble? If I said, “All I have left is Ulysses” , would you worry about me or shake your head at my heart felt confession?

  • darkhornet

    Renier, thank you for the questions — I have found that questioning my beliefs over the years has been the best thing I could have ever done — and continue to do. I refuse to believe something “just because my parents did,” or “thats the way it is,” etc….but more on point…

    You ask me “Does He talk to you”…”Does He hold you at night when you are fearful?” “Does He sit and discuss everyday life with you?, etc…” The simple answer to these questions is Yes, but probably not in the way that you are expecting. As I am sure you are aware, I believe in the Word of God (the bible) — so when you ask if He comforts me, I know that I can read Hebrews 13:5 “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

    So I guess the question here is does Jesus audibly speak to me — I have to say up until this point He has not. He has spoken to me through the bible, through other people, and through circumstances. This is not to say that if He wanted to he could speak in any way He wanted.

    At any rate, it all boils down to a matter of faith. I know that sounds trite and simple, but its the truth. You either believe in Him, or you don’t. And you believe based on your own personal experience. My experiences have told me beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is real and alive.

  • RBH

    I specifically didn’t use “random” for that reason. 🙂 In a life of 68 years (so far), including experience in the military, in education (college level) and in industry, I’ve known people who range over virtually the whole spectrum of “compassion,” from what amount to sociopaths to near-saints. While Michelle’s experience may be with a narrower range, nevertheless it’s more likely to reflect something closer to the full range than the sample a counselor deals with. Sorry. 🙂

    Of course, none of this is data — the plural of “anecdote” is not “data.” It’s merely suggestive.

  • Aaron

    I wondered if anyone would pick up on that 😉

  • Aaron

    Not any more worried about you than I am right now 😉

  • Chad Estes

    LOL- Sabio, trust me, his job with the 700 club is not indicative of the expression of James’ faith journey or his writing. God.com truly is a fantastic book. I read it every year, usually out loud because of it’s alliteration.

  • Aaron

    Yes… and again I am not only a counselor but I do have experiences with people outside the office. And with those experiences solely (although I will freely admit that the well has been poisoned by my in-office experience) I would still say that there has been much I have witnessed that at its core is a lack of compassion. Indeed, I could I also say that these experiences have been both inside and outside the church.

    To throw in a bit of research, only 15% of people in this country say that they have seen a difference in the lifestyles of Christians and non-Christians! (UnChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons)

  • Sabio Lantz

    LOL
    My point, obviously, when you boys say, “All I have is Jesus”, really, all you have is your ideas and ideals of Jesus and when you contemplate and pray you strengthen your resolve to be like those ideas and ideals — not a bad thing. But if you think you have a “relationship”, you are misusing that term. You don’t talk, drink, swim, eat, or do anything together, you never touch him, see him etc. That is not “relationship” in any normal sense. He is in your imagination and you nurture your imagination — not a bad thing at all.
    Except if you think others are lost who don’t practice this.

  • Sabio Lantz

    Yeah, well , I am not reassured, sorry.

  • Sabio Lantz

    Wheew, I am glad we agree that Jesus’ teaching is not unique. But you think Jesus was on earth to become a human sacrifice to himself, right? So his teaching wouldn’t matter. I don’t get why he had to wait till he was 33 to sacrifice himself to himself. It is all confusing.
    Now, if you don’t buy that story and belief he was a compassionate reformer of Judaism who was killed and that liberal Christians use the teaching of his which show agape love as their model, I guess that can work, as long as they are inclusivists.

  • Chad Estes

    Okay, how about I send you a copy, Sabio? Provide me with a mailing address on my email and I’ll put one in the mail – captain.estes(at)gmail(dot)com

  • Sabio Lantz

    That is a generous offer Chad. I may just get my hands on one if Aaron was so impressed. I can’t send you my address because I can not afford my name exposed on the web. To be known as an atheist on the web would destroy business for me. It is a Christian’s nation, after all. I have to hide and can’t take chances. Remember, all atheists are viewed as evil, corrupt and lightening rods for disaster. (I have been almost fired twice when Christians in my company found I had done devil-inspired acupuncture — long story)
    Thanx anyway.

  • Aaron

    To tell you the truth it has been years since I read it and I really only remember one image from it. Basically it talks about stepping out from what we are holding as our unquestionable belief and plunging into the darkness of the pupil of God’s eye. It caught me that truth is likely not what I want it to be or what makes me comfortable. If I am willing to give up what I think I know and launch out into what may, for me, be unknown, then I may actually have an encounter with truth… no matter its etiology.

    Sorry if that sounds too supernatural, but I think that in some ways, at least that is indicative of the pursuit of scientific truth as well… many of the most influential scientists were considered insane by their colleagues, at least for a time.

  • Sabio Lantz

    Agreed, my de-conversion story tells of exactly that. I realized that the truth meant I would not be Christian — the fear made me bolt back. But I had to pay the price of all my friends and support to follow what I knew was correct. I look back now with no regret.

  • Tyler

    “My attempt at humor.”

    What’s humorous is that you’re driving the point home with a ten ton sledgehammer.

  • Renier

    Darkhornet wrote: “I have found that questioning my beliefs over the years has been the best thing I could have ever done”

    Agreed. I did the same. Curious that we came to different conclusions. I wonder why that is. Could you perhaps explain to me how you decide between “true” and “false” when questioning one of your beliefs? Did you apply objectivity? If so, could we perhaps discuss an example where you concluded “true”, in order to understand the difference in our conclusions?

    Darkhornet wrote: “The simple answer to these questions is Yes, but probably not in the way that you are expecting.”

    It appears we have different expectations from a “personal relationship”.

    Darkhornet wrote: “As I am sure you are aware, I believe in the Word of God (the bible)”

    Faith/belief is no validation or verification of truth. Believing something does not mean that what you believe is true. You can however choose to accept it as truth, as is your right. I do not share in your belief though. As you probably know, it as based on various assumptions and not one of those assumptions are justified or even reasonable. As example: Assuming god exists. Assuming god cares. Assuming god talked to people. Assuming god wrote a book. Assuming it came out the way he wanted it to. Assuming it is not another book, other than the Bible. Assuming god does not change. Assuming assuming assuming. One cannot reasonably be expected to accept such assumptions without a overwhelming amount of evidence. I find it strange that any good god would expect the unreasonable.

    Darkhornet wrote: “so when you ask if He comforts me, I know that I can read Hebrews 13:5 “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

    By that logic I can claim I have a personal relationship with Robert G. Ingersoll, though he be dead. I find comfort in his writings and could probably find a meaningful quote for almost every situation I encounter in life.

    Darkhornet wrote: “So I guess the question here is does Jesus audibly speak to me — I have to say up until this point He has not. He has spoken to me through the bible, through other people, and through circumstances. This is not to say that if He wanted to he could speak in any way He wanted.”

    So he could speak to you, clear and audible, in person, but chooses to use cryptic and third party methods? And you are happy with it? It makes no sense to me. I mean, if we have a personal relationship with a person, for argument’s sake, a life partner. If the partner wrote a book and expects you to read the book in order to “communicate” to you instead of taking the time to speak to you in person, speaks to other people to tell you stuff, comforts you via other people, but never in person… I am sorry, but by no stretch of my imagination can I call this a personal relationship. If we reasonably have better expectations in our relationships with people does it not bother you that the standard you set for your god is so low that you might as well have a relationship with a rock? This might come across snarky, but it is not my intent. Once again I have to ask you. How do you differentiate your “personal relationship” with Jesus from that of a make-belief friend or a rock? At least you can see and touch the rock.

    Darkhornet wrote: “At any rate, it all boils down to a matter of faith. I know that sounds trite and simple, but its the truth. You either believe in Him, or you don’t. And you believe based on your own personal experience.”

    Not a good idea, in my opinion, to just believe based on personal experience. We are masters at fooling ourselves and other people, it is part of being human. People believe in ghosts, fairies, pagan gods, healing crystals, demons, nature spirits and Elvis based on “personal experience”. Above all we need to doubt, for in doubt there is honesty and the opportunity to rid ourselves of what is false so that we can creep closer to what is true. A dogma that prohibits doubt (opposite of faith) is a dogma that fears doubt. Add in a threat of eternal torture for those who do not have faith (doubt)…

    Darkhornet wrote: “My experiences have told me beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is real and alive.”

    A “True Believer”? Doubt is good and not a bad thing. Being sure beyond a shadow of a doubt might not be the healthiest mental position there is and I do mean this in the best way possible. Consider what you are saying. You have no doubt that you have a personal relationship with a Jew who died two thousand years ago, assuming he even existed.

  • Renier

    Aaron, I find you blog refreshing in many ways. Keep it up.

  • Sabio Lantz

    (1) Aaron, I suggest you don’t allow hierarchy in comments — they are very hard to follow this way. Returning here, I can’t find replies easily.

    (2) I find this white on black template very hard on the eyes — but I am an older guy.

    (3) Though I just posted a parody on a “relationship with Jesus”, I do have something to say in balance. Renier helps to explore how we know the truth. But I want to ask, “How do you inspire your life and strengthen your heart?” Rationalism may find truth, but does it fill the heart? Unless we realize that the discussion is simultaneously touching both of these dimensions, we may talk past each other.

  • Renier

    Sabio, to whom is your question of “How do you inspire your life and strengthen your heart?” addressed?

  • Saskia

    Very interesting. Know you are not alone.

  • Sabio Lantz

    @ Renier
    My question is to those who do not use practice diligent hero-imagery to model their lives. It is not accusatory, it is curious. How do any of us nurture the reflective, moral, wholesome life? Mind you, I don’t think irrational belief is necessary but sometimes, that is the purpose it serves. We are willing to sacrifice reason if the benefit is great.

  • Aaron

    (1) Yeah a bit ambivalent about that myself.

    (2) If you use the Print Preview option (File menue) then you can see the text as black on a white background.

    (3) I will check out your parody… sounds interesting!

  • darkhornet

    Well, I have to say this…I need Jesus. He fills my life, He lifts me up when I am down, He is a friend to me. He has been there for my wife and I and our 3 kids, and I trust that He will be there in the future — experience has told me that.

    So, to me faith/belief in Christ is the only way I have found to get through this life…He gives me purpose. I am sorry if that doesn’t make sense to you, or if you think that it makes me sound simple minded — oh well, I am fine with that.

  • Junker

    the body of Christ church is NOT dying. But organized visible church… oh yeah, it’s dying, or irrelevant, because it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to–and the fear. Rich and poor, Christians have let government take over more and more of the role of church and family… sad.

    God’s got no grandkids.

    Revival would be nice about now, but instead we have marketing and megachurches.

    We have best sellers, instead of best doers — and to the talk circuit and the Hollywood big names go our talented youth, instead of considering the long, slow, painful life of ministry… would you have your kids do what you do, do you consider it the highest calling?

    Don’t be discouraged. Think of Elijah & the invisible armies.

    God changes hearts, not our programs or even our efforts.

    🙂

    I found your blog because you took a reasonable risk to empathize, and impressed a lot of people… who pointed out they like Christ, but find most Christians jerks.

    No surprises, but we are to be like Windows, clean and showing Him not ourselves 🙂

    Gotta run, but do keep in touch.

  • sqjtaipei

    Hi Aaron: I can’t seem to read the white on black smallish print so well… and there more comments on here than I have time for at the moment anyway. Just wanted to say 3 things:
    1. Welcome to the “Reluctant Christian” club.
    2. I know you pointed out that you were speaking of the American church… but just remember that the average Christian in the world today is African or Asian. The church is *way* bigger than we can really comprehend. Your frustration with the American church is understandable… but actually, most Christians are getting it right.
    3. For someone “doing it right” in the US (and there are several) check out Tim Keller’s books and sermons. http://www.stevekmccoy.com/reformissionary/2005/07/tim_keller_arti.html

    You *are* doing a great work, Aaron. Keep going.

  • Renier

    Sabio. We each create our own “purpose”. For many Christians their “purpose” in life is to live in such a way that a god will judge them at the end of their lives and say “well done!”.

    For me, I live my life so that the generation that comes after us will say “well done”.

  • Sabio Lantz

    @ Renier
    Sounds noble, but how does that work out practically. Essentially you decide what you think are important issues and work toward them. Do you have any way to measure these? Is it your children that you worry about or Muslim children in China or Christian kids in Sudan that you try to make proud of you?
    All to say, we all have noble thoughts and yet we all act more simply than we imagine.

  • Renier

    Hi Sabio.

    Good questions. One should keep in mind that the “purpose” I described is a subjective conclusion. It might have no relevance on the next person. As for measuring it I can simply say that reason should be able to give an estimate on what is best for the next generation and what is not good. No dogma required.

    On your questions if my “purpose” considers Muslim, Chinese Christian etc. kids I would say that within my limits I do attempt to consider them. My attempts might be feeble at best by teaching my own children to not abuse or take advantage of other people (regardless of religion!), to be fair in their conduct and to share if they are able to.

    I should perhaps have noted that most of my life I lived with the idea that my “purpose” was simply to glorify God. Having thrown of such a preposterous yoke I was left with a purpose and after thinking about it concluded that what would make me content is a purpose that I can agree with and aspire to. It might not be the best, the most noble or even the most practical or glorious, but it makes sense to me.

  • Sabio Lantz

    The whole notion of “purpose” is strange to me. Our genes are machines to produce other successful reproducing machines. Our minds are just mechanisms enhancing this function. Our thoughts are often justifications for actions which have already been initiated and rationalizations for established attitudes. We deceive ourselves. Thus, any grand idea of purpose seems highly suspicious.
    But to live simple, aware and without grand schemes seems at least minimally possible.

  • Aaron

    Just a few thoughts:

    @ Renier

    Interesting that you would bring up the idea of “purpose” when there seems to be little need for “purpose” in an evolutionary perspective. After all, as Sabio says, there is little more purpose than being machinary.

    I am also curious about the concept of leaving something for the next generation. How are we to know what will truly benefit future generations? In the book Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut (an Indiana native, I might add) he projects that as evolution progresses, future humans will likely have smaller brains, because it may become an evolutionary benefit not to have such complicated emotional capacities.

    @ Sabio

    It seems that I am missing you… you talk about “purpose” in one context and suggest that it is good, then you say that it is “minimally possible” to live without it. I guess I am just asking for more and perhaps clarification of your position.

  • Sabio Lantz

    @ Aaron
    Sorry, I don’t understand what you don’t understand.
    Humans are not born with individual purposes — period.
    Well, no more than cockroaches or squirrels.
    So, purposes we dream up are for ourselves, and that is fine.
    But usually those purposes are self-deceptive and/or manipulation rhetoric.
    I am very cynical about “purpose talk” — it makes humans way too important.

  • Aaron

    Ah! got ya! I think you just answered my question.

    It sounds like with the concept of purpose you and I are not too far off. I think that at least in the realm of Christianity it was a construct that was developed much later to give people as sense of autonomy and individality… but don’t think that it is what the Bible teaches. Seems to be more of a corporate purpose rather than an individual one.

    …after all what more are we than squirrels and cockroaches??

  • Renier

    Sabio wrote: “The whole notion of “purpose” is strange to me.”

    Perhaps on a grand scale, such as a “life purpose”. But I need to point out that you adhere to purpose every day. You do thing every day that have purpose behind them. A lot of our actions relates to purpose. We eat, drive to work, watch movies etc. Not tryi9ng to shifty any goal posts here, just noting that a lot of our actions are motivated by purpose.

    Sabio wrote: “Our genes are machines to produce other successful reproducing machines. Our minds are just mechanisms enhancing this function.”

    Agreed.

    Sabio wrote: “Our thoughts are often justifications for actions which have already been initiated and rationalizations for established attitudes.”

    Agreed. But coming back to purpose. We are human, and that means we have the ability to have an intent and the ability to plan in order to make the intent happen. It might very well be that our concept of purpose arises from these natural abilities.

    Sabio wrote: “We deceive ourselves. Thus, any grand idea of purpose seems highly suspicious.”

    Agreed on the fooling ourselves. Perhaps I should have clarified that my concept of “purpose” is not really a “grand scheme of things” idea. It is fairly simple. And considering that a breast feeding mother has the “purpose” of enhancing the chances of her offspring surviving, then my defined “purpose” is not really that much different. I think my idea of purpose is on par with evolutionary success.

    Sabio wrote: “But to live simple, aware and without grand schemes seems at least minimally possible.”

    Indeed. Defining a purpose for oneself is not incompatible with your statement and one might even hint that such intent can be seen as subjective purpose.

    Aaron wrote: “Interesting that you would bring up the idea of “purpose” when there seems to be little need for “purpose” in an evolutionary perspective. ”

    Hmmm. I think we might differ on what we see as purpose. I would argue that a brain has the purpose of advancing successful reproduction. Same goes for legs, arms, hair, skin, sex organs, a heart, liver, lungs etc.

    Aaron wrote: “After all, as Sabio says, there is little more purpose than being machinery.”

    My idea of purpose is not incompatible with this statement. Like I said, it is very much in line with the whole evolutionary process. It is after all a subjective thing, as I stated. We do what makes us happy and normally try and avoid the things that hurt us and make us sad.

    Aaron wrote: “I am also curious about the concept of leaving something for the next generation. How are we to know what will truly benefit future generations?”

    By using reason. Less co2 levels would be better than more, at this stage. Less pollutants. Better education. Better medical technology. Better government etc. Of course we are not perfect, but in my opinion it is worth a try.

    Aaron wrote: “he projects that as evolution progresses, future humans will likely have smaller brains, because it may become an evolutionary benefit not to have such complicated emotional capacities.”

    Not that I am a biologist, but why would a brain need to be smaller in order to cope with emotions? We should also consider that emotions plays a major role in our living as social creatures. Evolution does not have a “goal” in mind. Mutations does not consider what might be needed, it is simply random.

    Sabio wrote: “So, purposes we dream up are for ourselves, and that is fine. But usually those purposes are self-deceptive and/or manipulation rhetoric”

    True. My own self-made “purpose” is subjective and acceptable to me. I have no concept of “higher purpose” as it is used in religious jargon. Perhaps I should have stated it more as my “goal” in order to avoid confusion.

  • Sabio Lantz

    @ Renier — so we essentially agree. Now all we need is for Aaron to be clear and systematic on what he thinks.

    @ Aaron — Why do I feel you avoid being clear or systematic?

  • Aaron

    @ Sabio

    I think that where you have seen me be “a-systematic” would be where I am foregoing my own thoughts and trying to understand your perspective better. The concept of “purpose” has intrigued me ever since I have read Rick Warren and listened to Richard Dawkins’ talk “The Purpose of Purpose.”

    @ Reiner

    My thoughts on Vonnegut that I shared (a fiction author if you are not familiar) were more of humor than of real rhetoric. But it does beg the question that as evolution continues there is a potential to produce creatures that are as advanced in a similar degree as the difference between humans and lemurs, so what would help us to fully know what would help further the species? What if medical science is holding back evolution by allowing less viable members of the species to reproduce?

    @ Sabio and Renier

    For clarity: I have no problem with an evolutionary perspective, even where it relates to interpretation of the Bible. Even so, I have not ever really seriously considered what may be in the future, so that is stumping me, thus my questions here.

    Further, as for the concept of “purpose” the jury is out for me. I see much more viable for the argument of purpose after taking huge steps back and seeing the work of groups of people and nations, but on an individual basis, not sure what I honestly think about that. Certainly part of the reason for my lack of position is that I am not sure that I see individual purpose superseding the purpose or welfare of the nation in Scripture. When God talks to Abraham he stresses that he will become a great nation, thus in some sense talking to the entire nation that will come after. When God calls individuals in the Bible it is for the purpose of restoring or advancing the nation and ultimately to advance his plan of salvation. And even in the plan of salvation it seems that there is more concern for “the nations” and “the world” than for individuals.

    Okay, so am I blabbing or am I bringing any “clarity” with a “systematic” argument?

  • Cally

    …after all what more are we than squirrels and cockroaches?? Remember dust Aaron, dust 🙂

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