After taking a hiatus from reading atheist-leaning material, I happened across this article today and decided to respond to it:
As Christians, we know that biblical truth hurts sometimes and comes across as offensive no matter what, and it’s our duty to still speak the truth. However, other times it serves no purpose other than to shut the other person down from even listening at all.
That being said, this is my own blog and I’m not saying this directly to anyone in particular, so I decided to write my own responses to the opinions she presented. The author’s portions are excerpted in italics.
1: “How can you be moral without believing in God?”
The answer: Atheists are moral for the same reasons believers are moral: because we have compassion, and a sense of justice. Humans are social animals, and like other social animals, we evolved with some core moral values wired into our brains: caring about fairness, caring about loyalty, caring when others are harmed.
I agree that asking this question to atheists is a bit short-sighted for a number of reasons. First off, we should already know that according to naturalistic beliefs, human behaviors are supposedly adaptations that increase our chances of survival. Things that are beneficial to a group tend to persist in a flourishing species. So atheists would naturally turn to these sorts of answers when it comes to morality.
But this question is also short-sighted because as Christians, we should know a very simple and fundamental truth: God created ALL people in His image. This means a moral sense was instilled in every one of us; it is built into our nature. So whether or not someone believes in God is independent of whether they have a basic moral code. True, specific moral duties and responsibilities may differ (hint: when the Bible explicitly commands us to do something, it’s usually because we naturally do not want to do them). But we all have a basic sense of right or wrong. The question is, how do we objectively define what’s right or wrong?
You have to wonder, from a naturalistic perspective, if morals are simply an adaptation to promote survival, why not kill off unproductive members of the herd? Why bother taking care of the elderly or even barren women? Why not save our resources instead of taking care of handicapped individuals who can give nothing back? What practical benefit is there to some of these “good” deeds? As Christians, we know that every person has intrinsic worth as an image-bearer of God, but what value is there from a naturalistic standpoint?
And if someone disagrees with your sense of “good,” what right do you have to condemn them for it? If Hitler thought he was making the world a better place by killing Jews, how can we prove that he’s wrong and we’re right? Apart from some higher objective standard, we can’t. But if we’re truly honest with ourselves, we know deep in our bones that killing humans is wrong, and it’s not just some arbitrary adaptation ingrained in us over time.
What’s so special about human survival anyway? From the naturalistic environment’s perspective, we are actually bad for the health of this planet, and doesn’t the planet have a higher importance than our species? Since it is home to every other creature we know about, maybe it’s not right to exhibit this form of bias. Maybe we should depopulate…war and killing could be of great practical benefit to the world.
I could go on and on about this, but I think the point has been made. We are all made to be moral creatures, but only with God as an objective standard can it really become something more than just some arbitrary result of probability and undirected adaptation.
2: “How do you have any meaning in your life?” Sometimes asked as, “Don’t you feel sad or hopeless?” Or even, “If you don’t believe in God or heaven, why don’t you just kill yourself?”
The answer: Atheists find meaning and joy in the same things everyone does. We find it in the big things: family, friendship, work, nature, art, learning, love. We find it in the small things: cookies, World of Warcraft, playing with kittens. The only difference is that (a) believers add “making my god or gods happy and getting a good deal in the afterlife” to those lists (often putting them at the top), and (b) believers think meaning is given to them by their god or gods, while atheists create our own meaning, and are willing and indeed happy to accept that responsibility.
We Christians find joy in a lot of those same things as well, and indeed, we believe a lot of them were given to us by God for the very purpose of making life on this earth more bearable. But enjoying something is a far cry from having a deeper, firmer sense of purpose. And trust me, as humans with prideful desires, we Christians would love to accept the “responsibility” of creating “our own meaning.” Who wouldn’t? It’s fun to play boss. But at the same time, we have come to grips that living like this is just playing an empty game. In the end, it’s all pointless apart from a greater purpose.
From the atheists’ point of view, the purpose in life is to enjoy every moment and to derive “meaning” in relationships and activities. But if you think about it, this sense of meaning is completely illusory. If humans are nothing but a collection of matter, randomly thrown together for no apparent purpose or design, then why are your family and friends special? Why are nature and art to be admired when they’re just an accident of impersonal and random forces?
What is “love” from a naturalistic purpose? Isn’t it simply a means to reproduce and to increase the chances of successfully raising offspring? Well, in modern day America, I think it’s safe to say that very few children die of starvation, even without monogamous parenting, so why not spread our seed as widely as possible? Why bother with marriage or commitment anymore?
If atheists are always accusing Christians of living in a fantasy world, I think it’s time that they come to grips with the illusions and mental tricks they are playing on themselves. Their sense of meaning and purpose are parlor tricks, and the prominent atheist Nietzsche is an example of someone who honestly understood these implications. He seemed to grasp that with the “death of God,” objective truth must necessarily break down. What’s ironic and sad is that while he referred to Christianity as a depressing and pitiful belief system, he himself ended up suffering a mental breakdown.
As for the last part of the question (“why don’t you just kill yourself?”), I really hope no one says this to an atheist. Apart from being cold-hearted or gimmicky at best (in trying to make some kind of poignant point), it is useless to wish death upon someone, especially if there is still time and a chance for them to find God. Better late than never.
3: “Doesn’t it take just as much/even more faith to be an atheist as it does to be a believer?”
The answer: No.
The somewhat longer answer: This question assumes that “atheism” means “100% certainty that God does not exist, with no willingness to question and no room for doubt.” For the overwhelming majority of people who call ourselves atheists, this is not what “atheism” means. For most atheists, “atheism” means something along the lines of “being reasonably certain that there are no gods,” or, “having reached the provisional conclusion, based on the evidence we’ve seen and the arguments we’ve considered, that there are no gods.” No, we can’t be 100% certain that there are no gods. We can’t be 100% certain that there are no unicorns, either. But we’re certain enough. Not believing in unicorns doesn’t take “faith.” And neither does not believing in God.
Ah, the good ol’ unicorns comparison to God, as if they were on equal levels as far as logic and evidence would direct us. But I won’t go into that now because I think I touch upon it frequently in some of my posts. The short version is this: we have solid and defensible reasons to believe in the existence of God; there are no such reasons to believe in the existence of unicorns. It sure does make a catchy (and extremely popular) argument, though.
Anyhow, I largely disagree with the author’s assessment that atheism doesn’t take the same (or greater) measure of faith as being a believer in, say, Jesus Christ. The honest answer should be “yes,” and let me explain.
As Christians, we have come to the conclusion that there is a specific God based on a number of influences and sources. These things can range from emotional leadings to stone-cold logic. Archeology and even science can lead some to the conclusion that there is a god. For example, Dr. Francis Collins—a prominent geneticist who led the Human Genome Project—believes that our DNA is actually the “language of God” and cannot be explained by purely naturalistic means. And yes, sometimes people believe without deeper investigation, but that’s usually because the existence of God seems so inherently obvious to them that they don’t feel a burning need to look deeper. While I would much prefer Christians to be better informed about their faith and able to defend their faith more competently (as the Bible even exhorts us to do), it’s hard to fault them too much for trusting their intuitions and common sense. In the end, we come to a conclusion we feel is reasonable, although there is that little leap of faith left on our part.
Now, with atheism, a similar track is usually followed. They emotionally feel things that turn them away from religion, such as anger at abuses in the church or judgmental attitudes. Perhaps it’s an abusive religious father or even strong homosexual tendencies that make the Bible’s teachings against this behavior highly objectionable to them. (This builds in an added incentive for such atheists to believe the Bible is wrong because its truth would put them in an uncomfortable spot. Perhaps that’s partially what motivated the author of this article to be an atheist, who happens to be a lesbian.) Then there is some form of “logical” thinking that takes place that utilizes catchy arguments to make the Bible seem ridiculous (but to be honest, I have yet to see any line of reasoning that holds up to any deeper scrutiny). Archeology says that a certain detail from the Bible cannot be corroborated (yet), and then science seems to take away the “need” for God, even if nothing directly contradicts His existence. Then, there is the apparent obviousness in thoughts like, “if there really were a God, why wouldn’t He show Himself? Why would there still be evil in the world?” With these seemingly reasonable lines of evidence, the last little leap of faith takes place when they trust their own intuitions and the conclusions of other people in published works or speeches, even if they could feasibly be wrong. Apparently, a smart-sounding and somewhat condescending British accent also helps greatly. The sad truth of the matter is that a mocking and sarcastic tone often comes with a built-in aura of superior intellect, for some reason.
Furthermore, the atheistic belief system mandates that a lot of the things we know and feel intuitively are not objective or real at all. They believe that the entire universe and life within it is nothing but a big cosmic coincidence, devoid of any purpose or design. They believe that science is conclusive and true, despite having a track history of being wrong and needing revision. They believe that anything that feels objectionable to them must be false, even though these feelings cannot be reliable as beacons of truth if they are merely adaptations for survival. They believe that fulfilled prophecies are merely math-defying coincidences or that they were manipulated in some way—even without any evidence of tampering. They will believe radically fringe ideas such as “Jesus never even existed” sooner than they will believe the words of first-hand witnesses who were martyred without recanting.
So yea, it’s not so ridiculous to say that it takes “the same (or greater) measure of faith” to be an atheist.
4: “Isn’t atheism just a religion?”
Calling atheism a religion assumes that it’s an axiom accepted on faith, not a conclusion based on thinking and evidence. And it shows that you’re not willing or able to consider the possibility that someone not only has a different opinion about religion than you do, but has come to that opinion in a different way.
This one is much like #3, so I’ll just quickly say that a religion can involve thinking and evidence as well (or at least from what I’ve seen, Christianity can). And truthfully, from what I’ve encountered, atheists don’t seem like the most “willing or able” to consider that they’re wrong either…not even on clear and simple points! Read any back-and-forth between a believer and an atheist and you’ll see an inability to even acknowledge any legitimate point made. So this accusation goes right back to the author of this article.
5: “What’s the point of atheist groups? How can you have a community and a movement for something you don’t believe in?”
The answer: Atheists have groups and communities and movements for the same reasons anyone does. Remember what I said about atheists being human? Humans are social animals. We like to spend time with other people who share our interests and values. We like to work with other people on goals we have in common. What’s more, when atheists come out about our atheism, many of us lose our friends and families and communities, or have strained and painful relationships with them. Atheists create communities so we can be honest about who we are and what we think, and still not be alone.
I think this answer is very legitimate and well spoken. Humans were made to be social creatures by design because we are not to fight this fight (of life) alone.
I suspect, however, that it’s also fun to get together and mock religious types. I can’t say this for all atheist groups, but it’s hard to imagine them feeling much genuine sympathy for the rest of us, whereas Christians earnestly pray for nonbelievers all the time…sometimes with tears. I watched a video of four prominent atheists gathered in one room talking to each other, and it felt like a big religion-bashing fest where all parties involved were highly amused and reveling in each other’s apparent brilliance and wit.
And again, if atheists believe they are doing meaningful work, they need to be truly honest with themselves. If their efforts are at all difficult or costly, they really shouldn’t waste their time and energy on it. Why champion a cause if it takes away from their own resources and enjoyment? The world around them is just a fleeting and random collection of matter. In fact, it’s all steadily leading toward maximum entropy and will cease to exist eventually. There are no REAL concerns of lasting consequence. What difference does it make to them personally what others believe if they believe we’re all just going to die and return to dust anyway? It’s an exercise in futility if you ask me.
At least the social aspects mentioned by the author give us a more realistic, honest, and digestible answer to help us understand.
6: “Why do you hate God?” Or, “Aren’t you just angry at God?”
The answer: Atheists aren’t angry at God. We don’t think God exists. We aren’t angry at God, any more than we’re angry at Santa Claus.
And honestly? This question reveals how narrow your own mind is. It shows that you can’t even consider the possibility that you might be mistaken: that you can’t even conceive of somebody seeing the world differently from the way you do. This question doesn’t just make atheists mad. It makes you look like a dolt.
I think it’s disingenuous to completely deny this point, but I could be mistaken. Quite frankly, this is a line that atheists can stick to until death and there’s really no concrete way to prove that they’re angry at God (and they know it).
Maybe we’re all wrong about them. Maybe their way of expressing themselves is different from all other forms of human interaction I’ve ever seen. To me, name-calling, rolling eyes, and biting sarcasm directed at God usually indicate some form of emotion…dare I say, anger or bitterness. But what do I know?
They seem to hate or mock God’s laws. They ridicule passages from the Bible that seem outdated or absurd. They ask questions like, “Where was God when…?” And not in a purely speculative or investigative way, either. You’ll notice that error found in other areas rarely evoke the same amount of impassioned speech and mockery that surround religious discussion. Why is this?
I don’t buy that they’re only angry at the believer, not an “imaginary God.” Much of the time, the believer has good intentions, and it’s hard to believe atheists get THAT angry when some random person disagrees with them or doesn’t see things the way they see it.
If atheists weren’t angry with God on some level, you’d expect a much different tone from them than what you actually see. I also find the author’s accusation of narrow-mindedness and being a “dolt” puzzling considering her own choice of words.
7: “But have you [read the Bible or some other holy book; heard about some supposed miracle; heard my story about my personal religious experience]?”
The answer: Probably. Or else we’ve read/heard about something pretty darned similar. Atheists are actually better-informed about religion than most religious believers. In fact, we’re better-informed about the tenets of most specific religions than the believers in those religions. For many atheists, sitting down and reading the Bible (or the holy text of whatever religion they were brought up in) is exactly what set them on the path to atheism — or what put the final nail in the coffin.
Why you shouldn’t ask it: As my friend and colleague Heina put it: “‘Have you heard of Jesus?’ No, actually, I was born under a f**king rock.”
There are some interesting and semi-valid points given here.
First off, atheists did not become atheists by accident. They had to weigh information and decide to be that way, so of course they will already know some of the basic truths of religion. Asking them these simplistic things can come across and obvious and insulting. I concede that point.
As for whether atheists tend to be better-informed about religion than most religious believers…
I’d have to say yes and no.
Yes, they may have spent more time reading the scriptures or doing highly academic exercises such as using Google or ordering popular books off of Amazon to read the opinions of others. Sadly, many believers know precious little about the very truths they are staking their entire life and eternity on.
Atheists’ knowledge of the Bible > Casual/young believer’s knowledge
Then an interesting factor comes into play here. On a spiritual level, that factor is the Holy Spirit and “scales” falling off of our eyes. But even on a human level, there is another important differentiator: passion and motivation.
Imagine on one side, you have an atheist who thinks Christianity is foolishness. On the other, you have a curious and thorough Christian who wants to know God to the deepest level possible. Who do you think will understand the Bible better?
The atheist comes across a difficult passage, and already assuming that the Bible is flawed and man-made, he immediately concludes that the passage is in error. It’s a contradiction or an oversight. Then he laughs about it, but does his diligence in remembering the details so that he can equip it in his next argument with a Christian. At this point, he can already stump the ho-hum Christian who knows nothing of the Bible.
The motivated Christian comes across the same passage and feels conflicted about it. How can that make sense when it sounds so off? Then, he remembers a related passage, perhaps 1,000 pages later that adds another layer to consider. Then he checks cross-references, commentaries, and draw upon his deep well of understanding to finally decipher the true meaning of the passage. It now makes sense and is crystal clear. Through this deep probing, he now has a better sense of the truth and God’s character, even if the final conclusion is much different than what he initially thought or expected.
In the end, this Christian has a far better understanding of the passage than the atheist does. Why is that? It’s not because of superior intelligence, but it’s because of his motivation and willingness to stretch his thinking to allow truths to come to him rather than dictate things with his own intuitions and biases. It’s his humility and deep desire to know God that opens up the words on the page to him. Otherwise, they would remain hidden.
Before you scoff at this idea, you should know that this applies in a lot of other areas as well—for instance, simple things like sports or even frivolous things like video games. *Warning: Geek speak is about to follow, so you may want to tune out.
You could be the smartest guy out there, and even be naturally gifted at video games. You could quickly excel to a certain point without a ton of effort. But unless you actually care about a game and devote yourself to it on a deeper level, you will never unlock your true potential in it.
People who have never been at an elite level in gaming (or other areas) will find this hard to understand and agree with, but it’s true. Lots of capable gamers will try out a game, see what they recognize to be an obvious flaw or limitation, and decide not to play it competitively. They write it off as shallow and unworthy of their efforts. They quickly find it boring and move on.
But the dedicated gamer will go deeper. He will see what looks like an “unfair” flaw and discover ways around it. What seemed like a broken imbalance is now just one mechanic that has been solved and pushed aside. Then other mechanics are discovered underneath. A deeper, richer game is uncovered for this gamer, but it never would have happened if he was haughty and decided the game was as simple as it first appeared.
(When it comes to the Street Fighter series, I could go on and on about frame data, spacing, the meta game, P-linking, conditioning your opponent…but you get the gist by now. It’s never just as simple as the characters you see on the screen.)
In the same way, atheists fail to see the deeper level of truth beneath the surface. That’s because they assume there isn’t any. They also overestimate the power of their intelligence, as if they should be able to immediately crack any code presented before them.
Here’s a news flash: no one is as smart as they think they are. (I’m constantly reminded of this, which is one of the useful, humbling quirks of marriage.) Here’s another one: If the Bible was inspired by God, do you really expect to be able to figure it all out with a few hours, months, or even years of half-blinded study? Even if it were man-made, scholars over many centuries have written countless volumes about the Bible that would astonish you in their complexity. Are you in a position to top that? If you can’t master Shakespeare in a couple of years, what makes you think you’d be able to master something this comprehensive and grand?
I can honestly tell you that every time I read a passage after not reading it for a while, I see something new jump out of the page. And that’s with passages I’ve read numerous times before! How much more complex would it be to piece together the entirety of the Bible logically and theologically? From what I’ve seen, the more you know, the more it fits…often in ways you never expected.
The conclusion is this: unless an atheist somehow had the right mindset (and the Holy Spirit’s guidance) while poring through the pages of scripture, it’s erroneous to say that they know it “better” than informed believers. It’s just the reality.
8: “What if you’re wrong?” Sometimes asked as, “Doesn’t it make logical sense to believe in God? If you believe and you’re wrong, nothing terrible happens, but if you don’t believe and you’re wrong, you could go to Hell!”
What if you’re wrong about Allah? Or Vishnu? Or Zeus? What if you’re wrong about whether God is the wrathful jerk who hates gay people, or the loving god who hates homophobes? What if you’re wrong about whether God wants you to celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday or Sunday? What if you’re wrong about whether God really does care about whether you eat bacon? As Homer Simpson put it, “What if we picked the wrong religion? Every week we’re just making God madder and madder!”
Are you really that ignorant of the existence of religions other than your own? Has it really never occurred to you that when you “bet” on the existence of your god, there are thousands upon thousands of other gods whose existence you’re “betting” against?
I agree that using Pascal’s Wager as the sole or primary argument to believe in God is a foolish exercise. In my opinion, while it can’t be completely discarded, there are a lot of other considerations that contribute to making a firm commitment.
Yes, Christians are “betting” on our God in some sense, but it’s not a blind bet at a roulette table full of equally appealing choices. For many of us, it’s a weighed and informed decision that appears more and more in our favor as we inform ourselves.
Again, I go into a lot of this stuff in my other posts, but there are solid reasons to believe Christianity is the real truth as opposed to the other religions. In fact, a little effort quickly reveals how shockingly little credibility any other religion has.
It’s not a simple game of luck we’re playing. Like any reasonable person, we learn what we can and make the best decision based on what we know.
9: “Why are you atheists so angry?”
The answer: I’ve actually written an entire book answering this question ( Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless). The short answer: Not all atheists are angry about religion — and those of us who are angry aren’t in a constant state of rage. But yes, many atheists are angry about religion — and we’re angry because we see terrible harm being done by religion. We’re angry about harm being done to atheists… and we’re angry about harm done to other believers. We don’t just think religion is mistaken — we think it does significantly more harm than good. And it pisses us off.
Organized religion has indeed done many wrongs in this world. The church is not exempt from this unfortunate fact. But none of these wrongs were directly in line with God’s will or the scriptures. They were a result of manmade institutions and corruptions due to the flesh. If you’re going to get mad about something, get mad at what we humans have molded religion to be.
But being mad about these transgressions is wholly separate from the truth of God’s Word. Furthermore, you might as well be constantly mad at everything and everyone because nothing is exempt from great sin.
Heck, I’m glad to be an American but does it make sense to continually stew in anger at my countrymen because of the corruptions in our government? Or to hate white people for the injustices committed against people of other races and the indigenous people on this continent?
We’re ALL at fault in some way because we are all wretched sinners. That doesn’t change the truth of the gospel one bit. Using past wrongs to justify unbelief is not only a cop-out, it’s unreasonable.
As I’ve made clear in previous posts, I’ve been struggling with a diminishing motivation when it comes to this blog. My original intent was to reach thinking people into making an informed decision for Christ, but I think people who are set in their disbelief cannot be convinced no matter what I say.
But as the domain registration expiration was approaching, I pondered whether to keep this blog active. Then I felt a pressing on my heart to ramp up my efforts once again. Even if it helps one or two people, it is worth the time and energy it takes. I can’t control the effects, but the worst thing is to give up and do nothing.
So without further ado, I will proceed to writing my first post in a while. Forgive me if I’m rusty at all, but I hope the Spirit will help me along the way. 🙂
This article sums it up better than I could ever write it:
If I ever come across a respectful atheist who seems genuinely concerned about finding the truth, I will gladly engage in dialogue with that person even if I have to go out of my way and inconvenience myself greatly.
But from what I’ve observed, too many people seeking discussions with Christians are only out to “win” and tear down what you hold so dear…which would be fair if they could lean on sound logic at least. It really does feel like an exercise in futility, though, and I’m encouraged to read that even Jesus recognized a useless battle when He saw one:
Matthew 15:14: “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”
People who aren’t interested in the truth would not accept truth even if you spoon-fed it to them. This is one of the reasons why this blog has slowed considerably…I like that it can help current believers, but my original purpose and passion of shedding light to those who wanted to see it has almost burned out. I pray that God will instill love in my heart so that I can at least pray for these kinds of people, but it’s difficult to even care sometimes when people are so disrespectful of such a majestic God.
Students of eschatology know that in the end times, believers will be subject to an immense amount of persecution—the likes of which have never been seen before (and considering the historical severity of persecution—say, under Nero—that’s saying a lot).
It’s hard to imagine something like that happening in a “modern” and “educated” society like America, but it’s rapidly becoming less and less far-fetched.
Consider what’s happening with Chick-fil-A these days. Due to a simple statement of faith and personal beliefs, the masses are calling them bigots, discriminatory, and “hate chicken.” Some even have compared the business and President Dan Cathy to the KKK. It’s not just opinionated social media types, either. Politicians and celebrities are getting in on the Bible-hating fun, even going so far as to threaten zoning their cities to disallow the expansion of Chick-fil-A businesses.
What’s next, a lynching party organized on Facebook and Twitter?
As Moehler writes in his CNN opinion piece, this is an unmistakable sign that religious liberty is at stake here.
Even in the eyes of the worldly and secular, what did Cathy do that was wrong? All he did was state his opinion—which, oh by the way, has been the long-affirmed traditional view throughout human history: that marriage is between a man and a woman. And it’s not like he held a widely viewed press conference in front of the public to say this. He was speaking to a Baptist newspaper and a Christian radio station for goodness sakes.
Dan Cathy has never told his Chick-fil-A restaurants to forbid serving homosexuals, nor do they prohibit hiring such individuals. He was merely affirming his biblical views to a small audience interested in such things. Edit: His belief in coming judgment to America is merely echoing the lessons taught from Sodom and Gomorrah.
The attack on him and his business is far worse than any offense he may have made. People may not realize it, but they are essentially attacking the Bible and the Christian religion altogether. The Bible clearly states that marriage is between a man and a woman, and if you’re going to call that “hateful” and discriminate against those views, then you’re attacking religious freedom. Period.
Sure, there are so-called Christians out there who politely disagree with what the Bible says and go along with society, but these people are sadly mixed up. You can’t disagree with parts of the Bible or take some sections as true or untrue (context considered, of course). You take it whole or nothing at all. Either it was God-inspired or it wasn’t. And no amount of backwards hermeneutics and clever reasoning can steer away from the obvious truth.
This is partly what is meant in Revelation 3 when we are told that it’s better to be hot or cold rather than lukewarm. Take a stand for or against the Bible, but don’t insult God by calling him half-right or obsolete.
Now, imagine where it goes from here. It’s not hard to speculate on the clear direction of the tides.
Support for abortion (gross euphemism: “choice”) has grown steadily over the decades. Eventually, Christians who speak out against the killing of unborn children will be labeled as “anti-feminist” or tragically out-of-touch. (Oops, that’s already the case.)
Gay marriage is already tipping toward the majority. Marriage for all is somehow equated to human liberty and basic rights, and anyone opposed is compared to racists and bigots of the past. Everyone in this country is terrified of repeating mistakes in history (i.e., racial discrimination and slavery), so they fallaciously expand “tolerance” and inclusiveness to moral extremes. Cathy was not attacking any group of people; he was defending an institution.
Radical advances in science show that stem cell research can potentially save millions of lives. Christians who are opposed to using human life as test tube fillers are accused of holding back science and contributing to needless disease and death.
A novel chip implant can do away with all credit card fraud, medical history record issues and delays, and even keep the nation secure from outside terrorists and criminals. Christians who are opposed to getting this chip—for fear that it may be the Mark of the Beast foretold in Revelation—are suddenly outcasts and rebels who have something to hide. They are eyed suspiciously, and op-eds abound on CNN about how these troublesome kooks jeopardize the safety of us all.
The majority starts to grow to deafeningly loud numbers, and the voice of faithful Christians is drowned out. The mainstream’s “patience” with these unsavory citizens breaks and full-fledged persecution ensues, spurred by the liberal media. Most self-proclaimed Christians will fall away, telling themselves (with a modern spin and much rationalization): “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” (Revelation 13:4).
It’s really not that hard to imagine…nor is it as far away as we might hope.
I think of myself as a somewhat odd sort of Christian, and I am definitely still a work in progress. I have always been somewhat rebellious at heart, and for much of my life, that showed in my lack of respect for my parents and for authority in general. Not that I got into huge trouble with the law or anything like that (I cared a little too much about myself for that), but I always questioned everything people told me. I still do, even when it comes to my solid church pastor, but especially when that person is hit-or-miss. This usually led to teachers not liking me at first, though some came around eventually.
I am also a strange Korean-American. Honestly, I feel neither Korean nor American, and I don’t necessarily mean that in a “my citizenship is in heaven” sort of way (though there is certainly that, especially when it comes to morals). My mother tried persistently to get me to be a friendly, respectful Asian boy, but I never quite mastered the art of bowing 90 degrees to elders and stuff like that. Maybe it was pride, but I think most of all, it was my intense hatred for fakeness. Unless there is some specific reason to refrain, I like being as real as possible—while avoiding rudeness if possible. This sometimes leads me to trouble, and I’m sure if I ever become a pastor or something, people are going to hate some of the things I say and flame me.
I also don’t feel fully American in that I don’t really care about the “American dream” of stability, white picket fences, and material things. I don’t care for small talk much at all, and while I am generally pretty adept in social situations, I could literally live in a cave by myself for years and be perfectly fine. I don’t mind being around people, especially my close friends, but I also don’t mind being alone for the most part. Of course, that has changed since I’ve gotten married and it’s difficult to imagine a life apart from my wife for any significant amount of time (short periods of time are OK haha)…but yea, that’s who I am naturally.
While no one is completely impervious to social pressures, I really think I am on the extreme of not caring what people think—unless maybe their opinion actually matters to me (and even then, it will give me pause and make me think, not necessarily drive me). I don’t go along with the crowd, but I also don’t try to go against it deliberately like some people who want to feel unique and different. You know the type: the ones who hate everything mainstream and look down on the rest of society for being sheep and blah blah blah.
One example would be where I was a youth group teacher years ago at a church retreat, and the guest speaker was telling the group to come up to the front if we would like to re-dedicate ourselves to Christ and pledge to study His word fervently from now on. To me, it sounded like a lot, and I honestly wasn’t in a good spiritual place at the time (and yes, not all teachers/leaders are, sadly), so I stayed seated. I prayed that the desire would grow in me, but I noticed that literally 99% of the group went up there—kids and teachers alike. The only stragglers were some of the newcomers and me. One of the kids who knew me was shocked and had a look of concern on his face. He later asked me, “Why didn’t you go up?” I answered, “Because I wasn’t honestly ready for that kind of commitment.” I would have followed up with, “Are you??” but I left it alone because he was young and idealistic.
Perhaps I may have hurt some people’s trust in me at that point, but I really can’t fake it. I’m told I need to smile more, but I’m thinking, “Isn’t smiling for when I’m actually happy about something in particular?” Sometimes, I actually think I’m smiling, but when I check the mirror, I still have the same “con man” face on. I have poor control over my facial muscles, apparently. You should have been there for the first couple of wedding photo sessions. It wasn’t pretty. (I eventually learned that in order to make a normal smiling face, I need to conjure up something completely different in my mind.) I really need to become more approachable to people.
I am also a natural procrastinator—though I’ve matured in this area a great deal (still need to improve more)—and have a hard time caring about what’s coming up in the future. This is why it’s so humorous to me when atheists accuse me of being a Christian for that warm assurance of eternal life when I die. Really, you think I’m already thinking about death? I’m not even thinking more than a week ahead at a time (except maybe financially). Death is the furthest thing on my mind. Even though nothing is certain, I just assume I have a long way to go. I actually know what it means to want to follow God regardless of heaven or hell, as hard as it is to believe.
It’s also funny to me when they say that Christians can’t think for themselves or they are pressured into it. If anything, if I feel pressured into something, I recoil and go the other way. I’ve thought a lot about spiritual matters, and I have no hesitation in tackling difficult issues or picking arguments with others or myself. (I do give up arguing when I see the other person is completely tuned out to reason, though.) Cognitive dissonance is something I do not avoid, even if I have to grow another gray hair in the process.
You really think I’m a Christian because it’s pleasant and comforting? Atheists are so “brave” to face the “truth”? There have been a few times where I came to a “logical” decision where I thought, “Wow, there really must not be a God!” The feeling I experienced in those times was not despair, but rather this distorted, wide-eyed, sick-happy sense of “I CAN LIVE HOWEVER I WANT??!” It was the “freedom” that atheists often refer to, but I know what it was deep down—even at the time, I knew. It wasn’t freedom, but rather it was the thrill of open rebellion. It was the selfish desire of mine to not be accountable to anyone or anything. Don’t tell me I’m a Christian because I’m fearful. Almost everything in life that is hard is right, and quite frankly, atheists are the ones taking the easy way out.
Well actually, atheism is a sort of “freedom” in the same way that a dog escaping from his loving owner’s house is freedom. He can wander the woods without a leash, eat all the worms and poop he wants, but in the end, it spells doom for him.
The thing is, whenever I would come to the conclusion that there might in fact be no God, my pesky logic would kick in. It would say, “Wait, wait, wait a second cowboy…what about this? And what about that?” Then, I would be forced to face reality again. My flirtation with atheism would be over, and truthfully, it wouldn’t necessarily feel all that great at the time.
This is the part where I could easily get prideful, but I promise I won’t. I’ve already made my peace with God about it. For some reason or another, I was born with a very logical brain (if it is fully engaged, that is…I can easily tune out with things I’m disinterested in). Even when my brain was completely crusty and rusty from inactivity for years, I scored very high on things like the LSAT, and I’ve always had a knack for things like math. In law school, my problem was lack of interest, not an inability to argue. Logic is not always directly correlated with intelligence, in my opinion. I’ve met some mediocre academics, for instance, who are extremely sensible and just “make sense.” Then there are brilliant students who seem to miss even the obvious, like their minds are too busy in formulas and theorems rather than the real world. Many university professors are like this, actually, as their view naturally becomes very narrowly focused.
I’ve often bemoaned going to law school since I didn’t become a lawyer but still got saddled with the debt. But more and more I’m realizing that God had a purpose for even my detours. Among some other things, I’ve learned two very valuable truths: 1) It is possible to make convincing arguments for any side (though deep down inside, we can detect which is true if we are not too far gone); and 2) right and wrong are often decided on a hair’s breath of difference. Let me explain that latter point.
The way law school goes is that the case books are filled with cases, often paired up with other cases that are almost identical. Case A and Case B are pretty much 95% the same, but A will return a “guilty” verdict while B returns a “not guilty” verdict. It’s your job as a law student to figure out why—what were the subtle differences that changed the outcome?
It’s a lot like that in theology as well; atheism vs. theism. On the whole, people are very bad at seeing subtleties. A lot of times, they also just don’t want to; it’s willful blindness. Instead, they are caught up in catchy arguments, parroting them without seeing where their flaws are. Atheists are often more eloquent, so people hear them and think they “sound better.” Christian theologians may be saying what is more correct, but because they don’t present it with a sharp, biting wit, they sound inferior sometimes. We have to continually train ourselves to see through all that mess without getting caught up in emotion and distractions.
One curious thing I notice about myself as I grow in the faith is that I feel I am appearing dumber and dumber to the world. I can sense I have this seemingly vacant look to people, when really it’s a strong serenity and contentment that God has given me. I am seriously thankful for my life—my wife, family, friends, home, pets, and most of all, having my eyes fully opened. I say things with such excitement and eagerness sometimes—usually only when I’m talking about theology—that I bet even my friends think I’m a little cuckoo and simple-minded. I have to tone it down sometimes or else I’ll lose their interest in the dialogue. Honestly, I can’t blame atheists for thinking we’re dumber. When you develop this child-like faith and joy, it’s only natural to seem less intelligent than the cynical, mocking atheist scholar on YouTube. If you really want people to think you’re smart, be cynical.
I have questioned God and the Bible so many times, and every single time, I have been shown that God is 100% trustworthy. When that happens a few times (or in my case of extreme stubbornness, about 200), you start to develop a lot of trust. When people ask, “But why is that wrong?” or “How do we know it’s true?”, nowadays I honestly just want to blurt out, “Because God said so, and that should be enough!” But of course, that doesn’t work with other people, so I have to put on the mask of doubt and find some reasonable answers to share. Plus, it helps reinforce it in my own mind, just in case my faith wavers at some point in the future. Intellectual certainty is nice to have, even though it does take a backseat to the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
I really don’t understand what the point of this post was, or why I felt led to write it, but hopefully it has a purpose. Let’s learn to see through the fog and develop sound thinking, Christians and skeptics alike!
Wow, I can’t believe how long it’s been since I last posted here. I don’t even know where to begin, which is part of the reason why updating gets hard after a while. There’s no single burning issue you need to address; there are about 100 of them.
But a little gentle (and much-needed) prodding pushed me to post today. I honestly have no idea what direction this post is going to take, but I hope it turns out coherent and useful.
I’m officially done with my first whole semester of seminary—four courses down, 27 more to go. I’ve learned so much, but I’m afraid of how much I’ll actually be able to retain. A lot of the things you learn are much more technical and in-depth than you’d expect, and finer details are harder to remember and recall in the long run. One thing I will say is that it is probably very different from what people expect. For instance, skeptical people and believers alike probably think that going to seminary is a hug fest where you hear a bunch of assuring facts to buff up your faith, while ignoring the difficulties and controversies. It’s probably just a way for Christians to make each other more firm in their beliefs while shielding them from the outside scholarly world, right? A big, naive religious bubble?
Well, that is completely NOT the case. If anything, I’m amazed (and impressed) at the objectivity of our lessons and texts. All opposing viewpoints are considered, and any holes in our understanding—including apparent discrepancies or contradictions—are addressed out in the open. This further confirms my amusement at atheists who think that they are uncovering flaws and gaps that Christians are unable to see. I’ll save you the suspense, skeptics. If you think you’ve brilliantly “discovered” a “mistake” in the Bible, Christian scholars have probably been discussing and researching it for centuries. And most likely, they have about five plausible theories you would never think of on your own. A Google search won’t show them either. I’ll even go so far as to say that if you took all the scholarly works on every other religion in the world and combined them, you would still fall short of the amount of research that has been done on the Old and New Testaments. There is no close second place.
While exposure to all of this has confirmed that our belief is sound and deeply considered, I have to admit something ironic. In the middle of learning all of this biblical and academic information, it is very difficult to keep one’s relationship with God in the right place…especially when there are always new worldly distractions! I think Ray Comfort put it best when he said you have to be careful in seminary not to let the fire die out while you’re busy collecting sticks. This is so true. I’ve almost turned seminary work into an academic exercise, and it has replaced my devotional time with God and deep Bible reading. I feel the fire glowing dimly; it is no longer blazing. That’s the bad news.
The good news is, as a true believer, I am constantly feeling the tug of the Holy Spirit on my heart. In fact, there have been strange things put into my life—in progressing impact and severity—that are serving as a wake-up call to my spiritual life. I can’t go into too much detail here on a public blog (a burn on my arm for starters), but God is calling louder to the point where I can no longer ignore Him. I know that if I tune Him out any further, I do so at my own peril. The fear of the Lord is drawing me back, and I prayed last night with genuine thankfulness for it! Imagine being thankful for fear toward anybody else haha. It’s funny how closely related the fear of God and love for Him can be. And let’s not forget that both aspects of our relationship are vital. You can’t just rely on one or the other, you must have both at all times.
I admit, when I was doing “well” spiritually, a bit of complacency was setting in. I was starting to see God as something of a buddy, which He is, but not as much more. “He’s got my back now,” was the way I was thinking, but I failed to take into account that I was still free to screw it up. God is sovereign always, and I must never allow myself to get too comfortable again. Fear and love, fear and love, fear and love…repeat it a thousand times.
While God’s spiritual reminders and tugging can become more severe and even scary, what’s even more terrifying is the thought of getting to the point where He no longer beckons. Please don’t let yourselves get to the point where His voice has been completely drowned out. He is a patient God, but at some point if you don’t do your part, He will let you go (read, for example, Luke 13:6-9). You will be “free” to lead yourself to your own wasting away or destruction. Let’s never get complacent…I need this reminder as much as anybody else.
I pray that in the upcoming semester, I will balance out seminary texts with my personal growth and devotional time. There is absolutely no substitute for reading the Bible EVERY DAY and praying to God. Learning about what some German scholar thinks about Markan priority or different theories of authorship are interesting, but they do not necessarily fuel the fire. We must keep it burning.
And by “we,” I’m largely talking to myself, but I hope anyone else reading this heeds my warning as well.
Well, you have to at least give the guy credit for (finally) owning up to his mistakes. I really thought he was going to hold fast to his false convictions until the end…
If there’s one thing I’ve noticed when studying prophecy, it’s that coming to any certain conclusions is tough. I guess that’s how God constructed it so that while watchful believers would see prophecies come true and believe more firmly, the rest of world would not deliberately try to thwart His plans. Believers should also continue to live dutifully in this world (see 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12) and not sit around counting down or anything…as tempting as that can be. As long as God is our primary purpose in life, we aren’t called to stand on rooftops holding up signs reading: “Come take us away, Jesus!”
We are to study these things and prepare spiritually (and perhaps take some practical measures as well), but we are not to date-set or tell people precisely how things will come to pass. For instance, we may know that there will soon be one world currency, utilized through the “mark of the beast,” but we shouldn’t boldly proclaim the nitty-gritty details. We don’t know if it will be a “666” blazoned across people’s foreheads (most assuredly not) or some microchip implanted in people’s hands. It could be something else that we don’t know of yet. Speculating is fine as long as we don’t push one possible way as the only way.
The ultimate example of prophetic difficulties, of course, is Jesus Christ himself. He was prophesied numerous times in the Old Testament, and the Jewish people thought they had a firm grasp of what to expect. For instance, the Jews were sure that the Son of Man coming on the clouds to reign in Daniel 7:13-14 showed their Messiah as an all-powerful ruler on earth. The 12 disciples themselves thought they were following this very man who would rise to the very top and stay there forever.
They were right…more or less. Jesus is certainly that “Son of Man” in Daniel 7. However, there was a wrinkle that no one really expected. They didn’t expect that Jesus would first be the suffering servant depicted in the Old Testament—see, for example, Isaiah 53 (they used to think that servant was symbolic for Israel, which actually doesn’t make a lot of sense if you read it with our present knowledge). So when Jesus was crucified and killed, the disciples were shocked and in disarray. They were so sure that Jesus would be a conquering hero, not a slain lamb. Only after seeing Jesus risen, post-crucifixion, did the disciples finally get it: Jesus would return as ruler of the world at his SECOND coming, after Daniel’s 70th prophetic week (see Daniel 9:24-27). Some of Jesus’ teachings, such as Matthew 24, only came into focus after the disciple’s shifted their expectations and were able to mold their ideas to the truth. Atheists, on the other hand, seem to fix their truths firm, and if something doesn’t conform to their thinking (or immediately “make sense”), they throw it out…but I digress.
I think a lot of present-day prophecy is like this. We come to conclusions, only to realize after the fact that there is something we didn’t take into consideration: an extra wrinkle or layer beyond the surface…
Don’t get me wrong, some signs are pretty blatant. While we need to be careful to avoid jumping to hasty conclusions—which I have admittedly done in the past somewhat—that doesn’t mean we should stop being watchful. Please don’t take the opposite extreme of living your life as the world does, thinking that nothing can be known or expected (see 1 Thessalonians 5:4-6). Take in what you hear with a grain of salt. Use discernment and prayerfully consider things. Sometimes our best efforts may not be good enough, but hopefully we’ll at least come close.