Spirituality


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My goodness… how do we convince anyone of this at all? I guess because it’s still more encouraging (if less logical) than:

Atheism
You, your life, and the universe are meaningless and doomed to a pointless, permanent death.

If God exists in a similar form to most Gods that have been proposed, his existence is certainly the most important reality of all. Therefore, perhaps the most important question of all is “Does God exist?”

The existence of God is among the most lively debates in philosophy, though investigating the problem is difficult. Since no scientific proofs of God exist, philosophical arguments must be used. John Polkinghorne‘s analogy is that the existence of God is like quantum mechanics: neither can be measured directly, both are paradoxical, but they can make sense of disparate data.

Arguments for the existence of God are usually metaphysical (purely philosophical), empirical (based on evidence), inductive (probabilistic), and subjective (arising from personal experience). Arguments against the existence of God are usually empirical, inductive, and deductive (logical).

I did not investigate polytheism because there are no serious theories on how polytheism could explain the universe we know, and virtually no serious thinkers accept polytheism as more than a set of archetypal metaphors. I also did not investigate pantheism because if God is all, then God is merely a redefinition of God to mean “existence.”

Before getting into the arguments for and against God that I have studied, let me address Pascal’s Wager. Blaise Pascal argued that it is a better bet to believe in God than not, because the expected value of theism (eternal salvation) is better than the expected value of atheism. Taken by itself, though, this is valueless wager, because there are hundreds of mutually exclusive claims to methods of salvation. How is one to choose between all the different religions that offer salvation or other benefits? The wager itself does not address this problem. Of course, Pascal proposed the wager in the context of his own arguments for the Christian God, and we will deal with those types of arguments separately.

Finally, in the interest of authenticity I must make a disclaimer that may, for some, invalidate my journey into truth. From the beginning, I have wanted to find a benevolent God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, because I find Jesus to be the most beautiful thing in earth’s history. And, I have been asking God to lead me into proper truth. But if he doesn’t exist, this will not have corrupted my search for truth. And, nobody can investigate the most important and affecting questions in the universe without bias. I do believe I have solid rational grounds for believing what I now believe. The rest of my story will expose this rationality.

By stoic philosopher Epictetus, from his Golden Sayings:

Are these the only works of Providence within us? Nay! What language is adequate to praise them all or to bring them home to our minds as they deserve? Why, if we had sense, ought we be doing anything else publicly and privately than hymning and praising the Deity and rehearsing his benefits? Ought we not, as we dig and plow and eat, to sing the hymn of praise to God:

Great is God that he has furnished us these instruments werewith we shall till the earth! Great is God that he has given us hands, the power to swallow, and a belly, and the power to grow unconsciously, and to breathe while asleep! This is what we ought to sing on every occasion.

And above all, to sing the greatest and divinest hymn that God has given us: the faculty to comprehend these things, and to follow the path of reason.

What then? Since many of you have become blind, ought there not to be someone to fulfill this office for you, and on behalf of all sing the hymn of praise to God? Why, what else can I, a lame old man, do but sing hymns to God? If indeed I were a nightingale, I should sing as a nightingale; if a swan, I should sing as a swan. But as it is, I am a rational being. Therefore, I must be singing hymns of praise to God.

This is my task. I do it, and I will not desert this post as long as it may be given to me to fill it. And I exhort you to join me in singing the same song.

Knowledge is my song.

Ehrman’s lecture series, After the New Testament: The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers, is an excellent overview of early proto-orthodox Christian writings (writings that represent was later became victorious Christian doctrines). It is surprising to recognize that Christian doctrine and practice stems as much from Paul as from Jesus (which is why historians consider Jesus and Paul the co-founders of the Christian religion), and also surprising to note central Christian doctrines not explicity found in the New Testament, but instead in the writings of the ten “Apostolic Fathers.”

Though current theologians appeal to the New Testament to support doctrines like Christology (Christ as God), the Trinity, and church heirarchy (for example that of Roman Catholicism), they are first found in these later writings, dated roughly A.D. 95-150. Note that these doctrines, like many Pauline doctrines, are of central relevance to those seeking church empowerment, church unity, and personal comfort with orthodoxy, but not to those merely seeking to imitate Jesus.

The first letter attributed to Clement makes a long-winded argument for orderly church structure from the orderliness of God, manifest in, for example, the Phoenix: a bird of golden plumage which builds a nest of cinammon, burns its nest and self to ashes from which a new bird arises that embalms the ashes in myrhh and deposits them in Heliopolis exactly every 500 years. (This is not an argument highly ordered church governments cite today.)

Antioch’s bishop, Ignatius, wrote seven surviving letters on route to his martyrdom in Rome. He urges the Roman Christians to let him die violently like Christ, to unify and obey their bishops, and to ignore Jewish law. (He writes: “It is outlandish to proclaim Jesus Christ and to practice Judaism, for Christianity did not believe in Judaism, but Judaism believed in Christianity, in which every tongue that believes in God has been gathered together.”)

Other works of the Apostolic Fathers include the Didache, the epistle of Polycarp, and others.

Can any of my readers point to a sort of TED Talks for Christianity? Sorta like Veritas or Open Forum?

Shaun Groves wrote a good post on giving and tithing.

Have you seen this? Blogging the Bible: What happens when an ignoramus reads the good book?

In case you missed it: Five Streams of the Emerging Church at Christianity Today.

Married guys, have you tried this argument?

Letters from a Skeptic chronicles Greg Boyd’s correspondence with his father’s questions about Christianity. Boyd’s answers to some of life’s toughest questions are brief and encouraging but of course incomplete. Here I will summarize his answers to the questions I found most challenging:

Why is the world so full of suffering?

Love without freedom is not love, and freedom without freedom to help or hurt others is not freedom. In free world, there are Warren Buffets and Hitlers. But is it worth it? It is the nature of love to hurt. “People reject us, they die, kids rebel, etc… If a person never loved, he’d never suffer. But then again, he’d never really live.” God is in the same position, on a cosmic scale. Love is the only reason worth creating, and it is very risky – for God and for us.

What about earthquakes and famines?

Famines are mostly caused by human evil discussed above: there’s plenty of food in the world. Earthquakes & company are the natural consequence of God creating anything less than himself. Things must possess certain characteristics that rule out possessing other characteristics. “The rock which holds you up must also be hard enough for you to stub your toe on it.” The natural world is limited because it is real, not because it is evil. Evil spiritual forces may also be at work, but we don’t know much about them.

What’s the point of prayer?

The main purpose of prayer is to build a relationship. Petitionary prayer may represent our bit of “say-so” in the spiritual realm (just as we have say-so in the physical realm). But prayer doesn’t always work; God is not a cosmic vending machine. Many forces interact: free wills, prayer, evil forces, and natural forces. God doesn’t usually override all these because that wouldn’t be a free world.

Why do you think Jesus actually rose from the dead?

1. The Resurrection is attested by three independent sources (the Synoptic gospels, John, and Paul) within 70 years of Jesus’ death (compare to, say, Buddha, whose first biography was written a millenia after his death).
2. Everyone knew where Jesus was buried. One could have easily proved the disciples wrong about Christ’s resurrection by simply digging up Christ’s body.
3. The resurrection accounts lack characteristics of myth. For example, there is much irrelevant and easily falsifiable detail (the name of the Sanhedrin member who donated Jesus’ tomb, etc.) There is also counter-productive material (which myths usually lack), for example the role of women (who were considered incurable liars) in the story.
4. Paul converted because of his conversion with the risen Christ. Why else would a persecutor of Christians join them, and why would he lie about the nature of his conversion?

[My note: The resurrection of Jesus is far from proven, but it does have far more historical support than any other resurrection in history.]

Why does God make believing in Him so difficult?

Even stupendous events can be explained away or forgotten. Even after the plagues, Egypt did not worship God. And Jesus’ miracles could be dismissed as tricks. Moreover, the world is incredibly complex because of the interactions mentioned above, and so there is as much evidence for evil and chaos as there is for a benevolent God.

[Unforunately, Boyd’s answers about the inspired-ness of Scripture and how a loving God could let whole civilizations go to hell because nobody told them about God are unsatisfactory to me, and I won’t reproduce them.]

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