The Born Again Test

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I was once a person that identified as being a born again Christian. Even as I write this, I can reason as an Evangelical reasons. I can still speak as if the Bible is true and inspired.

The reason I don’t let up in publicly criticizing Christianity and other faith based perspectives is first and foremost because I am concerned about what is true in the world. This is not to say that believing Christians are not also concerned about what is true but perhaps every seeker of the truth should be more willing to put their beliefs to the test? This is exactly what I am here to advocate.

I could very well be wrong in thinking that a God does not exist. I am totally willing to concede this. At the same time I am persuaded that many of my questions about the Bible and the nature of faith are both sound and legitimate. This is because my life has brought me to do the born again test.

I am not saying that people who identify as being born again have not been impacted by the Bible’s message of Jesus. Many people very obviously have been deeply moved to alter the course of their lives in response to what is called the truth of the gospel. My challenge for these folks, which was also a challenge that I gave to myself, is to critically question the nature of their personal attachment to these religious claims.

Is it valuable to question everything about a religiously based claim? In light of how these so called truths are transferred and presented to us, I have to say, yes! It is absolutely necessary to question any set of ideas that are primarily contained within books that are quite literally written by human hands. Biblical ideas are precisely this.

Not only that but Biblical ideas about Jesus and God are set up to impact us not with good old fashioned hard evidence, but rather with a claim of authority and inspiration. Should authority and inspiration ever truly precede a good body of actual evidence for a claim? You tell me, my friends! What I can readily discern however is that Christianity is just one of a plethora of religions that does this.

This is why religions are so varied and unwilling to bow to the authoritative narratives of one another. They all operate from a poor principle which places the need for evidence at the very bottom of the rung, and authority at the top. Good luck in attempting to go worldwide with your beliefs. At some point we are simply going to hit a standstill and the world will run amuck with pockets of differing religions everywhere, not a uniform movement that is able to put the majority of people on the same page!

This signifies something very important about the nature of the Christian message. It is not nearly as magical as people have made it out to be, and yes, there is an increasing turnover that is occurring directly in response to the way the Bible presents so called facts. So part of the test involves asking this question: At what point should one consider whether it is actually sin and rebellion that leads people to stray away from Jesus?

I say this because whether my believing friends want to admit this or not, the fear of unbelief and apostasy is very alive among those who believe. The Bible explicitly warns people not to go astray because in so doing one is committing a faith based suicide. The Old Testament advocates stoning the blasphemer to death and the New Testament states that unbelievers are deceived by the devil and are being prepared for eternal destruction. I mean, let us not be naive about what is happening here. The Bible would have us all believe that there are no other alternatives to consider! There is no other way to approach the human predicament. Or is there?

In my mind there appears to be a stark contrast between religious and nonreligious reasoning with regard to the question of our origins. A religious mindset puts far more weight upon narratives that are not derived from objectivity. They are admittedly said to be derived from various authority figures, be it God or one of his prophets.

Anyone can inflate their God to be the ultimate answer to our existence, this is relatively easy and quite trivial as far as explanatory power is concerned. Rather, what really gives an argument traction and scope is an invested commitment to discover the universe both scientifically and mathematically.

We ought to favor careful, methodical inquiry into the deepest questions about our universe any day of the week! Without such objectivity and discipline we are then favoring a human imagination that has no true compass or reference point from which to build an argument. In addition to that, we would be giving past authoritative statements far more weight than they deserve precisely because they were often wrong about reality and contradictory in their assertions.

It is fine to be biased for the right reasons, wouldn’t you agree?

Good Belief vs. Bad Belief

In my last post titled, The Nature Of Belief, I strove to be very fair and open about the essence of belief. To actively believe in something, anything at all, is in fact a form of reliance, trust, or faith in some kind of authority or sets of authorities. I gave the examples of religion, science, and politics.

It may come as a bit of a surprise to some of my readers that this is how I describe the process of belief. With that in mind I believe that I have good reason to say this. I say this because I am of the persuasion that people need to discern between good belief and bad belief. In other words, it appears to me that there are good ways to come into a belief and there are also rather poor ways of doing so.

Theists are not without a line of reasoning when it comes the question of God. In fact, what I appreciate about classic Theistic arguments is that they certainly make a concerted effort to impress the need for an intelligent designer or there being an uncaused, spaceless, timeless mind behind the workings of our universe.

There is no harm in admitting that we as truth seekers feel the tension when it comes to the ultimate question of our origins. It is good to hunger for the right answers and this is why I advocate the usefulness of skepticism. When it comes to the God question I think skepticism is a promising way to get at the root of this matter if ever there is going to be reason to believe in a particular God.

What must be acknowledged by Theists in the present is that there is extremely relevant data that just is not available to humanity. At the most basic level if it is said to be the expectation of any particular existing God to be known by humanity then what are the chances that we would be quibbling over such questions right now? What are the chances that many honest believers within their trials would be doubting that their God is even there?

Now, I’m not doing a reverse argument that asserts that just as many Theists seem to think that Atheists still secretly believe in God, so the reverse may be true. I understand the ebbs and flows of our existing ideas and beliefs. My point is simply that to some level many Theists admit that God is not readily available to them in a truly relational sense. Many Theists willingly admit that God is at the very best a beautiful idea that they ascribe to. There is otherwise no adequate form of certainty or confirmation that these people possess with regard to God’s presence or existence in their lives.

Even in the case of those who do claim that God has done miracles or even appeared to them in a vision it is important to realize what is missing. Namely that there is no way for these folks to confirm the source of their own claims. I mean, if one is going to claim that their God does miracles wouldn’t they be the least bit concerned with whether it was actually Jesus, Allah, or perhaps a God yet unknown to them? Perhaps there would be less reason to wonder if only one religion claimed unique miracles, but this is simply not the case! It seems that the nature of most religions involves some kind of claim to the divine. Not only this but miracles are really not all that unique in the end. It appears that this is how many religions seek to establish their authority.

So, if one religion is going to claim its authority based upon past miracle claims then what is preventing Theists from accepting all or most of the ones outside of their own tradition? It is hypocritical in my mind for such people to garner favoritism. This illustrates a lack of concern to dig deeper and more of a preference to just pick a religion and stick with it.

At the end of the day it is all about establishing a proper basis for belief and if this is unable to be done then this signifies a very important difference between religious beliefs and beliefs that are otherwise formulated through life experiences, through the sciences, and through in depth investigation and observation.

What we are being told by our Theist friends is that it is wiser to rest more upon authoritative statements than it is to rest upon a solid basis for belief in the here and now. This is why my personal judgement is that the God question is posed as the most important question with the least amount of relevant data that could serve to establish even a basic case for the existence of a God or gods.

If this doesn’t warrant skepticism and doubt, I don’t know what would! Thanks for taking interest in my posts and don’t go away because I now intend to establish a case for why it is justified to lack belief toward certain claims. You probably guessed it by now, I’m alluding to religious claims. Have a good night!

The Nature Of Belief

Various dictionary definitions signify that the word belief carries a different nuance or shade of meaning depending on the subject matter at hand. Within religion and even with relationship to various authorities in our lives the action of belief is described as a form of trust, reliance, faith, confidence or credence.

On one hand then, it is important to understand the relationship between said beliefs and said authorities that we actively trust with regard to religious claims, or even political, historical and scientific subject matter.

The collection of beliefs that we are said to hold also appear to be based out of varying experiences. With regard to areas of expertise a belief can be understood as a specialized value judgement or opinion that one makes in relation to their collective study and analysis of the material.

Varying biases and assumptions naturally will accompany the value judgements that people make so it is important to then submit one’s work to peer review and criticism as an exercise that can hopefully critique unhelpful biases as well as affirm other biases that in turn can be acknowledged as healthy assumptions to make. The process of peer review is in itself a value judgement or belief with regard to how to effectively deal with bias in areas of professional inquiry.

When understanding certain belief categories that are said to have little or no definitive proof it is important to understand what it is in relation to. For instance: Many people believe that intelligent extraterrestrial life likely exists in other pockets of the universe. A present scientific consensus acknowledges that there is currently no definitive proof to put this matter to rest as of yet, however, some scientists believe that it could be an inference to the best explanation. In a case such as this science has yet to close the gap at the end of a string of relating discoveries that do seem to indicate that lower forms of bacterial life do in fact reside beyond our own world.

Notice how I used the phrases, “likely,” and “could be,” with regard to certain tentative ideas and beliefs? This may actually be a good way to differentiate well established facts from what are otherwise thought to be good possibilities within the universe. In other words, our beliefs do not always need to be definitive in nature. Our beliefs can simply reflect the greatest extent of our ability to judge the matter in the present.

In light of these insights about the nature of belief is it possible to make a case for a lack of belief? Also, is there a difference between beliefs based out of little or no definitive proof and beliefs that appear to have no existing proof whatsoever?

Stay with me as I intend to explore these matters further in my future posts!

Popcorn Miracles, Yum!

 

Miracles are a little bit like popcorn. They are said to pop off and then get eaten up (or seen) by a select few people.

Well, think about it like this, what if popcorn is on the verge of complete extinction? There is only one small snack pack left before popcorn goes out of existence, never to be eaten or seen again! For all future generations popcorn is unable to be duplicated. We must only rely on the sad story that what once was is now forever lost.

In the case of something material that goes extinct there is at least a higher probability that we can prove its past existence and legitimacy by finding fossilized remnants of it. In example: popcorn shell casings found in fossilized dung.

In the case of purported miracles we are being asked to rely primarily on the assumed integrity of past or present human testimony. We are being asked to rely completely on the alleged experiences of a select few people in history. Disregarding the likelihood that people can be sincerely deceived or mistaken, we are then told that some of these past miracle events carry with them the weight of our eternal destinies.

Tip your hat to Jesus and you will live, tip your hat to the overwhelming regularity of what is observed in the natural world, in example: Truly dead bodies stay truly dead, and you are forever lost? Is anyone else sensing just a bit of a discrepancy here? Is it actually a hardness of heart that leads people away from faith or is it instead the project of simply striving to remain principled and intelligent about what is most likely in this instance?

If honesty is at the root of one’s skepticism toward faith based claims then which side of this argument is most probably making a bad judgement call here? Perhaps a skeptic in this case is actually protecting the potential integrity of a yet unknown God by not ascribing that kind of judgement call to someone that is supposed to be considered all knowing and perfectly wise.

If a God truly wants to be known, loved, and worshipped then what are the chances we would be splitting hairs about these matters right now? Food, or shall I say, popcorn for thought!

Is God A Good Enough Answer?

When it comes to the question of our origins is God a good enough answer? What I would like to do in this discussion is to weigh the scales a bit and make a conclusion. This isn’t to say that I am absolutely right and nor is it to say that my mind can’t ever be changed in this regard. I have my own set of biases so why not be up front with them and make an argument anyway?

One such bias of mine is that absence of evidence can be understood as an argument for absence to some degree. Not to a degree of undeniable certainty but to a degree, I think, of either a high or low probability.

What is the probability that all existing definitions of a God or gods are adequate or even accurate and true? My first thought here is that we are automatically sorely in the dark with this question. I think that even many religious people who do think that they speak and relate with God daily are also left in the dark.

Within the spectrum of religion there are many believers in God that admit that they have never heard from, seen, or sensed God in any way. They simply have a hunch that God has intervened in the lives of many others throughout history. Another faction of religious believers would say that they are certain to some degree that God lives within their heart. God speaks to them through life circumstances, through other people, and they even seem to sense what is called a “still small voice” guiding them.

The next level of folks believe that a God has spoken to them personally either through an audible voice, a vision, and perhaps even through some kind of objective intervention. Some claim that this happened to them when they were alone while others claim they were in a group of other human witnesses.

So how is it that people should approach these matters whether they are religious or nonreligious? These matters should be approached critically and with a resolve to acknowledge what is both clear and not clear within this investigation. My own personal resolve is to strive as best as possible to only reflect and assert what I know in life.

Another bias of mine is that every religion should strive to learn from and factor in what other holy books and prophets claim. This should be carried out consistently rather than with a silent attachment to only one view. This is difficult to do because religion, as I have said in the past, is rather intricately woven into the human identity. To question one’s religion honestly and critically will inevitably bring crisis. In the interest of the truth I think this crisis is not only good but it is necessary. I have a far greater personal respect for any religious person that agrees that uncertainty is not an enemy. Even if their own uncertainty led them to commit even more to a belief in God it doesn’t surprise me that such a crisis would actually lead one to be more passionate and serious about what is perceived to be true in life. That being said, the ultimate conclusion one makes is still very important.

The conclusions we make in life about anything are a reflection of not simply what we think, but how we think. This is where this discussion begins to get heated because it is my contention as a critical thinker that some forms of thinking and logic can lead us down the wrong path. There are some very intelligent and thoughtful conclusions about the question of God but it does not make such thoughtfulness as pure and adequate as it could be! This is where the rubber hits the road as well as where these two camps diverge.

I think there are varying topics that we as human beings exhibit more or less developed intelligence about. In the area of economic theory and being able to predict certain trends I am admittedly atrocious. Higher forms of math that I simply dislike and don’t enjoy working through is admittedly an area I am less thoughtful in. I prefer words over numbers!

With all of this being said, if at any point along the way someone agrees to make a commitment that does not coincide well with their own personal knowledge and experiences then they are more likely to be wrong in their conclusion. On one side of this equation I will say that there are very intelligent believers in God that know far more than me with regard to almost any area of study, but with regard to the question of God I can say that I once considered myself to be a person that related with God on a personal level. The certainty that I had at the time was faulty and thus when I was brought to reassess my past experiences it brought me to change my mind altogether.

(For further clarification on what I mean by having a more or less developed intelligence in certain areas I am not saying that Atheists and Agnostics are superior in overall intelligence to religious believers. Rather, what I would say in this regard is that our actual intelligence as people has only so much to work with within a particular framework or mindset. So to flesh this out a little more I think there are many religious people that have a far greater intellect than my own that can potentially blossom (develop) very well by looking at our origins in another light. This is probably a little controversial to read but can we agree that there are so many areas of thought that if left unexplored may even be underdeveloped among those with a higher intelligence? Atheism is literally a different avenue of thought to explore and this is why I contend that a believing mindset has probably not explored this avenue for all it is worth.)

My strongest first response to the God question is that I do not know with any measure of certainty that a God does in fact exist. This is based out of my own personal life as well as through assessing what many others admit to while still maintaining faith in God. My second response is that I sincerely doubt that any religion is the right religion whether a God exists or not. My third response is that the weight of this uncertainty paired with observing the many contradictory statements within all religions brings me into unresolved tension and doubt toward all of them. The broad picture one gains from investigating the world religions is that they are not compatible with one another. They are often not compatible within themselves.

The rootedness of the world religions dates very far back, no doubt, but with as varied as these answers have been throughout history it reveals to me that they are not operating from objectivity and probably never have. Religions operate primarily from authority and tradition. If religions operated from an objective relational standpoint with what is considered “divine” then there would be amazing potential in the present to end many world conflicts. If it is the priority of religion (as a rule) to bring peace and ultimately a heaven on earth then these frameworks should be truly reflective of how to put everyone on the same page.

If a divine mind wills for a peaceful humanity then religion would be reflective of just that! It would serve to consistently eliminate human egotism, greed, and tribalism. Instead we have differing metanarratives that often set up a false dichotomy of spiritual warfare and opposition between those who believe and those who are either uninformed or non believing. I will grant that there are many peaceful and loving adherents to religion. These folks want to see heaven on earth and yet it is the exclusive nature of their own religion that gets in the way of it. If only one story is true while all others are false then round and round this argument will go without transcending the barriers they inevitably create.

This calls for principles that transcend religious belief systems to be put in place. When it comes to bringing peace and harmony in the world I think religion has had its chance. This is just one man’s honest opinion. There comes a point in this world conversation where there is a clear standstill. This is because we have varying tribes of humanity that have branched out into differing interpretations of a God or gods. There was never unanimity to begin with and thus it will always be the case with these differing approaches to the question of our origins.

In my opinion it is actually quite a fair assessment to understand religious explanations as incompatible with one another and thereby unresolved. We also need to figure out what the utility of religion is within our lives? I will grant here that it serves a desire for meaning and purpose that virtually all people crave. One will be very hard pressed, however, to ever demonstrate such a phenomenon as being any kind of evidence for a God.

This craving for spirituality, meaning, and purpose is just that. It is a drive for living and thriving within this one existence. It is a deep longing for an ideal world and an ideal life. I have no qualms with this! I am an Atheist with these very same desires and needs. It is one thing to say I have a deep passion for purpose and meaning and quite another to assert that it can only be fulfilled within religion.

Some believers will contend, “well, isn’t the fact that most people in the world are religious a strong evidence that God exists?” No, I don’t think so because I think it is pretty clear that religion as a whole has always sought to provide an explanation for human origins. These are the earliest narratives for how to attempt to have an understanding of the universe around us. Religion very likely got the ball rolling but it doesn’t in any way validate the truthfulness of these claims. The only way to do that would be to have the real Slim Shady please stand up! Slim Shady in this case being God of course.

This doesn’t appear to be happening within a scientific understanding of the universe. This is not me saying that science endorses Atheism, however, science does provide multiple layers of objectivity that simply serve to demonstrate to us how this universe works and what we are made of. What we are observing here are a vast array of natural, dare I say, unguided processes that don’t appear to care whether we stay at the party or get swatted to death by multiple meteorites and such.

Evidence strongly suggests that life was once wiped out in this way and was fortunate enough to leave a few stragglers to replenish the planet and take evolution in a completely different direction. So the reason that I no longer throw my hat in with religion is because religion has never served to unwrap the mysteries of life as science has done time and time again. Religion is devoid of many of the most important discoveries that human beings have made.

Why would an intelligent and all knowing deity choose not to reveal the mysteries of the universe to us? Also, why does it appear from many holy books that God was ignorant of such valuable information? God sometimes speaks in these texts like the wisest men in the tribe, and other times makes very little sense at all with his will and intentions.

I guess I just see it as a kind of folly of the mind to credit a God or gods as being the best explanation. There is first and foremost no way to truly validate this view in the present. How is it a case of nonoverlapping magisteria if only one realm is able to be explored on multiple levels? We know the other worlds that exist underneath the surface because of what has been discovered on the molecular level, we have discovered sound waves, magnetic fields, and atomic laws! We have figured out exactly what we are made of and all of the ingredients needed for carbon based life to develop.

Peering outward with the most powerful telescopic technologies we have deduced a universe that started in a singularity, we have discovered that the universe is still ever expanding and even speeding up the further out we look! My ultimate point here is that in light of all of this we have a humanity that agrees on very little else with regard to our origins.

I agree that there are many religiously minded people that have contributed greatly to science so what I am advocating here is not that science alone completely rules out the existence of gods, but if multiple levels of objectivity within our lives render heaven as voiceless and unseen then when does humanity have the right to be brutally honest about this? What advantage is it to the religious mind to advocate worlds and deities that are either utterly undetectable or nonexistent?

These are important questions to wrestle with and it really should be factored into what we view as being most plausible in the end. I think that given the picture of the universe that we presently have we really cannot say with any measure of certainty that a God is required to create it. While all conceptions of God want to essentially fill this void it may be quite erroneous to do so. This is not a stubborn Atheist that does not want to know if there is a God, this is a person that simply wants to best reflect what can truly be known by anyone in the present!

Is it more laborious and careful to suspend our judgements until further information is gathered or to keep harboring faith toward a realm that multiple segments of humanity have no consensus about? I’ll let my friends make up their own minds. Until next time, keep savoring your own passionate pursuit of the truth!

Lego My Ego! Our Sense Of “Self”

So today I got to thinking about human ego, is it good, is it bad, what is it even? It’s rather frowned upon to be called an “ego maniac” or to be labeled as “egotistical.” These understandings seem to point to narcissism and arrogance. On the flip side we have the more psychological definition of ego which seems to coincide with one’s understanding of the self. Whether it is the very essence of self or how one values themselves.

Some folks see the ego as an obstacle that needs to be defeated in order to live a more fulfilling life. In other words, ego is the enemy. It’s that part of ourselves that gets in the way of true harmony and what is ultimately good. This is because it is seen as primarily selfish, greedy, or shallow! Religion may describe this as our sinful nature and a secular perspective may describe it as our more base animalistic desires that need to remain in check.

So far, it seems that there is no easy definition for the term ego. This may be because we are trying to understand our own minds and what it is that really makes us tick? What is our essence? What makes us self-aware? We certainly don’t understand it only in the light of our evolution because to be self-aware also impresses upon us this sense of responsibility both for ourselves and others.

It’s actually quite astonishing when I think about it because self-awareness and consciousness itself is kind of like having a super power. When it comes to the degree of influence that we have upon this world and even stretching outside of it toward the vast mysteries of space and our universe is it any wonder why so many of us relate to that Spiderman quote? It goes like this: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Yes indeed, with great power comes great responsibility because it all goes back to this sense of self. This is also the term for ego that I most resonate with and relate to. Our sense of ego, self-importance, self-esteem, and even consciousness itself can be either a hero or a villain depending on how we use it. I think that ego can be a tool because we are simply trying to put into words what it means to be human and what it means to deal with internal conflict.

Conflict of emotions, bodily desires, and then our ultimate sense of morality and goodness. I think that keeping ourselves in check comes from our very powerful ability to self reflect. Every time we self reflect and assess the positives and negatives of our actions we are in a sense attempting to recalibrate our greatest values and ideals.

As a whole humanity recognizes what narcissism ultimately leads to, it leads to isolation, and this isolation from others is primarily self-caused. When we lose input and love from other people we lose our ability to look into the mirror and recalibrate. There may be a very few people that have no sense of strong attachment to others. In other words, they feel indifferent about whether other people are around them or not. We sometimes hear that rare story of a hermit that chose to live his or her life mostly in isolation from other people and the outside world.

It’s a very strange and difficult thing for many of us to relate to because we are a very social and communal species. We get lonely and we crave the company of other people that love and accept us. Perhaps a hermit’s sense of self is fed in some way by the environment that he or she finds themselves in. The reasoning of some of these folks may be that they feel far more at home in the woods. Around nature and all of its natural beauty. It becomes this person’s sense of community and family.

At the end of the day our human egos are just as mysterious and multifaceted as we understand ourselves to be. We are attempting to put into words what it means to be self-aware and what kind of responsibility that entails. In my opinion it is probably best not to understand ego as the enemy but rather as a tool through which we can understand ourselves.

A narcissistic person will ultimately reap the consequences of what it means to feed and express one’s ego in the wrong way. Such a person will have very few friends if any in the end. An empathetic person on the other hand understands how to put their own ego into the shoes of other people. It’s that ability to relate with others because we can imagine all too well how we would feel in the face of suffering and adversity.

So what is the moral of this story you ask? Love and accept yourself as a person that has great power. The fact that you are self-aware means that you are able to exhibit a tremendous amount of influence over other people as well as this world. If your ego doesn’t value other people it shows, however, if you love and feed those parts of you that want to make a positive difference in the world, that too will show and others will want to emulate the way you choose to express your own sense of self.

Peace out and be good to yourselves!