Category Archives: Motives

A burden for the unsaved

As a Christian, I was generally willing to offend people to try to save them from hell. (Whether I was willing to be offended toward the same end is another matter!)

Now, having seen the light of reason, I’m in the position of wanting to save theists from unnecessary anxiety, toil, pain, and expense in this life.

My motives are as altruistic now as they were before. I continue to love people and want what is best for them.

Why no promo homo?

I have a question for those who invoke the Bible or other scripture to support their opposition to homosexuality: Are you a reluctant opponent of homosexuality, or an eager one?

Reluctant: You don’t personally agree with or understand God’s condemnation of homosexuality, but you feel compelled to have a ‘united front’ with God (as you understand him), so you reluctantly speak and act in opposition to homosexuality as a matter of loyalty to God. This inner conflict may strain or limit your personal relationships, or cause you guilt.

Eager: You personally agree with God’s condemnation of homosexuality (as you understand it). That is, you think homosexuality is not only an affront to God but also inherently immoral, or at least harmful to society or to individuals somehow. You feel that speaking and acting in opposition to homosexuality is an act of service to society, not just to God.

If you are an eager opponent, I would challenge you to examine your core assumptions. Using something other than your interpretation of scripture, can you show that homosexuality actually harms society or individuals? (That exercise may at least make you a more reluctant opponent!)

If you are a reluctant opponent, I would challenge you to work out why your personal morality is at odds with what you see as scriptural morality.

Hell, continued

My post early this morning may have been a little cryptic. Lemme explain. No, there is too much. Lemme sum up.

The link in that post is to an essay that explains (or, rather, demonstrates) that the popular concept of hell — as a place of eternal torment for those who reject Jesus — is not supported by the Bible.  I won’t try to boil down the essay. You should read it.

You may be asking, “Dave, if you don’t believe the Bible, why do you care what the Bible says about hell?”

Well, because some of my dearest friends and relatives do care what the Bible says. I want to spare them the grief that comes from believing that someone they love is on a path to eternal torture. If you are one of those dear Christians, you’ve seriously got to read this essay. You will sleep better for the rest of your life.

 

 

What to say to a 6-year-old?

When my 6-year-old son asks me about God or heaven, or even the innocuous myths of childhood, I find myself dodging the question.

“Is heaven really up in the sky?”

“It’s kind of hard to explain.”

(regarding the tooth fairy) “Does she check every night to see if there’s a tooth?”

“I don’t really know how she works. I just know you put your tooth under your pillow and in the morning there’s money there.”

I’m ashamed of not being more honest. At the same time, I am thankful for the ‘forces’ that curb my urge to bluntly tell my son that supernatural beings aren’t real. Those ‘forces’ are the the other adults in his life, especially his grandparents and my wife. To suggest to him that I am right about the supernatural (and that all these other grown-ups in his life are wrong) might put unfair pressure on him to choose a side, or at least confuse him.

What I really want to do is help him develop a sense of healthy skepticism, to point out the distinction between knowledge and beliefs. (We all know things, and we all believe things, but it’s important to understand the difference.)

I don’t want to teach him my conclusions. I want to teach him how to reason so he is not dependent on others for his conclusions.

I also want to spare him false trust (“God is watching out for you”), unnecessary guilt (“When you do that, it makes God sad”) and unfounded fear (“Only believers get to go to heaven”).

There has to be an age-appropriate way to do this — a way that is honest but not disconcerting — just as there are ways to teach a child that not everyone and everything is safe without making him chronically fearful.

Here is what I’m thinking: He must be aware — at least he will soon become aware — that some people believe in gods other than “God” and some believe in no gods at all. It may be enough at this point to just call attention to that fact, to the diversity of belief/nonbelief, so he realizes not everyone has come to the same conclusion.

That should open the door to other great discussions — not just with me but with his mom and grandparents and many others.

Back to zero

Just a clarification: My original rationale for belief in God is no longer compelling for me. But a bad proof is not disproof, and I don’t mean to suggest that it is.

I am simply back to zero: not convinced. It should be obvious from the content of this blog that I am still very interested in the claims of theism. I like to think I am genuinely open-minded about such things.

Doubting the Apostle Paul: my slippery slope

The "Insano" waterslide in Brazil

I recently adopted the skeptic’s approach to life, the universe and everything.

I had been struggling to reconcile morality (as I knew it by observation and experience) with the moral code of the evangelical Christian culture I had always identified with. One big question for me: Why were evangelicals treating Paul’s condemnation of homosexuality as a moral absolute while casually dismissing other policies found in his letters – such as his prohibition on women opening their mouths in church? I had never really believed that Paul’s writings were inspired in any way; they had always struck me as the rants of an opinionated and conceited man who may have sincerely believed in Jesus but who spoke only for himself. The church’s waffling just reinforced that impression.

So I got curious about who else might be less than reverent toward Paul. I did a little web research and was amused to find that some Christian groups reject Paul outright on the grounds that he contradicts Jesus. (Example: Liberals Like Christ.)

That discovery made me wonder what else in my belief system might be ill-founded. Searching on the historicity of the gospels and the rest of the New Testament, I discovered “The Jesus Puzzle” by Earl Doherty – a well-argued work whose premises I found easy to verify. It demonstrated that the gospels and Acts were not firsthand accounts written by people who knew Jesus (although, by contrast, most of the Pauline letters were likely written by Paul); further, it presented a different “best possible explanation” of how those writings developed and (with other books) were adopted as the canon for most Christian sects.

My whole Christian faith had been based on the historicity of the gospels and Acts. Those books, for me, were the evidence of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, which in turn were the basis of the “salvation by faith” doctrine. Now those books were off the table, leaving me no basis for belief in any of the claims of Christianity.

To say I’ve become an atheist is to miss the point. Atheism is a conclusion, and conclusions are subject to revision based on new evidence. I don’t want or need to commit to the conclusion that there are no gods.

By contrast, skepticism – an insistence on rational inquiry, an insistence on testing claims by examining evidence – is something I can commit to indefinitely. And I am committing to it.

Intellectually, my ‘conversion’ has been a relief because there is no more conflict between what I ‘believe’ and what I observe. But my ‘conversion’ will probably grieve many people I care about.