Figuring Out Religion

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Figuring Out Religion

Post by MediumTex » Mon Dec 09, 2013 10:01 am

So Mountaineer made this comment in another thread, and this is probably as good a starting point as any:
It is not really about me or my feelings or my witnessing to others by telling them how I made a choice for God.  It is about the fact Jesus came, lived, died and raised from the dead for the purpose bringing us eternal life.  You are forgiven, no matter what you have done or not done in the past; just don't reject the gift.  I probably butchered that, but I will do my best to explain my journey and/or maybe suggest some stuff to consider.  Peace.  Later.
These are the snags I hit as I read that:

On what basis can a person conclude as a factual matter that Jesus did and said all of the things attributed to him in the Gospels?  There are easily observable contradictions and embellishments in the Gospels.  If some inaccuracies can be seen by simply comparing the text of the Gospels with one another, what would make us think that there may not be other embellishments, including the time-honored practice back then of attributing miracles to very wise people (actually, the Catholic church is still doing that today).  It seems like we are talking about a matter of faith right off the bat, with a somewhat weak basis for even faith, given the contradictions among the Gospels when taken literally.

Not to be irreverent here, but why is so much made of the offer of forgiveness?  If God is righteous and he made us and some of us turned out not to be righteous, is an offer of forgiveness really all that special?  That almost seems like providing warranty service on the human soul when it goes haywire.  It's not a gift so much as a the same type of obligation that manufacturers assumes when they build any product.

If you can, please provide more information about the gift of forgiveness and why it's a gift?  If I tell God that I love him and simply want to be closer to Him, why can I not even be in God's presence without being washed in the blood of his mortal son who was murdered by a joint effort between Roman rulers and Jewish clerics?  That almost seems like God gets out of connecting with people on a technicality ("Sorry, no one came to your village to preach the Gospel--can't talk to you or forgive you").  If God is God, why is He limited to only listening to those who are aware of the Jesus story?  To use a car metaphor, it would be like saying that the manufacturer's warranty only applies to cars purchased from a certain dealership.

More generally, why is it necessary for a supernatural being to forgive us of anything in the first place?  Why can't we forgive ourselves or have other people forgive us, sort of like the Catholics do?

Those are just a few things that pop to mind.

***

I do want to get to the details of your own journey, but the questions above always pop into my head and I never seem to get very satisfactory answers.  When someone says that "you just have to have faith", I want to say "Why?  Why do I have to have faith?  Why can't I have anything more substantive than that?"  If I told someone that the fate of his soul rested on a series of principles that he was just going to have to take my word for because I had consulted with some documents that some unknown people wrote 2,000 years ago, I would expect him to tell me that he appreciated my concern, but that he simply wasn't ready to change his whole life based upon that story.  If I then told him that he might suffer for all of eternity if he didn't take my story seriously, I would feel like I was applying coercion to help strengthen a story that simply wasn't persuasive on its own.

***

(I hope that's not too shrill a way to begin a discussion about a delicate topic.)
Last edited by MediumTex on Mon Dec 09, 2013 10:11 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by Xan » Mon Dec 09, 2013 10:12 am

God won't violate His justice nor His promises.  The wages of sin is death.  We were told that before the Fall and chose to do it anyway.  That can't just be hand-waved away.  Fortunately for us, God Himself chose to come down and bear the penalty on our behalf!

As for having "other people" forgive us instead of God, are you talking about a priest forgiving at confession, or other people in general?  At least in the Lutheran world, part of the rite of private confession is "Do you believe that my forgiveness is God's forgiveness?", and in corporate confession, it goes something like, "In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins" (emphasis added).  So in that case, the pastor's forgiveness IS God's forgiveness.
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by MediumTex » Mon Dec 09, 2013 10:42 am

Xan wrote: God won't violate His justice nor His promises.  The wages of sin is death.  We were told that before the Fall and chose to do it anyway.  That can't just be hand-waved away.  Fortunately for us, God Himself chose to come down and bear the penalty on our behalf!
But what is your basis for believing these things in the first place?  Did God tell you these things or did you read them in a book that another person wrote?  How do you know that the person who wrote that book got it all right, especially considering that in most cases, we don't even know who the authors were?

As far as the Garden of Eden story and the beginning of sin, how do we square that with primitive humans that would seem to predate the sophistication of Adam and Eve's world by thousands of years.  Were Adam and Eve the first humans, or were they the first Jews?  I ask that because they only appear in the Jewish story about how the world was made.  Other religions have other stories about how the world came to be and how we came to be sinful.

What is the point of God saying that the wages of sin is death if he is going to turn around and kill his son rather than us for our sins?  That seems like the greatest guilt trip of all time.  It just doesn't make any sense to me.  How does that make humanity any better?  We are still sinful, but God allowed his son to be murdered so that our sinful nature would somehow be less problematic?  Why not just make us less sinful to start with?  If he's God, he knew we were going to choose sin because that's how he made us.  I don't think that God can really say "I didn't know which way they were going to go" with a straight face.
As for having "other people" forgive us instead of God, are you talking about a priest forgiving at confession, or other people in general?  At least in the Lutheran world, part of the rite of private confession is "Do you believe that my forgiveness is God's forgiveness?", and in corporate confession, it goes something like, "In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins" (emphasis added).  So in that case, the pastor's forgiveness IS God's forgiveness.
On what basis, though, does someone speak for God in the first place?  Because they decide to?  Why would their words about God's will carry more weight than mine or anyone else's?

I'm not attacking your beliefs, I'm just trying to understand how you arrived at them in the first place.
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by dualstow » Mon Dec 09, 2013 11:07 am

Just a quick side note:
Medium Tex wrote: On what basis can a person conclude as a factual matter that Jesus did and said all of the things attributed to him in the Gospels?  There are easily observable contradictions and embellishments in the Gospels.
...son who was murdered by a joint effort between Roman rulers and Jewish clerics
Speaking of the questionable accuracy of the Gospels, I never bought that the Jewish clerics were responsible for Jesus' death. Some secular scholarly research, such as Dimont's Jews, God and History, indicates that the Sanhedrin would have conducted a trial, but would not have tried to get the Romans to execute him. I don't know. Certainly, in a time and place where religion was everything, it wasn't cool to run around announcing that you were God incarnate, and Jesus wasn't the only one doing that.

In any case, using Occam's Razor I would say that the Gospel authors (also Hebrews, of course) likely fashioned a narrative that skewed things against their unbelieving brethren, the mainstream at the time. I'm sure they didn't foresee the headaches they would bring on future generations, so I'll try to forgive them.
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by moda0306 » Mon Dec 09, 2013 11:24 am

Xan wrote: God won't violate His justice nor His promises.  The wages of sin is death.  We were told that before the Fall and chose to do it anyway.  That can't just be hand-waved away.  Fortunately for us, God Himself chose to come down and bear the penalty on our behalf!

As for having "other people" forgive us instead of God, are you talking about a priest forgiving at confession, or other people in general?  At least in the Lutheran world, part of the rite of private confession is "Do you believe that my forgiveness is God's forgiveness?", and in corporate confession, it goes something like, "In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins" (emphasis added).  So in that case, the pastor's forgiveness IS God's forgiveness.
How do you know all this?  Of all the religious texts (and interpretations thereof), how did you pick Christianity?  How do you know that you are correct?  How do you know Jesus was God's son, and not just a good guy who thought he was?  How do you know the bible has any accuracy at all, if certain aspects of it are provably false, and other aspects of it are reinterpreted to be more palatable to our current moral code (including the moral code of almost all Christians... slavery is bad... pork is ok to eat... etc).

Is it just a feeling you have inside?  And if so, that's ok, but I just want to be clear that this is very subjective, and a LOT of people "just have feelings inside" that lead them to different conclusions of faith... so I guess I'd have to ask, "How do I know if my 'gut feeling' is correct?"
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by Xan » Mon Dec 09, 2013 11:41 am

I think that it's entirely reasonable to expect revelation rather than reason.  Of the available revelations, I believe this one fits in terms of prophecies fulfilled, in terms of its description of the human condition.

Basically what makes Christianity different from anything else is that this one is a matter of what God does for us, not of what we can do for God or for ourselves.  The focus is not on me, not on us.  When we are free from obligations or threats, we are truly free to do good works, which are works accomplished for no reason other than to help our neighbor.

A lot of questions have been about choosing.  I didn't chose this; He chose me.  Faith is a work of the Spirit.  It really is not in my nature to be religious, but upon hearing the true, unadulterated Gospel preached began to turn my way of thinking.  Moda, that probably reduces in your view to a "gut feeling".  It's probably similarly unprovable.
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by ns2 » Mon Dec 09, 2013 11:46 am

moda0306 wrote: Of all the religious texts (and interpretations thereof), how did you pick Christianity?
As an ex-Evangelical Christian I'll try to answer that for Xan.

For most Evangelical Christians, their faith is based on a mystical religious experience of being "born again" so they would not claim in any sense that they "picked Christianity" but rather that it picked them.

Reading the Bible does tend to validate the experience but after being away from it for 20 years many Christian dogmas do seem preposterous to me and I don't know how I ever believed them.
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by Xan » Mon Dec 09, 2013 11:52 am

ns2 wrote:
moda0306 wrote: Of all the religious texts (and interpretations thereof), how did you pick Christianity?
As an ex-Evangelical Christian I'll try to answer that for Xan.

For most Evangelical Christians, their faith is based on a mystical religious experience of being "born again" so they would not claim in any sense that they "picked Christianity" but rather that it picked them.

Reading the Bible does tend to validate the experience but after being away from it for 20 years many Christian dogmas do seem preposterous to me and I don't know how I ever believed them.
Good point, ns2; I didn't give enough credit to my second birth, which was at my Baptism not long after my first.  I don't know that I'd call it an experience since I don't recall it, but it did happen.
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by moda0306 » Mon Dec 09, 2013 12:03 pm

Xan wrote: Basically what makes Christianity different from anything else is that this one is a matter of what God does for us, not of what we can do for God or for ourselves.  The focus is not on me, not on us.  When we are free from obligations or threats, we are truly free to do good works, which are works accomplished for no reason other than to help our neighbor.
Could you elaborate on this?  And please remember you're talking to an agnostic... I really can't understand based on this what makes Christianity unique.

I had the impression that most religions about who/what God is, what control he has of us, either now or in the afterlife, and what codes of behavior we should follow towards him and one-another.

Also, what is the "true, unadulterated Gospel preached?"  I see to have heard a lot of "Gospels" on Sundays at church throughout my life (definitely not a regular attender).  While some of the stories had some good messages, I didn't feel that there was anything truly unique about them.

Also, how do you know these stories are true?  What about them tapped you into God.  You truly may have tapped into to an entirely different corner of your soul that I simply haven't yet, but my question would be how do people know that it's a corner of a connection to God, rather than just some hokum that sounds good because we desire purpose rather than emptiness.  When others have a voice inside them that says "Abraham, kill your son," how do they know if it's God or not... he HAD doubt, so he literally could have been just going crazy, and even if he didn't have doubt, he still could have been as nuts as any other crazy person who just KNOWS in their heart-of-hearts that they know the One Truth.
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by moda0306 » Mon Dec 09, 2013 12:11 pm

Xan,

Also I can tell your faith is VERY important to you, and you know I respect the heck out of you for coming to my rhetorical aid as a Communist Atheist Redistributionist Statist Fascist :) so if my questions seem condescending, it's just me spitballing with wild scenarios until I can identify if I'm really missing something fundamental to Truth that I just haven't grasped yet.

I mean I've admitted that my "moral code" is basically certain things I "feel" about how we should treat each other that I can't explain with simple logic alone.  So I'm not saying I'm better than the religious man... but I just question the religious man's certainty in all of this.  I have no real certainty  that I'm correct about morality.  A religious man has certainties about things (often) that I find just a bit preposterous to bring into the realm of "certainty" vs "mystery."

But this seems awful similar to my Private Property debates with Kshartle where he just KNOWS that there is this fundamental right of self-ownership, and that it transfers very simply to the world around us, that animals have NONE of it, etc, etc.

Isn't the position you're taking a bit similar?  That you know this "one truth," or series of truths, or true stories,  that's are quite improvable.
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by Xan » Mon Dec 09, 2013 12:33 pm

moda0306 wrote:
Xan wrote: Basically what makes Christianity different from anything else is that this one is a matter of what God does for us, not of what we can do for God or for ourselves.  The focus is not on me, not on us.  When we are free from obligations or threats, we are truly free to do good works, which are works accomplished for no reason other than to help our neighbor.
Could you elaborate on this?  And please remember you're talking to an agnostic... I really can't understand based on this what makes Christianity unique.

I had the impression that most religions about who/what God is, what control he has of us, either now or in the afterlife, and what codes of behavior we should follow towards him and one-another.
I mean that being saved does not depend on our behavior, only on whom we trust to bail us out.

moda0306 wrote: Also, what is the "true, unadulterated Gospel preached?"  I see to have heard a lot of "Gospels" on Sundays at church throughout my life (definitely not a regular attender).  While some of the stories had some good messages, I didn't feel that there was anything truly unique about them.
I actually had a specific meaning for this, which I should have elaborated on.  It's very tempting to say something like "Jesus died for you, therefore you need to do X, Y, and Z in order to be saved", or somewhat more insidiously, "Jesus died for you, therefore you need to examine your life and make sure that you see X and Y but not Z to make sure that you're saved".

When I would hear those things, that didn't sound different from any other religion.  It wasn't particularly "good news" (the literal meaning of "gospel").  But when I hear: "Jesus died for you, therefore your sins are forgiven", that is Gospel.  It also means that I can do X and Y and it won't matter for my salvation, which means that when I do them, they truly are for no selfish reason.  That's what I mean by "free to do good works".  If I'm doing them in order to be saved, then they're not really good works.


As far as the similarity to the private property debate, maybe.  The differences are that God didn't hand down a definition of property for all time, and also I certainly don't expect everyone to agree on this kind of thing, not in this world.
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by shoestring » Mon Dec 09, 2013 12:43 pm

I hadn't been by this site in forever and just happened across this.  I'm not Mountaineer but maybe I can help, or make it worse, I'm not sure.
***

(I hope that's not too shrill a way to begin a discussion about a delicate topic.)
That's okay, people have got to be honest without being abrasive or insulting, and that's exactly what I see here.  I know it's hard to convey tone in these discussions sometimes, people on all sides sound like they're condescending or smug, etc.

I hope if I "sound" like that, you will indulge me and try to take the remark in the best light like I'm trying to do here.

It's okay to disagree with anything I say or just say it's not persuasive.

And I'll try to be honest if I see an area where I don't know or I'm still working on the answers myself.  I'll also try to say where I don't think I can resolve the impasse.
On what basis can a person conclude as a factual matter that Jesus did and said all of the things attributed to him in the Gospels?  There are easily observable contradictions and embellishments in the Gospels.  If some inaccuracies can be seen by simply comparing the text of the Gospels with one another, what would make us think that there may not be other embellishments, including the time-honored practice back then of attributing miracles to very wise people (actually, the Catholic church is still doing that today).  It seems like we are talking about a matter of faith right off the bat, with a somewhat weak basis for even faith, given the contradictions among the Gospels when taken literally.
I interpret this as a question of reasonableness?  Am I misintepreting that?

Well, let me try an imperfect parallel here.  We don't have all the pertinent details of the doings of what people did in the past, and the further back you go, the harder it is to establish.

We have people who disagree on whether someone as recent as Abraham Lincoln was a hypocrite who chided Polk for starting an unnecessary war for political and economic gain and then did it himself, or the lionized, selfless emancipator who was just defending his noble ideas?

It's not just the interpretation of the person either, the hard objective facts aren't always known.  For example what precisely was he doing May 26, 1843 at 11:07 PM in his local time zone?  I just picked that date out of a hat.

From that perspective, I understand why you'd question a factual recollection of anyone's exploits.

I don't know what to say here beyond these few points:

1.  I'm not accusing you of this, but I noticed Jesus of Nazareth gets subjected to a higher level of scrutiny than other figures, to the point some claim he's made up from whole cloth (note that this is different from those who claim he's inspired by other figures active at the time).  I'm just pointing that out, FWIW.

2.  What strikes you as reasonable may be different from what strikes others as reasonable. 

I don't think consistency is necessarily the key to reasonableness, I interpret the Gospels as different witnesses recounting what struck them as the most important about the events they witnessed.  Look, it personally strikes me as reasonable that multiple people, penning multiple independent accounts, should produce different versions that don't quite jive with each other.

It's not like they had dayplanners or Ipads to record everything (I'm being a bit cheeky here, but really, four guys with scrolls and ink, recalling events after they happened, what else could they do?).

I guess I'm trying to say while I agree about the point about accuracy, I think the accounts appear to have validity, and the inclusion of them all gives greater completeness (though not total, the Bible tells us there's far more things Jesus did that aren't recorded in it).

I simply do not see something that should be cast off immediately and simply disregarded.  Upon multiple reviews, I have determined I believe that what they are recalling is real and factual, though I'm the first to acknowledge there's gaps, we haven't a complete story and we likely have some accuracy and interpretation issues.

Despite that I find what's present personally compelling.

The issue of where you draw the line on whether you believe a given thing is true or accurate is yours to draw, I cannot reasonably say where that line should be drawn.

It's just hard for me to say how much effort should go into analyzing the veracity of anything.  I can only satisfy myself based on my entirely subjective criteria which are probably a combination of my personality, environment and who knows what else.

I can only point to extremes.  The moon landing deniers seem like their lines are too high, to me personally.

Similarly, people who believe a powerful Jewish family cabal controls the Fed seem to have their line too low, to me personally.

3.  Related to the point I just made, I'll point out that while I can't explain my ability to discern why I believe the Gospel is true in a nuanced way, for your consideration I'd like to include the following:

I don't believe in conspiracy theories.  I don't believe in the Tooth Fairy.  I don't believe in most urban legends (though I've fallen for a handful, but I was still skeptical enough to go research them and resolve them).  I have two college degrees, one in a hard science.

I don't consider myself "smart" or any such thing, rather I look at the fact I seem to function, grow and adapt as a person, and I seem to believe reasonable things.

Reasonable does not imply perfection or accuracy, incidentally.  The internet tends to inflate what it means to be reasonable.

The point is, whatever my filter for veracity is, it seems to function.  I don't seem to be a crazy person looking from the inside out.  I don't have any particular reason to believe it's infallible, but I also have nothing else, it's literally basic to who I am.  I improve it all the time, there's things I don't believe any more I used to believe passionately (like I've completely changed my position on public welfare programs just for an example). 

So even if I initially am wrong, I seem to slowly, over time, converge to a more and more accurate and correct understanding.

I don't think the process ever finishes, not really, but at the same time there's a few things that just seem to carry forward no matter what else I assimiliate or change.  I think if they've been consistent in my ever changing mindset this long they're likely to be true.  I think Jesus was real and did everything they say he did.  I wish there was something more profound to it that would persuade you, but that's all I have.

I personally struggle with it a lot when other people, who seem as reasonable as I am, sometimes disagree with me on an issue of basic import like religion.  The implications of that are staggering, and well beyond my grasp.  It's fascinating really.

None of this is in and of itself strictly an argument for you to believe the Gospel, but my reasoning is I can only try to argue is my own sincerity.  Perhaps if I get you to believe I genuinely believe what I'm saying, I can make some transitive argument that I'm reasonable, therefore this has some validity.

That's a terrible terrible argument, just awful, but I've really tried to think of something better and I just can't.

I'm just  trying to shed just a little insight on how someone comes to the conclusion the accounts of Jesus seem to be true.  You can question anything, you can believe anything, and how people who seem to otherwise be perfectly sane don't seem to do that consistently baffles me.

I've had some people tell me I'm just an irrational or insane person because I have religious beliefs.  Okay fair argument, but I'm left at an impasse there, I don't know how to defend my own sanity or rationality other than saying it seems to be intact from my perspective.  If it's not intact, I don't understand how I'd ever determine this.

And I'm getting ahead of myself here, but to me this is what people mean when they say you've got to have faith: you have to find that frame of mind.  I think some people might have a harder time getting there than others because no one can recreate my personal uniqueness, they have to devise their own method.  I can but attest.
Not to be irreverent here, but why is so much made of the offer of forgiveness?  If God is righteous and he made us and some of us turned out not to be righteous, is an offer of forgiveness really all that special?  That almost seems like providing warranty service on the human soul when it goes haywire.  It's not a gift so much as a the same type of obligation that manufacturers assumes when they build any product.

If you can, please provide more information about the gift of forgiveness and why it's a gift?  If I tell God that I love him and simply want to be closer to Him, why can I not even be in God's presence without being washed in the blood of his mortal son who was murdered by a joint effort between Roman rulers and Jewish clerics?  That almost seems like God gets out of connecting with people on a technicality ("Sorry, no one came to your village to preach the Gospel--can't talk to you or forgive you").  If God is God, why is He limited to only listening to those who are aware of the Jesus story?  To use a car metaphor, it would be like saying that the manufacturer's warranty only applies to cars purchased from a certain dealership.

More generally, why is it necessary for a supernatural being to forgive us of anything in the first place?  Why can't we forgive ourselves or have other people forgive us, sort of like the Catholics do?

Those are just a few things that pop to mind.
I was long winded before so I'll try to be concise here.  Sin is an offense against God (not just God in many cases mind you), who else can possibly forgive it than the offended?

I actually rather agree we have the power to forgive ourselves, others, etc. but only God can forgive for God's sake.  I realize that probably puts me at odds with others who think some intervening agent on Earth has to solicit this forgiveness, but that's my perspective.

Anyway there's many things I didn't answer and I am sorry for that but time is of the essence, I wish I could comment more and hope I haven't just made a mess of things.
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by moda0306 » Mon Dec 09, 2013 12:45 pm

Xan,

That helps a ton.

Thanks.

However, aren't there plenty of denominations of Christianity that DO tell you that you have to behave a certain way, or, at the very least, if you DON'T behave a certain way, you must confess your sins to God or a Priest? 

I really never got the impression that Christianity was different in that way.  I knew "forgiveness" was a mechanism inside of it, but I always thought this "forgiveness" came at a cost of repentance.  Which is a behavior to get to heaven, is it not?

And isn't it convenient in a different way to say, "Hey, no matter what you've done, just come to us and say you're sorry, and continue to apologize to us for what you do wrong, and you'll go to heaven?"

That seems awful convenient to me as well.
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by Xan » Mon Dec 09, 2013 1:00 pm

Shoestring,

Thanks for your help!  :-)


Moda,

I wouldn't say that repentance is a work that earns redemption; I'd say it's a result of hearing what God expects, and what He's done for you as a result of your falling short.

Repentence (literally, "turning away") is a matter of being turned from being self-focus to looking at God.  Which is all part and parcel of trusting Him for your salvation.  The result is that you WANT to do the right thing.

I'm sorry I haven't been able to read everything here and answer all the questions.  To a lot of them, the answer is that I don't know, and I can't prove it to you.  And there are paradoxes here.  But that's true in a lot of areas of life.
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by Pointedstick » Mon Dec 09, 2013 1:10 pm

I have tried to become religious several times in my life but can never seem to make it. Whenever I ask religious friends for help, they tell me these nice stories and make all sorts of assertions about what their religion says on the matter, but can never seem to avoid doing so in a self-referential manner; that is to say, for a reason that isn't some permutation of "because my holy book says so" or "because God told me or my minister/priest/pastor/rabbi/etc".

I see it happening right now as Xan is answering moda's questions in ways that presuppose belief in the religion that moda is asking about. It feels like the believers and the non-believers are speaking different languages, and even if they like each other and are being civil, there's just this fundamental miscommunication. Believers want to think in terms of their religion while non-believers are trying to understand the religion in terms of things wholly outside of it.

It doesn't seem like this works. You can no more prove or disprove a religion in a non-religions manner than you could explain a religion using examples from itself to someone who doesn't believe it.


The jump of faith required to believe these stories in the absence of outside evidence, or in the face of contradictory evidence or alternative religions that say other things is just something I don't feel like I'm capable of doing. And sometimes it makes me sad, because I know a lot of really happy religious people, and I think I'll never understand what makes them so happy or be able to experience it myself.
Last edited by Pointedstick on Mon Dec 09, 2013 1:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by Mountaineer » Mon Dec 09, 2013 1:12 pm

Xan and shoestring are far more eloquent than I.  So, with that in mind, it would help me help you (i.e. give my perspective) if each of the questioners (MT, moda306, dual stow, etc.) would pose the ONE question that is of most value to them.  That way I can maybe take small bites at a time and we can go down the list from there.  I understand there are a plethora of questions and once one starts to think about them they just roll forth; at least it was that way with me.  Anyway, I'll try to share as best I can.

I'll start with one small one that seems to be about Biblical things that happened "thousands and thousands" of years ago and don't seem to make sense and jive with science.

According to Scripture, the fall (a behavior of doubting God?) and subsequent curse (the consequence of that behavior) resulted in all creation being cursed by God; that means people, animals, the earth, and the universe itself.  If you can believe that, then that means that all testing methods available to us including C14 dating, etc. is subject to error.  Of course, the presupposition I'm holding is that of Biblical inerrancy with the Scripture being interpreted in context - no verse cherry picking.  Immediately after the curse, God also gave a promise.  That promise was fulfilled in Jesus defeating sin and death.  The promise is also ours.  I expect this will add some more things to discuss and question.

.... Mountaineer
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by Pointedstick » Mon Dec 09, 2013 1:19 pm

Mountaineer wrote: According to Scripture, the fall (a behavior of doubting God?) and subsequent curse (the consequence of that behavior) resulted in all creation being cursed by God; that means people, animals, the earth, and the universe itself.  If you can believe that, then that means that all testing methods available to us including C14 dating, etc. is subject to error.  Of course, the presupposition I'm holding is that of Biblical inerrancy with the Scripture being interpreted in context - no verse cherry picking.  Immediately after the curse, God also gave a promise.  That promise was fulfilled in Jesus defeating sin and death.  The promise is also ours.  I expect this will add some more things to discuss and question.

.... Mountaineer
My question would be, "how do I know any of that is true and not just a nice made-up story?" And I fully understand that my very asking of this question means that I am not in the proper mindset to understand a religion. But religious explanations that stand on the pillars of other religious explanations aren't very satisfying to the non-believer.
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by Xan » Mon Dec 09, 2013 1:19 pm

PS, I think that's a pretty spot-on analysis of the situation.  I'm not sure how I would go about explaining it in terms of things wholly outside of it, as you eloquently put it.  I doubt it's possible.

But, can anyone explain the universe (or indeed, even one single thing about the universe) in terms of things wholly outside of it?
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by ns2 » Mon Dec 09, 2013 1:44 pm

For anyone trying to approach Christianity intellectually I would recommend C.S. Lewis. His own conversion story is interesting. One day he walked to the zoo and when he left he didn't believe in Christ but when he returned he did, and he didn't really have much of an explanation for how that happened. He just knew he did.
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by Kshartle » Mon Dec 09, 2013 1:54 pm

moda0306 wrote: Xan,

I respect the heck out of you for coming to my rhetorical aid as a Communist Atheist Redistributionist Statist Fascist :)
You left out socialist puppy-killer.

J/K :)
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by Kshartle » Mon Dec 09, 2013 2:08 pm

moda0306 wrote: But this seems awful similar to my Private Property debates with Kshartle where he just KNOWS that there is this fundamental right of self-ownership, and that it transfers very simply to the world around us, that animals have NONE of it, etc, etc.
The difference is I don't just "know" it. I don't just say it's right because I "know" it, I don't take it on faith either. It's logical deduction. The argument against self-ownership can't be made without falsehoods and contradictions as far as I've ever seen. I approach it from multiple angles and that's just another one, the obvious impossibility of arguing that humans don't own themselves. Not trying to re-start that one over here, but the belief in God is very very different from the arguments I've made for the existance of property rights and self-ownership. I take none of the latter on faith of anykind.

Even if my arguments suck /-\55, they are never based on faith. To me that is the lack of basis for belief.

I think I discussed that some with MT, that I don't think anyone believes something just because they believe it. There is another reason they hold the beliefs. It makes their life easier in some way. They don't have to question the way they were brought up, it makes them feel better, the belief alters their behavior and improves their lives etc. etc. So many possible reasons, and this is speaking as a Catholic turned evangelical. I'm not saying that my "conversion" to atheisim is evidence of anything. That's a false argument known as "Statement of conversion". That one is occasional used here. "I used to believe that money printing was inflationary and now I know better....." My point is I know a lot of believers and they have many different reasons, the act of believing though is not one of them. Again it's like saying "I ran to the store because I was running to the store".

I know I still need to weigh in on the (non existant imo) "moral dilema" of property ownership. This were getting too heated and personal so I needed a break. The high standard Xan set where I need to be able to perfectly explain every detail so that every can have the perfectly same understanding without exceptions kind of sapped my strength since it's an impossible standard. I'll get to it now that I've re-charged some.
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by Mountaineer » Mon Dec 09, 2013 2:17 pm

Pointedstick wrote:
Mountaineer wrote: According to Scripture, the fall (a behavior of doubting God?) and subsequent curse (the consequence of that behavior) resulted in all creation being cursed by God; that means people, animals, the earth, and the universe itself.  If you can believe that, then that means that all testing methods available to us including C14 dating, etc. is subject to error.  Of course, the presupposition I'm holding is that of Biblical inerrancy with the Scripture being interpreted in context - no verse cherry picking.  Immediately after the curse, God also gave a promise.  That promise was fulfilled in Jesus defeating sin and death.  The promise is also ours.  I expect this will add some more things to discuss and question.

.... Mountaineer
My question would be, "how do I know any of that is true and not just a nice made-up story?" And I fully understand that my very asking of this question means that I am not in the proper mindset to understand a religion. But religious explanations that stand on the pillars of other religious explanations aren't very satisfying to the non-believer.
PS

I also understand your questioning - I think is is completely normal.  In addition to Xan's comments about proof, I found this Q & A on our LCMS website.  I think it somewhat addresses your basic question about "how do we know". 

My comments:  Faith is a gift from God and it is strengthened by frequently hearing God's Word.  God's law shows us how impossible it is for us to be righteous on our own.  God's Gospel says, OK, you are a sinner as is everyone else; don't worry, I provided the answer already.  Turn away from your sin and follow me.  No matter how hard you work on "getting faith" by your own efforts, it probably is not going to happen.  Maybe this contradicts what I just said, but when I started having a lot of questions about Christianity many years ago, I began reading about it extensively.  After thousands of pages of various authors trying to address why one should believe, I came to the conclusion that the Christian worldview is a better explanation than anything else and actually requires much less faith to believe than any other worldview ... for me.  After reading extensively, and studying the Bible it all began to make so much sense.  I could not really find any serious discrepancies, but that required a lot of study to get to that point for me.  I truly believe that God wanted me badly enough that He never gave up in spite of my rebelliousness.  Why I believe that, I don't really know for sure as it deals with the "hidden side" of God, not the "revealed side" described in the Scriptures.

... Mountaineer

Q:  How can we be sure the Biblical accounts of Jesus' death are accurate? I understand the books of the Bible were used for basis of fact for the movie, The Passion.  If so, were not they taken from the Biblical author's best recollections "decades" after the event? Even if these recollections were the "inspired" word of God, how then do we know for sure these Biblical accounts were not "skewed" because of the author's cultural/spiritual prejudices of his time, or simply subject to error because of the length of time after the fact?

A:  First, it is important to recognize that belief in the Scriptures as God's Word and the certain conviction that they do not lie to us come to an individual only when the Holy Spirit works in that person's heart as a result of faith in Jesus Christ created through the Gospel. No amount of reasonable, historical arguments-however helpful they may be-will ultimately convince anyone of the truth of the Scriptural writings. Skeptics, whatever their intellectual or personal presuppositions may be, will never be convinced on the basis of reason. We need to remember that even the religious authorities in Jesus time, who always sought "signs" to prove everything, would not  be convinced even "if someone should rise from the dead" (Luke 16:31). This being said, anyone who has carefully looked at the history of the biblical canon will quickly discover that the biblical writings were not mere "recollections" that came into being decades after the events recorded in the sacred text. Those who want to disparage the Bible have long used this argument, which is easily discounted even with casual familiarity with the way the biblical writers approached their task. Take for example, the first four verses of Luke's Gospel. They reveal a careful and meticulous historian at work. It will always be mystifying to Christians why the skeptics among us are far more ready to accept as historical other ancient documents, the texts of which date centuries-not mere years-from the date of their purported happening. All this said, however, in the end the conviction that the Bible is God's truthful Word is a faith-conviction arrived at apart from merely intellectual endeavor.
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by Pointedstick » Mon Dec 09, 2013 2:35 pm

Mountaineer wrote: My comments:  Faith is a gift from God and it is strengthened by frequently hearing God's Word. 
How do I know if I've heard God's word? At many points in time, I've felt like I've been open to hearing God, but nothing happened. I guess you would know God's word when you hear it, so that probably means from a religions explanation, that I haven't heard it yet.

So does that mean that God has not spoken to me? If faith is a gift from God, why has He not seen fit to give it to me?
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by Mountaineer » Mon Dec 09, 2013 2:55 pm

Pointedstick wrote:
Mountaineer wrote: My comments:  Faith is a gift from God and it is strengthened by frequently hearing God's Word. 
How do I know if I've heard God's word? At many points in time, I've felt like I've been open to hearing God, but nothing happened. I guess you would know God's word when you hear it, so that probably means from a religions explanation, that I haven't heard it yet.

So does that mean that God has not spoken to me? If faith is a gift from God, why has He not seen fit to give it to me?
The best advice I can offer is to find a church where the Word is preached faithfully as God speaks to you through his Word.  I'm going to get real specific and likely offend some or many, but what the heck, why would I want my friends to be eating hamburger when they could enjoy filet?  So, for some specificity, I highly suggest you find a Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LC-MS) church, even if you have to drive a significant distance to attend.  The Pastor will probably preach the Scripture faithfully and (my humble opinion) stick to what Christianity really is, that is not corrupted by man as much as many other denominations.  Attend the church Divine Service regularly, join a Bible Study that is led by the Pastor, stick with it for at least several months and ask every conceivable question about things that bother you or want an explanation of.  As to knowing if the Word is preached faithfully, listen for 1. how many times Jesus is mentioned in a sermon, 2. is Jesus the subject or the object of the verb, and 3. what is the verb?  Make sure the message is about what Jesus has done for you and not what you do for Jesus to reap rewards on this side of heaven.  If the church you pick does not preach the Word faithfully, find another church QUICKLY.  It will be nice, but not essential, if you find a warm, inviting congregation.  The main thing is being able to hear the Word preached faithfully.

This website might help you find a church that meets the qualifications I mentioned:  http://issuesetc.org/findachurch/

If there is nothing close to you on that website, try this one:
http://locator.lcms.org/nchurches_frm/church.asp

If that does not work, I can refer you to some internet talk radio sites you can try out.


... Mountaineer
Last edited by Mountaineer on Mon Dec 09, 2013 3:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by MediumTex » Mon Dec 09, 2013 2:55 pm

One item I would like to comment on relates to the idea that we hold the validation of the Jesus story to an unfairly high standard.

Here's the thing, though: If you ask me to believe that God impregnated a virgin, that the resulting son Jesus was actually God in mortal form, that Jesus performed all sorts of supernatural acts as a way of bolstering his ministry, that when the authorities executed him he suffered but then walked out of his grave three days later, that a bunch of other people popped out of their graves as well when Jesus came back to life, that Jesus travelled around for a bit after rising from the dead, that Jesus finally ascended into the heavens to sit at the right hand of God (or maybe re-commune with God), and that my fate through all of eternity rests on my correct understanding of all of these events, I'm going to subject it to more scrutiny that I would an account of what Abraham Lincoln had for breakfast on a given day.

I think that it's perfectly reasonable to subject more farfetched claims to greater scrutiny, with the starting assumption that claims involving the supernatural are false. 
Last edited by MediumTex on Mon Dec 09, 2013 3:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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