Could I Ever Return To Christianity?

I’m sure I’d get a very warm welcome back into the fold if I returned, and I don’t mind answering the question of the subject line.

Well, I’m certainly no fortune-teller and given my past performance at predictions I’d say I’m not so good at predicting my future beliefs, but I can at least give some more detail to my answer, as well as some background.

At 18 years of age I told my friend there was no way I’d ever become a Christian.  A year or so later and that was corrected.

Then at 20 years of age, when my father asked me if I could ever leave the Christian fold, I told him that there was absolutely no way that could happen.  I was so sure of myself (even more sure I had thought than when I was 18.)  I had dotted my i’s and crossed my t’s when doing my research.  I had researched Isaiah 53 and Daniel 9 to the point that I knew for sure that it proved there was a God and that Jesus was that God.  That prediction took almost 5 years to be corrected.

Ah, but I was so young then, right?  The age where we are all so cocksure of our beliefs.  I’m 43 and more mature now, right?  Well age hasn’t given me more confidence in the answers to ultimate questions – quite the opposite has happened.  The last thing I want is to feel like I’ve “arrived” or reached a place of firm conclusions. I value greatly the humility of accepting that I’m human and capable of mistakes – in fact this lack of humility was a big problem I had with the evangelical groups that I hung with.  Being open to change is important to me because I believe that being open to possibilities is an important part of forward progress.  I consider all worldviews as possibilities if at some point they could be shown to be true.  So the answer to the subject line really is a yes, but it is a yes for all worldviews and not all yeses carry the same weight. And while I leave the doors cracked open to all ideas, they are not open in a way that means they all haunt me and can suck me in without reason and evidence.

We’d go insane if we didn’t make our best guess at what worldviews are more worth our effort in pursuing.  My priorities in my own pursuit is in worldviews which are similar to naturalism (although I certainly have not settled on naturalism) because right now I believe those are more worth my time and effort.  This post is not intended to explain why as the rest of my blog has made some attempt at that.  As far as effort goes I’d also rank eastern religions higher in my scale of interest than Christianity.

I no longer see mainline Judaism, Christianity and Islam as worth the concerted effort. But this doesn’t mean I’ve got my hands over my ears.  I’m more than willing to listen to any suggestions that believers in these camps have and I will still listen, read and consider material pointed to by them. I truly believe I can learn from people of all different worldviews. Just because I disagree with them on their overall conclusions doesn’t mean that some of the details wouldn’t be beneficial for me.

So while the answer is a possible yes, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting.

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91 thoughts on “Could I Ever Return To Christianity?

  1. Yeah, it’s a throwback to my childhood – my brother and I used to watch that show all the time. Whenever anyone says “welcome back” I’m always reminded of the theme song in that video. I’m surprised this is the first time I’ve gotten the chance to fit it into my blogging. 😉

  2. Howie, while I like to be open to possibilities, unless I became senile or had a mental or emotional breakdown I don’t see how I would become religious of the revealed sort. I do have a liking for the Eastern religions too and would like to read more about them. If I am to be religious, my inclination would be to nature worship.

  3. I agree with Mak, re the ”revealed religions”.
    And when you consider someone like Naivethinker, or even Anthony Flew, one immediately wonders about their emotional/mental state to have even considered it let alone ”gone back”.
    It would be akin to returning to drugs or drink, or in my own case, cigarettes.

  4. Mak and Ark – I totally understand your sentiments, and by the way my wife is right there along with you guys in what you are saying (and she has never been “religious”). My perspective is just a little different given my history.

    As far as Antony Flew goes, my understanding is he simply became deist which really isn’t a very religious stance. But you probably do know the story on Flew, and how senility likely did play a part in that – which I think is probably the point you are making.

    Mak mentioned senility (perhaps with a slight tongue in cheek), and actually this along with a bump on the head are real possibilities as far as affecting my own beliefs in the future. Senility hits especially close to home for me given that my 93 year old father is currently battling dementia, and I’ve seemed to have inherited his knack for being forgetful (which he always had even before the dementia set in).

    But even ignoring some sort of brain injury/disease, when it comes to ultimate or “metaphysical” questions, many of them I don’t personally keep the doors shut on. For example, if any gods interested in humans do exist I’d like to know about them and find out about them and decide where to go from there if I do. If there is some sort of afterlife I’m very interested in finding out about the facts regarding that. As I’ve written before, I have strong doubts about these kind of things, but that doesn’t mean they are shut off for me never to consider.

  5. @Howie.
    You’d think that if there were any benign gods out there they would have mad ”contact” by now, Howie.
    As for the afterlife? Surely you jest? What are you expecting, a call from the ”Other side”?

  6. Couldn’t answer that, remember I have my strong doubts about it. My point was just that IF there is such a thing and IF we could ever find out how to find out about it then I’m all ears.

  7. But this is the b’zillion dollar question is it not?

    Maybe you should consider a medium?

    “Howie, your late Aunt Ethel says she doesn’t watch you when you go to the toilet anymore and not to worry, Jesus has assured her it won’t make you go blind. And she asks could you please keep an eye on Uncle Wilfred as he is eyeing the mucking about with the maid again and also he’s drinking whiskey again. He hides the bottle on the bookshelf, behind Birds of the World and that pamphlet on how to trim your nose-hairs and toenails in the dark”

  8. I’m creeped out by the idea as well. Does my dear old grandma know what my wife and I like to do behind closed doors? Yeah, I get a bit of a laugh out of it too Ark, can’t deny that one. 🙂 But many years ago I got laughs out of beliefs that I now actually hold, so go figure that one out for me.

  9. I didn’t even notice Aunt Ethel’s mistakes – hey she’s been around for a long time, so can’t blame her for that one. 😉

  10. Using your IF paradigm rather defeats the object of faith,does it not? For as soon as the IF is removed from the equation then we have no need of faith.

  11. I suppose I could warm up to the idea of faith without evidence and reason, although that I’d put at an even much lower threshold for me because it just runs into too many serious issues. I’m thinking more along the lines of believing in any of these ideas based on evidence and reason. Since I don’t presently see evidence and reason getting me to those beliefs that’s currently why I don’t hold them.

  12. It’s hard for me to fathom intellectually returning to Christianity or similar belief systems. But if my life became miserable and uncertain, so that I desperately needed to believe in comforting notions, and there was a friendly and sympathetic group of people selling it, I might could see intellectual rigor not mattering to me as much as it currently does.

  13. I can’t fathom regressing back to the Christian belief system or any other god belief system (even Eastern religions) for that matter. Should I ever feel the urge, I would most likely make an appointment with a neurologists, lol. I searched my entire life for “truth”. I have zero interest now. Why? Because I am at peace, which is the first time in my entire life I ever felt that way. I have a thirst to understand, but I went about it in a ass-backwards way no thanks to my upbringing and culture I live in. I know this inner peace is not just a passing thing. I’ve been at peace for a decade now and during this time, life hasn’t been a bed of roses, but my peace has never wavered..

    Howie, I respect the fact that you remain open-minded and acknowledge your vulnerability and past patterns. That is admirable. I can relate to it, but the way I go about quenching my curiosity has changed. If we are to look at patterns, especially in recent history, the unknown, the unexplained mysteries will eventually be understood as we advance in the sciences.

    I don’t know who the original author is but I like this quote:

    “Look, nobody really knows where all this shit came from. But I think I’d rather trust the dudes in lab coats who aren’t demanding I get up early every Sunday to overdress and apologize for being Human.”

    😀

  14. That’s a very interesting thought SAP – it wasn’t along the lines I was thinking, but I think that I would in humility admit the same of myself.

  15. Victoria, I think there are several facets to my post and my thoughts. First is the acknowledgment that I am human and capable of mistakes – so I acknowledge that I could be mistaken now, or that in the future I am capable of changing my mind and actually being mistaken then. This is why I can’t see a way to answer that it is impossible for me to go back to believing. I tried to remain true to that possibility in the post but also tried to offer some balance.

    The balance is that my method of epistemology right now aligns with objective methods (scientific methods, critical reasoning, critical historical methods, etc.), so we certainly don’t diverge in our thoughts there.

    Now, along those lines, I also believe that the possibility exists that objective methods could find out that certain truths which many currently categorize as religious are actually real. I actually believe that within these methods themselves exists a “rule” to be open minded to follow the evidence and reason wherever they lead us. So the other point I wanted to make clear was that I still have and always desire to have that open mind if reason and evidence point to things being true that many atheists believe are not real.

    I think it’s awesome that you have the peace you have, and I can even relate in some sense, although to be perfectly honest, when life gets tough my peace admittedly dissipates – something I’ve always fought with no matter what my beliefs or non-beliefs have been. But aside from all that I don’t want to use any peace or non-peace I may have to determine whether or not I have concluded the right things about my worldview, because this just seems like too subjective a way to conclude things that should be objective. But on the flip side (sorry to ramble) I also see a pursuit of peace as an important part of our lives – and perhaps given that metaphysical conclusions are so uncertain and in some ways even absurd to our human minds it may be much more important than searching for some elusive truth about reality. I believe this is the wisdom of the existentialists like Camus and I see great wisdom in that, so I’m with you there too.

  16. Howie, I admire your open mindedness. After all, that is exactly what many people accuse religious people of not being . You are definitely on the right track, I think. I have also drifted away from a religious lifestyle, and sometimes vacillate from being totally intellectual, to practicing some spirituality. I also think that being open to any possibility is an excellent way of growing. If we decide that there is absolutely no supernatural or deity, then we become stagnated in our own “material” world. You may be interested in reading my post “Tuned In” which describes a similar experience as yours. Good luck in your journey!

  17. Noel, thanks for your input – I’ll definitely go over and check out “Tuned In”.

    After all, that is exactly what many people accuse religious people of not being .

    My sentiments exactly Noel. I sometimes notice this discrepancy you are noting as well. I don’t judge people for this because I think it’s a bit of a natural tendency, but I am a bit discouraged by it because I think that it actually ends up destroying what could actually be productive dialogue.

  18. ” But aside from all that I don’t want to use any peace or non-peace I may have to determine whether or not I have concluded the right things about my worldview, because this just seems like too subjective a way to conclude things that should be objective.”

    For clarification, that peace I have has nothing to do with whether or not I have concluded the right things about my worldview. It primarily has to do with the fact that I have embraced my humanness, have gained a much better understanding of human behavior which is determined by environment, and that this is most likely the only life we’ll get so why not focus on living it? As a Christian, I was always dying to myself, was too self-reflective and over-analyzed.

    Noel states that we become stagnate in our own material world if we decide there is no supernatural or deity. With all due respect, I couldn’t disagree more. I’ve never felt more alive and it came about when I embraced the idea that there is a natural explanation to what is considered supernatural. If there is a deity, it seems that it only speaks and appears to those with mental illness, brain damage, or neurological disorders. Everyone else has to rely on faith to believe it its existence.

    “Now, along those lines, I also believe that the possibility exists that objective methods could find out that certain truths which many currently categorize as religious are actually real.”

    Are you saying that you believe that the possibility exists that objective methods could find out that certain truths which many currently categorize as religious (supernatural) are actually natural — have natural explanations? If so, then I concur. We are already discovering this now.

  19. Victoria,

    Are you saying that you believe that the possibility exists that objective methods could find out that certain truths which many currently categorize as religious (supernatural) are actually natural — have natural explanations?

    Sort of, but that actually depends on your definition of supernatural. It may be best to actually drop that word just for the moment because the discussion sometimes ends up being about semantics when people focus on that word.

    Let’s take the the idea of a non-physical mind as an example. You know by now after reading a lot of my material that I am very doubtful that non-physical minds exist because I haven’t currently seen good evidence for believing they exist. Now, let’s take the idea of non-physical minds that interact with our physical world (which is essentially the idea proposed by many “religious” people). I believe this is a claim that actually could be investigated (and even has been) by the methods of science. I also believe it is possible (whether it is remote or not is a different discussion) that our current investigations haven’t been comprehensive enough, and that perhaps someday new scientific studies done differently could result in evidence that could confirm the existence of non-physical minds.

  20. Howie, you go deep my friend, and I love it. 😀 Yeah, I didn’t know exactly what you meant by the term religious. So when you say non-physical minds, are you meaning a spirit that has consciousness?

    Another thing I wanted to mention is that, as I’m sure you know, our brains are keen on finding patterns, and it has played an evolutional role in our survival. For example, tracking a pattern like figuring out the telltale signs of a man-eating cat in the area. The problem is that our brains keep the pattern detection engine on all the time, which makes us susceptible to turning meaningless patterns into monumental events.

    I am not sure if you are familiar with Vic Tandy, but he was doing contract work in a medical lab and when he started working there he was told that the building was haunted. People had actually experienced, had felt, and seen ghosts, or spirits. Alone one night in the lab, he experienced the phenomena himself. But he decided to do further investigation after he noticed is fencing blade vibrating. He discovered that a faulty extraction fan in the building was emitting infrasound at around 18 to 19 HZ, at this frequency (undetectable to the ears), and as discovered by NASA research, it caused the human eyeball to vibrate, also undetectable to the individuals. This caused apparitions and physical sensations. Once the extractor fan was fixed, no more “hauntings”.

    So my point in sharing this is that there will need to be a process of elimination of natural causes in order to determine if there is the possibility of non-physical minds. As Neil deGrasse Tyson recently stated, our brains are good at duping us.

  21. Victoria – Ok, most excellent, I couldn’t agree more with this comment of yours. Yes, non-physical minds would basically be a spirit with consciousness that does not have any ties to anything physical.

    You are right, I am very familiar with the evolutionary role of finding patterns and survival and it makes a whole lot of sense to me. I mentioned it to Brandon a couple of posts back. I believe this whole pattern finding mechanism within our brains could also go a long way in explaining a lot of those random events which seem so “miraculously serendipitous” to many people.

    I’ve never heard of Vic Tandy and I am very glad you mentioned him. You and John Zande both have a really good knack for throwing some really interesting material my way and I’m grateful for that. I just bookmarked the Wiki page about Vic Tandy. That story is right up my alley – you know I love these kind of investigations.

    And yes, I’m totally on board with the need to rule out physical causes before jumping to the conclusion of non-physical minds. Interestingly, this “method” is something I’ve even heard theistic philosophers concede to (including even William Lane Craig), but then they end up not properly ruling out plausible natural explanations (I’m thinking of debates I’ve seen regarding possible resurrection of Jesus).

  22. Am I seriously the only fan here of Welcome Back Kotter? That’s more surprising to me than any of the other things discussed here. 😉

  23. LOL — OK, if truth be told, I get that damn song stuck in my head. I didn’t even watch the video because I knew it would happen, but Nooooooo, without even watching the video I wake up this AM with the tune going over and over in my head….

    ♫ “Welcome back, welcome back, welcome baaaaaaaak!” ♫

    So thank you Howie, thank you very much. 😛

    Btw, I did a post on infrasound last year which includes the extensive study on the Vic Tandy/infrasound experience. http://neuroresearchproject.com/2013/02/19/1289/

    At the beginning of the post I write about a young elephant that reportedly saved a little girl’s life turning the 2004 tsunami. For believers, they would say that it was their god who saved her, yet I’m sure the elephant was more driven to run for higher ground due to by fear caused by the infrasound than the urge to save this little girl’s life. Elephants can hear infrasound.

  24. Howie, I LOVE Welcome Back Kotter! It’s wicked early in the morning, so I plugged in my headphones to listen to the theme song again. “Who’d of thought they’d lead ya…(who’d of thought they’d lead ya)…Back here where we need ya…(back here where we need ya)”.

    I’m with SAP on the possibility of abandoning intellectual rigor someday. It just happens all the damned time with very reasonable people, especially on death beds.

    In a way, abandoning one’s own reason—not something I generally support, but hear me out—might be a reasonable thing to do if you find you’ve screwed up your life and are making yourself miserable. A lot of people throw up their hands and say, “Jesus, take over! I can’t do it myself anymore!” (I’m sure you’ve heard that one before). And for a lot of them (drug addicts and such), what they’re doing is not something I’d call unwise.

    Apparently giving up one’s own reason is a powerful event. Some religious people seem to seek out recreations of that event, like druggies who need their next fix. I’ve known very intelligent people who become addicted to intellectual humiliation, observing rituals that they know are ridiculous, throwing themselves into humiliating public Bible thumping. Sometimes the smarter they are, the more they need it.

    I’ve always felt something powerful about Pascal’s wager. I assume you’re familiar with it, but in case you’re not, it’s directed towards agnostics, or, to be clearer, those of us truly sitting on the fence. From a pragmatic POV, don’t we have more to lose by not believing than believing? What does it cost us to believe? Not very much.

    The problem has always been: You can’t will yourself to believe. Yes, perhaps subconsciously you can, but not consciously.

    However, I question this last paragraph sometimes. I wonder what I’ll do on my death bed or if circumstances change and I find myself in a Job-like position. So far I’ve had a very good life and I haven’t really needed religion. Things could change, however, and I don’t have much faith in my intellectual rigor. That’s one thing I’ve learned about myself!

    Okay, I don’t mean to go on and on, but I’ve just thought of something. Sometimes when I fight with my husband, and we’re hashing out the details of our transgressions, I see that we’re going nowhere. I start in on my side of the story for the millionth time—which I’m certain is right, of course—but then I give it all up in order to achieve peace. I abandon my intellect in order to make our lives happier. Some people (I’m thinking of some feminists especially) would say I’m being submissive and that something is wrong with this picture. I would say I’m seeing the bigger picture, that our quibble is really nothing and in the end, so why not make the misery stop sooner rather than later?

    So really, I abandon my intellectual rigor all the time, especially in order to be happy, but sometimes for virtually no ‘reason’ at all! 🙂

  25. “In a way, abandoning one’s own reason—not something I generally support, but hear me out—might be a reasonable thing to do if you find you’ve screwed up your life and are making yourself miserable. A lot of people throw up their hands and say, “Jesus, take over! I can’t do it myself anymore!” (I’m sure you’ve heard that one before). And for a lot of them (drug addicts and such), what they’re doing is not something I’d call unwise.”

    I can see your point here, Rung. It’s the lessor of two evils, I guess you might say, or is it? Depends of how far they take their new found source of dopamine — religion. What studies show is that they are trading one addiction for another. Dompamine is the main neurotransmitter released when taking drugs and when engaging in religion. But will this person whose taken things to extremes, and who has now found Jesus (probably via evangelicals) going to make his female partner submit to him because the Bible said so? Will this person teach their children about hell?

    “What does it cost us to believe? Not very much.”

    It cost me a lot. It also cost the life of my partner, and my daughter never knew her father because of it. I didn’t leave religion (Christianity) because of the hardships it caused on my life. I was willing to suffer for Christ’s sake. I left because I came to understand, after extensive studying, that the biblical god was unethical, authoritarian, and tribal. I was a Christian for 40 years. Should I turn to religion on my death bed, it will most likely be because I’m declining cognitively. Also, a couple of studies published in the JAMA, an American medical journal, showed that the more religious one was (highest religious coping) in the last week of their life, the more suffering they experienced.

    The studies showed that terminally ill patients who self-reported the highest levels of religious coping during their final days were 11 times as likely to ask for and receive aggressive end of life care treatments and 22 times more likely to die in the ICU (as apposed to dying at home with hospice care) compared to those with lower levels of religious coping. Patients reporting high spiritual support from religious communities were less likely to receive hospice.

    I do understand what you are saying, and agree to a degree. I don’t detect any death anxiety in me now, but who’s to say I won’t experience it as my brain functions decline as I age.

  26. Victoria , I appreciate your respectful disagreement . I always welcome different points of view. By the word stagnated I did not mean not feeling alive , I really meant not being open to the fact that we are limited beings and therefore not able to fully understand an unlimited deity. In other words , if we conclude there is absolutely no God, we are limiting ourselves to our physical world. This may be sufficient for you to feel fully alive and I respect that. Me, I decide to continue to seek without dismissing the physical world. After all, isn’t it possible that a deity could be found in the physical world through unconditional service , mercy, and peace making?

  27. Hi Noel, thanks for your reply. Howie can back me up on this, but I have not closed my mind to the possibility that there might be a creator. However, I no longer have a desire to seek one out. It’s like being in a marriage, where the relationship was one-sided but you were too much in love to realize it. Thank you oxytocin, lol. I’m certain you couldn’t have found a more devoted believer than me and I went the distance and then some.

    As I shared earlier, I fully embrace my humanness, which is to say that I understand that we are limited in our understanding. But I’d much rather spend my time living fully what could be the only life we get, and in the process help to make this world a better place for future generations. All the years I spent giving my best love away to a myth, not to mention tens of thousands of dollars in tithes and offerings that primarily went towards toilet paper, pews, carpet and administration rather than to people who actually needed it. I know. I served on church boards for years. The Roman Catholic Church receives approximately 180 million dollars a year, and only about 2 percent of that goes to help those in need. That’s a travesty, especially when you realize that every 5 seconds a child under the age of 5 dies from starvation.

    If there’s a benevolent God, I’m not impressed. Thanks again for sharing. 🙂

  28. I grew up in the Bible belt and was once locked in a room and told I couldn’t leave until I said the words, “Jesus is my Lord and Savior”, so I understand your feelings about Christianity. Some pious folks can be very harmful indeed. For the most part, though, Christians are nice folks; I just never felt I belonged.

    When I think of becoming religious, Christianity would be the last possibility for me, definitely on the bottom of my list. So I should have said “spiritual” instead of “religious” to allow for healthier possibilities.

    That said, I’ve come a long way in terms of my anger towards Christians. People are flawed, and maybe those folks need something more severe to feel balanced. So what we might call hypocritical is just flawed people going through serious struggles. Struggling to become a better person is something I admire, even if it is misguided.

    Then again, there are also just plain old hypocrites too. But the majority I think are not.

    Speaking of something that could be construed as hypocrisy—I’ve noticed that Christians in particular, especially where I came from, tend to cling to life as if there were no heaven. I’ve found that phenomenon perplexing. I wonder where it comes from?

    On the other hand, I’ve also noticed, personally, that folks who don’t really think about religion very much, who would never be writing posts about it or commenting on it, often turn to religion in their final days. And what I think they’re doing is a form of Pascal’s wager. My father did it and when I asked him why he believed all of a sudden, he said, “Why not?” He wasn’t afraid of death, however. Perhaps there’s a difference in these personality types.

    I’ve often thought that I cared too much about truth to take that leap of faith, but maybe the truth will seem different then. I’m really fascinated by this topic. It’s a big part of my novel.

  29. Victoria,

    So thank you Howie, thank you very much. 😛

    Oh you are quite welcome Victoria – anytime! Go ahead and press the button Victoria – come on, you know you want to:

  30. Hey Tina (rung2diotimasladder)- you’ve added some really good points here as usual. For myself I don’t want to abandon reason because I’ve always had a bit of a practical view toward living – that being the idea that I want to properly understand reality as best I can and as fully I can, and then after that decide from there how I want to act. Just grabbing at your example of quarrels with loved ones (which we all have) I’m not really sure you abandoned reason at all there. After all you reasoned that if you backed off on arguing that things would calm down and return to a peaceful place between the two of you. My wife and I both choose to do that (depending on who is angrier at the time 🙂 ), and again I see that as using reason to get to a desired peace of mind.

    I am flexible enough to understand that some (not all) theists are actually doing the same thing, and are actually not abandoning reason. There are so many different kind of theists so I can’t box them all in and say that they’ve all abandoned reason. Some are clearly very well thought. And on the flip side, across the internet we’ve all obviously got many examples of those who are not.

    However, I think even many of those who are well thought are relying on filling in gaps of knowledge with high confidence claims even when the amount of evidence doesn’t suffice, and some even go further to judge others who don’t join in on filling those gaps of knowledge in the same way, which I don’t appreciate. There are some though who admit that they are filling in the gaps and who admit they can be wrong. I don’t see them as abandoning reason, but rather as taking their best guess at metaphysical claims.

    Ok, I’ve rambled enough.

  31. Victoria:

    ♫ “Well the names have all changed since you hung around, But those dreams have remained and they’re turned around.” ♫

  32. Rung, I’m sorry that happened to you. I’ve spent the better part of my life in the Bible Belt.

    “That said, I’ve come a long way in terms of my anger towards Christians. People are flawed, and maybe those folks need something more severe to feel balanced. So what we might call hypocritical is just flawed people going through serious struggles.”

    I concur. My studies in scripture, and involvement in religious activities, only served to rewire my brain to have negative feelings towards humanity (and myself). My studies in science had a completely opposite effect. For the first time in my life, things started to make since once I opened the science books. My faith in humanity was restored and I gained a better understanding as to why antisocial behavior and social dysfunction happens. Unfortunately, the very things (rules and practices) that mainstream authoritarian religions promote are the very things that lead to dysfunction in society.

    Another problem I see is that we still live in societies that discourage critical thinking and yes, even knowledge. The more educated a society tends to be, the greater likelihood of them being non-religious, non-superstitious, prosocial, and peaceful. Note Scandinavia/Nordic countries.

    “I’ve noticed that Christians in particular, especially where I came from, tend to cling to life as if there were no heaven. I’ve found that phenomenon perplexing. I wonder where it comes from?”

    I’ve read numerous studies regarding this phenomena. I think it comes from the indoctrination of hell or the underworld. It’s not only prevalent in Christian cultures, but in cultures around the world that believe in their own version of hell. For example the study of near-death experiences. Behavioral neuroscientist, Todd Murphy has spent a lot of time studying this phenomena around the world and writes:

    ABSTRACT
    Near-death experiences (NDEs) in Thailand do not demonstrate the episodes most noted in those collected in the West, but they do show consistent features. I argue that these features, including harbingers of death, visions of hell, the Lord of the underworld, and the benefits of making donations to Buddhist monks and temples, can be understood within the framework of beliefs and customs unique to Southeast Asia.

    The simplest explanation is that the phenomenology of NDEs at least in part fulfills the individuals’ expectations of what they will experience at death.

    These expectations are most often derived from the experiencer’s culture, subculture, or mix of cultures. Culture-bound expectations are, in turn, most often derived from religion.

    http://www.researchgate.net/publication/229032451_Near-death_experiences_in_Thailand

    So if a believer fears that they may not have lived their life to the letter of their belief system, their dying process will be affected by their expectations based on their religious indoctrination.

    All the best with your novel. I’m sure it will be a fascinating read.

  33. LOL
    Howie. I see you still have some Christian ways about you that need synaptic pruning. Come pay me a visit and let me zap your brain you with some complex magnetic waveforms. *rubs hands together* That should do the trick. 😈

  34. Victoria: you mean the most powerful words of the almighty John Sebastian are not working on you. Hmmm, I may need to rethink my beliefs then.

  35. Howie, here’s a thought experiment. Think of a song that has had the propensity to cause you to replay it over and over and over in your head — that got stuck in your head for a day or days.

  36. You always have the very coolest emoticons Victoria. That’s all I’ve got, sorry couldn’t think of a witty response. 🙂

  37. You know, it’s funny you mention that deciding not to argue is not abandoning reason at all, because I was thinking the same thing after I clicked the “reply” button. However, I think the same could be true for deciding, even at the last minute, to welcome a religious/spiritual belief. Both are pragmatic in the sense I’m speaking of because the individual chooses to be happy instead of clinging to what he/she believes to be the truth. It’s a humility, a bowing down of the intellect to be sure, but not altogether unreasonable. Who doesn’t want to be happy?

    Of course, I want to exclude wacko religions and doctrines to be in favor of a kind of quiet realization. And there should also be a level of uncertainty in belief, which sounds kind of contradictory, but I don’t think it is. I have a certain amount of doubt about a lot of things I believe in. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about as I think I’ve read one of your posts about this topic. In any case, I tend to think the more authentic religious/spiritual experience would rely on hope and optimism rather than recruiting others to support your views or bullishly denying facts.

    Okay, now I’m rambling! (I’ll allow you to ramble if you allow me to ramble. Deal?) 🙂

  38. Noel,

    I think you and Victoria have had an interesting discussion here and I’d like to weigh in a bit myself.

    As I’ve expressed I’m open to the idea that there may be gods or Gods or one God. I’m open to this idea, as well as all ideas that have a logical possibility of being true, and the reason I am open is because I know that I am human and can be wrong just like anyone else. So if reality is that way then I don’t want to close off the possibility if reason and evidence could end up leading me to that conclusion.

    But the flip side to this is what I’ve expressed in some of my previous posts – the fact that I am currently very doubtful that any gods exist because I haven’t seen sufficient evidence to convince me that they exist.

    So functionally my current view is essentially the same as living in a physical world without spirits, and I’m with Victoria on that one – the word “stagnate” has a negative connotation of “becoming inactive or dull”, and I’ve lived a full life of wonder and beauty for many years now even though I haven’t believe there are gods. I talked a bit more about that in the post linked here. Go over and give it a read, you may actually find it helpful. Speaking of, I don’t really have a need to argue this point for my own benefit – I just think that realizing some of this may actually benefit you.

    If you don’t mind I’d like to ask if you could explain further why you think that life would be stagnant living in a world that didn’t have the God that you believe exists? Is there one particular reason that stands out, or several reasons?

  39. Tina,

    Okay, now I’m rambling! (I’ll allow you to ramble if you allow me to ramble. Deal?)

    Sounds like a great deal to me because I’m very skilled at rambling. 🙂

    Yes, much of what you said in this comment resonates quite a bit with me – and I have written very similar things in the past.

  40. I agree with you that we should live this life fully. My definition of seeking God does not exclude this life. On the contrary, it includes feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, sheltering the homeless, etc. Many claim these can be done without believing in a deity . I think that these acts are the equivalent of the deity being manifested through us. The statistics you shared about the Catholic Church are mind blowing . Do you a link to these numbers?

  41. ” I think that these acts are the equivalent of the deity being manifested through us.

    Noel, it is my opinion, based on at least 10 years of research, that these manifestation are the equivalent of being human. As Phil Hellenes eloquently stated — don’t give away our dignity. We evolved these altruistic behaviors to keep our species from going extinct. But we are not the only species that show empathy and compassion. Elephants, rodents, dog, cats, dolphins, birds, and those are just the ones that have been studied. I think it is important that we don’t try to make all good acts out to be godly behavior, of a “divine” nature. It has a subconscious effect on the psyche which can have a direct impact on human behavior. In other words, garbage in, garbage out.

    Regarding your other question, here are some stats from 2010. The other estimate came from a recent documentary I watched about how the RCC handles their money — corruption. I’ll look for the doc if you are interested. Mind you, this figure is only what they spent. Not what they received nor the billions they have in real estate and other investments.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/08/17/the-economist-estimates-the-catholic-church-spent-171600000000-in-2010/

    When my partner died, I had an 11 day old child. The RCC convinced my grandparents to send the money my grandparents had planned to send to me to help me by formula and diapers, to their catholic church instead so they could light a candle and pray for my late husbands soul. That was $500.00. What did I get? A certificate from the RCC stating that they were praying for my dead husband.

  42. This is the definition of stagnated I had in mind when i used it in my comment : to stop developing, growing, progressing, or advancing (spiritually). If I acknowledge there might be a God but have no desire to seek him for whatever reason, i am still stagnated or “stuck” in my spiritual growth. I may choose to study chemistry all of my life but refuse to study humanities even if I acknowledge i may learn anything from it. My whole point was to try to explain that, in my view, if we ignore the possibility of a deity because the material world suffices, then we are missing a great opportunity. At the same time, the physical world and the spiritual are not necessarily dichotomous. I hope this explains my view. Thanks for asking.

  43. if we ignore the possibility of a deity because the material world suffices, then we are missing a great opportunity”

    What great opportunity? Like Howie mentioned, I, too, have lived a full life of wonder and beauty for many years now even though I haven’t believed there are gods. And without a deity in the picture, I’ve grown a lot and feel a deep connection to life that I never had has a believer. I embrace the fact that I am organic. Belief, in fact, stagnated me and stunted my growth substantially.

    The last Carl Sagan (an atheist) wrote:

    “For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.”

    The Dalia Lama (an atheist) wrote:

    “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.

    Noel, I hope you’re having a nice weekend so far. 🙂

  44. Noel, yes that explanation does help me understand your view much clearer.

    Victoria’s response pretty much summarizes my own view on this, but I’ll try to add a little more. First, I personally don’t really see the world containing “spirits” in the sense of conscious beings which exist outside of our bodies and live on after death, so some of what you say doesn’t really align with my own worldview. But that doesn’t mean I can’t see some parallels to my own thinking. While some atheist philosophers think that even identity is somehow an illusion I have a hard time seeing that. While I may not see “self” as an entity apart from my body I do have the sense that there truly is a “me” that exists which very likely is the result of brain and body functions. Perhaps the sum of the parts does create more somehow and that is the “me” that exists. Ok, some heavy stuff – I’ll lighten it a bit now.

    That identity that I have I do see as growing, and some might even label that “spiritual” even though I don’t view it the same as dualists do. This is where I can relate to the kind of “growth” which Victoria is speaking about. Growth in living – friendships, family, love, kindness, giving. I can see all these things being there without gods. And if those things are actually tied to gods or a God as you see it then I’m perfectly fine with that – either way I don’t see it as being relevant to my life. I can lend my time and effort to help those in need whether there are gods or not.

    The other thing I’d say which doesn’t really pertain to my own beliefs is that the possibility exists that we actually do have some “spiritual” part of us that can grow even without the existence of an all powerful being. I believe the Dalai Lama who Victoria quoted has this kind of view, and I know for sure that there are many buddhists that do hold this view. The video at this link shows a woman with that view: http://www.closertotruth.com/series/god-person#video-4063 . Obviously I’m not pointing you to that so you become a Buddhist, but I think it’s always a good thing for people to see how others view the world.

    Noel, I really appreciate you hanging in there on this discussion with us. My blog is meant to be a place where people of all different views can feel comfortable discussing their beliefs with others, so this interaction is right up my alley. Thanks for that.

  45. Howie , ah! You touched a profound and intriguing subject when you mentioned about the “self” . Is it an illusion or a reality? I have asked myself many times about the true nature of the self. How do we differentiate from others? Did the self exist prior to my birth? I am a big fan of Buddhism particularly the teaching about wanting what I already have to prevent suffering. I consider myself a minimalist. Anyways , thanks for the food for thought.

  46. Hi Jason, nice to meet you. I remember listening to a talk by Ravi Zacharias years ago when he visited the college I attended. You are right that he is a very powerful communicator. Eloquent and charismatic are words that come to mind. Very bright guy as well. I’ve sensed though that he has a tendency to overstate things to a large degree. He also doesn’t really resolve the problem of Hell.

  47. Noel, I believe we have a couple of things we can relate to in this last comment of yours. The nature of consciousness and the self is a very intriguing topic for me as well. Philosophy of mind is a wide open subject that interests me quite a bit. And yes, I also agree that Buddhism has some psychologically healthy teachings in it. While I’m not really a minimalist (although I would have qualified back in my college years 😉 ), I do have minimalist tendencies. I enjoy the things I own while keeping the desire for “stuff” at bay. Maybe “moderation” is a good word to describe it.

  48. Hell is definitely not a condition to look forward to. What exactly is the “problem of Hell?” If I understand the problem, then I can see if there are any persuasive arguments which solve it.

  49. @Jasn
    The major problem with ”hell” of course is it is a Christian fiction and even a cursory look at the etymology would clearly demonstrate this is so.

  50. The ”niceties” can be construed as subjective. All I am interested in is the facts, and when a Christian begins espousing what they consider truth I am immediately on my guard.
    Jason and I have spared before. He seems a decent enough sort’ just your average misguided evangelical.
    My experience with him has shown he will not balk at the challenge and admit that it is all based on faith.

  51. No worries, cold stoner. 😉

    I visited his blog, and I agree that he seems like a decent guy.. It’s just that he appears to see the world in black and white, good and evil. He’s wired himself to be at war between his right and left hemispheres. I’m willing to bet he has a thin corpus callosum. If he made peace with both parts that make up the whole of himself, embracing his humanness, he wouldn’t be so religious. Seems like lots of inner turmoil going on there sugarcoated by Jesus belief. JMUO

  52. Jason, I think Ark’s point about hell looking very much like a fictional development is a very good point. This is an evidential issue and a strong one in my mind. We have no empirical evidence of a place as described.

    However, my thinking was a bit more along the lines of Victoria’s point, and that is actually what is called the “problem of hell” which you can find easily by using those search words online. Since you forwarded me to Ravi Zacharias I’m assuming your beliefs about hell are similar to his. Mainly, that hell is a place where human beings are eternally in torment. The Christian viewpoint is that there exists a God who is all-powerful and all-loving, and that there also exists a hell which that God is aware of. If we assume that there is a God that is all-powerful then that means hell does not have to exist if he would prefer that it does not exist. If this God truly is all-loving (in the sense that he cares about the well-being of the creatures he has created) then he wouldn’t desire a place where any of his created beings would be tormented forever.

    There are several workable solutions to this problem, and all the ones I have seen make modifications to the “all-powerful” or the “all-loving” definitions, which then make those labels basically meaningless (because why describe a being with words that don’t really mean what everyone understands them to reasonably mean). What has been your solution to this?

  53. I should have mentioned that another solution, which is becoming a little more popular among well thought believers, is to deny that hell is a place where beings are conscious. Most people call this “Annihilationism” which can also be found online. This does resolve the logical problem of hell. The workable solutions I was referencing in my last comment were ones in which the existence of an eternal place of torment is still assumed to be true.

  54. Good points, Howie. What ever the belief, whether it’s a place of eternal torment or eternal death/separation of their particular brand of god, it really does boil down to death anxiety (which I noted in one of Jason’s post). That’s what makes these religions so successful because of our frontal lobes, we are able to think about the future and our inevitable death.

    But, there is abundant research that showing that you can’t effectively (long-term) change a person’s behavior by threats or implementation of punishment. Positive behavioral changes comes from positive reinforcement. Some of the attributes that make Jesus belief so popular is that he is presented as though he is a caring mother, coddling and nurturing her child close to her breasts, offering a sense of security.

    But I ask, what loving parent would send their children to a place of eternal torture because they didn’t bow down, worship and submit to their parent(s)? In Revelation 19, we see the wrath of God/Jesus; a blood bath where birds (called by Jesus) gorge on the flesh of unbelievers slain by Jesus/God who said his followers should forgive 70×7.

  55. Exactly Victoria. The love of a parent is something that always comes up in this discussion because it describes how we all understand what the word love really means: caring for the welfare of the individual no matter what they might do, not do, believe, or not believe. There is absolutely nothing my children could do to me that would cause me to allow them to be tormented for eternity. They could spit in my face all day long and I wouldn’t want that for them.

  56. I had a lot of cognitive dissonance as a believer, and the belief in hell was at the top of the list when it came to that.

  57. There are solutions to the problem of hell which maintain God’s omnipotence and his omnibenevolence. This problem is linked to the more well-known problem of evil, on which Dr. Zacharias has devited a book titlef Deliver Us From Evil, and it is an excellent read. With freedom comes responsibility. Regardless of hell’s characteristics, the essence of hell is undisputed: eternal separation frim God. This is never something God desires, but it is something he must allow for his creation to love freeky and exercise free will.

    Ark has strong feelings on these matters, but you have to be careful with mummies; you never know what has been stuffed into their heads. (You know I love you, Ark)

  58. Jason, you are right that there is a lot of overlap in the 2 issues. The problem of hell however has the additional problem of the fact that the torment is eternal which is very disturbing. Think of being in torment for 500 trillion years, over and over and over…

    If you believe free will is important to the problem then do you believe that people have the choice to leave hell as well? If so that doesn’t match up with hell as described by the bible, where there is no choice after death.

  59. I think your questions extends free will beyond its logical capacity. Free will can only be exercised under logically possible conditions. If my arm was amputated in a combine, the fact that my free will cannot change that condition is not a problem. Free will is the ability to make free choices, not a superpower to change negative conditions which might result. Likewise, it is not a problem that free will cannot change a condition of eternal separation from God.

    Keep in mind, God’s omniscience comes into play here. Indeed, a good God would not allow anyone to end up in hell who would have had a change of heart once there. Hell is filled with the unchangeable, with forever hardened hearts and consciences seared.

  60. Oh, I am disappointed , Jason. I truly thought you would acknowledge that the business of hell is all malarkey?
    Oh well …. so much for misplaced faith.
    In that case, Jason, let’s see your true colours. Do you consider that I, as a hardcore atheist will definitely be going to hell for not accepting your man-god, the narrative construct, Jesus of Nazareth as my saviour?
    No theological tap-dancing.
    Yes or No?

  61. Ark, I’m a terrible dancer. You dont want to see that. But I’m not bad at dodgeball. When a red herreing is thrown at my head, I dont open my mouth; I duck!

    Are you not already dead? Or is the term undead more accurate (I admit, I havent studied ancient near near East mythology in some time).

    Ark, these matters are too important for online banter with alter egos. I dont think Arkenaten is open to alternative theories on what lies on the other side of the Styx. But perhaps his alter ego is…

  62. I am merely asking what you believe, not a fighter pilot treatise on Egyptian zombie protocol.
    Do you believe I will be going to hell for not believing in the character Jesus of Nazareth.
    Yes or no?

  63. Jason, the limits of an amputated arm are physical and biological, not logical. It looks to me like you are saying God is powerless to end the torment of the conscious being.

    I don’t see your solution to the problem. Here’s what I see:
    1) You believe there is a hell where people are in torment for eternity with no ability to end it.
    2) You believe there is a God that is all loving and all good. A god who is all loving would not want to see any of his created humans be tormented for eternity.
    3) You believe that your God is all powerful, which means he would have the ability to end the conscious torment of his own created humans.

    So are you putting the caveat on #3 and saying the concept you have of this God is not powerful enough to end the consciousness when he was apparently the one that started it? Or does your solution modify something else?

  64. Ark, you have asked me a very personal question and demand a very personal answer. While I am confident in my theology, to cast a definitive judgment upon your soul is not my privilege. You once mentioned a song with which you had great affection, and I listened to it. Now do one for me: download the soundtrack to The Bible by Hanz Zimmer an listen to The Nativity. Let the music move you, and ask God, if he is there, the questions you ask me.

  65. You know very wel I don;t do that sirt of nonsense , Jason.
    I am not asking you a personal question. I am asking you to tell me what your religion says. You do believe in your religion do you not?
    If so, please tell me then what your religion says will happen to a hardcore atheist like me.

  66. Jason, have you heard God’s voice speak directly to you or are you basing your beliefs on faith, feelings, the Bible, and mega hits of oxytocin, vasopressin and dopmaine (reward neurotransmitters). 😀 We have studies with fMRI scans showing that when you have a profound love for someone, a lover (spouse), a child, even a god, neural circuity to areas of your brain (frontal lobes) associated with critical social assessment, deactivate. Evolutionary wise, this is for the purpose of keeping males and females together long enough to ensure the survival of their offspring. The honeymoon, it is called. These reward chemicals also help to keep us from throwing the demanding, screaming kids in the river.

    These are the areas rich in oxytocin, dopamine and vasopression receptors (reward chemicals). It can cause you to not see the negative aspects of your god, and even justify these antisocial behaviors, i.e. genocide, slavery, mass tribal killings, hell, etc. This deactivation helps to explain why you can’t see what we can see. Howie and I have been in your shoes. We know that love can be blind, and especially if we think we are “special” in the eyes of someone we think is the king of the jungle (universe). That means you get favor, as seen in troops of chimpanzees baboons, by alpha males or “the” alpha male. Follow their rules, and you are likely to gain favor and survive.

    Jason, with all due respect, it would appear that you are avoiding Ark’s questions about us going to hell. We can answer that for you because we know the bible like the back of our hand. If we have rejected your god of choice, then yes, you believe we are going to the hell your god created for us from the very beginning, knowing that we would end up there, because your god, according to your bible, knows the beginning from the end.

  67. Hey Jason, thanks for the song recommendation. I listened to it on Youtube. Beautiful tune. I love Hanz Zimmer. My favorite tune by him is “Time”.

    So I listened to Nativity. No voices from God, not even an inner stirring. I guess my heart is harden, and my conscious seared by the god who is suppose to love unconditionally, expects us to love unconditionally, and commanded that we forgive 70×7.

    “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” Romans 9:18

    But your god makes the rules that he (alpha male) doesn’t have to abide by, right? ‘Thou shalt not kill or steal or have sex with virgin girls unless I say so or command the prophets to command you to do so.” Numbers 31.

    Since I listened to one of your songs, will you watch this video? I’d like for you to see what we see. Since I suspect you have deactivated neural circuity because of your profound love for your god of choice and culture (the Abrahamic god), I’m not sure if you will be able to grasp the message fully. I understand that you were once an unbeliever like us but, under the influence of your beloved Christian bride, you “saw the light” after being questioned about death, and/or possibly had a non-convulsive temporal lobe seizure, causing you to become religious. (not uncommon) 😉 Thanks in advance for watching.

    Note: The children of Abraham (you) are addressed at the end. What are we suppose to do? Tell you that you may have a point?

  68. Yes, “Time” is very good. I watched the video. He focuses on Old Testament atrocities. You should read Is God A Moral Monster by Paul Copan. His arguments are a bit more substantive than clips of dolphins and girls bouncing on trampolines. Hang on to The Bible. Its a good soundtrack for writing.

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