When I read the Book of Mormon, I feel closer to Jesus Christ.

Mormon Ad

This ad appeared on the CNN home page today and if clicked will take you here.

In a single sentence, this ad illustrates the problems outlined on one of my prior pages, Faith Card. Our existential sense of spiritual truth simply does not work. It is not a barometer of fact or fiction. It is not a compass that leads to anywhere. Our intuition does not work where spiritual matters are concerned. Well meaning, “faithful” people are all radically divergent in the direction their respective compasses point.

Pleasant Mormons like this young woman, far from being in the service of the devil, are doing the best they can. But they have been hampered by an unfortunate paradigm, which claims that the really important things in life must be known by faith. This general belief, that faith is the mechanism by which we know spiritual truth, is shared by the broad range of religions. And it is a demonstrably ineffective and wayward mechanism.

Faith constitutes a proposal regarding process… “This is how you find ultimate truth.” Your internal sense of relationship or spiritual presence should be your guide. That burning of the bosom should be your guide. Truth feels a certain way when you have it. You know, because it sounds right. You know because you know. You know because of your sacred texts. But at bottom, this type of knowing is followed by everyone in religions that oppose yours.

The cleverest part of faith, however, may be found in a self-validating defensive mechanism. Faith concurrently makes objective knowledge claims while maligning the validity of the one process which can call it’s bluff: critical thinking. Answers to the most pressing questions, we are told, can only be known by faith. Study, analysis, science, and the like are all said to lose their potency where ultimate questions are concerned. “You cannot answer these questions through such means,” comes the admonition from those who have never actually tried.

Belief in belief: the tragedy that all religions share.

I encourage my Christian readers to visit the Mormon website linked above. I would further encourage reading of Buddhists and other faiths. You will see a repetition of themes in how religious viewpoints are defended, advanced, and arrived at. The means of thinking are entirely analogous, but the specific claims are contradictory. And that should raise the question: what if faith is a flawed mechanism?

Comments

  1. Good post. A bit like a condensed version of a post on “Can we ‘just know’ that God exists?” over at 500 Questions – which really resonated with me when I first read it.
    It’s become apparent to me that very few people ever take the time to consider how and why they believe what they believe. It’s amazing how a little introspection on that matter can radically change your whole worldview. Someone who has never done this before will probably find that they eventually reach a point where they simply can’t justify certain views in even remotely the same way that they justify other views. I don’t understand how somebody can reach that point and not be bothered by it.

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  2. I have a couple of thoughts, but this the first post of yours I have read, so I did go to your “About” page. I understand you are coming from a background of believing that is taking a new course in the journey.

    1) I think your post conflates two uses of the word “faith,” not intentionally or with ill intent. It is inherent in the inadequacies of language.
    a) There are times when we may use “accept by faith” or “I know by faith” because we don’t really have strong enough terms to describe what is an experience of more than just “feeling” or “burning in the bosom.” It is an strong experience so strong, a witness from God, that the mind cannot deny that it was a witness or its source. You are right in that religious people may use this usage a little too often, but I don’t know their experiences–only mine. There are a very few, specific instances or issues with which I have had such an experience. My decision to be baptized was in accordance with God’s will for me; God is real, knows me as an individual, and hears my prayers; God the Father and God the Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are separate personages; and The Book of Mormon is a book of inspired scripture (which is why I am LDS). That’s it. Those four things. Basically any other part of my religious belief probably could be successfully challenged at this point. That fact does not lessen the absolute surety I have of the witness of those four points. We often refer to the experiences that led to my surety on those four points as “feelings,” “burning in the bosom,” and “faith.” But, it is more than all of those put together. It is a unique and powerful experience.
    b) Other things, yes, we do say that “faith is a belief in things hoped for but not seen” (my poor paraphrase of Hebrews 11:1 and Ether 12:6) type of faith. I prefer other descriptions including there is no witness (knowledge) until after a trial of your faith (again, Ether 12:6) and the experimenting on the word allegory of the seed found in Alma 32:28-43 (plant the seed of faith in your heart, test it through obedience to the principle you are concerned about, and then see what fruit it bears–if nothing or bad, you know it was a wrong principle, if good, then a good and true principle and it is no longer faith but knowledge in this one small part of understanding how God works–one of my absolute favorite passages of scripture). We accept certain things by faith. Because they continue to lead us in a good direction towards God’s love, and yes, we feel more of God’s love in our hearts and blessings in our lives, we are happier, we are better able to serve our fellow man, our faith/belief in these things grows stronger. Eventually, it may be that the faith/belief, after continued testing, experimenting, obedience approaches knowledge. Is this not the scientific method? Make a hypothesis and then construct an experiment. Evaluate the results. Proceed from those results, either continuing in that direction or reevaluating the old evidence with the new evidence for a new hypothesis.

    2) I take issue with the idea the believers (of any religion) are not critical thinkers. Why do I know that there are four things which are my solid foundation and bedrock? Because critical thinking has led to crises of faith and crises of faith have forced me to ask “What is it that I actually know? Where is my starting point? Or, do I know nothing, and do I need to start from scratch?” And then, I would recall those witnessed experiences and I would test them again. Am I sure? I cannot deny the experience, its source, or its knowledge. So, that is my foundation, my starting point.
    Many religions (Jewish people and Mormons, for example, though I am sure there are others) highly value secular education, explicitly promote seeking education through their leaders and materials, and seek after it in their families. We are taught to seek all learning: “One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.” Joseph Smith. “Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning even by study and also by faith.” D&C 88:118 Mormons enter fields of technology and science along with all the other fields of study.
    There are entire blogs devoted to the intersection of critical thinking and faith by Mormons. Yes, we ask questions about how things are done in our church. There are published journals on the same issues.

    3) Finally, the fact that other religions, other denominations of Christians and non-Judeochristian belief systems and religions have faith experiences does not lessen my faith a bit, and I do not discount their faith experiences. The fact that the Creator of the Universe will affirm love of God, love of our fellow man, and service to our fellow man and almost anything that furthers those concepts and ideals in the human heart and in human action seems perfectly logical to me. Again, we have been taught to seek truth everywhere–we are not the sole possessors of truth. I love learning about other belief systems, and I have always been enriched by the effort. If there is outright conflict with promoting the love of the Creator and of others, then yes, I would choose love over their experience and would tend to think that they had been deceived in some way.

    All that being said, from your About page, I get the feeling you are seeking truth and goodness for you and your family. You are studying these things out. May you, and I, and all seekers of truth and knowledge and love be blessed in those efforts.

    Kate @ BJJ, Law, and Living

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    • Hi Kate,

      Thanks for stopping by and reading. I’ll start by just saying off the top that I am a former Protestant and that most of my content is directed toward those in Protestant/Fundamentalist circles.

      One point of clarification regarding the definition of faith to which my post referred. Per Dictionary.com, I am referring principally to the second, but obliquely to the third form of the word. Here I am largely directing my comments to the notion of faith as an epistemology – a way of knowing objective facts and falsehoods, ultimate truths.

      You seem to take a fairly inclusive view of religious belief, which leads me to the question: are there religions that are simply and objectively false? Here I am considering the gamut including Hinduism, Islam, Native American animism, Aztec and Incan practices, etc. Are any of these simply false?

      BTW, I started in jujitsu back in 1994. 🙂

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      • Upon reading your reply, I looked up the definitions 2 and 3 of faith on dictionary.com. When I read those definitions, the phrase that comes to my mind is “blind faith.” If that is your criticism of believers and what you were trying to state in your post, then you may have a point. However, that is not what the ad at the top of your post is suggesting. It is suggesting that she has a reason for her faith, something she experiences when she reads this particular book of scripture.

        I agree, however, that blind faith is rather useless. We are taught by the leaders in our church that every member has a right to and even a duty to seek personal revelation. We often refer to children “living on borrowed light,” i.e., believing because their parents believe without ever having tested these principles on their own. This is a problem when those same young people face a crisis of faith. “Borrowed light” is usually not enough to carry a person through a challenge to their beliefs. They need to seek their own revelation, their own testimony, their own witness–preferably before the challenges come, because, of course, challenges will come, and should come. What good is an empty belief that has no basis, no reason for believing other than someone’s else’s word for it–whether written in “holy” books, preached from the pulpit, or spoken at home?

        Which brings me to your last question–whether any of the other world religions are “simply and objectively false.” When I originally read your post, I was thinking about faith experiences that believers in those religions might have had with specific instances of reaching out to their Creator, the God of the Universe.

        The Qur’an overlaps much with the Bible and LDS sacred texts. Native American religions have a reverence for the Earth which I do not believe is false. I do believe that worshipping idols as “gods” or animals as “gods” is a false practice. I believe that human sacrifice is wrong. But, your question seems to come down to believers accepting their chosen dogmas and sacred texts on blind faith, whereas I read your post and wrote my comment from the perspective that I believe that all people, no matter their belief system, can have the Holy Spirit testify to their hearts of certain things that are truth, even those that may occur within their different religious contexts and which they may attribute to being a part of their religion as a whole.

        Another quote from Joseph Smith: “I cannot believe in any of the creeds of the different denominations because they all have some things in them I cannot subscribe to, though all of them have some truth. I want to come up into the presence of God and learn all things . . . ”

        But, again, I do agree with you that untested, unanalyzed belief just because someone else said so is pointless for a lifetime basis. It is a good starting point, it is a way to have “a desire to believe,” (the starting point for the seed analogy I mentioned above) but it is not the type of belief on which I would want to base my life decisions. Even though D&C 46:13-14 says, “To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful,” these verses are in the same section that says earlier, “But ye are commanded in all things to ask of God.” So, even those who have the gift of believing on the words of others I think receive that gift after asking God, that it still comes as a witness directly from God after their own study, searching, and praying.

        Another long comment not well organized, but it is what I have time for.

        –Jiu-jitsu is a beautiful and amazing sport. 🙂

        Kate @ BJJ, Law, and Living

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        • Kate,

          The reason for my prior question about objectively false religion was, to some extent, strategic. I ask it to probe two things:

          1. Can/will you recognize religious error?

          2. On what basis is it possible to discern such things?

          Your posts reflect a very inclusive disposition toward others, a non-judgmental frame, and a willingness to see the good and give the benefit of the doubt. I think that outlook is very good in terms of keeping good relationships with folks of different viewpoints, to be sure.

          Yet in the question of evaluating truth, it falls rather short. It isn’t apparent that you have a clear notion of exactly how one would go about smoking out the false prophet. And if you cannot clearly discern religious *error*, with what confidence should someone like myself view your subjective and personal claims to know what religious *truth* is?

          When I say things about “science” or “critical thinking”, I am referring to systematic attempts to discriminate fact from fiction. In such endeavors, proposed explanations are *falsifiable* – that is, there is concession up front that the explanation could be wrong, and there is agreement as to what it would take to disprove it. The point of critical thinking is to take the half-dozen alternative explanations that we have and rule out the five (or even six) that prove errant.

          Which brings me to my next question: what sort of evidence, hypothetically, could demonstrate Mormonism to be false and Joseph Smith to be a false prophet?

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  3. Mariah Windrider says:

    I am always amazed by the emphasis on faith, especially in the Christian religions. Even their own holy book tells them that ‘there abide these three, faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.’ (using love for charity). I have to wonder, do they think there’ll be a final at the last judgement and if they flunk the test they will go to hell? Maybe if they read the wrong book? Crappy god to have come up with a system like that!

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    • Hi Mariah – I have a daughter by that name! Kinda rare. 🙂

      Yes, they do think there will be a Final (I did!).

      And yes, the longer the quest has drug out, the more I realized that “belief” was a terrible basis for making the final adjudication. People don’t believe for any objective reason in almost any case. Its a very circuitous route to take for recognizing or denying objective truth.

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    • Mariah, you are right about that it seems ludicrous to only “save” those who had a chance to learn and have a witness of the gospel if God is a God of love and the Savior was sent to redeem the world. I had a long answer to you and lost it, but, briefly, this is another thing I love about my religion. 1 Peter (I can look up the reference if you really want it) talks about preaching to those who are dead. The LDS church teaches that people are judged on their hearts and their capacities, that they will be taught the gospel as spirits/souls before judgment, and that they will have the opportunity to accept (opportunity, not forced to accept) saving ordinances, such as baptism, performed for them vicariously here on earth. You and I both know that there are many people who have lived “Christlike” lives who were not Christian. Mormon theology does not “damn” them–or hardly anyone. This is in keeping with what I believe about a loving God.

      Kate @ BJJ, Law, and Living

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      • “Mormon theology does not “damn” them–or hardly anyone.”

        Kate, out of curiosity, who does your religion “damn”?

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  4. Brisance (I ran out of reply options to our comment thread, do I call you Brisance? Jericho?),

    1. Recognizing religious error.
    a) Yes, if I really truly think it is “error.” Our own church has recently done this with acknowledging that denying the priesthood to black male members of our church was not decreed by God but was a manifestation of the impact of our culture, i.e., error.
    b) Just as I am very careful in what I call knowledge of religious truth, I am actually reluctant to claim the hubris that I know what is religious error. I will say that I have not received a testimony or a witness of something or that I don’t believe that something is true.

    2. The basis for discerning religious error.
    For me (in other words, everything I write is my thoughts, not my church’s official position), it has to be relevant to me to put the time and effort into the quest. For example, take the question of whether cows are sacred animals. I don’t know. Probably not. If it was something that was keeping me awake at night or that my stance was threatening my life, I would need to “know” for a surety one way or the other. I am content not to spend hours researching sacred texts, searching it out in my heart, reading scientific manuscripts and research, and spending countless hours on my knees about it.

    I need to reference the four things which I “know” here and later in my response, so I will re-list them:
    a) My decision to be baptized was in accordance with God’s will for me.
    b) God is real, knows me as an individual, and hears my prayers.
    c) God the Father and God the Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are separate personages.
    d) The Book of Mormon is a book of inspired scripture (which is why I am LDS).

    With (a) I know this because I had an experience in response to prayer when I was desperate to know. I had to know that I would not offend God, whoever God was. The experience was as real as anything tangible or measurable, one that I can look back on and check and see if it still stands. It does.
    With (b) it was again, a response to prayer when there was no one else to reach out to, no one who could help me, but the help came in a way that was palpable. With the help, a feeling a peace and love that I swear you could almost touch it.
    With (c), it is a knowledge that has developed over time. This one, I would simply call a gift. Again, you may not be able to touch this gift or measure its dimensions, but it is there.
    With (d), it comes from reading The Book of Mormon and it is much like what the ad was trying to say. There is literally more light in my life and mind and more love in my heart when I have been reading The Book of Mormon, as well as parts of the Bible. I can tell a difference when I don’t. If there were a way to measure this difference in light, peace, and love, you could measure the difference.

    3) My openness to truth in other sources is not based on “keeping good relationships with folks of different viewpoints.” I believe there is truth in other sources. I seek truth because I want to know truth, it makes my life better. Why wouldn’t I?

    4) True prophets versus false prophets.
    What do you define as prophet? I went to dictionary.com since that was the source you used. The first definition is “a person who speaks for God or a deity, or speaks by divine inspiration.” Not everything that a prophet speaks is the word of God or inspired. The LDS bible dictionary clarifies this about the Hebrew prophets: “The message was usually prefaced with the words “Thus saith Jehovah.” The LDS dictionary also says a prophet taught about “God’s character” and had a “duty to denounce sin.” Notice that my four things I “know by faith” do not include that Joseph Smith or anyone else was or is a prophet. I am willing to accept that they were, but I would not say that I know by faith or any other means. I also do not follow everything said by a prophet by blind faith. In fact, there are things I specifically do not have a testimony or witness of. My faith is not linear and does not just blindly accepting a neat package, it is complex. I am okay with that because I am responsible for what I believe and how I act on those beliefs–no one else, me. I mentioned I have a testimony/faith/knowledge in the Book of Mormon as scripture. Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon. It is perfect truth? Probably not. One of the Book of Mormon prophets acknowledged that, “And now, if I do err, even did they err of old; not that I would excuse myself because of other men, but because of the weakness which is in me, according to the flesh, I would excuse myself.” 1 Nephi 19:6. I have a testimony/faith/knowledge of the nature of God. Joseph Smith saw two personages in his First Vision, the Father and the Son. In these roles, he taught of the character of God. Was he perfect? No. No prophet was. No prophet ever claimed to be. Do I have a testimony of everything he said or even taught? No. I am okay with that. It is complex. It is difficult. But, at least I know who I am and I do not subscribe to something I don’t actually truly believe and have a basis for that belief.

    5) Your point about a systematic way of proving and disproving.
    I don’t need to point out to you that long-accepted scientific truths have been disproved or refined over time and, of course, that is not the point. You started this post discrediting a faith experience, I believe because a person can not touch it or measure it. I responded that some experiences are so powerful that the person knows they will lie to themselves and to God to say that they have not experienced a witness from a heavenly source. To them, it is measurable in the sense that there is a difference between before and after, between the light in their life and mind before and after the experience. It is not quantifiable by our methods, but it is discernible as a difference, as a power, as something as real as anything tangible, if not more so. I will maintain that this is real and it is legitimate, especially when about answers to specific questions or quests. You may maintain that it is not. I don’t think we are going to convince the other in an exchange of comments. I am simply maintaining that you cannot discredit something that you may not have experienced. You can tell me that you love your wife and your children. I can choose to believe you or I can say that because I cannot measure the amount of your love you do not really love them and that you are just a really good faker, maybe so good of a faker that you have convinced yourself, but that your proclaimed love can not be real because I cannot measure it. However, I would choose to take you at your word, that you know what you experience.

    Kate @ BJJ, Law, and Living

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  5. Jbars:

    From the Book of Mormon, Alma 39:6:

    “For behold, if ye deny the Holy Ghost when it once has had place in you, and ye know that ye deny it, behold, this is a sin which is unpardonable; yea, and whosoever murdereth against the light and knowledge of God, it is not easy for him to obtain forgiveness; yea, I say unto you, my son, that it is not easy for him to obtain a forgiveness.”

    It is my understanding that people who meet either of these qualifications are “cast into outer darkness,” denied the opportunity to eternally progress (i.e., literally damned or stopped) or to return to the presence of God. However, again, this is a judgment left to God, who knows a person’s heart. Again, I am not a theologian, though–just a regular person.

    Kate @ BJJ, Law, and Living

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  6. Kate,

    Feel free to call me either Brisancian or Jericho, either one. First name is Matt, which also works. 🙂

    Let me give you a baseline on myself, as that may help… I have been in cult groups in the past. Was raised in one. Was in another as a young adult. I’m out of all that at this point. But the people in those groups – the leaders who wrote the texts and were the spiritual authorities – they are making it up as they go along. Some were nefarious. Others were simply delusional. They weren’t hearing from God, and they did not end well.

    As I look at Mormonism, I see a man like Joseph Smith, and he looks very familiar. Outsider histories and records about Smith are not good. It is not a flattering portrait. I see claims about the BOM, and they also look very familiar.

    The problem is that it doesn’t take truth to convince people. You do not need truth or an actual divine guidance to start a religion. This leads to the issue at the bottom of my questions to you.

    Could you be entirely mistaken? (really)
    Could your felt experiences be leading to non-factual claims about the world?
    How can you tell, objectively, whether the world is, objectively, as you claim it to be?


    You have given four points:

    My decision to be baptized was in accordance with God’s will for me.
    This assumes the point you’re trying to make, it doesn’t support it.

    God is real, knows me as an individual, and hears my prayers.
    This assumes the point you’re trying to make, it doesn’t support it.

    God the Father and God the Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are separate personages.
    This assumes the point you’re trying to make, it doesn’t support it.

    The Book of Mormon is a book of inspired scripture (which is why I am LDS).
    This assumes the point you’re trying to make, it doesn’t support it.

    What I hope you can see is that these points are hermetically sealed within your faith tradition. They constitute a bubble. There is no outside connection here to any source of validation. In other words, these are all assertions of dogma or belief, but there are no corroborated facts here. They are very big claims – claims to know very big things about very eternal questions. But they do not touch earth. And without back-checks, you may be very far off course.

    Perhaps I can illustrate by pointing to an asymmetry… The BOM makes historical claims about what took place in North America with the native peoples, etc., does it not? These are external claims of fact. Where is the corroboration of these events – events which would have left evidence? What non-Mormon professors of history are ardently pursuing and finding strong support for the claimed history? When has the world been shocked to learn of the accuracy of the BOM in its reporting, filling in blanks that we otherwise would not have known about history? Outside the bubble of LDS, this kind of content simply does not seem to be taken seriously. It might well be moving. That doesn’t make it true. Fictional literature is an industry precisely because stories do not have to be true to be deeply moving.

    The asymmetry is that your faith makes external claims, but it does not find external evidence to support them. How do you explain this? (It does rule out, by the way, a retreat to personal experience.)

    From a standpoint of personal experience, how can you demonstrate that LDS has legitimacy where the cults of my own past did not? We walked in the spirit. We had tremendous spiritual lives. We “knew” just as you do. We were also certain that you were going to hell. 🙂 Glad to say that’s not true. But in the same way, there are many religious folks in the world that would like to see both you and me quite dead and quite damned… because they “know”.

    So a challenge… try touching earth, outside the walls of LDS, and see what you come up with. Read outsiders about your faith and about Joseph Smith. Consider seriously whether you really “know” what you propose to know without evidence.

    “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.” ~ Christopher Hitchens

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  7. It’s a busy season, so sorry for not following up on any replies to this, and in any event the LDS church’s web PR department probably has this covered already, or it will soon.

    1. You’re talking about blind faith – the kind that acts as if rationality/critical thought plays zero role in questions of faith. True for many people, unfortunately, but a bit of a straw-man when talking about faith generally.

    2. There are plenty of Christians who don’t fit into this category, and who can give coherent, logical accounts for those aspects of their faith that lend themselves to such an account, but yes, these don’t really fall into the easy-to-criticize category of people normally called “fundamentalist” who make all kinds of empirical/factual/historical claims completely in conflict with evidence.

    And I will say that, if there’s any religion that avoids simplistic sentimentalism and has a robust set of “answers” to rational criticism, it’s Christianity (the Former Day Saints variety); acknowledging how broad of a brush that is. Christianity is the only faith whose best apologists don’t cause me to roll my eyes.

    3. There is a point at which the skeptic acting as if “faith” or “feeling” or “experience” are inferior ways to support a position on theological/metaphysical questions has to accept the answer to the following question: “What’s your alternative?”

    Answer: there isn’t one. We’re human, finite, limited, asking 4D questions with 3D tools.

    “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”

    It’s easy to apply rationalism to questions like “how old is the earth?” or “did X community ever exist?” and if the end-result of doing so (along with the conclusion that interpreting the bible, particularly the OT, isn’t nearly as straightforward as originally thought) leads a person to completely abandon all belief in their religion, that’s unfortunate. I guess I have the benefit of not coming from a history that lends itself to a crystal, easily torn-down foundation of empirical claims. Thank goodness for that.

    I like to say I believe in “mere Christianity.” There is a God. He gave us a Son. That Son was Jesus, who died for us and was resurrected – and I think the rational arguments for belief in this are quite good. And we’ve got these texts – incredibly complicated, sometimes weird, texts attached to Jesus to help guide us. There is truth in them. But man, figuring out what that truth is gets complicated. God obviously wanted it that way. How we deal with complexity and mystery says a lot about who we are.

    And we’ve also got a ton of traditions, theologies, cultures, etc. that try to grapple with that complexity. They’re important, but still 3D dealing with 4D. The music in some of those traditions is also a little lame at times, as are the people, but they’re still important – traditions carry wisdom (truths) about life that withstood the test of time; which is a different way of saying they’ve been “tested,” unlike the ways of life many moderns suggest we all adopt.

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    • Hi Jose,

      I’d like to send up two bow-shots, then arc them back and tie them together, before posing what I hope to be a straightforward question that may illustrate my case…

      Bowshot 1…

      I’m not really talking about blind faith any more than anyone else. I’m talking about the sort of faith that people like me and my peers from multiple denominations, theological and charismatic alike, have shared between one another for the past 35 years or so. I was a very thoughtful Christian with a fairly nuanced viewpoint on the intersections of science/faith, of faith/life, of praxis/theology, etc. I believed deeply and studied mightily. CS Lewis was one of my heroes, as were Chesterton, Calvin, Luther, Augustine, etc. I’m not talking about a straw man, but about the sort of faith that folks like you and I have. This thoughtful/nuanced belief was expressed by my interlocutor Kate, as well, when she remarked: “My faith is not linear and does not just blindly accepting a neat package, it is complex.” I’m working from that assumption, but to foreshadow the tie-together that will come later, there is a chimera at the bottom of this self-view.

      As I’ve talked about this elsewhere, the notion we often have is that there is a Kierkegaardian leap of faith that goes beyond – but is congruent with – the trajectory of the evidence. That is, the evidence points to the Christian conclusion, but cannot take us the whole way. We have to make the final leap, but a justifiable one. Being an engineer, I always picture a set of data points all trending one direction, tracing the trend through them, and making the leap beyond them to the final conclusion, a reasoned extrapolation. Another mental picture people seem to favor is a connecting of the dots. We see the dots, the image is apparent, and we conclude that faith is consistent with and the best conclusion from the facts and testimony we have received. Our own experiences validate the conclusion, and we insist that this inner validation certainly counts as well – the inner testimony of God’s spirit. Faith, thusly, is based upon a relationship with God, the witness of the Spirit, the testimony of the faithful that came before us, the evident facts from history and the creation around us, etc. Far from blind.

      OK, that’s all background to the overall point.

      The Mormons see their belief in Joseph Smith and the BOM as entirely rational given the background of the facts and their personal experiences. So do the Muslims regarding Mohammed and the Koran. Entirely rational given the background of the facts and their personal experiences.

      Here is the collapse: those facts aren’t really there. They aren’t there for the Muslim. They aren’t there for the Mormon. They aren’t there for the Christian. We believe they are facts, or data points, on a very tricky sort of faith, but we don’t realize it. We don’t realize that we have to give some very unwarranted benefit of the doubt to the set of “facts” – the same facts that we feel make our faith “reasonable”, as William Lane Craig would say. We credit things as fact that nobody outside our faith tradition credits as fact. Same with the Muslim. Same with the Mormon. This, at bottom, is precisely why people from all three traditions believe that their position is entirely consistent with a rational mind. The “blind faith” for the thoughtful believer has been unknowingly moved back a step… its hidden in the fact set that we accept. But we have broken it up into little pieces and scattered it about.

      To give one practical example, William Lane Craig constructs his arguments for the Resurrection on such facts. More to the point, he willfully neglects other facts that are pertinent. NT Wright does something very similar in his massive set of tomes.

      If we leave out half the dots, and inject another half that nobody outside our faith tradition nods to as fact, how surprising is it that we wind up connecting the dots into our own picture? How surprising is it that our picture seems very reasonable to us, while the Muslim’s picture seems equally reasonable to them?

      There remain two fundamental approaches to fact sets. The fundamentalist has their literalist views, and they reject any facts that disagree. Evolution versus creationism is one example. The fundamentalist takes a simplistic track of rejecting one half as invalid and keeping the half they like.

      The more nuanced and liberal believer – guys like Lewis and Collins – accept both sets of facts and insist that they comport with one another. No problem. You simply have to understand the whole. Faith need not be blind nor ignorant.

      In both tracks, the same problem persists: acceptance of facts that are by no means recognized as such by anyone outside our faith traditions. Excessive credit continues to be rendered to sketchy testimony. Historical veracity is assumed for texts even where evidence points clearly the other way. Authorship continues to be assumed where there at bottom such claims are without any support. And above all, divine sourcing of texts is assumed without any compelling evidence.

      The blind faith is still there, whether it happens at the “whole enchilada” level or distributed throughout in a lot of little acceptances.

      Bowshot 2…

      None of the above really matters in the end. I have had countless discussions over the last six months with a range of believers. Some heady and learned. Some of far simpler faith. If the conversation goes long enough, two things always happen.

      1. The discussion of our assumed facts makes it all too clear that we are accepting such points without good support, as an unacknowledged blind faith layer.

      2. My interlocutors retreat from such discussion and insist upon the validation and legitimacy of their own faith experiences, the last resort and inner keep of their belief castle.

      And that is the bottom line point of the Mormon ad. At bottom, when all is said and done, the facts and external evidences fail us, the problems are not resolvable, and we default to the notion – unproven in any way – that our subjective experiences count. That they count enough to make up the deficit. But they don’t.

      Tying Together…

      To my interlocutor, I posed a very simple question, which should be answerable by someone with a nuanced faith that is reasonable based on our reality: how does she reconcile the problems of external claims and external evidence facing Mormonism? The response? Wind whistling across the vast empty plain.

      This continues to happen, over and again. There is a great deal of talk about a nuanced and reasonable faith, not blind, consistent with reality, etc. But this is how those contentions usually end. Disengagement, retreat, affirmation of viewpoint.

      I can’t help that. Its a pattern. And its because what we believe by faith simply isn’t real knowledge that is verifiable in any sense. Our faith-path to acquiring this knowledge is faulty: it leads to convulsively contradictory conclusions… Islam, Mormonism, Christianity, Hinduism, New Age Spirituality, etc. They all depend upon either (1) a big-enchilada blind faith claim or (2) a distributed an invisible faith layer regarding what will be considered as facts.

      Simple Questions…

      What is the basis for claiming that people are fallen from a previously non-sinful condition, when all evidence is that we have never been otherwise?

      What is the basis for claiming that Genesis was written by a prophet? Was written by Moses?

      How do you reconcile the failure of the Flood account to find external support from the geologic record?

      How do you reconcile the failure of the Exodus account to find external support from the historical and archaeological records?

      If you will accept that the documents of the Bible contain imperfections owing to their cultural context, on what basis do you reject the claims of other imperfect “sacred scriptures” from different faith traditions?

      What is the basis for claiming eyewitness equivalence for the anonymously-written and un-pedigreed gospels?

      What is the basis for accepting Christian eyewitness accounts as substantive while dismissing Muslim and Mormon eyewitness equivalents?

      How do you reconcile the Christian assertion of body-soul dualism with the continually growing evidence that the mind is simply an emergent phenomenon of the brain?

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  8. Hey,

    Finally got some time to circle back around on this.

    Recommended reading: “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” by Richard Bauckham – Will it bring you back to Christianity? Absolutely not. But it supports the notion that belief in the credibility of the eyewitness accounts of the resurrected Jesus is hardly “blind” (not even in the “piece of an enchilada” sense). It is entirely reasonable.

    I’m sure after reading it (or before) you’ll find a dozen atheist blogs arguing against his positions; stating why this argument or that one doesn’t “convince” them, but that is entirely beside the point. For non-blind faith, the rational account one gives need not be air-tight, slam-dunk, turn-off-the-lights-we’re-done-here solid. Because of the nature of the subject matter, that level of incontrovertibility is beyond the reach of any mortal, faithful or skeptic.

    Christianity can give credible, rational arguments for belief in its one foundational fact: the resurrection. Those arguments, unfortunately, cannot fit into a blog’s comment box, but they pass my laugh test. Other religions: Islam, Mormonism (especially), etc., from what I have read, do not.

    Does one still need fuzzy, non-rational subjective experience to get from the arguments to the faith? Absolutely. One also needs them to get to skepticism; if we’re honest. But again I ask: on the subject of the origin of existence itself – that by all accounts exceeds the limits of humanity’s greatest intellectual abilities, and always will, what more do you expect?

    Some people choose to stay within the confines of logical, rational formulae; acting as if anything outside of what can be explained logically must fall alongside unicorns and fairies. I refuse to accept that simply because a subject goes beyond the intellectual capacity evolved from a primordial goo, I don’t have a right to stake a claim in it. Such a position is the height of intellectual hubris. My gut tells me that there’s something and someone bigger, much bigger, than what’s in our best physics textbooks. And my mind, influenced by my gut (show me one that isn’t) tells me that this someone sent Jesus.

    B. As for your long list asking for explanations and reconciliations of various issues with the Bible, I’ll simply point to what I said in my first comment. I don’t belong to any tradition or lineage that tries to offer up an answer to every historical or philosophical conundrum in the Bible. Life is too short, and the issue is too big.

    I believe that Jesus was the son of God, and that He was resurrected. And the Bible’s importance and value derives from its connection to Him. I believe that God and the origin of existence is a subject infinitely beyond human understanding. The fact that we can each, if we wanted to take the time (I don’t), create a list miles long of questions, confusions, conflicting pieces of information in the texts that try to explain Him is only evidence of that. “It’s Complicated” may not be a satisfying answer to a naturalist wanting air-tight arguments, but on this subject, he’s the one looking for unicorns.

    Happy New Year. 🙂
    J

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    • Jose,

      My policy on recommended reading – given the reams I’ve read at other’s bidding – has shifted to a “one of mine for one of yours” basis. So, willing to trade? And before staking this particular book, I would ask how much content is there that is not found in Habbermas, Wright, Stroebel, and W.L. Craig.

      However, the point I raised before in the blog and in our exchanges, is being stepped around. The point of my Thesis page was to make the case that this duck is dead long before arrival at the 1st century and the crucifixion. The question of the Fall simply is not ancillary. No protestations about our weakly attested Resurrection make the Fall real or the crisis real. So until/if somebody can vindicate the foundation, dreams of a majestic tower remain chimeric.

      I have not found anybody from the Christian side, from our pastor on down, who is willing to look this in the eye and give a straight answer. Ctrl-Alt-Del-Resurrection simply doesn’t escape the deadfall of the OT sinkhole. And if I’m wrong, please, by all means, advise as to where…

      Cheers,
      Matt

      Like

  9. Hello again,

    Your thesis was TLDR, particularly for someone who only occasionally finds time to read up on christian or skeptic apologetics – I had more time in law school. And thankfully I’m not running a public blog making arguments whose credibility rest on my honest attempt at being familiar with all the counterpoints – happy to add whatever recommendations you have to my reading list, but it’ll be a while before I get to them.

    As for this foundational crisis you speak of, I can’t address it without a bulletpoint version of your thesis. And I understand if one can’t be done. I know it’s a complicated subject.

    That being said, here’s my core point: if Jesus in fact was resurrected, whatever philosophical, logical, or whatever “condundra” you have with Christian theology are, frankly, irrelevant – full stop. That you struggle to reconcile this claim or that with other scientific or philosophical positions speaks only to the limited bandwidth of human reason, not to the validity of Christianity. The foundation of the Christian religion is not in fuzzy emotions or the logical coherence of its theology, but in a historical event: the resurrection; that it occurred, that there were many eyewitnesses to it, and that many of those eyewitnesses died attesting to it.

    From my own reading and experience, no other religion comes even close to substantiating its core historical foundation the way Christianity does. That such substantiation isn’t “enough” for some people isn’t earth-shattering in the slightest. It leaves enough room for people to push their mind in the direction of what they, based on their life experiences, preferences, disappointments, and gut feelings, want to believe or disbelieve. God intended it that way.

    Cheers,
    Jose

    Like

    • Jose,

      Well, I have to chuckle a bit. “TLDR” was a new one to me, but based on a web search it means “too long, didn’t read.” I’ll no doubt use that again in the future.

      In the mean time, I also chuckle because that seems to be too much of an investment, but you’re saying that while telling me what books I should read. I can’t help but notice an asymmetry, and I hope that you see your way clear to read it at some point.

      I’d like to make a couple brief comments, but they’ll have to be brief. I already wrote the long version, and I can’t see a reason to repeat all of it. First, I’ll gently remind that I’ve been a resurrection-believing Christian for 35 years. I have no intrinsic problem with the proposition, that possibility of miracle, the power of a creator-God to enact such a thing, etc. I’m going to have to shrug at the claims being reiterated here: they are my own claims, which I made all my life. New data has entered the picture, and this has been the point of the blog and the culminating Thesis page. The propositions you’re putting forward seem based on the exact same data set from which I also made the same claims. You’re not actually contending with this, but rather batting from inside the bubble of a limited data set.

      Second, I propose this question: assuming that I simply grant the resurrection of Jesus took place, how does that make any difference with regard to the misdeeds of other people? What does the resurrection mean, and why?

      The proposition of salvation through the resurrection comes in two parts.

      1. The resurrection happened.
      2. The resurrection had meaning/effect.

      So lets assume the first has been proven (simply for the sake of discussion). I’m inquiring about the second.

      What does it mean? Maybe it means nothing. It meant nothing when Lazarus was raised. Or Jairus’ daughter. Or when the dead emptied their tombs in Jerusalem. Or when such things happened in the Old Testament. (http://www.pathlightspress.com/resurrection.html) None of these resurrections meant anything regarding the misdeeds of others. None has the slightest salvific dimension. Why would the resurrection of Jesus mean anything in terms of salvation?

      To answer this, you will have to explain in terms of a sacrificial system – just as Paul and the gospel writers did. Doing so leans a ladder against the wall of Judaism’s worldview, sacrificial assumptions, blood equivalencies, etc. Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t really mean anything unless the shedding of blood somehow does something. It doesn’t mean anything unless the Jews were God’s chosen people. Jesus as the Passover lamb doesn’t mean anything if there never was a first Passover under Moses. And redemption from our fallen state doesn’t mean anything unless we’re in a fallen state.
      To be blunt, if the Jews weren’t correct in their claims before Jesus, then the *meaning* of resurrection and the *concept* of redemption are simply vacuous – as vacuous as with all the other purported resurrections in all the faiths in all of history.

      And those events: Exodus, Passover, election of Israel, the Fall – they aren’t historically real. The Jewish religious texts are as demonstrably false and fraudulent as any others. Worse, we inherit the New Testament texts from the same culture that has such a demonstrable tendency for Tall Tale Telling. There appears to be no reason to suppose their accuracy improved in the first century, and we have many evidences to show that it remained quite poor. Poor and prone to rather wild exaggeration.

      I suggest reading the Thesis. Our discussion would be helped.

      Like

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