Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Fury, in Retrospect

Sometimes one feels something so powerfully that they simply cannot even communicate it properly. The extremely fortunate among us will feel love in this way, or perhaps the extremely patient. Regardless of what the state of being is, love, anger, happiness, contentedness and so forth, when one really feels it it takes over their entire being, they become elemental and powerful in it and it's on display for all to see.

The religious propaganda that is often heard associated with this is that one should be a christian like they are a football fan. I've never related to this analogy very well, as I have apathy at best toward football and most sports in general, but I do understand. Someone who is genuinely passionate about something does not need to convince others of it, they radiate it and can't help but talk about it when the opportunity presents itself, because they want to share it.

I'm not completely certain if I was ever this type of christian, but I suspect so. I searched the philosophy, I found the truth in it, those things I still hold dear, though not exclusively christian components, such as the golden rule, generosity, passion, justice, and love. When someone's religion or philosophy or passion becomes so elemental, you can just tell. A friend once told the administration of my college, who weren't sure I was a christian at all due to questioning scripture's absolute inerrancy and primary source of truth, that I was what all christians should aspire to be. I never saw myself that way, but I do believe this means I had a true faith, one that was part of me. I never evangelized anyone, except for one regretful incident on my high school missions trip that I will never feel good about, I just believed, and I was what that belief made me.

I have problems even stating what I want to do with my life now because my career goals were defined solely in christian terms before about a year ago. I am fortunate I didn't go into ministry and establish myself before losing my religion, as the stories I've read of losing the core of one's being and the inspiration for one's career, and having to maintain appearances to support a family are horrifyingly close to home. The organizations I've found that support ex-pastors and ex-ministry leaders are some of the most beautiful organizations I've seen. The apostate need support, more than just monetarily, but not having to worry as much about taking care of their families when they're consumed by such a crisis is beautiful.

I grew up being taught to question the world, being taught apologetics and critical thought regarding all things secular, especially atheism. However, I was a defective student. I began to turn those questions on the beliefs I was told never to question, much to the horror of the teachers. Where had I gone wrong? I was going to lose my faith! I denied this, because my faith was ultimately important to me, and I absolutely believed it to be true. What is the harm in seeking the truth, I asked, if we really do believe the truth? How am I going to be mislead by the very skills I've learned? If christianity is true, it has nothing to worry about. If it is not true, then I will leave, regardless of the personal cost. This is not just an intellectual statement for me, it is a way of living. I was taught that Jesus IS the truth, and so to seek truth is to seek Jesus. All truth is god's truth.

In retrospect, I understand why the conservatives that looked at me with so much skepticism and even condemnation felt how they did. When you go out into "the world," your faith is challenged. When you leave "the bubble," you begin to have to deal with things you were never taught to deal with before. I was prepared for this, or so I thought.

You see, when I detached myself from my faith and truly used my critical thinking skills to look at it, I realized that the evidence is insufficient, and faith is absolutely required. You must assert on bad evidence, because that's the only type of evidence you are going to get. "Hold onto those experiences with god, hold onto this book and how you've been taught to interpret it, or you will lose your faith!" I saw that as propaganda, and I still see it as propaganda that is successfully taught to people. I feel fortunate that a friend threw my beliefs into chaos 10 years ago, as it was that process that really made me test what I'd grown up being taught.

When I lost my faith, when I truly stopped believing, I was consumed with anger. I was dating a very angry individual at the time as well, but she's not the reason I was as angry as I was, and claiming atheism did not make me angry. You see, I was taught growing up that evolution, at best, was to be treated with extreme skepticism. I was taught that science is the most horribly limited tool ever, because our minds are depraved and broken. I was taught not to trust myself, and the typical social drama of my youth reinforced that when I got a huge culture shock in high school and decided hating myself was the best course of action, because pretty much everyone in my social group, with a few exceptions, thought that I was an idiot, and not worth their time. Women asked me out as a joke, so I must have the horrible sexual motives I was taught growing up, and I should punish myself for ever thinking anyone is attractive. I was taught that the Bible is a defensible book if any book is, when that is not how history works. I was barely taught proper history by a group of people so consumed with nationalistic conservative faith that it's a wonder I ever escaped from the view at all. I was taught that, above all, I must seek out god's will for my life, his perfect plan, his perfect mate that would fix me, his perfect calling that would be the work that I would give my life to. I was taught to coast through life, and that god would do everything for me. As long as I was righteous but humble but faithful but joyous but uncompromising but didn't complain but loving but a thousand other things, god could use me, and it was my sole confidence.

Imagine my surprise when I had a hell of a time of it, when I found that I couldn't just be lazy. You may read this and say "but Christianity doesn't teach this Dan, it teaches us to work hard and seek god!" What does that mean? How does one seek god? Read their bible? Pray? Do evangelism or missions work, convert others to the same views? How does that have anything to do with a faith that is real, that flows through you like your own blood? Must one train themselves to truly believe?

You see, I tried both. I tried the ritual, I tried the conservative christianity, the lack of questioning, the uncompromising stance that is unafraid of criticism. Something in me broke doing that, and it made me immeasurably sad. It doesn't make sense that god would kill so much of the race he created on a regular basis, it doesn't make sense that he would allow guilt to be imputed on all of us for wanting knowledge. It does not make sense that god would be a genocidal (but justified by racial purity. clearly.) maniac in 2/3rd of this book I'm supposed to accept on faith, and then I have to use the other 1/3rd to cherry pick it because jesus. Jesus isn't even original anyway, which is the only reason he resonates so much with people. The Christ figure is iconic, a part of our culture, but that does not make him god.

I tried to really feel my faith, I tried to love god with my heart, soul, strength and mind. I tried speaking in tongues and prophesying, I clawed for something to really make it mine, and I succeeded. I was the unique and special snowflake that would be a legendary christian thinker, respected as a defender of true christianity, a system of my own reckoning, because I was full of faith and love and righteousness and people agreed with me, dammit!

I really believed. I had answers for all of these questions, theories about how god was progressing along with humanity, how jesus was the latest iteration of cultural norms so god could reach the most people in the fullness of time, about how the bible was not really a historical record or scientific book, but only relevant in what it teaches us about god, and about how the trinity is like a person's three components, mere aspects that god had more truly because he's so incomprehensibly huge. Anyone that took me seriously back in the day can tell you, I could discuss this stuff for hours, and if they really knew me, they knew I did it because it was so insanely important to me, because it was me, in a very real sense. I was elementally christian.

In the end, it all turned up empty when I put my ideals to the test. The truth won out when I put it up against the sum total of my faith, the church history, the exploration of all of its' branches, the sum total of my experiences, all of my justifications and philosophy and reasoning and reading and learning, the sum total of all of it. I didn't even leave christianity when it put me through years of systemic emotional abuse, because I believed it was true.

There is a phrase I once heard, that I cannot remember the exact phrasing of. It goes something like this:

If Christianity is not true, then we are miserable above all others, but if it is true, we are happy above all others.

One might recognize this as a reframing or inversion of the infamous Pascal's wager, pointing out the consequences of leaving christianity if it is, in fact, true.

It is a miserable thing to devote one's life to something and then, upon investigating and truly searching, find that you have devoted so much time, so much emotional and mental energy, to absolutely nothing. It is infuriating to think of the possibilities your life may have taken on had you not simply been taught to accept something that placed drastic limitations on your potential by teaching you to look down on science and history and scholarship and philosophy. It is infuriating to realize that you really were in the process of losing your faith by embracing those ideals you truly felt in embracing your faith, to realize you were self defeating your own faith for years, and didn't even realize it. It is ultimately frustrating to have to start over just because you will not make an ultimate decision purely based on consequences or what you want to be true or fear.

Every emotion is immediately converted into an icy, ultimate rage. You live in the frigid torrents of emotion hammered into a singular purpose, your lifeblood solidified in your veins, and you make sure everyone feels your rage just to prove you exist. Your former hope turns to poison in your soul, and you spit it all over everything. You throw around facts and figures and anger and satisfying quotes or images, and you are ready to defend any of it.

Well, what do you think happens? People give you a wide berth, because they don't want to be touched by the toxic bile you're spewing everywhere. You feel ignored, and that makes you even more angry!

Or maybe that's just me.

In retrospect, this type of rage, this brutally powerful anger, is only another method of harming oneself, and all too natural for someone who grew up to hate one's most fundamental urges as a human being, such as curiosity, sexuality, and compassion for its' own sake. It is useless to continue being a vessel of such rage, as it will destroy your health and any chance you have for happiness. It's okay to be angry when someone aggravates you by asserting that this puritanical and toxic morality must be propagated to even more people to stunt their growth and create more converts, but let it go before it chokes your soul and distances you from everyone, before you become a paranoid and delusional individual, and you see demons where none are there. You will end up being the image of what you cannot stand, because you're still tied to it by your own angry soul.

Becoming elementally enraged is ultimately an exercise in fighting oneself. When you run out of enemies to fight, you start beating on yourself, or looking for more outlets to keep it going, so you don't have to face the difficult and messy business of dealing with life.

I don't regret my fury, it was a necessary part of my life for a time. After a season of fury, however, must come acceptance, harmony, and progress, for the sake of one's health and happiness. If you feel like I do, know that you do not have to be remain damaged. You can heal, because you're spectacular, and asking for help does not make you weak. Move forward, accept the losses, even if they still feel unacceptable, and you will be able to become singular and powerful in who you are.


  1. Daniel, I feel for your emotional and spiritual and intellectual struggle. I admit, I've only read this one post of yours, so forgive me for not being fully caught up on your story. But one thing about this post puzzles me. You keep talking about "losing your faith", as if faith is a thing that can be manipulated or set down or given away. I don't think of faith that way. I don't think of knowing God that way, if by "faith" you mean "knowing God."

    Try thinking of it this way: Knowledge comes in many forms. One key form is called propositional knowledge. This is the knowing of facts. It's called propositional knowledge because we can state this knowledge in the form of a proposition. For example: "God exists" is a proposition. It is either true or false. It's a fact that can be known or not known.

    However, when we talk about faith in God, we're not talking about propositional knowledge. We're talking about another kind of knowledge altogether. This kind of knowledge is called "Interpersonal Knowledge." It's the kind of knowledge that pertains to the knowing of a person, not a fact. For example, "I know my Mom." Obviously, knowing your mom is not the same thing as knowing facts about your mom. You can know lots of facts about Abraham Lincoln, but not know Abraham Lincoln. So, interpersonal knowledge is a very different thing. It comes from experiencing an interaction with another consciousness. So, if God is a Person--an actual Being with a consciousness of His own, then we can only get to know Him (or have faith in Him) through interactions with Him as a Being, not as if He is just a fact.

    Maybe this is why all the lessons you learned in church and through reading the Bible, etc., seem so flat now. None of them can account for faith in God. None of them can equal the sum total of Who God is. None of them can provide you with a relationship with a Being, only a set of flat, tasteless, colorless beliefs. What you're missing is really recognizing that knowing God is more than memorizing a list of facts we about Him, just as your mom is more than memorizing a bunch of stuff about her. Knowing God requires recognizing He's a real Being, communicating with Him (reading His love letter to you--the Bible and praying and listening), and letting Him decide in what way He will be involved in your life. It doesn't come from trying to force churchiness into your life as a prop to help you make good choices as you struggle on your own in the world. He has His own ways of doing things and we can't force it anymore than you can force your mom to do what you want. You have to get to know her (and God) for who they are and, partially at least, on their terms.

    1. Hi there S. E. Thomas, how'd you find my blog? Thanks for your comment.

      You'll have to forgive me, as I haven't spoken about the distinctions between types of knowledge in this manner in a while, so I might be a little rusty.

      Firstly, one thing I feel I should clarify is that this post comes in a larger context. I thought what you are pointing out was my problem for a long time as well, and to make a long story very short, I found that the interpersonal experiences I had were either drastically inconsistent and expressions of my own values and feelings, or they were actually propositional or narrative by nature.

      "I know god because I feel these things are true, and they're mine alone, my personal experience with god" seems to be what you're driving for, and I had to dig through a lot of this stuff once I came to compelling scientific and historical evidence that the god I had worshipped had very little to do with the religion of my upbringing, and that, in fact, it is very probably that interpersonal experience was the only avenue I could assert his existence anymore, in contrast with what I had come to learn about reality. Was my perception incorrect, or are the facts I'm learning incorrect? If the propositions I grew up learning about god are wrong, as they seem to be, then what god is it I have been experiencing? In this exploration, I looped around to myself every single time. I was the god I was experiencing, I was talking to myself, had my own values and my own conscience that I interacted with internally. My experiences with god were so inconsistent because I was inconsistent.

      One might imply from this that I never really knew god, I just knew things about him, but I don't really know what that means. You say that "Knowing God requires recognizing He's a real Being, communicating with Him (reading His love letter to you--the Bible and praying and listening), and letting Him decide in what way He will be involved in your life." I count two out of three propositions there, the proposition that god exists, and that the Bible is his communication with humanity. As for the last one, does it not depend on the first few? If you say that one experiences the personality of god through the Bible or through some other experience, what about other religions that experience god through their books and come to drastically different views about his "personality," or even subgroups of christianity that also come to extremely different conclusions about who god is, or the people that read and try to seek him out that do not experience him, or those, like myself, who did experience god, and now do not?

      It's a very complex issue, and I do not think one can take history or proposition out of it, at least not entirely.

  2. I suppose another way to look at the inconsistencies you experience would be no different than any other relationship.

    For instance, my relationship with you is inconsistent in a lot of ways. We go through spurts of talking and laughing and then we won't say anything to each other for a while (man that example is total weak sauce, but I hope you get the spirit behind what I'm trying to communicate).

    Having talked with you and been friends with you for a while I know that your thought processes have been quite extensive if not exhaustive of that which grabs your attention most. So I know that no decision you have made that led to this point has been made lightly, so I'm not saying I agree with Thomas (though kudos for approaching it as an intellectual and not "OMG YOU SHOULD LOVE GOD BECAUSE BIBLE") but it was a thought about the inconsistencies in that relationship between yourself and God that might be a possibility.

    I hope that made sense haha.

  3. Daniel, you said: "I know god because I feel these things are true, and they're mine alone, my personal experience with god" seems to be what you're driving for..."

    Can you substitute the words "my mom" for the word "God" and have it make any sense to you? If not, then, no. That's not what I'm driving for. Neither am I trying to remove all propositional knowledge from the equation. I doubt that's possible. The problem I'm referencing is not that you have propositional knowledge or that you have rejected certain propositional ideas. The problem is that you are approaching God as if He is no more than the sum of a set of propositional beliefs. You mom is more than that. God is more than that.

    I'm also saying that it's absolutely impossible for you to lose your faith in God (again, if faith means knowing God)--just as it is impossible for you to lose your faith in your mom. If you know your mom, you can't stop knowing her. If you know your mom, you're never going to question her existence. You may decide you don't like her or disagree with her. You may even move far away from her and choose to never speak to her again. Fine. But you can't stop believing in her because you've experienced an interaction with her consciousness. So, not only do you know her, but she knows you. And you certainly can't get her to stop knowing you.

    Interpersonal knowledge (IPK) is not devoid of propositional knowledge. Truth still matters--at least in the sense that the experiential knowledge we walk away with should match the world, or the experience itself. But IPK is a dynamic thing because it requires the interaction of two separate, unique consciousnesses to be produced. If you never interacted with God as a Being (not just a belief), then you don't have IPK of Him and you never have. It's impossible.

    However, it may be possible that you did have interpersonal interactions with God at some point that you are, for some reason, denying now. Frankly, it doesn't matter, because you're at a stage where you are questioning the process itself. You’re trying to force your relationship with God (assuming one exists) to match how other people describe their relationship with Him. That’s not going to work anymore than trying to force your relationship with your mom to match your dad’s relationship with her. Your mom is the same person, but you and your dad are completely different people. Different people, different relationship.

    Now, you’re talking about some unspecified scientific and historical evidence (propositional knowledge) that you claim has somehow shows inconsistencies in what you thought you knew about God, correct? Let’s continue thinking about that for a second on the assumption that He does exist, just as your mom exists. If you were to come across some evidence that showed some inconsistencies about your mom. Say, for example, someone claims they saw her running around in San Francisco with an albino Ukrainian—but you know this can’t be true. Do you say, “Well, then I guess my mom doesn’t really exist.” Of course not. Do you fly to San Francisco and search for the albino? No. Do you call all your friends, questioning them and spreading the rumor? No, again. You call up your mom and say, “I just heard a weird story about you. Do you know anything about it?” You go to the source—the person.

    I’m suggesting that we treat God with the same respect—as a Being. And here’s why—because if we don’t treat Him like a Being, we can never get to know Him as a Being. He will only and forever be just an intangible belief. And suddenly all that scientific and historical evidence you are focusing on will be all you have, and you’ll never truly know which part of it is right and which part of it is wrong.

    1. I think it may be beneficial, for you to know where I'm coming from, to check out some of my earlier blog posts. Here are links if you are interested:



      They probably address the psychological, historical, and scientific exploration that lead me to where I am better than I am doing here in these comments.

      To take your analogy of god to my mom a little further, I must point out that one must assume god exists for this analogy to work. There is empirical evidence that my mom exists that everyone agrees on, even if they slander her or say incorrect things about her that I have to get clarified. There is not empirical evidence that god exists, so one must assume he exists.

      Assuming he does, which god am I asking these questions to? If we were to say "which mom?" I would simply say "my mom," and that would make sense. Everyone has a biological mother, though some don't really have a "mom" or a mother figure in their lives, whether because she died or abandoned them or for whatever reason. However, if I answer "which god?" with "my god," that still does not answer the question, since the monotheist purports that there is only one god. It still has to come around to some kind of communal assertion of a supreme being, which you do not deny. So which community has it right? Which sect of christianity, which islamic movement, which spiritualist?

      To give your point the benefit of the doubt, perhaps none of them have it right, but they all know god personally and screw it up by injecting their personality into it. Humans are what clouds this perception of god, not god himself. In that case, why trust my perception that god exists at all? I am curious to know why you think I have not given god that respect as a being, if there is an answer other than assuming his/her existence based on bad evidence.

      A lot of people believe things based on experience. People used to believe that the sun revolved around the earth, until they really analyzed their experience critically. Now, we know that the earth revolves around the sun. This is verifiable fact. If god is truly something that is obvious from nature or existence or the universe, then it should be undeniable. Yet the evidence still is not there for a supreme being's existence.

      Perhaps god does exist, but if he does and, as you say, there is so much more than historical and scientific evidence, then I was presumably created by that god with the tendency to critically think, and so the historical/scientific evidence demands that I think that the religions that assert god's existence get so much wrong that they are untrustworthy. So how does one then define god? Again I ask, which god?

      To answer my own question, I do believe that people make their own god. I believe when people talk about god on a personal level, it is ultimately something that should be respected, because they're showing me who they are. Truly, I think the most honest answer to the question is "my god," and to me, that does not justify belief in a supreme being, but it does justify belief in people. Perhaps, if god does exist, she likes this about me. I hope so.

  4. In the interest of brevity and focus, I will only address a couple of points.

    First, to be clear regarding "which god", I'm just philosophizing based on comments you have made. You are talking about the Christian God, so I've just been responding to you.

    You said: "A lot of people believe things based on experience." This statement is too weak. Everyone's beliefs about anything are based on experience. The entirety of the contents of your mind are experience-based. There's just no other way for information to get in there. Even extreme skeptics concede this.

    You also said: "If god is truly something that is obvious from nature or existence or the universe, then it should be undeniable." This statement is far too strong. Why should it be undeniable? Essentially, you are claiming that if something is real, everyone should know about it. That would require the further belief that people are endowed with exhaustive knowledge about everything.

    You then said, "Yet the evidence still is not there for a supreme being's existence." Again, you know this how? Surely you aren't claiming exhaustive knowledge, right? Isn't it possible that the evidence is there. In fact, it may even be everywhere, but you simply don't recognize it? There is some empirical evidence, at least--the fact that other people are so convinced of God's existence that they would rather die than deny Him. Perhaps there is more, as well, that you're either not seeing or not believing or assigning to something else. Isn't this, at least, possible?

    1. I like the way you think, really I do. I enjoy epistemological speculation based on what one does and does not know, but I think it only goes so far.

      Basically, if my experience and logic only go so far in perceiving reality, if I only know so much, then that demands agnosticism, which has been a good starting point for me. If I must question the science that says god is not necessary (see abiogenesis, evolution, naturalism), then I must also question christian history, the logic of the faithful, the sincerity of the most extreme of the faith. It is only fair, given a christian starting point, to bring one's skepticism to bear on what one believes as well as what one could naturally be skeptical of. I have no idea what your starting point is, and given your evasiveness regarding the question "which god," I suppose it is reasonable to start from the christian perspective.

      So, what is one left with, when people are asking where you'll go when you die, when you are surrounded by a subculture obsessed with conforming you to their twisted morality, when you are forced to be responsive to so many things your head is spinning?

      But I digress. You appear to be an epistemological skeptic. Sure, I can't claim exhaustive knowledge. That's why I'd say there -could- be a god. However, in the context of something like christianity, you can be an epistemological skeptic all you want, but it is not consistent with christian epistemology. The claim is that the bible is truth, that it is true knowledge, a true starting point for wisdom, a refuge from our deceitful hearts or our broken state or however you want to put it. Perhaps tradition or the church can take the place of the bible, but the point still stands.

      There is, of course, the idea that god is in a relationship with us, that he communicates knowledge to us by way of something else, like a personal knowledge of a spiritual connection. Fair enough, but the whole point of this post is that my pursuit of that has been wholly inconsistent and nonsensical. The "fruit" of this relationship has been extremist action and a very bizarre self-deprecating emotional make-up, and I took it all very, very seriously. My contention is not only that christianity makes no historical sense, but that it makes no psychological sense. It is not a way of living, it is a way of dying, a way of being somewhere else entirely than living one's life, and that's ruined a good decade of my life, with no evidence that anything good has come of it. Compound that with no reasonable way of pursuing my former faith that is consistent with any facts, and the constant rejection one must endure to be an intellectual in that faith, and it just makes no sense.

      No one of these factors adds up to my conclusion, but I think they all add together to make a pretty good reason for pursuing something else. Not because of anger, but because it's simply ceased to make sense.

      I pose a counter question to your last paragraph: what is the evidence that I may not be seeing? If I am so vastly ignorant and don't understand god for who he truly is, then lead me back to the light I have strayed away from, please. I have always wanted to know the truth, even if it's unpopular. I'm being very serious in this question, not sarcastic or anything of the sort. What am I ignoring, and how is it justifiable? So far you seem to only be responding to my personal convictions with skepticism, but please, if you have a positive point to make here other than "COULD god exist?" then I would really like to hear it. So far, I think we agree on much, even if we have different presuppositional frameworks.

  5. As you seem interested, I did emphasize in epistemology during grad school where I obtained a master’s degree in philosophy, but I do not consider myself a skeptic. However, I do use skepticism in the same vein as Descartes did—as a tool to test our foundations so that we can be certain that what we claim as knowledge is actually the truth.
    You said, “My contention is not only that christianity makes no historical sense, but that it makes no psychological sense.” Here is where my lack of reading your entire blog comes in to put me at a disadvantage. I don’t know what you mean by “Christianity makes no historical sense.” I do think I understand your second point, though. And, no. You’re right. It wouldn’t make psychological sense unless you actually know God.

    I want to be very clear that I most certainly do not consider you to be “vastly ignorant” just because you don’t claim to know God. Even if you were ignorant or even an complete and utter imbecile, that would not preclude you from knowing God. Because, again, this is a different kind of knowledge we’re talking about—it’s knowing a Person. And even imbeciles can know people. So, no, you are not ignorant. You are not unintelligent. And you are certainly not a lost cause.

    And, for the record, I do agree with you in some areas. If you are in a faith system that makes no sense to you, there is no reason to stay in it. At least, it is certainly reasonable to begin to question it. But, when it comes to Christianity, I believe one has to question it in accordance with its particular claims—not exactly as you would question other faiths. Why? Because Christianity says something far different than other faiths say. The Person of Jesus is radically different from any other historical or religious figure and these differences demand recognition.
    He claimed to himself embody the path between God and man. A relationship with Jesus equals a relationship with God. He claimed to be God. More than this, He claimed that He was the only way to God. That no other gods or beliefs or religions or acts of ‘goodness’ would work to bring man into relationship with God. So, where every other religious faith in existence says, “you have to be ‘good’ (whatever that means) to get to God,’ Jesus said, “Knowing me is knowing God. Loving me is loving God. Putting your trust in Me is putting your trust in God.” Basically, “I’m God. If you want to know God, here I am.” But, of course, this is crazy, right? Unless Jesus can back up His claim, He would go down as just another religious nut. But He didn’t. Why? Because He allowed Himself to be crucified (the most imaginatively cruel way to die at that time), and then He refused to stay dead. It’s that last part that got everyone’s attention. Only then did people begin to think that maybe, if this crazy man who claimed to be God actually managed to overcome death, then maybe there’s hope for the rest of us.

    You see, you don’t find God by looking for God. You find God by recognizing that Jesus actually was Who He said He was. You find God when you find out that Jesus proved His identity by overcoming death. You find God when you find that you can’t deny these truths.

    Then, of course, even if you believe all of this you still have to decide if you want to have anything to do with Him. After all, you aren’t friends with everyone you know. You may choose to just go it on your own and see how it works out. But, if you do believe these things and you do want to have a dynamic relationship with Jesus Himself, that requires a whole new way of looking at existence, at life, and at relationship. And, while I can’t give you a relationship with God, I can help you adjust your eyes so that you’re more likely to see Him—if that’s what you want.

    1. Interesting. I question the notion that your claim is a personal claim at all. This is an argument I have heard a lot, quite along the lines of the standard "Liar, Lunatic, Lord" argument. If Jesus is who he says he is, then we can know god through him. The thing is, your contention depends on the truth of the resurrection, which is a historical claim, and a proposition.

      I get the rest of it, that Jesus claims to be god, that to know Jesus is to know god, but if the path to doing so is recognizing the resurrection, if that is the evidence that establishes trust in the relationship, just like relationships and trust with people are established through acts that show who they are, then one must accept the historical reliability of the bible, and of certain other dubious historical sources that report the miracle you are suggesting happened.

      I also question the contention that Jesus is different from every other religious figure. Firstly, the claim of the resurrection has been used by multiple figures throughout history. There is a reason the "resurrection of the dead" is something the Jews hotly debated, though Jesus did kind of take their claims and make them mean something all his own...unless you take into account the other messiahs of the time. From what I've seen, jesus made claims that the jews were very familiar with because of the popularity of the legend.

      However, even if Christianity is entirely unique (though I must ask which Christianity, as history is inevitably interpreted through which sect one is part of), then I would say that Buddhism is entirely unique as well. It even seems that some of what you've said is in line with Buddhism a little bit, in tone of course. But I digress.

      I suppose the biggest problem I have with this line of reasoning is the implication that to find a problem with the reasoning you've presented, one must not know god. This is a big reason I've had the problem I've had with christianity, and why I say it makes no psychological sense. You see, I've had leaders tell me I don't know god because I questioned the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, I've had people say I don't know god for many years for any number of reasons, and for most of my adult life, people have been hoping I will convert to christianity, when I took it so entirely seriously that I engaged every evidence I could find for it, I engaged every skepticism of it, and I made personal sacrifices based on what I felt god wanted me to do. Were I to accept what you are saying, I either never knew god, which seems laughably absurd to me unless he does not actually exist, or I did know god, and now I'm rejecting him for some emotional reason that is inconsistent with the reality I've experienced until now, which is simply not the case.

      You see, this post may be about the emotions I've gone through in leaving Christianity, but if that were sufficient reason for leaving, I would have done so long before now, when I was in the midst of rejection, when I was pissed off at every person around me and all I kept seeing was hypocrisy and absurdity, when nearly every person proclaimed to be an authority was a failure to me, gave up on me, didn't have any interest in talking to me unless they could establish I was being horrible by asking questions, etc. That's not enough though, because they're not god, they're not the cornerstone of truth. And I have a problem with authority, obviously.

      I wrestled with god in my own way, I came to know god in my own way, and I'd still say I know "god" in the same way I always have. I also say he does not exist, but the reason I say that is because scientifically, there is zero evidence for god and historically, christianity is just another religion with some uniquely interesting aspects to it that I respect, but that does not mean I agree. To me, when you speak of adjusting my eyes, that sounds like indoctrination, and that's something I cannot accept.

    2. I respect your views, but I do not agree, especially with the assertion that knowing god is the only way to see what you are showing me.

  6. You sound very frustrated. Sounds like you've been through a lot. First of all, I don't know in precisely what manner you were made to feel inferior for questioning the verifiability of what you were being taught. Here's something I've learned about certain Christians--we often feel it is our responsibility to fix other people. But, when that proves difficult or impossible, we get upset. Now, to be fair, this obsession with fixing the world usually comes from a desire to see others experience the joy we've found and avoid suffering. So, that's good. But, this idea is also fueled by a misunderstanding of our role. People can't fix one another. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. Our job is to love, to speak the truth, and to serve. The "fixing" (if fixing is even needed) is between God and the individual. So, let me be clear that I'm not trying to fix you and I'm certainly not indoctrinating you. This is just a friendly debate, as far as I'm concerned. When I say "adjust your eyes" I mean point out certain truths you may be missing and challenge your logic. I don't have some nefarious brain-washing scheme up my sleeve, nor do I feel responsible for your beliefs.

    I've done my fair share of questioning as well. Graduate school in philosophy at a secular university will do that to a person. It ended up being very good for me, although I did see other people struggle with their faith.

    I think that all goes back to the difference between a faith based on propositional knowledge ("I know there is a God.") vs. interpersonal knowledge ("I know God.") And, I think you may still have some confusion about that, given your statement "I'd still say I know "god" in the same way I always have. I also say he does not exist...", which I find baffling, and your first paragraph about the resurrection being a proposition.

    It's true that prop. kn. and IPK are different kinds of knowledge, but that doesn't mean they are mutually exclusive. In fact, in my research, I discovered that propositional knowledge is a pre-condition for IPK. It's necessary. IPK can't be produced without it. For example, you have to know (prop. kn.) that the other person is actually a person before you can begin to produce IPK of them. So, if you dream up an imaginary friend, that's not IPK.

    All this to say that certain facts (prop. kn.) you learn about God, though they can't substitute for IPK of Him, do have the capacity to aid your IPK development and are, in fact, necessary. My mention of the resurrection and other certain evidences are used to establish one fact: that God is a Person. He is a Being that is capable of being known (IPK) and knowing us.

    1. You have an impressively empathetic tone for someone with a philosophy degree. For what it's worth, I believe I would have agreed with the notion that it is not the christian's job to fix people before my deconversion, and I think that's important.

      What you must understand is that when I speak about god now, I do so metaphorically only. I find it really helps me understand what people mean when they say some things are not of god or that god does or does not like something. I can see how that would be baffling, so I would suggest that we move on from it, as it is a peripheral point at best at this point.

      We appear to agree that, at least, statements about god are necessarily propositional/historical to start with. I understand the notion that interacting with god is interpersonal by its' very nature. Your argument shows a lot of polish, but it seems somewhat different from the initial assertion that knowing God is not propositional knowledge. I get that you're making a very nuanced argument though, so fair enough.

  7. Now, you do have a point, certainly, that all of this depends on the variability of certain historical claims. Granted. We can certainly talk about particulars there, but let me point out a few key areas that need attention:

    1. Whether or not the manuscripts of the Bible are as old as they are believed to be.

    2. Whether or not the Biblical manuscripts are internally consistent (despite there being 66 separate books, written by approx. 44 authors, over a span of about 2,000 years.)

    3. Whether or not there is evidence within them that a knowledge is at work that supersedes human ability. For example, the fact that particular established facts about Jesus were prophesied far earlier than His life in such a way as to be unable to be duplicated or faked. (There were over 300 of these.)

    4. Whether or not it is reasonable to believe that all this is some grand conspiracy theory. (Is it even possible? What kind of communicative powers would it require? How many people being "in on it" would it require? Is there evidence to support such a view? Etc.)

    Of course, there are more things worthy of investigation, but these are a good starting point if you're concerned about historical accuracy. And, instead of vaguely complaining about historical "dubiousness," perhaps it's better to pick out one of the above things (because it would only really take one if you're right) and prove it wrong.

    I suppose, in your searching, you may have already hit on one fact that is in question regarding the historical reliability of the resurrection that you feel justifies your rejection of Jesus as any kind of divine figure. If so, what is it?

    Christianity is unique--not only because of the fact of the resurrection--but because of how it solves the problem of people's flaws. Every other faith puts the burden of attaining perfection (or, at best, divine worthiness) on the shoulders of mankind. Christ put it on Himself. That's the difference that matters. Buddhism doesn't offer it, Mormonism doesn't offer it, Islam doesn't offer it. No one does. Only Jesus.

    1. Treating the Bible as a historical document comes with its' own share of problems, in my estimation. I must admit that history has not been a huge focus of mine, but I have studied enough of church history to be very skeptical of the claims presented to me.

      So, to move on to some specifics, the external evidence for a lot of events in the old testament are sketchy or nonexistent. The best examples of this that I can think of are the global flood that there is absolutely no evidence for, and the exodus of Israel from Egypt, which is not found in any historical source other than the original Jewish scriptures. Now one could say that the Bible has superior knowledge, and we simply haven't found the evidence that must be there for events, but I think that's working a little bit backwards.

      As for internal consistency, even the gospels themselves suffer from many apparent contradictions between their accounts, with the synoptics being the most guilty of this when compared with John. Now I understand hermeneutics and how to interpret by genre, so I get that we can debate this until we're blue in the face. The only other point I would make here is that the Bible was engineered by the church, put together by the standard of the holy spirit, or what they estimated to be the books that are the most consistent and correct accounts of the life of jesus and the history of their god, etc. In other words, to accept the bible, one must accept the authority of the church, as begun by the original apostles and legalized by the roman emperor constantine, legalizing church councils so the church could come to agreement about things like the trinity and the bible (and excommunicate a lot of people in the process as heretics). One can assert that this is god preserving the church and the scriptures, or one can assert that this religion simply won out in power for enough time to where it still exists today. But I digress.

      I think your point 4 is the most interesting one. You'll have to forgive me, as I don't feel like rereading all of my comments, but I don't believe I meant to assert that christianity is a grand conspiracy theory, only that it is a standard monotheistic religion. When one starts from dogmatic claims, such as there is a god and jesus is that god, or there is one god and muhammad is his prophet, or any other such starting point, one is starting from presuppositions that shape one's thinking. This is not nefarious or conspiratorial, it is standard thinking for religious movements. I question the resurrection because I find the corroboration with other historical sources to be lacking, and because it is nonsensical. That is, people do not die and then come back to life, so it must be proven that someone did beyond any doubt for it to be accepted. I don't believe the bible does the job, and I also find it very possible that many other things happened, other than the death and resurrection of the early jewish rabbi in question. This being your primary point, I am sure you have some sources we can talk about here.

      Of the religions we've mentioned, I actually find buddhism to be the most unique, because it is nontheistic and it is much more of an eastern philosophy than a religion. Sure, christianity is unique in some ways, but so is islam, and so is mormonism and hinduism and such. You make christianity sound appealing here, but in my experience and in my reading of christian history, there is just as much shame-based harassment, division, and authoritarian aggression as in other religions. I question the doctrine of divine worthiness coming from a single authority in light of the actions of the two millennia coming after such a claim.

  8. You said, "Treating the Bible as a historical document comes with its' own share of problems..." First of all, the Bible is a collection of 66 ancient texts--not a single document. And even atheistic historians, archeologists, and anthropologists agree that certain of these books are the most reliable historical sources in existence for the time periods they cover--partly due to the fact that these documents survived the centuries intact when few others did. Trust me, I've looked. So, one should treat them like a historical documents precisely because that is what they are.

    You also said, "...external evidence for a lot of events in the old testament are sketchy or nonexistent." "A lot" is a very relative term, but if you are referring to Old Testament cities, kings, major historical events, descriptions of the landscape--nearly all of this has been verified by archeological research, if not by extra-biblical texts as well. Biblical archeology is one of my areas of particular interest, which I have studied extensively. So, again, I think you are vastly downplaying the historical credibility of these texts.

    There is vast evidence for the flood (it's part of the mythology for nearly every ancient culture to have ever existed--most widely written about event ever by early man) and there is archeological/anthropological evidence (perhaps not written, but I would challenge that) for an Israeli presence in Egypt.

    You said, "...the Bible was engineered by the church..." and, "to accept the bible, one must accept the authority of the church, as begun by the original apostles and legalized by the roman emperor constantine." OK. But how does this in any way discredit the reliability of the testimonies?

    Modern historians require three primary sources in order to confirm the details of any past event. They use things like newspapers, letters, scientific evidence, eye-witness accounts, etc. The closer to the event, the more reliable the source, and eye-witness accounts are the best of all. When it comes to Jesus's resurrection, the Bible provides us with not 3, but 4 eye-witness accounts written by people who were actually there. But, that's not all. We also have original manuscripts preserved in their entirety that can be scientifically verified as authentic. We have later recorded history (non-biblical) that tells us how those who believed that a man came back from the dead, which clearly, as you said yourself, "people do not die and come back to life," willingly faced torturous deaths still proclaiming this truth. We have conspiracies brewing among Christ's enemies to squelch the truth of the resurrection because they found it politically threatening.

    I realize it's difficult to believe someone could die and come back to life. But, do you think it was any easier for the folks living 2000 years ago to believe it than it is for you? No. They believed (and were martyred for this belief) because they were completely, 100% convinced. They believed because there was absolutely no way for them to deny it. They believed because they saw it with their own eyes, they lived it, they suffered for it. Basically, they couldn't "lose their faith" because their faith was knowing a Person--the Person of Jesus Christ. And, once you know Jesus, you can't stop knowing Him.

    1. Very well, as I do not wish to get into a historical sourcing debate on my blog right now, let's assume that everything that happened in the Bible, other than the resurrection, has correlating sources. I still very much doubt the global flood, as there is no actual scientific evidence for it, though I'm sure there was a large ancient flood of some sort. Regardless, I understand what you are saying about correlating accounts in the gospels, though in my study of them, I would hardly call them eye-witness accounts due to when they were written (decades after the fact) and how many other gospels there were at the time. One still must trust the authority of the church in choosing the four gospels you are referencing as the correct picture of Jesus, hundreds of years later, and rejecting gospels like Thomas and many others.

      Regardless of all of this...does this assumed historical correlation mean God exists? Do the chosen gospels do the job of proving that Jesus is God, the resurrected savior? Because people were willing to die for their belief, whether it was in a person or a way of life or whatever it was, does that automatically make it true? I understand they were 100% convinced, but they are by no means the only people that have ever been so convinced of their beliefs that they would die for them. It's not that I'm even calling the gospel writers liars, I'm just not convinced that they are correct, given the way the bible was compiled and given the prevalence of supernatural beliefs at the time. Sure, christianity survived when a lot of other religions didn't. Does that make it true? Not necessarily.

      It is not that it is difficult to believe that someone could die and come back to life, I did that for years. It is that after interacting with the bible and church history, I don't see proof that it happened, only that it is a core doctrine of Christianity and heavily sourced within its' own documents. The only way anyone has ever been able to get away from my charge of Begging the Question on this is by referencing the authority of the apostles/the church. Fine, but I don't accept that authority, and without it, I don't see conclusive evidence for the religious claims.

      Here's my wild thought for the day: suppose a jewish rabbi existed named Jesus, and suppose he did resurrect from the dead. How did it happen? What evidence is there that he is god just because he resurrected from the dead, other than the way ancient religion works? Sure, it'd be something worth studying if the resurrection could be completely proven, and I'm willing to accept that crazy things like that could or have happened. But the theories around it are wide and varied, and any number of things could have happened. He may not have actually died, someone could have looked just like jesus and claimed to be the risen savior after the original body was stolen, some advanced alien technology could have revived him, god could have raised him but he is not actually god, he could've risen because he is god, or any number of other things I can't think of could have happened. I do assert that it was easier for people two millenia ago to believe than it was for me, but not that it was easy, and I doubt the assertion that they were 100% convinced for legitimate reasons. However, I'm not saying they were just religious nuts. Just religious.

      I'm not trying to be difficult here, I'm just trying to point out that there has to be a very airtight case for an entire religion to be so absolutely uniquely correct, as you are claiming.

      I wish to ask you about your last sentence: "And, once you know Jesus, you can't stop knowing Him."

      Are you asserting that this is true today? When people deconvert, did they never really know Jesus, or do they still know Jesus and just don't acknowledge it? What is your belief about a person like me, who sincerely believed for years and years, and now does not?

  9. You said, “I would hardly call them [the gospels] eye-witness accounts due to when they were written (decades after the fact) and how many other gospels there were at the time.” First of all, the manuscripts we have date to about 25 years after the event of the resurrection. However, this does not mean they were written at that time. Given what we know about how written documents were produced, circulated, copied and then destroyed, it’s very, very likely that the manuscripts we have today are all copies of earlier documents. Of course, that can’t be proven, but it would fit the cultural trend. Secondly, the existence of other “gospels” in no way discredits what the canonized gospels say. It’s simply an indication that some were considered more accurate than others and treated accordingly.

    You asked, “Regardless of all of this...does this assumed historical correlation mean God exists?” No. It doesn’t—at least not apart from the truth of the resurrection.

    “Do the chosen gospels do the job of proving that Jesus is God, the resurrected savior?” Yes. I think they most certainly do. The fulfilled prophesies alone do the job, let alone the amazing way the rest of the New Testament fits together in a way that just makes sense given the history, the culture, politics, the way everyone acted prior to the event and then reacted to it, the science of the crucifixion and resurrection itself, the way history was literally split in two—need I go on?

    If someone is willing to deeply study the resurrection itself—all the proof is there! Is the resurrection easy to believe? No. But there are some things that are true and so well established, that if you take an honest look, you can’t help but believe it. Even if you’d rather not believe it—even if it would totally mess up your head and your life—even if it would be completely inconvenient and make you want to run away screaming, you can’t help but be absolutely convinced. This is what the resurrection of Jesus Christ is like.

    “Because people were willing to die for their belief, whether it was in a person or a way of life or whatever it was, does that automatically make it true?” This is a very interesting question. I know there have been lots of martyrs of varying cultural and religious backgrounds who have died for different reasons. In looking through some of them (e.g. Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Socrates, Martin Luther King, Jr., etc.), I find myself wondering, “Is the actual belief they died for, regardless of our other differences, something I would disagree with today?” And, honestly, I think the answer is no. The fact is, healthy, rational people don’t give up their lives for a belief that, for them at least, is in question. The truth of that belief matters a great deal and the stakes for denying the truth of that belief and seen as so high that death is better than disbelief. The most famous martyrs in history all died for something that, to me at least, has the ring of truth. Now, obviously, their contemporaries didn’t believe similarly—otherwise, there would’ve been no reason to martyr oneself for it. But, their deaths did make others sit up and take notice. Their deaths also got the attention of more powerful, thoughtful, truth-seeking folks who spread the message further. So, I guess the answer to your question is: No, martyring oneself for a belief doesn’t make it true. But, it’s certainly a good way to get people to give it another look. And, martyrdom has done a great deal to massively alter our global philosophies and humanitarian ideals.

    1. I have heard these historical arguments before, and they are far from certain, universally agreed upon, or precisely how you have portrayed them here. I do not think this makes those that disagree with the claims not honest seekers of evidence, but those with differing data and historical interpretations from the interpretation you are portraying here. Given that ancient oral traditions were involved with the writing of the scriptures along with a host of arguments and contradictions involved as well as the church's canonization of them, I simply have a hard time believing this whole, idealistic picture you have portrayed of scripture as the proof of the resurrection here. More on that below.

      I wish to emphasize that I have messed up my life pretty badly by leaving Christianity, and coming back would fix more things than I care to go into here. However, I cannot have another opinion unless the evidence convinces me so, and it has not yet. Perhaps it will one day, if the evidence is truly as obvious as you suggest it is, but there are a lot more questions to answer.

  10. “Begging the question” is a kind of logical fallacy that means: responding to a challenge with an argument that assumes an answer to that challenge. Basically, you are assuming what you wish to prove. It’s also called circular reasoning. People who use the Bible to justify itself are often accused of “circular reasoning,” but this is a false accusation. Since the Bible is NOT a single source and neither is it written by a single author, using one book to corroborate another is perfectly legitimate. To say otherwise is to say that no testimony can ever be justified by another, which is absurd.

    “What evidence is there that he is god just because he resurrected from the dead, other than the way ancient religion works?” This is a very original objection and one I’ve not heard until now. But, let me be clear about why the resurrection was so powerful. The fact that it is a verifiable miracle in and of itself is only one reason. But even a miracle like that, unconnected from any other events or separated from history or purpose, would just end up as a blip in history. The resurrection of Christ, though, was exceedingly powerful because it was the fulfillment of very ancient prophesy, it was the focal point of many millennia of previous history and thought, and it actually reversed the course of history at that moment. Furthermore, the eye-witness testimonies are so detailed that they already answer your other questions, such as whether Jesus was actually dead or not. The detail in Luke about cutting Jesus’s side with the sword post-mortem and “water” coming out is very, very important. Once a person dies, it takes about 30 minutes for the blood to start to congeal in the veins, meaning that the red blood cells start to clot together and leave the plasma separated out. This absolutely CANNOT happen as long as a person is living. It only happens to fully dead people and it’s completely irreversible. So, when they said “water” came out, what they were seeing was actually plasma, which is a clear fluid, coming out and leaving the sticky, clumped up red blood cells behind. Jesus had been dead for at least half an hour at that point. So, of course, he should’ve still been dead three days later—but he wasn’t.

    Let me recommend to you the booklet, “What is the Proof for the Resurrection?” by Ralph O. Muncaster. There are some good things in there, although it’s not an exhaustive study. For a deeper look, “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel is better.

    1. I have indeed heard the evidence you have mentioned here for the death of Jesus, and I do actually believe that he was executed by the Romans in the way you are describing. He not actually dying is not a theory I go along with, but I did choose to mention it for completeness' sake. Thanks for the recommendations though.

      As for begging the question...we're going to get into my main objection to scripture here. I understand what you're saying, about them being separate documents that reference each other (and many outside sources). However, the problem here is that if we treat them as different documents, then they must all be evaluated on their own merits, outside of some kind of harmonious canonical structure. In other words, my objection of circularity would then turn to questions why scriptures that are forgeries or blatant refutations of other scriptures accepted, while other scriptures that were not included referenced in scriptures that were included? What about the other gospels? We then have to talk about what gave the scriptural canon the authority, and we are then talking about the early church. What gave the early church the authority to define the canon as those books that are true and inspired? Presumably they were lead by the holy spirit, otherwise they are just compiling a bunch of documents together to construct a religious framework based on...their belief. God says these books are inspired because the books say God exists because the books are inspired and we have begging the question again.

      I'm fine with the Bible corroborating itself on accounts and events (though it doesn't always do that), but you're saying it is proof of the resurrection, and I do not see that in my studies of ancient texts. Perhaps I need more study to see what you do.

  11. I’ll end by addressing your last series of questions. To say, “Once you have known Christ, you can’t stop knowing Him” is an epistemological truth regarding interpersonal knowledge (but doesn’t nec. apply in certain cases, such as amnesia). It’s like knowing your mom. Regardless of your other feelings about her, if you know your mom today, you’ll know your mom for the rest of your natural life. But, to apply this to your personal story in your walk with God, I can’t tell you whether or not you ever knew Jesus. What I can tell you is that relationships often naturally go through some pretty radical changes. There was a time in my youth where I chose to turn my back on Jesus. I thought I had a better way to lead my life and I really, really tried to make that work. But, later, when I realized what a fool I had been and came back to Him, He never made me feel like a failure. He just was glad to have me back. It was an amazing experience. And, though my experience may or may not mirror yours, I, at least, felt I had known Him all along. It was just a time He used to teach me some very important lessons in some very hard, but necessary ways. I tried running away, but He just happened to be wherever I went. He was always involved, always present, always patient.

    You know, maybe this time of searching and struggling is something you genuinely need to help you build a true knowledge of Jesus and relationship with Him. Like skepticism, doubt can be a very powerful tool to help us solidify certain necessary truths. In other words, it’s not necessarily a bad thing in the long run. I suspect, though can’t be certain, that God is giving you this “time apart” in order to teach you some things you’re going to need to know later.

    1. Forgive my brevity, but I simply want to thank you for sharing your story. It certainly makes sense of some of the things you have been saying on here.

      That said, I think it rather odd to think the same thing of me, but I understand that your belief kind of dictates it, so I'll just say I appreciate your positive tone.

  12. Daniel, thanks so much for your continued interest and thoughtful responses. I am a bit crunched for time this evening, so am not able to reply in depth to your last posts. However, I would like to share a blog post I wrote about five years ago that dealt with some of the history of the Bible's preservation. I realize it won't answer all your questions, as it's kind-of a side issue to our discussion, but there are some fascinating details in there that I think you might like. Here's the link:


    1. I've read a lot of these examples and seen this logic in my studies of apologetics. Truly, a good comprehensive list.

  13. You said, “if we treat them [the books of the Bible] as different documents, then they must all be evaluated on their own merits, outside of some kind of harmonious canonical structure.” Yes, and no. If we examine the collected works of Mark Twain, we can study each story as both an individual piece of literature as well as part of a collection. Both approaches reveal different, but true insights. Studying them as individual pieces reveals more about the particular message Twain was trying to get across in that story. But studying the collection as a whole, comparing and contrasting his styles, content choices, and comments on the culture, provides us with a fuller picture of the author Himself. These approaches are both valid and not mutually exclusive. The Bible should be studied in both ways. The books are individual works, often written by different authors at different points in history, but there are good reasons why they were chosen to be part of a collection. They each contribute vital pieces of the sociological, cultural, religious, and political history of the Israeli people, complementing and supplementing one another. The Old Testament books point forward toward a singular event—the life of Christ—and the New Testament books point back to this same event. They are all about and comment on the same theme—how a fallen people can be in relationship with a perfect God—which reaches beyond the Israeli people alone.
    You also said, “…my objection of circularity would then turn to questions why scriptures that are forgeries or blatant refutations of other scriptures accepted, while other scriptures that were not included referenced in scriptures that were included?”

    OK, which books are forgeries? And, which books are “blatant refutations of other scriptures”? Claims like these should be substantiated with facts. Please elaborate.
    You said, “What gave the early church the authority to define the canon as those books that are true and inspired?”
    In thinking about how the Bible was canonized, I think less in terms of “authority” and more in terms of scholastic ability. If you were to try to piece together an accurate representation of early American folktales, for example, how would you go about it? You can’t include everything ever written, nor would you want to. So, you would have to have certain guidelines—certain criteria—you would use to weed out unwanted texts and include the best examples. Those who canonized the Bible did something very similar. They checked for:

    Whether or not the writer was a recognized prophet (OT) or an apostle (NT) (a direct disciple of Christ) or not (a disciple of one of the apostles). Naturally, eye-witness accounts of Christ’s life, death and resurrection were more reliable than secondary sources. (This is one reason some of the apocryphal books were not included.)
    Legitimacy: Internal Consistency & External Consistency
    Church Usage and Recognition

    But, when talking about the Bible canon, the important question to ask is has less to do with who wrote which book and more to do with whether or not the recorded text in existence today tells a true story. Is it possible that the resurrection of Christ was simply made up? Does history support this view? Is it possible that the epistles, which were widely circulating very soon after Christ’s death and resurrection, could have been spreading lies?

  14. No, to that last question. No, it’s not possible. Because, if the apostles were spreading lies, there would have been repercussions that corroborate that view. Remember, the people they were writing to and preaching to had known Jesus. Many of them had also witnessed the crucifixion. Many of them were among the over 500 people who saw Christ with their own eyes in His resurrected body. Do you really think, that if the apostles had been making all of this up, that none of these folks—who lived through these events and knew Jesus—would’ve said, “You’re lying.” Or, “I saw him sin.” Or, “What are you talking about? Nobody else is claiming to have seen him alive after the crucifixion.” Or, “Um, his body is right here.”
    There would have been some definite push-back regarding the facts—particularly against such a wild claim as someone coming back to life! So, where is it? Even the disciple’s enemies didn’t make these claims because they knew they wouldn’t be believed. They knew that trying to prove Jesus’s resurrection to be a lie would be futile, given the massive amounts of people who had witnessed it and had spread the news. So, instead, they just persecuted the disciples, hoping to stamp it out that way.
    The empty tomb, particularly given that Jesus was an executed criminal whose tomb was covered with a huge stone, sealed by the Romans, and guarded by Roman soldiers, was a very difficult thing to explain. They didn’t even try, because they themselves had unwittingly become evidence to Christ’s resurrection. The extreme measures taken to keep Jesus in the grave became proof that no one could’ve stolen his body.
    There really aren’t too many possible scenarios regarding how we can reasonably view the resurrection of Christ. Either he came back to life or he didn’t. If he did, then we have some thinking to do. If he didn’t, we have to figure out how such a hoax could’ve been pulled off. Who stole Jesus’s body? How did they manage to get around the Roman guards? Why didn’t anyone complain about the disciples spreading lies? How could the people who grew up with Jesus (even his own brother James) believe such a story and die for it? Why were so many people willing to be martyred for a lie? How did Jesus manage to fulfill all those 300+ prophesies—including prophesies he couldn’t have manipulated, such as those about his family heritage and place of birth? (And, remember, all of this came out during the lifetimes of people who knew Jesus and his family, and we still have in our possession the exact same manuscripts that were circulating then.)

    There is a lot of discussion and research regarding the historical and psychological evidence supporting the resurrection, if you’re willing to look. And, I can certainly point you to them, but honestly, these few evidences I listed above should be enough to give your doubt pause. There is just no way Jesus’s resurrection could’ve been the result of a lie then or a forgery now. These theories have been fully disproven.

    1. I wish to reiterate a key point that I have made before: I am not a historian. You tell me I will come to the same conclusion you have if I am willing to look, and in my current research, I have done so in my own limited fashion. I'll certainly take seriously your references and check into them, but I wish to point out that much, if not all, of what you have argued is basic apologetics for the veracity of scripture from religious sources and biblical scholarship. I am familiar with that, and have come to this same point in discussions with many people on this topic.

      You'll forgive me if I am skeptical of the point that I have heard from almost everyone in these discussions that "if I just look, I will be convinced." I don't find it to be overly convincing simply because the more I have looked at history, the less certain I am of anything, simply because of how inexact it can really be. I've heard this from people of many different bents by the way, and I've always ended up checking into it more, sometimes being convinced, sometimes not. For example, when I was still skeptical of biological evolution because of how I was raised, I took a long hard look at the evidence, and was convinced. The Bible, for my years studying it, has not convinced me.

      Firstly, you are telling me that history has established the facts that basically prove Christianity through the resurrection of Jesus, yet when I do a little research on ancient writings like the Bible, I find that they simply are not written to meet the criteria you're putting forward here. Ancient accounts like the Bible were spiritual/mystical by their very nature, and there were often recounting of stories of those that are dead appearing, of which Jesus was one. You wish to argue that the Bible has been established as this ultimately consistent and reliable document because of its' preservation, popularity, and the way its' narrative all points toward Christ. It's really not that hard for me to see a way that all of that can be true and for it to prove nothing. Of course people didn't push back against a religious text on the basis of whether it was true or not in the ancient world, that wasn't the issue! These were stories that were told, not a modern historical debate.

      Since you have studied the Bible, I'm sure you know of the propensities of ancient people and have an argument for why the Bible can still be trusted regardless, so I'll not waste your time further by explaining this point any more.

    2. Secondly, what I refer to as forgeries/inconsistencies are mostly references to the writings of Paul, though there are many examples of inconsistencies between the gospels as well. Matthew being written from Mark and making changes, 1 and 2 Thessalonians arguing against each other regarding which is a forgery, the depictions of the resurrection in Luke and John as a refutation of resurrection as defined by Paul in the Corinthians, the nativity passages in Luke and Matthew being totally contradictory in details, several accounts of Jesus' miracles having differing details, etc. I have studied all of these, studied the reasons people think they are not inconsistencies, and I am simply not convinced. The best example I have seen that one can give of the consistency of Scripture is the Dead Sea Scrolls, though that does not make the Bible any less internally inconsistent, and I must point out that these were not simply texts we know now as Biblical, but many others that were not included, like the book of Enoch and many other writings from various Jewish sects. It really does not surprise me that the Bible has a consistent voice with as few contradictions as it does have, given the state of the religion that has grown up around it from early Jewish religion. Does that make any of it true? No. I also see the question of whether the authors were genuinely who they say they are as important simply because of how consistent everything is. If, for example, the majority of the new testament was forged over a shorter period of time by a few people who have been obscured by history, then the point that there are so many different authors who couldn't naturally agree on anything agreeing in the Bible becomes moot. I'm not saying this is absolutely true, but I do think it is important.

      Thirdly, I take issue with the presumption that because the Bible survived many attempts to destroy it, that it is somehow true. One could just as easily take this as evidence that Christianity has been a dominate religion in the world through a combination of political backing, odd circumstances, and genuine belief bringing it forward through history. This is what I mean by circularity…the Bible is true because of these reasons which all internally confirm each other. Given other circumstances, the dominant religion of the world would look more like one of the ancient heresies, like gnosticism. Is the rejection of that by the church evidence that it is untrue? No, it is evidence that it does not agree with the dogma of the church.

    3. Lastly, I would like to point out that this line of reasoning depends on several things that have to be taken together. Not only must the writers be correctly identified or at least writing in an accurate historical manner, but the writings must never have been revised at any point and the stories must never have been embellished, the compilation and translation of the Bible must show no agenda and must be translated with the utmost care, the contradictions I have pointed out must be explained, the genre and culture must be taken into account and still be taken as accurate by our standards (meaning it actually happened and is a physical miracle) about details such as the events surrounding the resurrection of christ, preferably correlated by other, un-biased, sources, and so on and so forth. Ultimately, I am left at the same place I have pointed out before: I have to trust the historic church to not have its' own agenda and to be only accurately reporting things by high factual standards.

      I do admit that your arguments, taken all together, make an interesting case that I have had to consider for a long time. However, I see enough problems with the absolute statements being made here that I am simply not convinced.

      If the Bible cannot be trusted beyond reasonable doubt as an accurate historical document for the reasons I have stated, then I don't believe that your case for the resurrection is defensible beyond a reasonable level of doubt. Note that I am not saying the Bible is a book of spurious lies or is so completely wrong about everything that it should be thrown out of all discussion, I'm simply saying that in my estimation, it cannot be taken as the knock-down proof of the resurrection that you are saying it is.

  15. You said, “Ancient accounts like the Bible were spiritual/mystical by their very nature…. Of course people didn't push back against a religious text on the basis of whether it was true or not in the ancient world, that wasn't the issue! These were stories that were told, not a modern historical debate.” This is completely false. The epistles (which we call gospels) were letters which contained eye-witness accounts of a current event—an event which occurred during the lifetimes of both the people writing them and the people reading them. They were not then considered “religious texts”. And, it certainly mattered to the readers whether the material in it was true or false. If the enemies of Christ had any factual evidence to support their views, they most definitely would’ve used it. They had nothing to lose by shutting the Christians down and everything to gain (in their minds). They were constantly fighting and bickering and using as many facts as they could gather to do it. Neither were they opposed to making up lies, if they thought they would be believed.

    I’ve studied this culture and time period in considerable depth. I’ve read book after book after book (by both Christian and atheistic authors) and there is absolutely no evidence to support your view. These people weren’t blind or stupid. They didn’t just swallow any lie they heard. In fact, there were so many competing ideas threatening not only their lifestyles, but also their very lives, that they were just as doubtful and suspicious as we are today, if not more so. Remember, the religious and political sects fought viciously and bitterly. And these are the people you think wouldn’t push back against a rumor of a man—their enemy, no less--miraculously rising from a tomb guarded by Roman soldiers? Seriously? It just makes no sense. But, I have heard this vague claim “mysticism = madness” before, but never from a reliable source and never has it been substantiated with actual historical fact or even genuine cultural insight.

    You said, “I take issue with the presumption that because the Bible survived many attempts to destroy it, that it is somehow true.” Agreed. But, remember, I didn’t make that claim. I simply thought this was an amazing thing and shared it with you.

  16. You also said, “Not only must the writers be correctly identified or at least writing in an accurate historical manner, but the writings must never have been revised at any point and the stories must never have been embellished, the compilation and translation of the Bible must show no agenda and must be translated with the utmost care…”
    The writers (of the gospels, at least) were most definitely correctly identified. There is no true doubt on this point.
    The writings weren’t revised or embellished. We have the Dead Sea scrolls to prove this, including the exact same manuscripts that the authors held in their very hands! At the very least, these same manuscripts we have in our possession today were in circulation during the authors’ lifetimes. How more authentic can you get?
    The compilation and translation of the Bible must show no agenda… Hmmmm. Why is that, exactly? When does anyone ever write or compile writings without an agenda? Is that even possible? If you seriously want to stick to this criteria, you will never believe anything you read anywhere. Even your math textbook was compiled with an agenda—to teach you math.
    The translation of the Bible? You mean into English? Well, I’m pretty certain that the translations were done with the utmost care, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be small inconsistencies between the Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic to English. For example, certain cultural references and poetic devices will be lost in translation. As a bilingual person, I understand this pretty well, so when in doubt, I always go back to the original language by using a lexicon. It’s not that hard to do and shouldn’t be used as an excuse to disbelieve the Bible as a whole.
    “…the contradictions I have pointed out must be explained, the genre and culture must be taken into account and still be taken as accurate by our standards (meaning it actually happened and is a physical miracle) about details such as the events surrounding the resurrection of christ, preferably correlated by other, un-biased, sources, and so on and so forth.”
    Well, the “contradictions” can be dealt with, but that will take time and none of them have anything to do with the two evidences (i.e. authentic manuscripts & lack evidence against the facts therein) that need to be addressed regarding the resurrection of Christ. Because, honestly, if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then I don’t care about any of the rest of it.
    The genre and culture is being taken into serious account by me, but whoever turned you on to the “mysticism” excuse was seriously out of touch with it, as I explained already.

  17. Daniel, the evidence is there. The proof is there. Still, you’re not accepting it. I am beginning to think your rejection of Jesus is not an intellectual decision, despite your claims. I’m not saying you don’t have valid intellectual questions. Neither do I think you are unintelligent. Clearly, you are very intelligent. I’m just saying that proof doesn’t seem to be working with you, likely because you have some other reason for holding onto your disbelief.
    This is not surprising, really. You have taken issue with certain experiences (or lack thereof) you had while in churches or among other Christians, God didn’t talk to you the way you wanted Him to, you have been disillusioned with your search for truth, you want a formula that makes sense to help you add up the pieces of your life and experience to one conclusion that you can call “the meaning of life”. It’s just that formulas and lists of facts can’t equal a relationship with a person. They’re good for certain things—to help us recognize that there is a person before us, if we’re willing, that is. But they can’t equal a relationship. That’s why you can look right at the proof of the resurrection and still not see a person there. It’s like you’re thinking backwards. “I don’t want to have anything to do with Jesus. I’m past that. So, I’m not going to admit He was who He said He was. I’m going to keep looking for excuses to ignore the evidence or make up stories that fit the worldview I want. And since He can’t force me to believe, I feel justified in not believing.”

    I’m not trying to be mean. I genuinely want your very, very best. But your inability to look at the facts with an open mind is getting in your way. You have closed your mind to anything “Jesus”. And so your heart is closed to Him, too. By doing this, you eliminate your capacity to know the Truth. At this point, even if He were to appear to you in the flesh and tell you Himself who He is, you wouldn’t believe. You would find a reason to explain it away.

    … I really hope I’m wrong about you, Daniel. And, if I am, I’m certainly willing to help you address certain particular facts. If you want more explanation on those two evidences, I can do that, but the way you are dismissing them based on either vague accusation, irrelevant data, or false information is not intellectually sound. Which, again, is why I’m concerned that your struggle is a heart issue more than a mind issue. (John 8:47, Hebrews 11:6, I Cor. 1:26-31, I Cor. 2:14, James 1:5)

    1. Thank you for the spirited debate on the issue. You'll have to forgive me for my delayed response, as I did not want to merely emotionally react to what you've said. This has certainly been a case study in the way these debates tend to go, as I’ve seen them. So thank you for that as well.

      Additionally, I must also thank you for your presentation of the facts as you see them. I will detach them from your extremely offensive personal attacks on me and consider them. You can be assured of that. However, the time for debate is over. You have ended it by reusing the same tired judgmental attack and tone I have heard used on me and many like me for years, and one I have long since stopped taking seriously.

      There is no doubt in my mind that you are more learned than I am, and a better debater than I am. The question for me is not this, but whether what you are saying is true or not. I really don’t care for attacks on credibility, toward anyone. They are unproductive. However, I have clearly made you angry, or you take very strong issue with the arguments I’ve made, or you would not be making personal judgments on me. Maybe that’s not true, and you’re just this hostile when you debate. I do not know.

      I have no idea who you are sir, and I considered the possibility that you were someone I know because of the personal tone you have taken a few times. However, after reading your blog and looking at your profile, I’m sure I’ve never met you before. So, let me explain to you why what you’ve done is offensive to people.

      I am fine with being debated with, and I am fine with strong statements of the facts as one sees them. What I am not fine with is evaluating a person based on their arguments and accusing them of hypocrisy and blatantly ridiculing them on a personal level. That is unacceptable. I no longer care for this debate, because this is my blog, and I do not tolerate this type of behavior here. I do not tolerate it when it is shown toward me or anyone else. How dare you sir. Your tone is insulting, condescending, and ignores my repeated explanation of how I have interacted with these facts before and why I am skeptical of them. I do not care why you are doing this, and it is not my job to speculate on it. I also do not care if you think I am an idiot or willfully am ignoring what you are calling evidence. I have told you I will reconsider the same thing I already have, and you have ignored it and attacked me. We are done here.

      To be clear: I am not offended or bothered by your argument itself, and I appreciate it. I enjoy spirited discussions of this sort. I will certainly take seriously your argument and check into it. If you do not believe this, it is your problem. I take the journey toward truth with people that are capable of showing respect to others, not people who ridicule those that do not have their views. I have explained to you your personal attack because I have enjoyed our discussion and hope that you at least can understand this much of what I am saying. Be well.

  18. Forgive me, Daniel. I'm more than a little surprised that you took my comments to be a personal attack. I certainly didn't intend them to be. I don't think you're an idiot at all. In fact, I tried to make that clear. However, I can see how this kind of debate can be reacted to on an emotional level, and, given your last response, I see I have injured you. I am deeply sorry. I think, if we had been speaking face to face, you would've seen that I was not angry or trying to be insulting; however, this is the way of internet, anonymous chats, it would seem. Words have a way of sounding much more harsh than they are intended. At any rate, I do apologize, for what it's worth. I do genuinely hope for you the very best.

    1. I have not logged onto my blog since posting my last comment, until now. Thank you for your apology.