Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Believing Skeptic

In accordance with my facebook status update of 9th February, here is the blog entry more fully explaining my new-found position.

Up until very recently I was under the same mistaken impression that most people are, being that a skeptic is basically the same thing as being a cynic, and being skeptical is being cynical. This is, however, not the case.

"Cynic: a person who believes that only selfishness motivates human actions and who disbelieves in or minimizes selfless acts or disinterested points of view."

"Skeptic: a person who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual. A person who habitually doubts the authenticity of accepted beliefs."

Therefore when I say I now consider myself a skeptic, I do not mean I have engendered a generally distrustful attitude towards people. And whilst I may question certain fundamentals of the Christian religion, I have not shed my belief in God.

Skepticism is a process, and a skeptic is a person who requires a higher standard of evidence. When I call myself a "Believing Skeptic", I am calling myself someone who still believes in God, but requires a higher standard of evidence for commonly held beliefs, especially the beliefs of Evangelical Fundamentalism.

For the larger part of my life (being from the age of four until late last year), I was an Evangelical Religious Fundamentalist.

"Evangelical: denoting or relating to any of certain Protestant sects or parties, which emphasize the importance of personal conversion and faith in atonement through the death of Christ as a means of salvation."

"Religious: appropriate to or in accordance with the principles of a religion."

"Fundamentalism: a movement in American Protestantism that arose in the early part of the 20th century in reaction to modernism and that stresses the infallibility of the Bible not only in matters of faith and morals but also as a literal historical record, holding as essential to Christian faith belief in such doctrines as the creation of the world, the virgin birth, physical resurrection, atonement by the sacrificial death of Christ, and the Second Coming."

I believed that the entire universe was created in six literal days by God, that evolution was a load of crap, and that scientists were so hell-bent on being rebellious against God they had created an entire system with which to deny Him.

I believed that the Bible was a literal historical account, including the creation narrative, the exodus, and the events in books such as Daniel and Jonah.

I believed that after death, the souls of everyone who did not believe in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (ie was converted, or "saved") were thrown into an eternal hell of unspeakable torment from which there was no escape for all eternity, regardless of the deeds done whilst in the body.

And I also believed that believing the above was essential for one's own salvation, such that if one deviated from one's belief in any of the above, that one would themselves be thrown into an eternal hell of unspeakable torment from which there was no escape for all eternity, regardless of the deeds done whilst in the body.

And there lies the rub, and my main bone of contention (or the particular bone of contention I have time to discuss in this one blog entry): the Fundamentalist view that anything other than blind belief in the tenets of Fundamentalism itself constitutes disbelief in God and results in eternal damnation.
It goes something like this:

"If you don't believe that every word of the Bible is literally and ineffably true, how can you believe it is God-inspired? And if you don't believe that every word of the Bible is God-inspired, how can you say you believe that any of the words of the Bible are God-inspired? And if you don't believe that the Bible is God-inspired, how can you say that you believe in Jesus? And if you don't believe in Jesus, how can you say that you are saved and any better than an unbeliever? And if you're an unbeliever, how do you suppose you can escape being BURNED IN HELL FOR ALL ETERNITY? AAAAAA HA HA HA HA HA HAAAAA!!!!!! AAAAAAAAA HA HA HA HA HA HA HAAAAAAA!!!!!!!".

This is a baffling string of logical fallacies and straw men tied to straw men with other bits of straw, and has done nothing to better the human condition or improve the lives of its proponents or anyone else. It has done nothing to endear the attitudes of humanity towards altruistic or philanthropic ends, it has not increased morality, compassion, justice, mercy, grace and love. It has segregated the Fundamentalists from the rest of "The World" (those evil un-converted people who don't believe in the tenets of Fundamentalism and who are possessed by "the spirit of the world" or "the god of this age") into various in-fighting camps that drag people down instead of lifting them up. It has turned the attitudes of the world not against injustice, inhumanity, evil and selfishness, but against itself and anyone else who could feasibly be tarred with the same brush. And (most personally to myself) it has done scant more than fill well-meaning and God-loving individuals with such a crippling fear of unspeakable eternal torment with no hope of escape that they are too afraid to move, let alone grow, develop, learn, and contribute to the betterment of the human race.

I would gladly welcome any comments anyone has on this post. If you know someone who is a skeptic or an atheist, or a fundamentalist or other kind of conservative Christian, and you think they might have something to say in response, please tell them to have a read. I would love to see as many different responses and perspectives as possible regarding the uncharted metaphysical waters I now find myself sailing. Maybe as I delineate my position more thoroughly it will help some people through some of their own stuff, then become inexplicably popular, become a quick and easy means of fame and fortune for me and enable me to spend the rest of my life sipping lattes on my back porch in my pyjamas. It never hurts to dream.


  1. First of all, well done for being an independent thinker! It's a well under-valued privilege we have. Even greater is the freedom we have been given to choose — Free will. Religion loves to bind that freedom and tell us what we should think and so take away freedom from us to have our own understanding to choose appropriately. Thinking contributes to answers that affect our lives. The issue is the answers need to be right.

    I've got a coupe of questions for you? . . .
    1. Is the supernatural real?
    2. What effect has and does the supernatural have on this world?
    3. If the supernatural is real where does Jesus sit within it?
    4. What does our response to Jesus' position mean?

    I believe getting (and living out of) the answers to these questions gives us the life we're meant to have. To me discussions over creation/evolution etc. are secondary . . . They play with the mind more than the spirit.

  2. Hi John, thanks very much for your comments!

    In regards to the supernatural, that's a very sticky issue for skeptics, because the supernatural realm and supernatural phenomena aren't testable or falsifiable, therefore it can't be studied scientifically. The only real evidence for its existence is the personal testimony of those who believe based on their experiences with it. This is anecdotal evidence, and whilst it is evidence, it is only anecdotal, therefore it can't be verified or subjected to the scientific process. Even our own personal experience is only anecdotal, because our perceptions are so easily warped by our pre-conceptions, biases and by what we want the observational evidence to be. Therefore the supernatural falls into that category of things taken on faith, because we can never prove, scientifically or otherwise, that they either are or aren't real.

    However, if you want my own personal answers to your questions based on what I personally have chosen to believe based on my own subjective experience, I would answer as follows:

    1. Yes - I take this on faith based on my own very personal experiences and many years of thought on the matter.
    2. Assuming by "this world" you mean the physical environment we live in, I would say only the effect resultant from those who believe in the supernatural to the extent that they make life decisions based on their supernatural beliefs, which has a flow-on effect to the wider environment (eg someone receives a prophetic word from a pastor, or a divination from a psychic, that they should quit their job, then does so and other's lives are affected). If supernatural forces affected the natural environment there would be verifiable evidence of it, and currently there is none.
    3. In my own personal experience of the supernatural, Jesus is an active supernatural being and his name carries supernatural power and authority, to the extent that I would say he pretty much sits at the top of it.
    4. Recognising and accepting this is the first step towards full and complete mental and spiritual health, because by accepting this we are accepting the challenge to delay quick and easy gratification for the sake of future rewards, to accept responsibility for our own lives and mental/spiritual health, to dedicate our lives to honesty and truth, to strike a balance between our natural instincts and our "higher" instincts - in short, accepting the challenge to choose the right and reject the wrong and live in love instead of selfishness.

    I wholeheartedly agree that this is of primary concern, but I do believe that it is of value to discuss those secondary things, because the mind is a very important part of our being, and also because Fundamentalism has confused the primaries with the secondaries to such a degree that people can't tell the difference between the two and are too crippled with secondaries to live the lives they were given back by God.

    I guess it's like they used to say: "the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing".

  3. Hey Sam, Pretty good answers to the questions!
    Mind you I still reckon the supernatural realm can be prooved . . . I'll let you know when I find out! I'm thinking something along the lines of . . . Well, the term "supernatural" means above nature. So I'm trying to think of some examples . . . Like the Law of Momentum (Nothing moves unless another force is placed upon it). So how did things start to move in the universe? . . . A force "above" nature? A supernatural force? Anyway, something to THINK about. Cheers.

  4. Samuel. John. I dips me lid.

    Regarding the mind/spirit issue you both briefly mentioned in your respective final paragraphs, I would like to express (spew forth?) my opinion on this.

    John, I agree that the minutae of the creation debate are indeed secondary to other more pressing issues, but I think that anything that is good for the mind is good for the spirit and vice versa. I hold that everything about us in Christ is good. Dividing the human being into sacred/secular dichotomies is really unhelpful, damaging and is based in the Greek philosophy that Augustine so beautifuly melded with the gospel, handballed to the Reformers who then drop punted it through to modern evangelicalism (us....cringe).

    I'm not saying I have the answers, but I suspect that our being, having been formed in His image, is triune yet indivisible. Therefore, any expression of life, embrace of light or release of liberty, whether it be 'physical, mental or spiritual' is of immense value to the whole person.

    In summary, we may be composed of parts, but we are the sum of our parts and no part of us is secular or profane as our entire being is held together in Christ.

    I'm sure you both probably agree but just thought I'd bring this into the discussion.


  5. OK. So I am not anywhere in the league of you great thinkers. But I understand everything you said :)

    I think I am part cynic, part skeptic, part believer.

    I am on a journey of finding an authentic faith. I still believe in Jesus.

    I will follow this with interest. Thanks for writing.

  6. some great discussion happening here. Great to see thinking rather then blind following.

    My 2 cents is that some types of fundamentalism is the sort of dangerous unhelpful crap that Jesus came along and smashed with the "fundamentalists" of His time.

    Examples: We have Francis Collins, Nobel Peace Prize winner, committed Christian and evolutionist. Is he saved - by all accounts yes. He believes in creation but in God creating through the use of evolution. The guy is an amazing scientist, headed up the human genome project but see if he gets an invite to talk in some churches...

    Dr Hugh Ross - astronomer, heads up Has written many books on how science and faith do not contradict, gets asked to speak at leading secular universities and has a team of brilliant scientists working with him, all committed Christians. Believes in an old earth "day age" creation and so is considered by some to be a heretic.

    J Warner Wallace. Cold Case Homicide Detective. Leads up "Please Convince Me" website and podcast. Reaches uni students across the U.S and is a firm committed bible believing Christian who investigates the claims of the bible and Christ. Totally committed, but another old age Christian that upsets fundamentalists because he sees the evidence for billions of years not thousands.

    What I'm saying is just because some fundamentalists say "it's so" don't mean it is. We can disagree - early church fathers often disagreed on minor points but they still agreed on the key salvation issues.

    Finally miracles. Do they happen? Check Gary R Habermas and his book "In Defence of Miracles" he explains his doubts during his life and how he overcame them through study and prayer. In a recent radio interview he detailed how he kept a journal of prayer requests over 12 months and looked back at them to see how things panned out. He had divided the requests into those that would be a miracle - like a terminal patient with a week to live to recover against those that were things like - I have back pain and want healing.

    Over the 12 months he found that 60% of those "impossible" prayers were answered positively including the recovery of his grand mother who had 24 hours to live - she made a miraculous complete recovery. The non life threatening prayers were answered yes in around 65% of cases. He found that he had remembered the real big prayers like the terminal things but had forgotten all about the daily miracles he's experienced. Consider the bible. It records miracles that happened to specific people. How many are there in the book? Then consider today, if we looked at the genuine miracles across the globe they'd be significantly more then those recorded in the bible over the past 100 years, yet they are not recorded in any book we consider equivalent to the bible. That doesn't mean they don't happen, they do. They just are not in one place like the bible. Just because a miracle doesn't happen to you or me, doesn't mean they don't happen. Not everyone in the old testament times experienced miracles but they still happened to some people and were recorded as historic fact in the bible.

    sorry for my ramblings...


  7. Hi Sam and others,

    Fundamentalism seems to be in question here. What is it? Is it good or bad? Are there different types of it? Are some types ok? Whilst others are not? Who decides?

    It appears to me that Pharisaicalism is not a condition that only afflicts the Jews during the era of Jesus.

    Pharisaicalism at its heart is basically saying "who is in and who is out". If you believe the right stuff you're in, otherwise you're out.

    Fundamentalism seems to be the Christian mirror image of the Jewish Pharisaicalism. It has the same posture that states "If you believe the right stuff you're in, otherwise you're out."

    Throughout church history there have been so many valid, yet conflicting opinions on the bible. Ultimately all schools of theologies are actually traditions and systems of rendering the text to form a certain conclusion. All of these systems have made camp, built their walls, created clear divisions from the camp next door and made it clear as to whether you're in or you're out.

    At it's most simplest expression, this form of Dualism is still a powerful force which prey on the needs of those who crave acceptance, at it's more complex scenario, it creates a fear based form of manipulation and is ultimately abusive and cult like.

    What else is also a common trait between Pharisaicalism and Fundamentalism? They both treat there text as a legal document. If the text states something, then that is it, end of argument. It is the WORD of GOD, it is the legal finality on the matter! Shut up and believe.

    Was Jesus all about conforming to a system of biblical interpretation and saying who is in who is out?
    I think that answer is Yes!
    He said "my yoke is easy and my burden is light" - that was His method of biblical interpretation. Pretty cool hey!
    Jesus made it clear that everyone was in. No-one is on the outside. The dude on the cross next to Jesus didn't have to be qualified by certain beliefs, he was just accepted.

    Why can't we simply accept everyone despite each others beliefs. I know what you might be thinking, something like "But we do respect one another". Do you? What about atheist, homosexuals, Buddhist and Hindu's... etc.

    I believe in acceptance and respect and tolerance of everyone and every belief system. I believe God loves everyone, and love means that you respect and show tolerance and acceptance. Ouch!

    But it is not that simple is it? The next thought is "But if we really love others, then we'll want to save them from hell" and the only way to do that is to get them to accept a certain belief about Jesus in-order to be saved. Conversion and repentance is just getting someone to believe what you believe so that they can be in, otherwise they are on the out.

    Whilst Eternal hell is in the picture you will always have a broad form of Fundamentalism, if you take it out of the picture, you can begin to see a bigger picture of Gods love and acceptance.

    So anyway this post is interestingly timed as the most influential person in Evangelical Christianity, Rob Bell is about to release his next book titled: "Love Wins" subtitled “A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived”.

    I leave with one question. "If it is even slightly possible that since the dark-ages the church has gotten it wrong on the topic on eternal punishment, then wouldn't it be worth it to at least investigate the possibility rather than instantly dismissing it off-hand? Wouldn't you want the good news to actually be good news for all? Wouldn't you want a God who is 100% victorious?"

  8. Greetings bros and she-bros,

    I think Gelvo makes a valid point about fundamentalism. In my opinion, Calvinism or Arminianism, or a combination of both, are usually considered as the only viable soteriological orthodoxies up for discussion. It seems that these frameworks always end up using external evidence of moral change as proof of election (Calvinism) or an authentic decision (Arminianism). This always leaves room for doubt, judging, religious control, fear and conscience based living (see my blog re: Bonhoeffer's 'Ethics').

    But what if there was another way that is NOT universalism, yet gives complete assurance? What if we learnt that many of the great theologians we all rightly love and respect were actually imperfect and, despite wonderful truths, have not given us the finished orthodoxy of the revelation of God in Christ? What if there is more to see, know and experience? What if those theologians had been powerfully and profoundly influence by Greek philosophy (Neoplatonism) and had literally merged this worldly philosophy with the authentic Hebrew/Christian thought of the Gospel?