Butterfly Cauldron

Monday, September 04, 2006

The nature of belief

I think there are basically two types of people in the world -- those who believe people are essentially good and decent and those that believe people are inherently flawed and evil. I tend to fall into the good and decent category, which makes it difficult for me to have conversations with people who fall into the other category on the topic of faith and religion. I don't look at the world as black and white, as one extreme or the other. In nearly every situation, circumstance has a large bearing on meaning and morality. Things do not have to be literal to be true, they can be literal and quite false.

I spent most of the day with my family today. I love my family, but we disagree on matters of faith. Not so much on matters of morality, but faith. Here's a secret most people don't seem to know: You can be pagan and believe in Jesus. You can be pagan and attempt to live your life by Jesus' teaching. We let you do that, it's cool. You cannot, however, be a 'Christian' and embrace parts of paganism. (Which is really funny, considering how much Christianity 'borrowed' from paganism.) So, I, personally, really like Jesus. He had some really great ideas and they got him killed, which is often the case with enlightened beings. I don't even have a problem with claims of Jesus' divinity -- I believe we are all part of God, all born with a spark of divinity inside us. Some of us are just better at developing and honoring that divinity than others. Some of us never develop or honor it at all, but that doesn't mean it's not there. So, Jesus and me? We're cool. It's the idiots who've come along and twisted his very simple teachings into...whatever the hell is passing for Christianity these days that I have a problem with. And I ran smack into an example of that today at lunch.

First, a little more background. My brother is a youth minister, my uncle is a preacher, my father is a deacon and my mother is a Sunday School teacher, all Southern Baptist. Okay. So, my brother is talking to my uncle about this woman at his church. Apparently, she's one of these controlling type of people, you know, the sort that always needs to be in charge, that doesn't like any idea unless it's hers, that sort of thing. Well, she's been causing problems at their church. He didn't say what exactly, just that she was insisting on being in charge a lot, trash talking church programs in public -- if she wasn't allowed to be in charge. Which isn't cool, but still....So, my brother and one of the other church leaders was going to go talk with her about it, because it had become a serious problem. Except, the day before they were going to talk to her about it -- she had a stroke. Now, to me, this seems like a horrible thing, but it hasn't got anything to do with God. The woman had a stroke. She was an older woman and well, people have strokes all the time. She's in the hospital, going through rehab and will be out of commission for quite awhile. Which means she won't be able to be really involved in church leadership for quite some time. Which is sad for her, but again, what does that have to do with God? Ah, well, according to my brother, "God took care of it for us."

Yes, that's right. My brother and uncle and, apparently, my mother believe that God caused this woman to have a stroke, because she was being controlling. Their God is apparently a bully, who smites down people who get in His way. (Although, was she really in his way? Maybe She was right and my brother was wrong. Maybe she wasn't struck by God, but by Satan!!)

There's a little bit of conversation about problem people in the church and more comments about how "God will take care of them." And them my uncle, who had always seemed rather reasonable to me, said "I wouldn't mind conducting a few more funerals for them."

No. Shit.

He basically said he wouldn't mind if God KILLED the people in his church who give him grief.

Holy. Fucking. Shit. What???

I just kind of looked at him and shook my head. And they wonder why I won't go back to church? (My mother did try to get me to go to church THREE times today. THREE times in maybe six hours!)

See, this is what I mean. My family is on the people-are-basically-nasty side of the fence. They see people as inherently sinful and broken, intentionally trying to do bad and cause trouble. Or, they see people as victims of Satan, used to thwart God's will. And so, those people, God can remove from this world and well, that's just what happens, see?

I always want to ask them, what if you're wrong? What if it's you that is thwarting the will of God? They're so certain they're not, but how do they know? No one goes around (not anyone with a true belief in God, anyway) actively thinking "Hey, I'm gonna fuck up God's will today!" Everyone just assumes that what they're doing is the right, good thing to do. But if they are right, and other people are doing things differently, then those people must be wrong. And if they're wrong? Well, God can just kill them.

See, this pisses me off. It does a disservice to humanity and to God. How can you possibly love your fellow man if you believe, in any way, that it's okay for him to be killed at random? How can you possibly love God if you believe he/she is the sort of diety what would do that? You cannot love someone you fear and you'd have to fear a god you believed not only capable of such action, but one who has no reservation about doing so. That belief reduces God to an ordinary abusive parent.

And really, if a behavior is wrong in a human -- no parent would get away with killing their child just because they did something that displeased them. We throw those people in jail. -- how can a behavior be acceptable in a Diety? Isn't God better than humans? Doesn't he/she adhere to a higher standard?

I think part of the reason they believe this is because they believe they, themselves, are capable of vile deeds. After all, they believe they were born flawed and evil, unworthy of love or acceptance. (This is literally what I was taught as a child in my parents Southern Baptist Church.) And, if man is made in the image of God and they are capable of such horror, then it stands to reason that God too is capable of such things. The problem is, they got it backwards. (In my, not terribly humble opinion.) God/dess is capable of much, much better things than most of us can imagine. And, because we are all born with Her spark inside us, so are we. Because we are born good and decent, we are capable of love and compassion and empathy and connection. I think Diety grieves when we forget that -- but she's not about to strike us dead because of it.

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posted by Zan at 5:31 PM


This is a beautiful post. I agree completely.

12:10 AM  

*pets the pretty Troll and puts a frilly pink ribbon in his hair* That was a lot of big words, hope it didn't take too much out of you.
No, not at all. Education is my friend. Have you two met? (Just kidding, Zan!) By the way, pink really does bring out my green eyes!

I find it amusing how you think I haven't made an informed choice.
I’m simply making this observation based on the assertions about Christianity you keep repeating, which I’ll point out later in this response. Suffice to say that it’s obvious you’re ill-informed about Christ (no matter how many Christians you’re related to) and if you’re ill-informed, then, no, you cannot make an informed choice.

Since the only informed choice would be the one you made?
No, not at all. Many fully-informed people through the ages have made the decision to accept or reject Christ. Although we can present evidence that shows the Bible is true beyond reasonable doubt, no amount of evidence can compel anyone to believe it. Belief requires assent of the mind and of the will. While many non-Christians such as yourself may have honest intellectual questions about Christianity, many more simply have a volitional or self-willed resistance to it despite the fact that they have been fully-informed. In other words, it’s not that they don’t have evidence to believe, it’s that they simply choose not to. Let’s look at the great atheist Nietzsche for example. Now here was a man who made his own choice with the full knowledge and understanding of the facts in evidence, and he volitionally chose to reject Christ. He wrote, “If any one were to show us this Christian God, we’d be still less inclined to believe in him”; and “It is our preference that decides against Christianity, not arguments.”

Proving a proposition and accepting a proposition are two different things. Many Christians might be able to prove to a pagan, evolutionist, Muslim, etc. that Christianity is true beyond a reasonable doubt, but only they (or you in this case) can choose to accept it. Be honest with yourself when you answer this question to see if you’re open to acceptance: If someone could provide reasonable answers to the most significant questions and objections you have about Christianity–reasonable to the point that Christianity seems true beyond a reasonable doubt–would you then become a Christian? If your honest answer is no, then your objection to Christianity is either emotional or it is of your own free will (volitional)…but it’s not intellectual since you’ve just let everyone know that no amount of evidence will convince you because evidence is not your problem–you are. Only you know if you’re truly open to the evidence for Christ.
But one of the beautiful things about God’s creation is that if you’re not willing to accept Christianity, you’re free to reject it. This free will is what makes us moral creatures–ones with the freedom to reject the truth–and gives us the ability to choose our ultimate destiny.

4:53 PM  

Simply put: no one can prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God exists. Further, they cannot prove which God exists. There are thousands of them, you know.
Oh, on the contrary, as I keep repeating, we can easily prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Bible is divine rather than human in origin and once we do establish this, we can appeal to Scripture for our answers, don’t you agree? So when the evidence is examined in totality and we come to the most reasonable conclusion based on it, we can obviously know not only which God is true, but we can know His will for us. Simple as that.
Now, when I say beyond a “reasonable” doubt, that may be quite different from your assertion that we must know beyond “a shadow of a doubt.” To clarify your position, please answer this question for me: Do you know beyond a “reasonable” doubt that you will not wake up tomorrow morning, walk out the door and immediately be hit and killed by a meteorite falling to earth? It could happen, but is it “reasonable”? I think even you would agree that no, it’s not reasonable to think it will happen. Now, are you sure it won’t happen beyond a “shadow” of a doubt? If your answer is you don’t know it won’t happen beyond a shadow of a doubt, then you’re saying, in effect, that you won’t believe any amount of convincing evidence for Christianity, but rather God would have to come down, visit you personally at your work or home, maybe have lunch with you or something and compel you to believe in Him and only then will you be convinced. If that’s the case, please refer to my Nietzsche quotes above. You should also be aware that God doesn’t compel anyone to believe in Him since that negates our creation as free-willed, sentient human beings. We would no longer be able to think and choose for ourselves.

4:54 PM  

We all make our choices on what to believe or not believe based on experience, evidence and personal conviction.
So all beliefs are equally valid, eh? So what about the student who is convinced that 2+2=5? Now this is no ordinary student, he’s a very warm, caring, loving human being who adopts puppy dogs and works in a battered woman’s clinic and he is utterly convinced based on experience, personal conviction and the evidence of a website he found that 2+2 does, in fact, equal 5.
Now does 2+2 suddenly equal 5? Do 2+2= 4 and 2+2= 5 become equally valid answers to the same question? Of course not. Although he may sincerely believe something, he would be sincerely wrong.

Another question is how much stock are you going to put into a subjective personal experience that only you can feel and from what do your “personal convictions” arise? Do they arise out of an arbitrary, “that sounds good to me, let’s go with it” attitude; do they arise from “My friends all believe this and I want to be accepted in the group” attitude? Just where do they come from? From inside yourself, of course and that’s quite a bit different from Christianity. Although we Christians do have personal, subjective experiences from God, the subjectivity is only a part of why we believe.
You may not be aware of it, but the Christian faith is rooted in history and evidence, it’s never a blind faith. Those who would say it is simply aren’t acquainted with the facts. In fact, Jesus himself said the greatest commandment is to ‘Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.’ (Mark 12:30-31)
From this commandment and the fact that Jesus emphasized the word mind, we know that God demands an acceptance of Him based on a thoughtful, careful and intellectual investigation of Him and an analysis of evidence. And let’s not forget that the Bereans were commended by God for not merely accepting man’s word about Him, but researching and analyzing the evidence for themselves. Much more could be said about this, but I wonder if you could detail out for me some of the objective evidence for your particular brand of paganism, maybe you can point to some manuscript evidence, eyewitness evidence, archaeological evidence for your beliefs, etc. Really, I’d like to know because, of the few pagans with whom I’ve talked, they all seem to base their beliefs on a scant few documents dated loooong after the closing of the canon of scripture (which I can’t wait to address in just a minute) and a feeling that they generally just love trees, water, nature and somehow, all this must have come from a “sacred mother” because…well, just because.

4:55 PM  

The story of Jesus is rooted in pagan mythology.
Tut, tut, tut, Zan. This is a completely false assertion and it’s one of the reasons I referred to your being uninformed about the historicity and evidentiality of Christianity. In addition, it’s a claim which you’re going to be hard pressed to build even a far-fetched case for. Unfortunately, you’re not the only one to parrot this idea.
Son of God? Done about a thousand times before JC.Really? Names of ten of them, please. Okay, names of five, then. Er, names of two??
Born of a virgin? Also done a thousand or so times before.
Um, a few examples, please? Ones dated before the first century?
Die and live again? Done and done. Promise to return again at the end of the world? Check out Norse mythology, their entire pantheon is coming back for the final battle. Even that Hell thing you want to talk about, it's been done a thousand times before too.
Er, no. Please allow me to enlighten you with the factual evidence of the so-called pagan “mystery religions.” You can research all this info for yourself, of course, and I hope you do. It seems I probably know more about the religion or belief system you claim to follow than you do!
You are simply singing a common refrain sung by those who would attempt to demean the biblical Jesus in the court of public opinion–namely that the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ are myths borrowed from ancient pagan mystery religions. Unfortunately, I think this idea has gained so much traction because people nowadays are not only biblically illiterate, they are also historically illiterate.
The first myth widely spread in this regard is that the similarities between Christianity and the pagan mysteries are striking. Those pushing this myth employ biblical language and are reduced to going to great lengths to concoct commonalities. Let’s look at the “similarities” between Christianity and the cult of Isis. The god Osiris was supposedly murdered by his brother and buried in the Nile. Isis recovered the body, only to lose it again to her brother-in-law, who cut it into fourteen pieces and spread it all over the world. Isis went around gathering up the pieces and put them in the Nile. After “baptizing” each piece in the Nile, Osiris was “resurrected,” but he wasn’t even bodily resurrected. He comes back as some shadowy, non-physical figure of the underworld. Obviously, parallels between the “resurrected” Osiris and the resurrected Christ are a stretch at best. In fact, Osiris’s sinking in the Nile has about as much to do with Christian baptism as the sinking of Atlantis! Sadly for pagans, this is about as good as it gets. The other “similarities” cited by liberal scholars are even more far-fetched, if that’s possible. Not only that, but pagans such as yourself, Zan, have their chronology all wrong. Again, this gets back to being historically illiterate. The pagan mystery religions actually flourished long after the closing of the canon of Scripture, so it’s much more accurate to say that the mysteries actually “borrowed” from Christianity rather than the other way around.
Furthermore, the mysteries actually reduced reality to a personal experience of enlightenment. Through secret ceremonies and rituals, pagans supposedly entered a “higher realm of reality” through these transformations of consciousness.
While Christians committed themselves to essential Christian doctrine, pagans worked themselves into altered states of consciousness because they believed that experience was a better teacher than objective reality. Far from being grounded in history and evidence as Christianity is, the pagan religions reveled in hype and emotionalism.
Also, the mysteries were merely melting pots for every belief that came down the pike. Take a god from here, a goddess from there, a goat from this one and viola! There’s your new religion! Oftentimes, the pagan mysteries embraced aspects of competing mystery religions while continuing to worship in their own cultic constraints.
Not so with Christianity. Christians singularly placed their faith in the One who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14.6)

4:57 PM  

Does that mean I think Christianity isn't a valid belief system? No, actually. I think it's just as vaild as any other system…
Christianity says Jesus is the unique Son of God, he took our sins upon Him, made the ultimate atoning sacrifice by dying on the cross and He raised Himself from the dead in a final vindication of His deity. Islam says not only is Jesus not the Son of God, but he never even died. The earliest forms of Buddhism say there is no God. Pantheists say God is in the water and dirt.

Please explain how all these belief systems which make mutually exclusive, contradictory claims can be true at the same time or are we back to the “whatever you feel, go with it” thing?

(Which, you know, the church doesn't have a very good record with. What with the Crusades, Inquisition, colonization of the Americas, etc. Though, I must give you guys credit for calming down the overt violence in recent years.)… Reminds me of all the Oh-So-Wise people who filled up my parents' Southern Baptist church when I was growing up. Of course, these were the same people who were abusing their children, cheating on their spouses and getting insanely drunk every night but Sunday -- because Sunday is the Lord's Day, doncha know?
Ah, the old canard: “Christianity must be false because all Christians are hypocrites who get drunk, beat their children, blah, blah, blah. And the Crusades, don’t get me started!”
To begin with, this perception of Christians –for reasons either real or imagined– was anticipated by Jesus, who long ago proclaimed that his followers would be known by the way they lived their lives (John 15:8). As Jesus pointed out not everyone who calls him “Lord” is the real deal (Matthew 7:21-23).
Having said that, some non-Christians have the misunderstanding that you must be perfect if you profess faith in Jesus. What you must understand, Zan, is that the validity of Christianity does not rest on sinful human beings, but rather on the perfection of Jesus Christ alone (Hebrews 7:26; 1 Peter 2:22). Moreover, the fact that professing Christians commit sin only serves to prove the premise of Christianity–namely that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23); thus all are in need of a savior (1 John 3:4-5).
I guess it’s just lucky for you that your “equally valid” belief system allows you to get as drunk, base and crude as you wish. After all, according to your
”religion,” it precludes you from “generally believing in sin.”

4:59 PM  

Of course, you could argue that means I'm a fan of relative morality. Me, I personally think I've just studied religion and seen the common threads throughout them.
Oh, to be sure, there are some good things in almost every religion. Rest assured, you are still a moral relativist, though, as I’ve pointed out using your own statements.

I use the word sin because it's handy. I don't believe in sin the way you do, I'm pretty sure. Sin is deliberately hurting other people. It could be something big or it could be something small, but you have to mean to do it.
You have to “mean to do it,” eh? Okay, if an arsonist is so overcome with an uncontrollable desire to burn down a house and he happens to pick that of your parents who happen to be in the house at the time, did he actually “sin” when he murdered your whole family, although he says he didn’t really mean to kill anybody? And if he’s not guilty of any “sin,” how can society, in good conscience, send this man to prison? How about child molesters? If they’ve got a “disease” and cannot control their urges, they’re not really guilty of sin, either, are they? Since they’re sinless, how can we judge that their actions are “wrong”? In fact, since you “generally don’t believe in sin,” you must be against our society (or any society for that matter) governing by any standard of law whatsoever. So what’s your solution to rape, murder, arson, theft, assault, etc.? Or are we once again back to that arbitrary morality based on what Zan feels is right in her heart again?

No one and nothing is inherently sinful. People can do bad things, but that doesn't make them bad people. Not to day there aren't bad people in the world, but most of us? Eh, no.
Refer to Romans 3.23 again. And I guess Adolph Hitler wasn’t such a bad guy, was he? After all, he was just following the dictates of social Darwinism and eliminating six million people of the “inferior races” so they’d stop polluting the “superior races” with their “unfit genes,” um, right? And he was pretty nice to his dogs, so I guess you’re right, no one has an inherently sinful nature! Gee whiz!

…but that no one is capable of knowing it (truth) all or fully understanding what they know.
Really, so we can’t know truth, eh? Well, er, is this statement true? If it is, how can we know it, then, since we can’t know truth? And we can’t fully understand truth? But you can somehow understand it’s true that truth can’t be understood?
Zan, you should really quit making self-defeating truth claims while you’re only really, really behind! LOL!

I know, the aura of smug superiority eminating from Herr Troll is a bit suffocating.
I’m sorry you find opinions based in reality and the dissemination of truth–not pieces or parts or “your truth” and “my truth”–“suffocating.”

And really, Jesus would never do a Pepsi commercial. He's a Dr. Pepper man. (Didn't you know, one of DP's 32 flavors is the blood of the savior? Drink enough of it and you get a free trip to Heaven!)
Um, oooookay. This makes no sense, but I’m not surprised given the other things you’ve had to say.

5:01 PM  

What Daisy said. I agree completely.

How can people believe that someone should have a stroke because she is controling? How can they claim to be a shepherd to the flock and think some of the sheep deserve to die?

6:10 PM  

Hey, how's my favorite Zan doing?

I know I've probably blown your mind with all the points I addressed and your assertions about paganism vs. Christianity which I refuted today, but I just had that "on my heart," sorry! Like I said, dissemination of info really gets quite involved sometimes and it's much too lengthy to post on a blog format like this.

I know the other reader of this blog doesn't know what I'm addressing, but it's enough that you and I do ; )

If you have any questions, concerns or issues about what I've written to you, please don't hesitate to contact me, Zan! (Tony Stark@rock.com)

I know it's a very difficult time for you right now and you're really searching, but believe me, there are people who are praying for you. (That's how we eeevil, superstitious Christians spread our hate, y'know. By praying for others and giving them food, clothing, medicine and such at such tropical NGO locales as Darfur and San Salvador.)

And I cordially invite your other reader to contact me, also! Hey, public discourse is a good thing, doncha' think?

Have a wonderful day!

6:42 PM  

Off the top of my head, because I have to run to work:

Children of Gods:
Alexander the Great (fathered by Zeus)
Romulus, founder of Rome (child of Mars and Rea Sivia, a Vestal Virgin)
Emperor Augustus (fathered by Apollo)
Dionysus (child of Zeus and Semele)

Virgin Births:
-- all of those are recored by Origen, a father of the Church.

Reborn Gods:
Castor and Pollux
Inanna (who was crucified like Jesus and returned to rule over Sumeria)

And if you really think that Greek and Sumerian beliefs are pre-dated by Christianity? Well...

7:56 AM  

I sure had to scroll a lot.

So all dead people are the result of smiting? If so, then as you say, there's no need to bother with nonbelievers and certainly no need to worry! Either God's taking care of thangs or He ain't.

As exasperated as I've been by other drivers, I've never wished them dead. And while my primary concern is that my car remain unharmed, avoiding human harm must be part of the reason those jerks irk me so.

8:00 PM  

Hmmm, I came here thinking that there was going to be a healthy range of opinions with 11 replies but it was mostly a monologue from anonymous..!

Anyway, I can relate very much to some of what you have mentioned. I also come from a similar family though not as many nor SB. After turning 18 (a very long time ago..)I chose not to follow the path that my parents set me on. My mother thinks that the devil has taken my soul and any bad stuff that happens in my life is a result of and or punishment for my apostasy. Though, when bad stuff happens to her it's a test of her faith!?! *Wry smile*

She refuses to accept that there is any other way to follow the teachings of Jesus without being financially committed to her specific church. I have reminded her that Jesus was actually a Jew and not a Protestant or Catholic and that he had less than nice things to say about the money-changers in the Temple(institutionalised religion today.

I have tried to make her understand that just because I was baptised (at 6 wks old) and then later confirmed into her church, that these were not "my" way but rather "her" will since I had no say in the matter as to whether I wanted either of these things imposed upon me.

And it used to frustrate the crap out of me as a little kid when I used to ask for clarity on something like "why are there two contradicting creation stories in Genesis mum?" she'd say that I am not to question the word of God. "So why did God give me a brain then mum - to keep my ears apart?"

Here is another problem. Unlike my family I do not accept that the bible is the unerring absolute truth. A lot of stuff in the OT is particularly disturbing, but then again, it's just my misguided opinion eh?

10:41 PM  

Yes, my little troll likes to go on and on. There's actually another comment in the moderation que I haven't put up because he's monopolizing the conversation and I want to hear what other people have to say :)

You should try pointing out that Mary was an unwed teenage mother and Jesus was a convicted/executed criminal. Watch their eyes explode. (And also, technically Jesus was a bastard. Ha. They'll loooove that.)

The thing is, the Bible even says that there's no ONE correct way to interpret scripture. There is no one correct way to be a Christian. Jesus said His followers would be known by their love. He said, go tell people the Good News. Good News is not "Hey, you're going to Hell!" No. Good News is that you are loved and valued beyond measure. But most seem to skip over that part, focusing on the hell and damnation and judgement. (Conveniently ignoring that whole Judge Not part.)

(And yes, the Bible is full of stuff you can't get away with these days. Rape, murder, incest, slavery, decapitation, dismemeberment -- but it's good for children, see?)

7:44 AM  

> know I've probably blown your mind with all the points I addressed

My Preconceptions! My Preconceptions!!

whhhoooooooaaaaaaaa doooooooooooood

why, i see things in a completely new and blinding Light now!! i--


oh, sorry, Nonny, just acid indigestion, never mind.

12:48 PM  

"Tom STARK," oh, that is excellent, really.

i once knew a dentist named Dr. Toothacher.

12:57 PM  

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