Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Talking to Christians (and Other "Faith Heads")

I have been reading a book entitled Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist, by Dan Barker, and I am nearing its completion. All in all, the book is pretty good. It reads a little rough, and repeats itself some, but that is due to many (but not all) of the chapters being reprints of articles he wrote for "Freethought Today". (One would expect such a collection to read less smoothly than a usual book, written chapter-by-chapter FOR the book.) An advantage of this, though, is that the chapters are almost all short and to-the-point (52 chapters; 383 pages).

Anyway, I feel that Chapter 16 almost perfectly captures many (most) of my experiences with talking to Christians. So, here it is, in its entirety (about 2 pages).

Chapter Title: An Open-minded Discussion

One minister offered that the reason I am unable to see the truth revealed by the precious facts of Scripture is that I am depending on my own reason rather than trusting the Creator of the universe, by faith.

"The human mind is limited," he said, "and it is arrogant for you to try to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and proclaim what can't possibly be proved: that there is no God. You are lost if you use your own mind and intelligence."

"Well, whose mind do you suggest I use? Yours?" I asked. "Are you suggesting that I should never evaluate any data? Are you telling me to turn off the analysis and just swallow what some authority feeds me? Would you willingly do the same thing if approached by the flat-earthers or the Zoroastrians, or the Rev. Jim Jones?"

"You are not being open," he responded. "You have already closed your mind to Jesus." He said this in spite of the fact that he knew that I had once been a minister and have demonstrated that I am able to bend.

"But I will change my mind," I said, "if you give me some evidence. Are you willing to change your mind about Jesus if the facts warrant?"

"No," he replied quickly, "because I know Jesus personally. I can't possibly deny what I know to be true."

"But those are just words. They point to an intangible image in your mind, to something that no one else can verify. What if it could be pointed out that there is no possible way for anyone, yourself included, to distinguish between your 'knowledge' of Jesus and the mystical delusions of shamans? What if it could be shown that your inner experience is just normal psychological creativity? Then would you be willing to admit you might be wrong? Can you admit at least the possibility that you are participating in a near-universal tendency to embrace fantasy?"

"I can't do that," he answered.

"Then I think I have proved that I am open-minded and you are not," I said.

"Oh, no. I am definitely open," he added. "I am open to the truth of the Bible, and that is all that matters."

"Well, so am I. I am open to the possibility that the bible might be true. I am willing to read it, to study it, to read any books you recommend on the bible, and to listen to any of your explanations and arguments. How does that make me close-minded?"

"Because your attitude is wrong. You look at the bible and you don't see its beauty and importance. Since the bible is true, and since you haven't accepted its truth, then there is something wrong with you."

"What is wrong with examining the bible in the context of the entire human experience, learning how it compares with other myths, and how it differs?"

"See! You called it a myth," he said. "That is prejudice that you bring to the bible before you even start reading it. You can't possibly know its truth if you are treating it like any other superstitious book."

"When you read Virgil's Aeneid, do you keep your mind open to the possibility that the Cyclops was a real creature?"

"No one has ever claimed that the Cyclops was real, but millions of people claim that Jesus is alive and real. Since you have never met Jesus, you are hardly in a position to criticize us or to know what the Bible is all about."

"Just like you, I used to believe that I had met Jesus personally, but I now know that such an argument is purely subjective. It would be like saying that the only people who are qualified to make a decision about the existence of leprechauns are those who have met a leprechaun personally. Have you met a leprechaun personally?"

"No, but I have met Jesus personally."

"You haven't met any leprechauns, but I bet you have an opinion about their existence."

"Leprechauns are irrelevant. We're talking about Jesus."

"Let's put it this way. Do you agree with me that the human race has exhibited an immense propensity to believe errors?"

"What do you mean?"

"There are millions of people who devoutly worship Allah, millions who fear primitive superstitions, millions who think the Angel Moroni spoke to Joseph Smith, and I am not so sure that no one ever believed in the existence of the Cyclops. All of these people are not right, are they?"

"They have been deceived!"

"Then you agree with me that there is something about human nature that makes most of us susceptible to error."

"Yes, I would have to agree with that," he conceded.

"Then what makes you exempt?"

He was silent for a moment, then answered, "Well, somebody has to be right. I believe I am right. I believe that I have good reason for my faith."

"So do the Moslems."

"But none of those other religions have anything like the bible, or anything like the unique message of salvation through Jesus," he triumphed.

"You have not done your homework. Any serious student of Christianity, who does not ignore the context of myth and human experience, would never make such a claim."

"It would be a waste of my time to study those other myths and religions when I already know that I have the truth."

"And if an atheist said that it would be a 'waste of time' to study the bible, what would you think?"

"That would not be open-minded," he concluded, without a flicker of embarrassment.


(If you like what you've read, look-up the book! The link is at the top.)

1 comment:

Iron Soul said...

Another good post. I've sort of had the idea of reading the book one day, I just haven't done it yet, although I listen to Dan Barker's podcast. But based on the excerpt I believe I'll move Losing Faith in Faith closer to the top of my list.