09 February 2013

Brain Droppings about Fundamentalist dogma

Much of fundamentalist Christian theology hinges on the idea of free will. This is especially true of the modern evangelical brand of Christianity found in the United States.  Spend any amount of time getting to know this brand of theology and the dependence on free will is pretty hard to miss.  God doesn’t send anyone to hell we are told, people choose to go their of their own free will.  People choose to reject God/Jesus. People chose not to believe.

Some of this strange idea we must lay at the feet of St. Paul.  It was he who taught that people had an innate feeling of God (and specifically the Christian God). Paul thought that people who professed an honest unbelief were engaged in a kind of dodge and that deep down people just know there is a god. Unbelief was not so much being a person unconvinced by he and his church’s stories. It was not an active and thoughtful stance. It couldn’t be that someone had a look at the evidence and the arguments and honestly came away unconvinced of the case for God. To reject Christian doctrine was rather a rebellious rejection of the God that deep down all humans know exists (strange that no missionaries found thriving Christian Churches anywhere upon their arrival- this knowledge doesn’t seem too useful). Many modern Christian apologists adopt some form of this idea.  Its threads are fairly obvious throughout the fundamentalist movement.  You can find it in the ideas of William Lane Craig, Rick Warren, and many Southern Baptist traditions in the US.

I suspect this doctrine helps many Christians sleep at night. It lets their God off the hook for heinous crimes.  After all it couldn’t be that their omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent deity would send someone to hell, that is to say to eternal punishment and torture over something like an honest mistake. It has to be some basic depravity (which also isn’t our fault). Calvinist tradition, myopic and parochial in the extreme, states that humans are totally depraved. Calvin would be happy to hear that many leaders of modern US Christianity adopt his theology, assuming Calvin could be happy about anything. But that is getting a bit off track. The point is that according to many fundamentalist Christians,  people who profess unbelief are, and they wouldn’t use this phrase, full of shit. Deep down we unbelievers are just denying the “God conscious” we are all endowed with.1 This is a neat maneuver, though wholly immoral, which absolves believers of any guilt they might have over the actions of a monster.

However this guilt absolving picture believers have created begins to fall apart when you add the curious character of the Holy Spirit. Say I am in a state of disbelief. Further imagine that I am curious about this Jesus fellow and the adventures he got up to in his short 30+ years. Perhaps I am even interested in the history of his ancestors (such that they are).  My logic is, more or less, unassailable. What better way to be convinced, or begin to be convinced of the reality of Jesus than by the book dedicated to him? Let’s leave aside any question of whether the bible represents actual history and assume it is all true.  Can this account convince me, the unbeliever? The answer is, surprisingly, no. Unless I first accept Jesus, unless I make a statement of belief in advance of evidence, I cannot discern any of the truth that the bible is allegedly littered, positively dripping with. Accepting Jesus, is also to invite the Holy Spirit into your life, and only with the help of this character can I discern the spiritual awesomeness of the bible.

"But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised." (1 Cor. 2:14)”

“THE FIRST KEY FOR INTERPRETING and understanding the Bible is the supernatural key. You use this key when you approach the Bible by sincerely believing that it was supernaturally produced and preserved. It was inspired or breathed out by God who used holy men of old to record his words. While these men used their own languages and were influenced by their own cultures, the end product was the eternal, infallible, inerrant, and authoritative Word of the Almighty and all-wise God who created the universe in which we live. Without this recognition of the Bible as a supernatural book one could never learn to rightly interpret what God has said in it.”
-George M. Bowman (http://www.graceway.com)

This is a severely problematic way to approach any historical text. Historians have a technical term for this approach: fucked up.  But it is particularly problematic, fucked up, for this text which I have to believe in order to get into heaven and avoid oodles of torture. However I can’t believe it, or understand the source material –the evidence, unless I believe it first? How does that work? How can I be convinced before I have been convinced by evidence? It seems like a good question to me. It also seems like a prescription for disaster. Not so to believers apparently.  Any perusal of fundamentalist Christian Broadcasting demonstrates this, its a pillar of their faith.

According to Dan Popp, an apologist at Renew America, claims that God actually “hides his message from unbelievers.”2 He justifies this with bible verses as you might expect.

“And the disciples came and said to Him, "Why do You speak to them in parables?" And He answered them, "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. ..."Therefore I speak to them in parables, because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, "You will keep on hearing, but you will not understand; And you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive." (Matthew 13:10,11,13,14)”

As systems go this one seems incredibly crappy.

This leaves me wondering how I can be personally responsible for my belief in God at all.  To start, I cannot choose to believe in anything.  I believe in things because some element of evidence plus experience, compel me to find some position consistent with reality.  This seems like the experience of many, most people.  I cannot choose to believe in the Christian message unless I am compelled by evidence. This is quite terrible if the Christian dogma is correct.  It renders the idea of missionary work more or less pointless. If God is going to key someone into his message, he is going to do it, is the only one who can do it, regardless of the effort of missionary minded believers.  No one can examine the text of the bible with an open mind and expect to comprehend it.  To get the message of the bible, I have to believe it (on some level) first, but how is that possible? How is this just?  I don’t think free will is a real thing, but imagine it was, how could it possibly fit in this system? We didn’t choose to be “totally depraved.’’ How does free will work in the action of belief? Can you choose to believe something?

Imagine this system of “logic” applied to any other question of fact. Apply it to the idea of bigfoot, UFOs, Ivory-billed Woodpeckers for a start.  Does any step above work? It seems unlikely.  Why should it help out in matters of religion? If I told you that you had to believe in bigfoot, before you can begin to understand the signs of bigfoot, you would think I was crazy, or at the very least a very poor scientist. Why is it acceptable in the realm of Christian religion?

1.     Graceway Bible Society, is a fairly representative web-site, though its production values are lower than others.  But hey they say you can trust them.  www.graceway.com
2.     Renew America has higher production values, and is also representative of the fundamentalist Christian thought.  Its no more credible though. www.renewamerica.com


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