A Brand New Direction

It’s been a year and a half since I’ve posted on here, but I think it’s time I start up again. I have some new things to say.

Around this time last year, I was writing some Bible class material on the subject of “Christian Evidences” when I came across these articles claiming that the Book of Daniel was a forgery. Naturally, I was highly skeptical of the claim and decided to test it. Much to my surprise, there was real substance to the articles — arguments that substantially called the inspiration of Daniel into question. After doing further research, I found that the information given in the articles was accurate and accepted, even by Christian scholars (Christian scholars don’t accept the conclusion of course, just the historical evidence).

I was completely dumbfounded. As my previous articles on this site show, I was unwavering in my belief that the Bible was the inerrant, inspired word of God, and I had spent a lot of time studying the doctrinal issues in the Bible. But after researching the Book of Daniel, I realized that I had never tested my belief in the Bible’s inspiration; I had just assumed it. I felt humiliated! The entire foundation of my life was based on something I had never really investigated!

I immediately started to do heavy research into the prophecies of the Bible, the alleged inconsistencies of the Bible, and the transmission and canonicity of the Bible. I also spent time thinking more deeply about the theology of the Bible, especially the concept of an eternal Hell. With every subject I studied, my doubts grew and grew. Within a couple of months, I realized that I could no longer accept that the Bible was inspired by God. There were too many issues in it to be the message of a perfect deity.

My blog is called “Finding Truth” because that’s what I’ve always tried to do, even when it’s uncomfortable. As I make future posts, I want to examine the things that led me to my current position and explain why I actually find more comfort now than I did as a Christian. I’ve decided to leave all my old articles in place as an interesting comparison to where I am now. I hope everything here will be useful to those searching for truth.

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42 comments

  1. Okay, granted, I’ve only read the first few posts, but so far, I’m not impressed. Maybe he makes some earth-shattering revelation later, but I’m not holding my breath. His arguments just seem pretty weak to me, and the writer admits to being biased in his introduction. I don’t have time to address all of his points right now, and again, I haven’t read all of it yet, but I’ll try to get back to you on this soon.

    Also, I’m disappointed that you’re trying to destroy the faith of others… I know you’ll disagree with me on this, but to me, trying to take away someone’s hope is worse than murder. If there’s no afterlife, then what does it hurt to believe that those who have kept God’s word will be rewarded? You say that you’re more comforted now, but I just find that hard to believe. I couldn’t sleep at night if I thought there were no hope of seeing my child again one day if something happened to him. I suppose I’d rather believe that a person can be punished for their choices instead of there just being no reward for anyone. I can’t help but think of all the innocent children that have been aborted. While I believe that abortion is a sin that will judged by God, I’ve always been comforted to think that those children are in Paradise. But if there is no Paradise, then those children just never get to exist. How is that just? How is that comforting? Of course, it doesn’t matter what you or I WANT to believe; it matters what IS. I know what is, just like you used to. And if you truly have an open mind and if you’re truly searching for Truth, then I believe you’ll find it again. Just don’t throw away the things you were taught as a child simply because you’ve never questioned it before now. There was probably a reason you never questioned it.

    Anyways, I have to get back to work. Again, I’ll say more on these articles later. (Love you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

  2. Hey Ryley — love you too.

    But comfort only comes in religion if you know that you and your loved ones will be saved. The religion that you and I grew up with teach that those chances are pretty slim. Every time we were expecting a new baby, I felt guilty for bringing another person into this world who had such a high risk of going to Hell. Would I love to enjoy my family forever in a place of utter bliss? Of course! Who wouldn’t? But according to the beliefs we were taught, most of mankind wouldn’t make it (including many of our loved ones). I find no comfort in that.

    But as you said, what we want has nothing to do with what is. And there’s lots of information to make us question the validity of the Bible. The articles about the Book of Daniel that I linked to weren’t enough to cause me to lose faith. But they certainly showed me that there were many things I had assumed that weren’t really true. And that sparked the investigation that has led me here. I’ll be surprised if you finish those articles and still think his arguments are weak.

    I have more posts on the way, so hopefully the reasons for my current beliefs will be more understandable then. My goal isn’t really to tear down other people’s faith so much as it is to update my position on things (since I was so public before). Also, the withdrawal I’ve experienced from family and friends shows me that it’s not true that “no harm comes” from these beliefs. If our beliefs hadn’t been so dogmatic, I probably wouldn’t have investigated it so rigorously. In a way, it was because we were so serious about it that I wound up here.

    Anyway, I appreciate your comments, and I hope we can keep up the discussion — whether online or off.

  3. I’ve been taking my time, reading through these posts of your ‘new direction’. I have to say what troubles me the most isn’t your ‘new direction’ at all. What down right breaks my heart is seeing the way ‘christians’ have responded to you, especially those closest to you. Nathan I am sorry, down to my bones sorry for the way you have talked to, talked down to, and withdrawn from. Everything your church family has done is the exact oppisite of how Christ would have reached out to you. I hope you’ll take me up on that lunch,

    I don’t want try and debate things, just offer you a friendship again and maybe a glimpse into a different world. I really believe the church of christ is right about more things than they are wrong about, however those things they error in they do so oh so greatly.

  4. Hey Matt,

    Thanks for the kind comment. I was out of town last week and had no computer access, which is why you haven’t heard back from me yet. I definitely want to take you up on that lunch — I’ll call you later today.

    Thanks!

    Nate

  5. Nate,

    I will first admit that I happen to fall into your blog and have only read a few posts, but the one here above is enough. From other comments and posts I have read in your blog so far, it seems that you once believed one way, and now you believe quite differently.

    The Bible (you know, the inspired one that you used to believe in) says that all men know that there is a God and that all of creation tells of Him. Without reading any book, anyone who is honest would agree with this. It takes an idiot to say that we came from a ‘big blast’ where everything in the universe was condensed into one tiny mass; or that we were first single cell organisms, or monkeys… just wherever you want to draw that line.

    So, establishing what all men know to be true… there is a God. He has created all that we see and know, and all that we are yet to discover, and all that we will never discover. He would have to be about truth, otherwise his creation would be a chaos. Some might think things are chaotic (to which I would somewhat agree, yet the chaos comes from man, not God), but that’s another day.

    Sin, whether you believe it or not still, is obvious within this physical world. Whether you believe in the Bible or not, just observing life in this world, we can judge for ourselves that there is good and there is evil. What is it within us that can judge something to be evil? Why do we as parents raise our children to be good? Why does it seem to be built into us as people, to desire to do good (although we fail terribly)?

    Why do almost all peoples of the earth believe in some higher power? Did the amoeba we came from just happen to have an inferiority complex that makes us feel that we need to create a god for ourselves?

    So… there is a God. We are a creation of this God, and any reasonable person would know that there must be a purpose of life here. So knowing these things, how does God let us know what all of this life is supposed to be about?

    I’ll try to cut to the chase here Nate… the Bible is far, far more than just ‘the inspired word of God’. It is the most remarkable thing ever laid into man’s hands, where He allowed the words that proceeded from Him to be recorded in a way that we could listen, read and understand something about this Creator. The Bible says in Hebrews 4:12 that the word of God “…is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart”. What does this mean? The Bible, the written word of God Himself, has the ability to discern the thoughts and intentions of your heart when you come to it. Why? I can’t say exactly, although I have many ideas why I personally think so, but that’s not really important. But I’ll say this, I’ve always taught that the Bible gives a man “enough rope to hang himself”. If you come to the word of God intending to disprove it, you’ll find enough there to get what you want. If you come to the word of God to prove that Jesus Christ is a created being and not God in the flesh, you’ll find enough ammo to make your point. If you come to the word of God to prove that a man works his way into heaven, you could build a whole religion around it and use the Bible to prove it. But in all three of these, you would be wrong.

    If you truly belong to Jesus Christ, or I should say if you ever did (and only you and the Lord know that), then you are a brother that has been led astray by the enemy. Much of this same thing happened during the Early Church years, so take heart that you weren’t the first down this road. However, having said that… the road you are journeying down is a dangerous one indeed, and you need to get off of it now. This is not an argument between men. This is not an argument of what source did the KJV or the NASB get their manuscripts from, or what parchment number or Dead Sea scroll did this verse really come from. This is you, as a man, saying to God that He is a liar. That’s blunt, but its true. Most of us have had our times in the trenches and have wondered some of the things that you write about. But at the end of the day Nate, we all must be willing to die… willing to stand on our ground and say… Jesus Christ is Lord, His word is true, and no matter what ‘evidence’ comes my way telling me otherwise, it will not sway me.

    I’ve prayed for you even though I don’t know you. The enemy has got you on your back. Its time you get up and get the victory back, the on that Jesus bought you. With the blood of God.

  6. Hi David,

    Thanks for the comment — I really appreciate it. And I appreciate your prayers too. However, you and I view this issue very differently. The most obvious difference between us can be seen in your sentence here:

    But at the end of the day Nate, we all must be willing to die… willing to stand on our ground and say… Jesus Christ is Lord, His word is true, and no matter what ‘evidence’ comes my way telling me otherwise, it will not sway me.

    That’s a statement I could never agree with. If that’s the stance I had taken with Santa Claus when I was a child, then I would still believe in him today. And if that’s the kind of devotion religious people are supposed to have, then no one would ever change his religious views. That means you could never convert anyone to Christianity, nor should you be expected to. Holding onto beliefs even when the evidence is against you is not true faith. In fact, it denigrates faith to the definition that Mark Twain provided, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” It also comes perilously close to the definition of insanity.

    Also, if it’s true that you can come to the Bible and make whatever point you want (true, not true, works alone, faith alone, etc) then what’s the point? How could the god of the Bible be just, merciful, loving, or rational if he still rewarded some with Heaven and others with Hell based on such a system? Personally, I think we should all try to approach the Bible as open-mindedly as possible and not try to prove it one way or the other. Let it just speak for itself. If it’s true, it should be difficult for us to make it seem false.

    In another place, you say this:

    This is you, as a man, saying to God that He is a liar.

    I disagree with this as well. I’m saying that the writers of the Bible are liars, not God. There’s a big difference there. The Koran says it’s God’s word too. If you don’t believe it, are you calling God a liar? No. You’re saying you don’t believe the claims of the people who wrote the Koran. That’s what I’m saying about the Bible.

    The earliest points in your comment talk about all the evidence for God that we can find outside of religious texts: creation itself, our inclination to be moral, etc. Those are good arguments for the existence of a god, but not good arguments for the existence of Christianity’s god. You should try to consider that if god exists, he may not be the one you’ve always worshiped. When you realize that, it’s easier to see why inconsistencies in the Bible are so significant. The Bible is the only thing we have that can support the existence of Jehovah and the divinity of Christ. If the Bible is faulty, then there’s no real reason to believe in either of those things. If you still feel convinced that a god must exist, then you’re really leaning more toward deism.

    Finally, I also disagree with your assertion that all men know there is a god. Having been on both sides of this issue, I can honestly tell you that when people say they’re atheists, they mean it. They really do see how our existence could just be the result of natural processes and not the work of some outside force or being. I didn’t leave Christianity because I was swayed by the arguments for evolution or the Big Bang; I left Christianity because of the problems I found within it. However, since leaving Christianity, I do think the evidence for the Big Bang and evolution is very compelling. If you’d like to know more about it (and I suggest this even if you remain a Christian — it would be good to understand the arguments), I recommend The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins or Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne.

    Thanks again for your comment, and I hope you’ll continue to stop in from time to time.

    Take care and happy holidays,

    Nate

  7. Nate,

    Where do I start?

    I’ve had many of these types of conversations over the years. I’m sure you have had many from your side of the table as well. Neither of us will budge on where we currently are, although you have budged from where you once stood. You once trusted in Jesus Christ and now you claim you don’t. And that’s your call and you certainly have a right to make that call.

    So where do I go from here in this conversation?

    I could say that I believe the core of your issues with ‘Christianity’ (as you often refer to it) is the ‘religion’ of Christianity itself. Man’s way of worshiping God. Man’s rules. Man’s ways. In one of your posts you wrote much about your problems with the Church of Christ, their practices, their beliefs and their ways.

    So where do I go?

    One thing comes to mind… I would think it more proper that when you state your issues with ‘Christianity’ but make statements about not believing in Jesus Christ any longer; say more plainly what you mean. If you have a problem with Jesus Christ, say so. If you have a problem with Man’s church, say so. But if you have a problem with the practices, teachings and actions of Man’s church ABOUT Jesus Christ; then don’t blame Jesus.

    Jesus even said Himself that the reason the Gentiles didn’t believe in God was because of the Jews. Seemingly harsh words. But what He was saying to them back then is so true of churches today… man takes the things of God and so often makes them into something God never intended, or man will teach or do things He never wanted or never even said.

    Nate, take the time away from man and go back and find Jesus again. Seriously, do it. Me… I once was a preacher. I once was a Bible teacher. I once was a deacon. After dealing with the many things at the hands of my ‘brothers in Christ’ at a particular church, my family and I had to leave. There was much hurt, much sadness. I’ll admit even bitterness and anger at what many had put me and my family through. We stayed out of church for seven years Nate. Seven years.

    We left the church, but we didn’t leave Christ.

    Jesus is real. Man is not.
    Jesus is love. Man is not.
    Jesus is truth. Man is not.
    Jesus’ church is perfect. Man’s church is not.

    I would dare guess that if your family would have loved you and embraced you during your difficult time of ‘dealing’ with all of this, and not cast you aside, at that time you may not have bolted so hard.

    Everything we do in this life, especially within the church, should be done by love… should be motivated by love. You have stepped to the side and denied Christ. And now your family has cast you aside.

    Peter did the same thing. He denied Jesus after having spent three years with him, after having told him that he would die in Jesus’ stead. Even after Peter was the one who God had revealed that Jesus was the Christ. Peter denied Jesus so hard that he cursed when he did it. And after the cock crowed the third time, and Jesus’ words came back to mind, Peter was anguished at what he had done. Peter was cut to the core.

    Nate, I trust that you once knew Jesus Christ. I trust that you once loved Him and believed on Him. But if you don’t mind me relating you to Peter, you are now somewhere in the midst of those three denials that Peter once did. I would say somewhere past the first, but you haven’t made it to the last yet. I pray the last comes soon for you.

    After Jesus’ death the disciples thought all was lost (because Jesus had not resurrected yet). Peter went back to his regular life. He went back to fishing. By the time Jesus sent the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, Peter was a new man. And funny how things go sometimes. Peter’s message on the day of Pentecost, he accuses the Jews of denying Christ… the very same thing he did just two months prior.

    Nate, again… your problem is with man, not God. Not Jesus Christ.

    Turn your face back into the Son.

    My prayers are with you.

    David

  8. Hi David,

    Thanks for the kind comment — it’s nice to hear from you again. I really appreciate the emotion and fervor with which you write. A genuine care and concern comes through.

    I actually think that my real problems are with the Bible. Yes, it’s true that I have some issues with the Church of Christ and their doctrine, and I have some problems with some of the Christians we’ve interacted with. But I’m also pretty good at separating those things. What really made me leave Christianity was the Bible. I had always viewed it as THE basis for everything we did in Christianity. After all, there’s no way to know about Jesus or Jehovah without going back to the Bible (though Catholics and Mormons would disagree with this). And since I’m now convinced that the Bible was not inspired at all, then I just don’t have any reason to believe anything it says.

    Now, as far as its history is concerned, I do think some of it is accurate. In other words, I view it as an ancient history source just like Xenophon, Tacitus, or Homer. Some of the accounts are probably accurate, but things like water turning to blood, people rising from the dead, or voices speaking from the sky are mythical.

    That being said, I don’t have a problem with people who do believe it’s the inspired word of God. I don’t want them to force their beliefs on the rest of us, or to insert their religion into our government. But if they want to be Christians, more power to them. Some of them seem to really be helped by it. And you seem to get real enjoyment from your beliefs — I think that’s great.

    However, I’ve found that I’m actually happier without religion. I find that existence and the human experience makes more sense without Christianity. I think Jesus, if he was anything like the gospels portray him, must have been a really great person — one of the great reformers. But I don’t view him as anything more than that. I think some of his teachings (turning a man against his father and a daughter against his mother, Hell as a punishment, etc) are pretty bad, but most of them were admirable. But I don’t believe he rose from the dead or performed any miracles. And I don’t feel like I’m missing anything or that there’s an emptiness in my life. I guess the only thing I’m missing is my family, but I can’t do anything about that.

    I’m very sorry to hear about the issues you and your family faced. I can empathize with you, and it’s very painful to go through that. I hope you’re happier now.

    You stated that Jesus is real and man is not. But I’ve never seen Jesus, while I’ve interacted with countless people. You stated that Jesus is love and man is not. But I’ve experienced love with many people — I can’t even be sure that Jesus ever existed. You stated that Jesus is truth but man isn’t. But the only information we have on Jesus comes from the Bible, and it’s full of contradictions. Finally, you stated that Jesus’ church is perfect, but how could it be? The church is the people, and people aren’t perfect.

    Ultimately, it makes much more sense to me that the Bible is just a collection of writings that people passed down — much of it cultural myth. To me, it seems no different than all the other religious texts man has created. But I do appreciate your concern. To quote Paul, I’ve done all things in good conscience. So if God exists, and if he’s a just being who will save those who are trying their hardest, then I have no doubt that I would be saved too, even if I always remain an atheist.

    Hope that all makes sense. Thanks again for your comments!

    Nate

  9. I’m right there with you, but I’m still in the beginning stages, I haven’t even told my wife, family, christian friends, non-christian friends or pastor about this blog. I haven’t told anyone about the doubt that is building up.

    But i will enjoy reading more about your blog, because it may provide insight on what is to come

  10. This is the best blog for anyone who desires to find out about this topic. You notice so much its nearly onerous to argue with you (not that I truly would want…HaHa). You undoubtedly put a brand new spin on a topic thats been wrote about for years. Nice stuff, simply nice!

  11. Hey Nate, I found your blog here a month or so back and have just gotten back to reading some of your other posts. Reading this “new direction” post has piqued my curiosity to see what else you’ve written.

    You mentioned something to the person Riley about “if our church hadn’t been so dogmatic I might not have researched so much”. I come from a similar background–our church was the Only True Church and our interpretation of scripture the only true way. I suffered terribly when I began to question it all and was eventually out of that church, b/c they had a “no contact” policy–if somebody leaves or is disfellowshipped, then no contact with people on the inside…and those were my ONLY friends. The person Matt said that true Christians wouldn’t have treated you the way they did (and by extension, I presume the way I was treated would be considered unchristian)…but by what interpretation of scripture?

    David said “all men know it to be true that there is a God”. I’ve been reading Carl Sagan’s book Cosmos (and have written a post about some interesting bits), and you know what else “all men knew to be true”? That the Earth did not move and that the sun, moon, and stars all revolved around it. But through observation (often aided by telescopes) and Geometry, we know that it is not so.

    But of course, your counter-arguments were great and you already know all this…

    You said “I immediately started to do heavy research into the prophecies of the Bible…” I’m wondering if you’ve written anything about Ezekiel’s prophecy concerning the destruction of Tyre? A couple months ago I got into a comment debate with a fellow who held it up as evidence of the Bible’s authority. I found researching it to be very enlightening, and dare I say…entertaining?

  12. Hi eSell — it’s nice to hear from you again.

    From what you’re describing about your religious background, it sounds like we had very similar experiences. The “no contact” stuff (which we called withdrawal) is really hard to go through. I’m sorry to hear you had to deal with it too.

    The points you make about everyone once “knowing” that geocentrism was true are excellent. I’ll have to check out Cosmos — I’ve never actually read any Sagan, and I keep meaning to get to it. And I’ll definitely check out your post.

    And yes, Ezekiel’s prophecy of Tyre was a big one for me. Honestly, it’s what the apologists claim for it that’s so infuriating. Looking at the evidence makes it pretty clear that this prophecy utterly failed. I’ve written about it here and here, if you’re interested.

    Thanks for the comment!

  13. Hi Nate,

    My friend and I often have conversations on faith that go long into the night. I once asked him if he did have a genuine divine experience with god, whether he’d just explain it away as a process given his position of beliefs. He expressed that he would probably would, and that he would assume this to be a serotonin dump in his brain that triggers euphoria and hallucinations, rather than believing these experiences to be divine.

    Just out of interest, I wanted to extend this question to you –

    Say if you had a genuine revelation from God. From where you currently stand, do you think you would explain that experience away as just coincidence or hallucination – based on the premises that (1) there probably is no God and (2) an explanation probably lies in only in matter or energy?

    And if this is the case, if divine revelations do exist, how could they ever be accepted anyway, from this position?

  14. This close friend of mine, who was formerly a Christian, says that he used to feel a powerful spiritual experience, and connection to God when singing worship songs at our church.

    He no longer recognises this experience as spiritual. However, the experience he had at that time hasn’t changed, only what he believes about the experience has changed.

    If profound spiritual experiences are deconstructed, undervalued and moved into to categories of separate processes, then if value and truth exist, how can the value and truth in them be recongnised? How could anyone from a reductionist position come to any different conclusion than that of this reductionism confined to base matter and energy?

    To me this kind of seems like reducing a family to a herd collective or a grouping of mammals. But a family is so much more than this in truth. Like referring to a child as an offspring that runs off a series of biological processes. But a child in truth is more than this.

    And if attempts are made to reduce spiritual experiences, or divine revelation into processes, then are we then still looking at that spiritual experience in the face?

    If there is profound truth in those spiritual and connective experiences, are those truths then left unacknowledged or overlooked through a persons attempt to seek and categorise the experience itself? To place it in neat overview, so people feel more comfortable and in control. In an attempt to completely understand an experience it, so it can be seen as safe. But then again, through that lens, people wouldn’t see these experiences as spiritual or divine, they might just see them as experiences.

    The truth that if an experience was powerful; that there was a connection, and that it was important essentially hasn’t changed – What has changed is how a person now sees those same experiences. And if a person did receive a divine revelation or connection, then reductionist won’t clarify this. The attempt to analyse experiences with the goal of confining them as bite sized, comprehensible processes might make us feel safer, but if there is truth, how can it then be acknowledged through reduction to just the material, while ignoring the experience itself? How can the truth of a whole be understood through breaking up and then referring to isolated processes?

  15. Sorry, just wanted to correct something. Asserting you might “explain away” an experience was a bit premature of me. Its not a fair term to use. Since, someone could say that a theist “explains away” their experience as being from God, rather than focusing on individual processes.

    So I’ll reword that:

    If God did communicate to you a genuine divine experience, would you consider it as purely biological and therefore a delusion, given your current outlook?

  16. Hi Ryan,

    I think you raise a really good question. I think I would react differently depending on the type of experience.

    If I were laying in bed, half-asleep, and then had an experience of God telling me something, I would probably dismiss that as a dream or hallucination. However, if I had an experience like the one Paul had on the road to Damascus, where the people travelling with him experienced something too, then I think I would view that as a genuine experience. So I think having an audience that can verify the experience would convince me.

    I also think I would be convinced if I had an experience that left something behind as evidence. For example, Gideon received at least two different signs concerning a piece of fleece. No one else was around to verify the experience, but he still had physical evidence that he could examine even after the experience had passed.

    In other words, like your friend, I would have a propensity to question an experience if there was no additional way to help verify it. But I don’t think that’s an unreasonable position to take. In a way, it could be considered as a form of humility, in that I recognize my own experiences could be faulty.

    The reason I feel that way, of course, is because there are all kinds of competing experiences that people have — adherents of every faith have talked about divine experiences that would contradict one another if we took them all to be genuine. So humans are definitely susceptible to formulating false experiences, and scientific research has backed that up as well.

    You also bring up some good points about the dangers of dismissing actual divine experiences with this level of skepticism. But some of the things that we think of as divine experiences — like the way your friend felt during some worship services (an experience I’ve had too) — most likely are not actual divine experiences. Because if we think about it, most of us would recognize that we’ve felt the same surge of emotion at an excellent concert, or an especially moving family gathering, or even during a really, really good movie. And it seems to me that we usually feel those things the most when we’re sharing an experience with others.

    I’ve played in some bands before (all of them secular), and there were times when our instincts seemed to gel into something bigger than our individual selves. Like we could anticipate what each person in the band was going to do before they did it. The closest I could come to describing those experiences would be “euphoria.” A congregation of people focused intently on worship can achieve the same thing. Considering the religious environment it occurs in, we naturally assume it’s divine in nature. But the fact that we can get this feeling in activities that have nothing to do with religion makes me think that divine influence has nothing to do with it.

    How do you feel about it?

  17. I agree with you that strong excitement can be triggered when large groups of people get together for a common cause.

    I think there might be a difference between this and spiritual experience. When people see a band, they tend to focus on the lead singer and the musicians. The imagery and sensations triggered through the lyrics, lights and musical rhythms of the band can be really captivating. Also, when people congregate for a sports event, their focus is on the two competing teams, and the colours the theatrics can also captivate people.

    In the two previous examples, people were focusing on the physical (the musicians, the athletes). One distinction I think is that people in worship are focusing beyond these, they are shifting their attention to God.

  18. Hey there, could I chime in? I really like the question that portal posed (I understand from one of Nate’s responses that portal’s name is Ryan…but being a stranger I don’t know if it is polite to use that name).

    I was reading another blog where the post was answering the question: What would you say to God if you ended up meeting him? The answer he gave is unimportant here, but he continually qualified it with “if I were sure it wasn’t a hallucination”. I started thinking about “what would I say?” and consequently “and what would prove to me it wasn’t a trick of my mind?” One thing I thought of as a means of providing proof of the Vision’s validity was asking for some kind of mathematical proof to a big question of mathematics or science (something like those really long equations you see in the movie A Beautiful Mind).

    So, like Nate said, if it were a collective vision, or if there were some evidence (not even physical evidence needed, just a burnt memory of some mathematical solution that even Stephen Hawking hasn’t figured out yet) I would be convinced it was REAL…then I would very quickly try to ask “so, who is right? Are you the God of the Bible?”

    But what about the fact that a collection of related individuals are a FAMILY, and a product of reproduction is a CHILD and not just an offspring? From what I’ve seen on nature shows like NatGeo Wild or Animal Planet (yeah, I know, not exactly Scientific analysis…) that differentiation happens commonly in the animal kingdom…though seems largely particular to Mammals. Lions play with their cubs, bond, lick, etc, and when a cub is killed the mother will call and call even though it knows it is dead. That at least appears to be a form of weeping/mourning that one would have for a child. However, a fish that lays 10,000 eggs, even fish like the Sergeant Major Fish who stay behind to protect them…there isn’t a lot of evidence of sadness when a couple hundred get eaten. Same of reptiles and birds. Perhaps there is and we just can’t read it.

    THE POINT is that if animals can experience “family” ties (most generally mammals, with their more highly developed brains…relative to birds and reptiles and fish), then there is no room for Materialist Reductionism to take that away. It appears that Family Feelings was an advantageous trait that survived the evolutionary process–rather like a fear of heights. To say that “if you reduce spiritual experiences to materialist explanations, what keeps you from doing that to family or love” is, I think, a misunderstanding.

  19. Hi esell :)

    I find it interesting that humans aren’t the only mammals that live and move within communities. I think you make a valid about the fact that many mammals express affection.

    Revisiting your example – a pride of lions also exist within a form of hierarchy – with roles and rituals. We can even observe lion cubs playing together, which enables them to adapt and practice the skills needed to hunt and compete within the pride. There is also teamwork within the pride, since members work together to hunt their food. It does seem though that other mammals seem to rely more on instinct and are more developed from the get go. When a lion cub is born, it seems developed enough to begin a life in sub-Saharan Africa. In contrast, humans seems to more fragile and much more dependent on their family for a longer period of time, although this could just be my human bias :)

    Thanks for your thoughts,

    Ryan

  20. when a lion cub is born it is developed enough to begin life in a sub-saharan africa; but it will only survive if it is protected and provided for by the pride.

    Dolphins have helped people before, without any apparent benefit to the dolphin; there have been instances where dogs have done the same.

    primates also show a “moral compass” within their groups. This is not to say that everything an animal does is perfectly moral. Of course it is not, but then, no man is always perfectly moral either.

    I Think eSell’s point is that if we needed a bible to show us what morality is, then why do animals posses many moral traits? And if it’s because god simply bestowed those animals with a sense of morality, then why didn’t he do that with man, instead of sending a highly contested book to be the moral guide? Perhaps morality is just a product of natural means – opposed to supernatural means.

  21. Hi William, Hope things are well

    Yes, I understand the distinction esell is making, I think many Christians probably start with the belief that God bestowed these specific moral traits on certain animals and He has also bestowed a certain moral compass or written a Gods Law on the hearts of those He made in His image.

    In terms of animal behaviour, one of the things that really interest me is the concept of consciousness, and what that looks like in other animals :)

    For example, my family has a pet dog (Maltese x Shih Tzu). I’ve observed our family dog twitch and make clipped barking noises while she seems to be asleep. It seems like our dog goes through REM cycles, much like people twitch and mumble in certain stages of sleep. What interests me, apart from it being quite funny to observe, is that if dogs express these cycles of sleep – then this might also indicate that they dream.

    And if they dream, then they may be able to retain visual and auditory memory – which might go beyond what has been referred to as instinct. Dogs retain learned behaviour through their memory – If this wasn’t so, people couldn’t train them for various roles (guide dogs ect.). A friend of mine has also shared that his dog seems to “run” in his sleep.

    If dogs experience dreams at some level, then I wonder what their visual cognition might look like? Its probably also possible to observe this behaviour in other mammals, but since cats and dogs are “humans best friends” its probably more noticeable in these animals due to proximity. In dogs, this “sleep talking” might indicate (possibly) that canines are far more complex in (1) conscious thought and (2) visual memory, and even (3) imagination, than they are given credit for.

    We probably shouldn’t assume too much without further evidence, however I find it interesting :)

  22. If Dogs have an imagination, or at least a more developed conscious – then this could also have vast implications on how human beings treat and relate to other types of mammals.

    Particularly those mammals some humans may currently see as “lower” or “just composed of instinct”. To assume dogs just rely on “instinct” also makes it easier for people to mistreat them or treat them harshly. Although, it’s true that humans are also more likely to treat their own kind more harshly if they assume that those “others” are less human, less developed and therefore their inferior. This also complicates things when who humans see as their inferiors, are also seen to be their property. Accounts of this are peppered throughout history, that believing that a human has right to own another animal or human can potentially lead to abuse.

    Then there are other questions that would come out of the cold if it was proven that dogs have a more self awareness than we first assumed – Do dogs then have souls? Depends how soul is defined. If by the soul, we mean memory or identity then possibly, if dogs can dream. But this might not be the Christian understanding of what a soul is.

    Would dogs then go to heaven :)

  23. “To assume dogs just rely on “instinct” also makes it easier for people to mistreat them or treat them harshly.”

    Just correcting myself – to “mistreat” and to “treat harshly” are the same thing
    :)

  24. Awesome discussion…except that I was apparently not being clear. lol.

    While I would, probably, make some kind of argument about “why do we need the bible when animals clearly have a moral code”, that was not, on this occasion, anywhere close to what I was saying.

    What I was attempting to respond to was the whole “you can’t explain away spiritual experiences through Materialist Reductionism…or if you can, what stops you from then using the same thing on concepts like Family or Love”. It was something portal/Ryan referenced on Apr. 12.

    What I was saying is that Family and Love are already explainable from a Materialist perspective, as it appears to be something that the “higher” lifeforms have. By explaining away a “spiritual experience” as euphoria/hallucination/mass psychology, it does not open the door to destroying concepts of Family and Love.

    In fact, I think that explaining spiritual/divine experiences would be more difficult if not for a materialist explanation, as adherents to numerous and completely contradictory faiths experience them. If only Christians (or Muslims, or Jews, or whomever) experienced these things, then I think that could be used as evidence for not only a spiritual realm (and therefore a good chance for a god), but for their interpretation or knowledge of that realm to be the correct one. However, since they all experience it…they can’t all be right, but in this particular I think they can all be wrong.

  25. Hi esell thanks for clarifying that,

    I think you were being quite clear in your last posts

    I was just focusing more on your example of lions having family ties. I then moved onto thinking about the cognitive ability of dogs :) sorry, my mind does jump around a bit, I have to practice staying on track.

    “It does not open the door to destroying concepts of Family and Love.”

    I agree that a purely materialist approach doesn’t necessarily destroy concepts of family and love. I like what you wrote in your previous post – that a child is a product of reproduction and a collection of related individuals is a family :) using different terms to refer to the same thing doesn’t take away its value, a child is both a (1) valuable member of a family, and a (2) biological offspring of his parents. However, to treat spiritual experiences this way can risk denying the experience altogether. I ask myself, is it really our place to discount and attempt to reduce these experiences? Especially if these spiritual experiences others have are cherished and valuable?

    “However, since they all experience it…they can’t all be right”.

    People can interpret an experience differently after it has happened, this doesn’t rule out the experience itself.

    Hope your have a brilliant day/night :)

  26. If so, you’re left with conflicting experiences from conflicting sources, with many, if not all, proclaiming their own divine source, with their own divine and eternal consequences. Even with the stakes being so high (eternal consequences) there is no way to verify which one is right. There is no way to know whether any are right.

    It creates a situation where it’s one’s word against another’s, and where people are forced to take stands, making pitiful excuses as to why their improvable faith and flawed book is the “right” one.

  27. Does anyone know of accounts of miracles that exist outside of the Abraham faiths? I know Hinduism and Greek Mythology refer to stories of how people were created – but are there any other faiths that outline miracles in their texts?

  28. Absolutely. Ancient historians attributed miracles to all kinds of people. And you should check out the info on Indian guru Sathya Sai Baba. There are many miracles attributed to him, and he only died about 2 years ago.

  29. will do thanks,

    any pointers to where I can find ancient Greek/Roman accounts of Miracles BCE that are associated with other religions?

    Im reading an online book atm called The Cambridge Companion to Miracles, really interesting stuff, but since its only a sample, some pages are missing. Do you know of any other books?

  30. I’m afraid I don’t have any suggestions for you on those topics — they’re just aspects I haven’t researched too much so far. Anyone else have any suggestions?

  31. Ryan, for an introductory sample I really recommend reading John H. Hick’s Philosophy of Religion. Also, I would really recommend reading The Upanishads.

    After that try Bergson’s The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, James’ Varieties of Religious Experience, Mbiti’s African Religions and Philosophy, Prothero’s Religious Literacy, Smart’s Doctrine and Argument in Indian Philosophy, Jennings’ The Vedantic Buddhism of the Buddha, Lapidus’ History of Islamic Societies, and Warraq’s Why I Am Not A Muslim.

    Good reading, my friend.

  32. Thanks for the list Persto. Only way I’ll complete them all is if life really is eternal. ;-) Seriously though, I’ve always had the same question as Ryan’s, and I’m glad you’ve provided a good list.

  33. Howie,

    I’ve always thought that an infinite regress of causes or events was absurd, so…no worries about getting them all read. Lol.

    Regards

    Ryan,

    Cool.

    Regards

  34. Hi Nate,
    I apologize for jumping on your blog and asking a question based on one comment in one of your posts where you write:

    ” I guess the only thing I’m missing is my family, but I can’t do anything about that.”

    I’ll try to keep this brief but I would like to ask a question. You say that you miss your family; when you were a “believer”, was your family fully accepting of you?

    My experience with my own (biological) family was that no matter what I believed, even if I believed the same core beliefs of the christian faith along with them, they would continue to find just one more thing that indicated that I fell short of being a “true christian”. It made no difference if I came closer to their way of thinking; they would just continue to find some other flaw in my beliefs. There was always this you-are-just-not-one-of-us attitude no matter what. There was the occasional moment when they acted loving and accepting toward me, but it was always followed with some sort of rejection later on. I wasted years of my life thinking that I will eventually be accepted if I just change in some way.

    My theory now (years later and now an agnostic) is that the type of mindset that latches onto a faith so blindly and unquestioningly does so because they need that mental security and it is that same need for security that they create for themselves a hierarchical structure. They need to feel that someone is “out” of the group in order to feel that there is an “in” to which to belong. And it is that same need for security that they can push out a believer that is threatening in some way (I always questioned everything and didn’t shy away from argument even at a young age) with the claim that he/she isn’t a true believer or, my favorite, doesn’t have a “personal relationship with Jesus” yet turn around and claim that some other individual is “of course a good christian” even when that person shows no sign of having the same religious faith as long as that individual affirms some other strongly-held belief/position they hold. For example, if that individual shares with them the same political views.

    I was wondering if this has been (or was) your experience at all.

  35. Hi R,

    Thanks for the comment — sorry it’s taken me so long to respond!

    I’m really sorry to hear about the situation you’ve had to endure with your family. While there are definitely some similarities in our stories, my experience wasn’t the same as your in regard to how accepting my family was. There was a very long period where we had a great relationship and agreed on all the “big” issues. I had a few personal beliefs that were slightly different from theirs, but I didn’t make a big deal about them. And they usually didn’t either.

    I think for most of my family, it’s not that they needed an “out” group — they just firmly believed that God had set things up that way. They believed that God’s requirements for us were reasonably easy to understand from scripture, but that many people just disregarded them. Thus, those people became the out group by default.

    I’m part of that out group now, but not because my family wants it that way. They believe God has told them to “withdraw fellowship” from us to both keep themselves pure and to bring us back to the fold. I think they’ve arrived at that belief from mis-applying some passages, but I don’t doubt their sincerity.

    Thanks again for the comment. Please feel free to join in on the discussions here any time you like!

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