In my post from a few days ago about my problems with Christianity, I discussed how lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about God and religion and how it all fits into my worldview.
I have a sort of dilemma though. I believe in God, and I want to be on his/her/its good side when I die, just in case there really is a hell, which I don’t think there is. But there’s still that niggling little voice in the back of my mind just the same: what if hell is real? What if the born again Christians are right and I am going there, no matter how moral a life I try to lead, because I have not accepted Jesus as my personal savior? I can’t accept their dogma (my brain and heart just can’t get on board with it). I have serious issues with biblical literalism and the divinity of Jesus, but…what if hell is real? I don’t want to go there!
Now, I’ve heard of Pascal’s wager, which basically means going ahead and getting “saved,” even if you have doubts, just in case they’re right. The logic goes like this: if they’re wrong, nothing’s lost but if they’re right then you’re safe from eternal torment. But my problem with Pascal’s wager is that I simply don’t believe in evangelical Christian doctrine. If my brain and heart don’t buy what they’re selling, then taking Pascal’s wager means I’d be living a lie, something I think is much worse (and probably more offensive to God) than being honest about my true feelings about evangelical Christianity. If God really is omnicient and knows what’s in my heart and mind, then he’d know I was being dishonest. It makes me wonder how many born-again Christians actually really believe the doctrine they’ve embraced–and how many of them converted only because they were afraid of what might happen if they didn’t. That alone is a huge problem for me. Religious fear tactics just seem so…wrong.
So I made a little deal with God. Not to challenge or test God or anything, but to help me out of this conundrum. Since I actually believe in God, this part wasn’t too hard. I told God I didn’t believe what fundamentalist Christians were selling, and that “praying for faith” in the past hadn’t worked. I told him that if in order to escape the fiery pit I had to embrace dogma I simply didn’t believe, then could he please give me some sort of concrete sign that would show me this was actually the truth. If I could believe it was real, maybe then I could accept it. I reminded him that conversions like this were performed all the time in the Bible–heathen Saul’s miraculous vision and subsequent conversion to Paul, for example–so if things like that happened so often back then, why couldn’t it happen today? I reminded him that sending me yet another person trying to save my soul or coming across some Bible tract in a laundromat or gas station would not work. It hasn’t worked before and it wouldn’t work now. I would need something more dramatic, much more dramatic than that. I would need an actual miracle, something like, oh, maybe Jesus himself talking to me (hey, some Christians say that’s happened to them). I told God that I was open to it, if it was his will for that to happen, but if nothing happened, I wouldn’t have any other choice than to go on assuming Jesus was just a man, heaven and hell are probably mythical places, and the Bible is nothing more than a collection of ancient fairy tales.
So far nothing’s happened. Maybe tomorrow.
I agree with you. I can’t believe in a God who would ignore good deeds and allow bad people in just because they professed him as a personal savior. There is NO WAY I can interpret the bible literally, and I don’t believe that hell is a place. BUT I am a Christian. The god I believe in loves all of his children, not just those who “believe,” and wants all of them to come back to him. The Bible was written and translated by human beings attempting to interpret their understandings of God. Many of the original truths of the Bible have disappeared. Hell is a condition of our own making. When we make bad choices, we experience “hell” (pain and suffering), when we make good choices, we catch a glimpse of heavenly happiness. I can’t buy any of that fundamentalist crap either. I have learned that faith is something that you exercise, not something that you pray for, and that faith can grow into knowledge if you use it daily through prayer and study. If you are interested in how I came to understand these things, let me know!
And best of luck to you in your search for the truth. I truly believe that God will help you find it if you ask with a sincere heart and real intent.
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Oh, I have so much to say about this, but I agree with everything you said. Personally I believe in reincarnation (I’m not a Buddhist or any other eastern religion though)–it makes more rational sense to me than anything else (read my post about Christianity if you haven’t already). I agree with you that hell is most likely the “hell” we create in our own minds and by our poor choices–if we die miserable, then chances are we will remain miserable after death too. But I don’t think it has to be eternal. Even after death we can still change and grow (unless this is it and we just get annihilated–but somehow I don’t believe in that either). I think a lot of the Bible isn’t meant to be taken literally–the things described are really metaphors and parables meant to teach a lesson but not to be taken as literal truth. I also agree that a lot of things have been lost in translation.
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You believe so closely to the way I believe. In fact, you are describing things that I have been taught in my church since childhood. Would you like to know more? We should talk.
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We should! If you want to send email, you can find it in the “contact me” tab in the header. I can’t guarantee I’ll answer that quickly–I’m really bad about checking my email, but I would like to talk! 🙂
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Will do. I’m headed to bed right now, but I will contact you first thing in the morning. Night!
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Hi there – I’m an Australian evangelical Christian (Baptist, if the denomination makes any difference). Stumbled across this post while skimming the “Christianity” feed on WordPress, and found myself asking a particular question: what is it that prevents evangelical Christian doctrine (be it Biblical “literalism” [not a fan of describing the orthodox evangelical view of reading the Bible as “literal”, as it would so happen – a more accurate description is seeking to understand the Bible the same way the original audience would have], the divinity of Jesus, or anything else) from working for you at both a head and a heart level? I know there are all sorts of reasons that people have for not being Christian, but I’m intrigued as to what your particular reasons are. Is it just the specific issues you mentioned in your post from a couple of days ago, or is there something bigger?
As for Pascal’s Wager, it’s awful for all sorts of reasons. First and foremost, if you’ve picked the wrong deity (it’s not like Christianity is the only religion with negative consequences in eternity, after all), there’s not benefit at all of having tried to escape Hell via Christianity. Not only that, Biblical salvation isn’t merely about accepting a set of statements as true, it’s about the complete change in the way you live as a result of what you’ve accepted as true (I have no qualms whatsoever in saying that there are plenty of people within Christianity, evangelical or otherwise, who will find themselves on the wrong side of Matthew 7:15-23 despite having all the right intellectual beliefs about salvation). If you’re not fully persuaded of the truth of Christianity and prepared to give up anything and everything for it, then there’s no point trying to force yourself to believe – if the Bible is true, you haven’t changed anything, and if it’s false, you’ve wasted your life living a lie. Now, as an evangelical Christian, I’d obviously love to see you become a Christian (that’s true of every non-Christian), but I’d prefer to see people live their lives true to themselves rather than waste this life and not even have anything to show for it in the next.
As for your challenge to God, well, I can almost guarantee it won’t work. The reason why I say that is because God very rarely shows up in situations where we want him to conform to our desires rather than us conforming to his – Job chapter 38 through to the end of the book always challenges me on that point. He might show up – I’m not God, so I can’t say with certainty what he’ll do – but I would honestly be surprised if he did. That’s not to say there’s no reason to believe in God, but asking for a miraculous event in which he proves his existence is rarely one of them (most of the stories in which it occurs don’t involve the person in question asking for it beforehand).
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Thanks for your comments! I’ll have to think all this over and try to answer your questions tomorrow (if I can).
You asked me why I am not a Christian. Well, actually I do consider myself a Christian, at least in the nominal sense, but it’s true I’m not a practicing Christian and since I haven’t accepted Jesus Christ, most Christians would probably say I’m not one. To answer your questions as to why I’m not, there are several reasons:
1. I was raised in the northeast. I was surrounded by Catholics, Jews, and atheists, but few of the Catholics would have said they were “born again” and basically if you went to mass, confession, took communion and were baptized you were considered a Christian. Most of the other people I knew were Jews and atheists, and I found many good people among them. I really didn’t come into contact with evangelicals until I moved to North Carolina in the early 90s. I was already an adult by then, and the emphasis on the literal interpretation of the Bible was quite foreign to me. I went to some Baptist services and many, many people tried to “save” me but the concept never became less foreign, and over time, the pushiness really began to turn me off. While there were some very good, Christlike people among the evangelicals, many of them were simply horrible, judgmental, intolerant people, much more so than most of the northeast Catholics I had known. That wasn’t very good PR for Christianity.
2. I hate the way, ever since the early 1980s, Christianity has been increasingly co-opted and associated with conservative right wing politics. I am morally opposed to right wing politics on the whole (which I won’t get into here) and can’t stand the Republican party, which Christianity now associates itself with. Perhaps that’s not Christianity’s fault, but the fault of the politicians who have used the religion to attract more voters to their party. Still, in my mind the two have become associated with each other, and that has turned me (and many other people) off to Christianity. I know there are liberal Christians, and at one time there was something called the “social gospel,” but either they have become quite rare, or they’re all just hiding in the shadows. It’s a shame, really. That’s one of the main reasons why I believe in the separation of church and state. Politics contaminates religion, which can be bad enough on its own.
3. I believe in science. I know many non-fundamentalist Christians do too, but I haven’t come into contact with too many. Concepts such as evolution and the 3.5 billion year universe, while not proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, have tons of evidence in their favor. The biblical concept of creation and the “young earth” have no scientific evidence to back them up whatsoever. I could say much about this matter, and have read books about it, from both the biblical and scientific ends, and the biblical view doesn’t stand up to science. When I’ve asked Christians why they refuse to consider the scientific concepts, their only argument is “read the Bible” or worse, “Satan planted the “evidence,” which is laughable, since if Satan exists, he was just an angel of God and can create nothing. The evidence is staring you in the face, but some Christians just refuse to see it. It’s very frustrating. I also can’t stand the way some Christians want creationism taught in schools instead of evolution, and the way they discourage kids from thinking literally. They would rather their kids be taught lies based on a 2000 year old book , and that is so morally wrong to me. I simply cannot reconcile Biblical belief with scientific knowledge, which I think trumps “faith in the Bible” every time.
Also, to my way of thinking, the scientific concepts like a vastly old universe and the possibility of intelligent life on other planets are far more awe inspiring and more beautiful than any fairy tale told in the Bible. Concepts like evolution and the age of the universe actually make me hold God in even higher regard, than a banal biblical human-centered universe where man was created by a form of magic. It’s hard to explain this feeling of awe to a evangelical Christian though. I think the reason some evangelicals discourage higher education and critical thinking is because they know once the truth (science) is known to someone, they won’t be able to go back to a biblical view.
4. The God of the Bible is, on the whole, morally repugnant to me. Especially the Old Testament, but he can be pretty horrific in the New Testament too.
There are other reasons, but these are the main reasons why I can’t become a Christian. And I can’t just “let go” of my beliefs. I respect anyone’s right to be a Christian and believe differently, but I resent it being pushed on me, but unfortunately, in my part of the country, my views seem to be in the minority.
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Sorry for any offence – I was using the word “Christian” in the sense that evangelicals typically do, i.e. someone who believes the main orthodox doctrinal statements of Christainity (Trinitarian God, atonement via the Cross [be it substitutionary or otherwise], literal Resurrection, belief in at least the infallibility, if not inerrancy, of the Bible, etc.) and who lives a life in accordance with those beliefs as a follower of Christ, the second person of the Trinity incarnate. I understand that there are plenty of people who would identify as Christian who don’t fit those points, but words lose their meaning if they have no definition beyond “a person who uses the word for self description”, and the previously mentioned definition is the one I find best fits the Biblical picture. As for the points you mention:
1) As you might have picked from my comments thus far, I have little time for cultural/nominal varities of Christianity. It’s not that I consider the adherents particularly evil, or anything like that, I just don’t understand the phenomenon. If I were to be persuaded that the Bible was not at least infallible, I would cease to identify as a Christian at all, despite having attended church in some capacity for my entire life (although I’m a Myers-Briggs ENTP, so tradition and I aren’t exactly the best of friends, haha). I’d probably be an agnostic, maybe a deist, but I certainly wouldn’t adopt any label from any organised religion.
As I mentioned in my previous comment, I don’t read the Bible literally – at least, I don’t read all of it literally. When I study the Bible, my goal is always to get as close as possible to the originally intended meaning. This involves studying things like the genre of the text and examining both the internal and external context of the passage. Anyone who tries reading science into the Psalms or absolute promises into Proverbs doesn’t understand how genres work. I believe that, understood this way, the Bible (in the original texts and original languages) is inerrant, and that we have very well preserved texts and very well translated English versions that can be considered to be very nearly inerrant as a result.
As for your experiences with Baptist services, well, I wish I was more surprised by stories like that out of evangelical Christianity, particularly the American brand, but sadly it’s not the case. I identify as an evangelical Christian because I agree with the core beliefs of the evangelical movement, but I hate the way it’s implemented so much of the time. There are people who completely miss the point of grace, and act as though all that matters is that moment when somebody prays the sinner’s prayer and is “born again”. Anything before or after that is made secondary, and we end up with a pseudo-Gnostic Gospel that’s mostly about knowing the right stuff and forget that doing matters too. Biblical grace says that we can be forgiven for whatever we’ve done, and whatever we do, but it isn’t cheap grace; if the Cross was what it took to pay for grace, then it should be impossible to keep sinning without feeling very, very uncomfortable. Christians who are judgemental and intolerant and who aren’t struggling to change that don’t really understand how much they need grace and what grace costs, and thus will probably find on the day that it matters most that they don’t have grace on their side at all.
2) I have only ever encountered one political party that I thought genuinely came close to capturing Christian values, and even then they didn’t do it perfectly (the Australian Democratic Labour Party, if you’re interested in having a read). I can’t stand the close connection between right-wing politics and Christainity; I do lean towards social conservatism on a number of issues (although I’m a pacifist and anti-guns, so I’m not exactly the poster-boy for social conservatism), but I’m a long way from being an economic conservative. My theology is, by and large, conservative, but conservative evangelical theology does not necessitate conservative politics. I don’t personally believe that separation of church and state is truly possible or, for that matter, desirable (that’s a conversation for another day), but I do believe that the Church should generally focus on commenting on issues, not aligning itself with a single party, since it’s highly unlikely that a worldly political party will ever achieve a Chrsitian stance on every single issue.
3) I’ll say upfront that I’m a young earth creationist, but I can certainly see the case for old earth creationism in its various forms. I find that creationist explanations of the evidence are sufficient (there is a lot of bad creationist literature out there, but I’ve found Creation Ministries International are generally an exception to that) and, because I believe the genre of the early chapters of Genesis is poetic history, I believe young earth Creationism is the best fit for science and Biblical history. That being said, I’ve also seen explanations of Genesis as better fitting the ANE creation myth genre, in which the point is to illustrate truths about the nature of God and the nature of creation, not the historical details that actually took place during creation. If that is the case, there’s no reason why Genesis needs to conflict with modern science. As for creationism in schools, I tend to agree that it shouldn’t be taught in science, with one major caveat – science should always be taught alongside at least introductory philosophy of science. Modern science rules out creationism a priori, since the current state of the world must be explained by processes that can be observed operating today and extrapolated backwards. If this is explained, I have no issues with evolution and old earth geology being taught in science classes, because I expect modern science to be taught in a manner that is consistent with the worldview of modern science.
Many of the discoveries modern science has made about the world are truly awe-inspiring. Cellular structures are, in particular, truly awesome. It may be true that some evangelicals fear science; I’m not one of them though. I love science, and believe that it often shows us more of God’s majesty by revealing just how spectacular his creation is.
4) This is already a long enough wall of text, and responding to this point would take an entire wall of text of its own. I will acknowledge that a post-Enlightenment, individualistic, Western mindset will, or at least should, find God as revealed in the Bible repungent. I question whether that mindset is the best one to be operating in, but to attempt to fit God into that mindset requires a lot of twisting, and ultimately remains unconvincing. I don’t know if that’s the root of the problem for you, or if it’s something else entirely, but I’ve found that’s often the cause for the way many people see the God of the OT in particular.
As can probably be ascertained from the length of this comment, I’m always interested in having discussions about these topics. Sadly, the discourse between evangelical Christianity and non-Christians is often characterised by anger and hatred rather than a desire to understand, despite understanding leading to far more interesting conversations. I’d certainly be interested to hear any thoughts you have in response to this comment if you’re willing to share them 🙂
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Try reading Classic Christianity by Bob George? True Christianity is about grace, something that is lost on so many Christians. Deeds past, present, future do not matter. Personally, I find it a relief. There is no frickin way I could be “good enough”. Ever. That being said, I have a general disdain for most Christians. Unpleasant people.
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I may be misunderstanding something. I know a little about grace, but that is precisely my problem with Christianity. Why would deeds NOT matter? If all you have to do is “accept Jesus” then you can be the most awful person in the world and still get into heaven, but a good person who hasn’t accepted Christ (for any reason, even not being ABLE to have the faith) is going to hell. That just makes no sense and is terribly unfair too. Maybe that’s not what the book you mention is saying though, since I haven’t read it. If it isn’t the usual “works don’t matter, all you have to do is accept Jesus,” then I’ll probably skip it. It would be much easier for someone like me to get to heaven due to works rather than grace, because I can’t accept Jesus in the biblical way, but I can always do good works.
I meant to say, I’ll skip it if its message is just “works don’t matter, all you have to do is accept Jesus.” Because works are easier for me.
The book explains it way better than I can.
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Thanks, I have an open mind, so I’ll definitely look into it.
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Religion isn’t all just belief and worship- it’s a way of life. I don’t know what views you hold about other religions, but you do believe God exists. I can introduce you to mine, if you’ll let me. I wouldn’t expect you to accept Him, but it would be my pleasure to try help you answer some of your questions. Maybe you’ll find answers here, and maybe you won’t, but it never really hurts to try, does it?
I would be happy to read about the God you worship–would that be in your blog? I’ll definitely take a look at it. Thanks!
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Unfortunately, my blog is still really new, and I haven’t written anything on the subject yet. Thanks for the suggestion! There’s just too much to say, really, but here’s a link you may want to check out. http://invitetoislam.org/
They’ve got an easy to navigate menu you can pan down to find what you’re looking for. I really hope you find your answers there, but feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if they didn’t address your particular questions.
Thanks! I’ll let you know what I think.
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Great! I can’t wait to hear from you! Here’s just a short speech I came across recently, incase you’re interested. http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=RlfTFG8ET_g I realised it applies to people of all faiths, really.
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I am on the same page as you about Christianity. For me it has been a life time of debate.
I was raised Catholic so we prayed to saints. Each had their specialty that you prayed to. I only remember St Jude was for lost items. When my son was little we lived in an pretty bad area with scary schools, so I opted to send him to Christian school.
When I was asked by the moms if I was a Christian, I would say yes I was raised Catholic. I was confused when I got a few blank stares and could not figure it out. I thought I was on the same team. But apparently some Christians think Catholics walk too close to the pagan side with all of our worship of saints and praying to the Virgin Mary. I also have a Catholic crucifix. It was a gift from my mother in law who has since passed away. I always liked the crucifix so I hung it over the door and besides it is also supposed to keep vampires out!
Well I got schooled that the body depiction on the cross in not a correct “Christian” cross. Too pagan and graphic again.
I just cannot believe that God has such a specific guideline as to who is in or out. Besides who on earth has the authority to specify what God wants exactly. I think it is all up for interpretation.
I just ate a bunch of candy that I bought for Halloween today. It was God’s will. Now I do not feel so guilty. My punishment is that I have to go buy more.
I don’t believe that God is on either side of the political fence nor does he care what team wins the SuperBowl or the World Series. I think God is on everyone’s side.
Going to Catholic school in my early years indoctrinated my young mind. Every night I would go through a ritual of prayers to get me so many days off Purgatory for every time I recited them. I lived in fear of Hell and Purgatory. Then like most good Catholic school girls, I really rebelled.
There were so many beliefs, amulets, prayer rituals that Catholic schools doled out to our young malleable minds. I am sure it has changed now. Whenever I run into an X Catholic school person we can have long conversations about some of the beliefs that were instilled in us. It can be laughable to reminisce about what we thought could save us from Hell.
Mind you I still have the beeswax candles my mother in law gave us when I married my X. I think they are supposed to be only lit, when the end of days come. Just in case, I still have them. Not sure if they will work for the Rapture.
I believe that you got to go with your heart. After all doesn’t God see that anyway? It is not like you can fool Him! Right?
Besides when a woman prays to her god about her sick son, do you think God only listens to the mothers that accepted JC as their Lord and Savior? What happens to all the other prayers? Are they just ignored? That is a lot of prayers.
Could you really believe that Mahatma Ghandi is burning in hell?
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I loved your joke about eating all the Halloween candy being God’s will, lol! God probably got a chuckle out of that one too. I think God has a sense of humor (someone said pug dogs prove this).
Anyway, it’s interesting you raised the issue of being raised Catholic. I was not raised Catholic, but my mother is/was Catholic and I was sent to Catholic schools for much of my childhood. So I’m a little familiar with Catholic rituals and what the masses are like. (I used to attend mass at school with the others but was not allowed to take communion). And I’ll be honest. I think Catholic schools provide fantastic educations. Most of them hold their students to high standards, and their faculty is well educated. They are demanding and that’s a good thing. I almost wish my kids went to Catholic school because of the superior education they would have received. I remember actually wanting to be Catholic because I liked all the ritual and thought they had cool stuff, like Rosary beads and statues of the Virgin Mary and the girls got to wear pretty dresses for communion and got an extra name when they made confirmation. Sometimes to this day I like to go to mass, especially at Christmas, because it’s all just so awesome. I like all that ritual. But would I ever become a Catholic? No. Even though Catholicism seems to have become more liberal and (except for evangelical Catholics–I know a few), they’re considered “mainstream” Christianity, not conservative. It’s my understanding they even accept evolution now (that was divinely inspired, of course). I like the new Pope. He’s definitely on the right track. But Catholicism has such a terrible reputation due to its history of intolerance and violence, attitude toward women and reproduction, and especially the shameful reputation its priests have now.
You are correct that many conservative, evangelical Christians don’t think of Catholics as being “real” Christians, for the reasons you mentioned. I think that’s silly because they don’t hold Mary and the saints in as high regard as Jesus and God. I remember reading that the reason they “worship” the saints and Mary is because the early Christian missionaries tried to make Christianity more palatable to European pagans, who were deists (worshipped many gods) and allowing them to have different saints was less foreign to them. That stuck, and eventually became the Roman Catholic church. My boss is a very conservative, evangelical Catholic and has almost the same views as a southern Baptist, which are far more common in this part of the country. Hardly anyone is aware she’s actually a Catholic because she sounds just like a Baptist and her church is much more biblically oriented than mainstream Catholicism.
Talking about religion is so interesting, isn’t it?
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ETA: I’m a little embarrassed, but it looks like I misunderstood what “deism” means. It doesn’t mean the worship of many gods. Here’s a good definition of deist: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deism
You could do a whole blog just on religion. It is so fascinating.
Ever read George Cambell’s “The Power of the Myth”?
Multi deities are very common in many religions like Hinduism. I just love all religious iconography. Great artwork.
Santeria is another interesting multi-deity religion. It incorporated the Catholic religion saints that matched up with the West African gods. This was a way that the slaves could continue to worship their religion under the guise they were praying to saints. Now it has just morphed into the saints and an obscure form of Catholicism. And yes calling it a form of Catholicism is debatable. It just depends on who you are talking to.
I used to love perusing their shops. They sold lots of candles and aerosol cans to spray around your house to attract money, romance etc. A kind of Glade with extra powers.
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