Thursday, March 30, 2006

A response to Kirsten

This is a comment left by a reader (see here). Below is a copy of the comment, as well as my response.

Kirsten wrote:
I walked away from the Lord for about 5 years after getting my pastoral License and being in intense ministry at a young age. The church politics gave me a very bad taste in my mouth and I decided that I didn't want to be a part anymore. Those 5 years were filled with events- but the thing that I regret the most- was walking away from the Lord's love and intimacy. Life's not perfect- because of sin. But God's love is always there...comforting. Life without the feeling that God is there- sucks. I will pray for you. Pray that the Holy Spirit will not leave you alone- That the presence of God will keep you up at night...that God's love will surround. That you will not be able to run from God's spirit. I gave my heart back to the Lord- and there is absolutely NO COMPARRISON. My GOD is real.

My response:
Thank you for your story and for your words of encouragement. I must say up front that I have a great deal of respect for anyone who has seriously struggled with their faith, irrespective of whether their faith was lost or strengthened as a result. I definitely know how you feel, Kirsten, to struggle with faith, but I also believe that struggling with our beliefs is what makes our final choices regarding those beliefs all the more valuable and precious at the end of the day.

However, I must admit that although I used to feel feelings of guilt over rejecting God’s love and intimacy during my faith struggle, I don’t anymore. Some Christians might hold the view that I, an atheist, lay awake at night, wondering with some degree of angst if there is any meaning to life, and if there is anything “more” out there. But, strangely enough, I don’t. After much thinking, I’ve come to a place of peace regarding my beliefs about God and my place in this universe. I still ponder meaning and mystery, but I’m not in a hurry to find answers.

I think it was M. Scott Peck, in his book, The Road Less Travelled, who suggests that when we are six months old or younger, we instinctively believe that we are omnipotent. At that age we are unable to tell the difference between ourselves and the world around us. One of the most painful journeys of life is coming to the realisation that this world is indeed a separate thing from us, that we are not omnipotent, and that there are things in this world that we cannot control. For myself, it felt as if I made an additional step in this direction by realising that there is no supernatural being looking after my interests, that this life is all that there is. I’m not arguing whether the step was right or wrong, or whether there is a God or not. I’m just saying that once I made this step, I felt no desire to adopt a theistic belief any longer. For me life goes on as usual, even though it is a life without God.

Thank you for your prayers. I hope that your faith will grow, Kirsten, and I wish you luck in the ministry and in your spiritual journey.

All the best

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A discussion with an evangelist (part 1)

How would I react to an evangelist knocking on my door? I thought about this, and wrote up this fictional dialogue. It is quite long, so I’ve divided it up into parts which I will post separately.

Evangelist: Good morning, sir. Sorry to bug you.
Kevin: Hello. What can I do for you?
E: Can I ask you a spiritual question?
K: Uh, oh.
E: What if you were to die tonight, and stand before God, and he asks you, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” What would you say?
K: I think I might ask, “God, what makes you think I would like to enter your heaven?”
E: Er. . .
K: Heaven is for eternity, right? And it is supposed to be perfect?
E: Of course. There will be no tears, pain, sorrow or sin. Everything will be good. Now, getting back to standing before God: if we read Romans 3:23 –
K: Sorry to interrupt. But I just want to make a humble point here. If someone shows you an incredible act of kindness, how do you feel?
E: An act of kindness?
K: Sure. Lets say your car runs out of petrol on the side of the road, and after many cars have passed you by, a stranger stops to help. He rides to the nearest station and gets you a canister of petrol. How would you feel?
E: I will be very appreciative of his kind act.
K: Why would you feel that way?
E: Well, he has gone out of his way to help another person. What has this to do with heaven?
K: Bear with me. You say he has gone out of his way. What do you mean by that statement?
E: Well, he could have just driven past and ignored me. That would have been the easiest thing to do. But he chose to help.
K: So, in a sense you are saying that the act of kindness has value because the man chose to be kind.
E: Sure
K: Do you think this will be the case in heaven?
E: In heaven, my Ferrari will never run out of petrol.
(both laugh)
K: No, what I mean is, do you think you will appreciate acts of kindness in heaven?
E: I can’t think why not.
K: Let me tell you why I don’t think you will. You have already answered the question to why humans value positive human attributes like kindness, love and compassion. We value these because they are voluntary. A person who shows love could have easily been cruel, right? However, you have also said that there will be no cruelty, jealously or any kind of sin in heaven.
E: That’s what the Bible says: Revelation 21:27 says that nothing impure will enter heaven.
K: If this is the case, then everyone will automatically love everyone else, nobody will be able to choose to be cruel, nasty or jealous – simply because these attributes will no longer exist. In this sense love will loose all of its value.
E: Carry on.
K: But it’s not only love that will suffer as a result of perfection. In heaven, how can someone be truly courageous in the absence of fear? How can someone build character without experiencing hardship? How can anyone in heaven possess gifts and talents if everyone is perfect? If there is no bad, how can anyone appreciate or measure good? Attributes such as courage, happiness, goodness, creativity, inspiration and joy will become absolutely meaningless in a perfect world. By gaining perfection in paradise, we will loose all the contrasting attributes that make us human.
E: I never thought of that before.
K: I have. And that is one of the reasons why I don’t want to enter your God’s heaven.

To be continued . . .

(This post was inspired by the article, Why There Are no Flowers in Heaven)

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Abortion: a short cut to heaven?

If Christianity is true, and if heaven and hell are real places, then what happens to babies if they die? Does a soul of a miscarried foetus go to paradise? From what I understand, some Christian denominations believe that babies do go to heaven if they die before what is called the age of accountability. My problem is that the age of accountability idea does not seem to be consistent with Christianity’s response to abortion.

From what I understand, the age of accountability doctrine is as follows: if a child dies before the age of accountability, then that child automatically goes to heaven. However, if a child reaches the age of accountability, then free will comes into play, and that child must accept the responsibility for their choice to either accept or reject Jesus. The problem, however, with this doctrine is that:

  • Denominations are unclear on the exact age when someone becomes accountable;
  • There is very little biblical support for this idea. Advocates of this doctrine appeal to only a few verses (Deut 1:39 and 2 Sam 12:23); and
  • It is inconsistent with Christianity’s response to abortion.

I will focus on the third point. If the age of accountability is true, and unborn babies do in fact go to heaven, then why – in the Christian view – is abortion wrong? If 100 souls are born in a country where abortion is illegal, then through their respective lifetimes some will choose Jesus and go to heaven, while others will reject the gospel and go to hell. However, if 100 souls are aborted in a country where abortion is legal, then all 100 souls go to heaven.

Although abortion – seen in the light of the age of accountability doctrine – results in a kind of de facto salvation, it can be argued that the process of abortion has a higher ‘soul winning’ success rate than conventional evangelism. Abortion clinics around the world are ‘saving’ more souls that most successful evangelists. If abortion is resulting in a more crowded heaven, then why are Christians against abortion at all? Isn’t God’s primary desire that every soul be saved?

Note that I’m not arguing for either pro-life or pro-choice in this article. In fact, I have not yet fully made up my mind on the topic of abortion. I’m just pointing out what I see as an inconsistency between mainstream Christianity’s response to abortion and the theological doctrine of salvation.

Friday, March 17, 2006

My final testimony

The other evening I shared my testimony of unbelief to a group of Christians.

As a Christian, I was taught that the personal testimony was a powerful thing. Sharing your own story of salvation with others had power that could persuade the unbeliever or provide hope for the struggling convert.

I must have shared my testimony many times as a Christian. After high school, I was accepted to join a Baptist drama and music team, called the WOW team. I spent 1995 travelling around the country with 18 other Christians, spreading the gospel. I must have shared my testimony many times during that year – in old age homes, schools, prisons, and to people in the street. To be honest, I don’t think anyone was saved as a direct result of my personal testimony; it was pretty standard, after all.

My wife is a Christian, and I sometimes support her by going with her to Bible study or church. The local Baptist church is running a new members course, and Cori (my wife) was really keen to get involved. I went along the other evening, and the moderator asked us to share our testimonies. When it was my turn, I said that I was a born and bred Baptist, but due to a major faith struggle a few years before, I did not – philosophically – consider myself a Christian anymore. However, I also added that I was there to learn as a humble observer.

I’ve gotten to know the group over the last year. Although they’ve guessed my position with regards to religion, this is this first time that I’ve openly shared my unbelief. How did they react? Well, the group totally accepted what I said. There was no evangelising, no threats of hell. Maybe some curiosity, a lot of acceptance, but nothing confrontational. It confirmed for me the fact that, as unbelievers, we can’t pigeonhole all Christians as frothing-at-the-mouth fundamentalists. There are a lot of good Christians out there, and I’m privileged to know some of them.

Why did I share my testimony of unbelief? I did not share it to evangelise – I’m strongly against proselytising, in whatever form. But I've come to realise that a testimony can be a communal declaration of belief that you share with other believers. By sharing my unbelief with this group, I was symbolically sharing with all the Christians I had known the following, simple message:

“Hi all. It’s Kevin here. Remember me? Well, I just want to share the fact that I’m no longer a Christian. I’m leaving the flock, and I’m off on the long road to self discovery. . . ”

Monday, March 13, 2006

Well, what can I say . . .

Now and again I will post on a topic that has nothing to do with religion, atheism, creationism, faith, reason or evolution.

This is one of those posts.

A few weeks ago, Cori’s brother suddenly had the great idea to buy tickets to a cricket match. The match: Australia vs. South Africa; the date: Sunday, 12 March 2006; the venue: Wanderers stadium, Johannesburg.

Yesterday Cori and I went with her brother and two friends to watch the match, totally unaware that it would turn out to be the best one-day international match in cricket history. It is totally beyond anyone’s imagination how one side can break a world record by batting 434 in 50 overs, and then be beaten by their opponents. Totally unheard of. Totally unbelievable!!

All sorts of long held cricket records were falling thick and fast as the match progressed, and sporting history was made when Boucher hit those last four runs to win the match with one ball to spare. It is an understatement to say that the match was incredible. For those in the stadium, it is an event that they will never forget – a once in a lifetime experience. The crowd atmosphere of 30 000 cricket fans is something I will always remember; my ears were still ringing when I lay in bed last night.

I’m glad though, that I can one day say to my grandchildren: I was there!

Thank you to Rutger who bought the tickets. Thank you to Miguel and Belinda who joined us for the match. And thank you to Cori for letting us use her camera to take the photos that appear in this post.

For match report, click here. To read about the reaction to this match, click here. For a nice photo gallery, click here.

Well done, South Africa. Well done.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Why doesn't God fight his own battles?

Three news events over the last couple of months - the fight by Intelligent Design advocates in the USA to include Intelligent Design in school curricula; the Islamic demonstrations caused by cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed; and the recent religious riots between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria, where over 100 people have reportedly been killed - have inspired me to wonder: why doesn’t God fight his own battles?

These three events, including others, are the result of believers fighting for the morals and standards supposedly put into place by their respective deities. I watch all these confrontations, and I wonder: why do the followers of a specific deity have to always do the fighting? If God, Allah, Jesus, or any other kind of deity is offended by what the secular world is doing, why doesn't that deity stand up and make its own voice heard concerning such issues? Why do Muslim fundamentalists need to offer rewards for the assassination of Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses, when omnipotent Allah can easily do the act himself? If Jesus is so offended by The Da Vinci Code, why doesn’t he make an appearance to air his own views? If Jehovah was truly disgusted by South Africa’s recent decision to allow gay marriage, why didn’t he himself make arguments in front of the Constitutional Court? Why do followers have to do all the fighting, and all the speaking, for God?

To me it seems – if these deities exist at all – that they are sitting back, while they let their own followers do all the fighting, all the damage, and experience all the pain. Is it not like the king who holes himself inside his safe castle, while he sends his subjects into dangerous battle? Of course, the other possibility could be that these deities are not really concerned about what happens on earth regarding their rules and precepts – their followers are causing needless fuss. Maybe the deities do care, but as I’ve heard some Christians say, judgment will be reserved for the afterlife. If a deity is fully responsible for judgment, then why do followers have to worry about defending anything at all? Surely God can look after himself.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Why I believe in evolution

Why do I believe in biological evolution? Well, if you ask some apologists, they are definitely not short of answers. The following references are from Lee Strobel's book, The Case for a Creator, and Norman Geisler and Frank Tureks’s book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. They provide many answers, but in this article I will focus only on those regarding morality. According to them, I - an atheist - believe in evolution because:
  • I can sleep with whomever I like, because if evolution is true, there are no standards of right and wrong (Atheist - pg 163);
  • I fear encroachment of God in my personal life (Atheist – pg 164);
  • Evolution eliminates any need for God (Creator – pg 77);
  • Evolution frees me from somebody being accountable for my actions (Creator – pg 25, 41);
    Evolution allows me to pursue personal happiness and pleasures at all costs (Creator – pg 77); and
  • I can remain free from the perceived moral restraints of God (Atheist – pg 164, see also Strobel’s Case for Faith, pg 91).

Do I use evolution as an excuse to be immoral? When I was a Christian, I did not smoke, I did not abuse drink, I did not take drugs, and I was in a happy monogamous relationship with a wonderful girlfriend. Now that I’m an atheist, I do not smoke, I do not abuse drink, I don’t take drugs, and I am in a happy monogamous relationship with a wonderful wife (for those who are wondering: the girlfriend and wife are the same person). Morally, I haven’t changed that much since I left the faith. I’m still, well, basically me.

So if a desire to be immoral is not the reason for my belief in evolution, what is? It’s not a result of my non-belief in God, as I’ve explained here. Rather, I believe in evolution because (1) the evidence for it is extremely good, and (2) to quote the famous evolutionist, Theodosius Dobzhansky (who was a Christian, by the way): “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”.

Let’s briefly explore these two reasons:

Evidence for evolution: who can ignore the many lines of evidence from the large variety fields such as botany, zoology, geology, palaeontology and anthropology. There are many clues from the fossil record, atavisms, biogeography, pseudogenes, and endogenous retroviral infections, that point to the idea of common decent. For a more detailed discussion of the evidence for evolution, read 29 Evidences for Macroevolution at the TalkOrigins site.

Making sense of the living world: why do animals, including humans, have ‘design’ flaws in their bodies? Why do some whales grow hind limbs, and in some cases even feet, within their bodies? Why do most marsupials live on the isolated landmass of Australia? Without evolution, these questions don’t have answers. When I finally accepted the idea of common decent, the entire field of biology became all the more wonderful and beautiful – simply because, using the paradigm of evolution, I could begin to understand some of the intricacies and mysteries of the living world.