The God of Seekers--Rauser: The Problem of Christians Becoming Atheists

Yes, that’s it! I think you may have been the one to give me the best paper on that at one time anyway–thanks for that. I had forgotten where I had read about it. Interestingly, the first time I actually heard about it was was when I was 10 year old, from a Soviet refugee–a Mennonite who as a child witnessed the starvation in Ukraine as a result of that practice. He said many starved when the government still had stockpiled some grain that rotted. I still remember clearly–he told me that in Africa on a hot afternoon speaking in a mild Canadian German accent, as he taught me chess!

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This pounds on the question (related to our placebo discussions somewhere else!) of whether you are better off believing some things even if those things turn out not to be right! It isn’t a question people of religion are eager to contemplate since most of us are eager to accrue good outcomes onto the positive side of the ledger for true religion. So we like to think truth and benefit would naturally and even necessarily correlate with each other (at least in the long run). [This is a hard and fast dogma that religionists solidly share with science enthusiasts, by the way! -which coming from here, is not the insult that some take it to be.]

But your assertion reminds me of a saying that runs something like: “The problem with any purportedly universal acid of religious skepticism isn’t that the affected population then believes too little. The problem is that it then believes anything.”

Of course the original thought was a lot more concisely expressed, but I never say anything in ten words if I can use twenty.

Yes, there are all those educated leaders (from both religious and anti-religious persuasions) who do not succumb to just anything and everything fashionable. But I think we are (or soon will be) learning the hard way that just spreading skepticism willy-nilly as a cultural value in and of itself does not suddenly give you an educated, much less benevolent population.

The murky element to these waters is that (contra the wishful purists) no systems of thought are ever so simple as to be “totally right” or “totally wrong”.

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I wanted to wait for the final part of the series before commenting. I see that is now out.

First of all, I know gently of atheists are more Christ-like than most Christians I know. In reading John Marriot’s three suggestions to combat the move to atheism I was very disappointed to see how far from the core teaching of Jesus Christianity has fallen.

I actually think the best thing for modern Christianity is for more to people to question it, because that is what Jesus said is the only way to find His truth (Matt 7:7). We cannot force our children to search, they have to do it themselves. We should not indoctrinate anyone into Christianity because it violates God’s most precious gift - Free Will.

John M. says absolutely nothing about the importance of works, only about preaching and believing. But Jesus tells us that is how God knows who we are (Matt 5:16). The way to the highest Heaven is through Jesus’ footsteps, not the preachers words.

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There are two main reasons why I abandoned traditional Christianity. The first was the realization that I could have no true confidence that God was speaking to me. Unlike YEC, I always considered this to be one of the fundamental characteristics of Christianity. We should have “communion” with the Holy Spirit, and we should be able to discern His will. Through a variety of experiences I discovered that there was no way I could distinguish what the Holy Spirit may be saying to me from my own intuitions and thoughts.

The second, and more fundamental reason, has to do with the concept of sin and judgment. As a believer I had no problem accepting the idea that God would subject billions of eternal souls to eternal torture. From inside the echo chamber, that conversation always turns back around on how gracious and merciful God is to those he chooses to save. How can you say he’s brutal when he has shown such compassion?

Once I stepped out of the echo chamber I considered this problem more objectively. It seems highly questionable that it’s even possible to offend an infinite being. Can my dog really offend me to the point that I would torture it (assuming I’m not a sociopath)? And if I am that offended, is torture ever an acceptable response? Can we agree that restraints on punishment, such as the 8th Amendment to the US Constitution, are sign of moral progress? Do we really believe that the epitome of justice is better demonstrated by medieval public torture with gleeful onlookers? What is the state of the believers in paradise? Do they rejoice at the eternal torture of their fellow humans (certainly in many cases family members and other loved ones). Or does God make them blissfully unaware of it? In any case, Revelation 14 says that God will be eternally aware of it:

“They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever.”

The Christian doctrine that I ultimately and absolutely reject is that God will torture sentient beings because they somehow offended him.

I have no problem if people want to maintain a belief that perhaps there’s a God out there who’s looking out for us, and in the end he has some great plan that will make all of human suffering make sense. I think that’s at least a moral belief system, and what most clergy revert to when comforting the suffering. I have not heard many clergy (though there are some) echo the sentiment of Dr. Beardsley who said, “He’s experienced about as much pain and suffering as anyone I’ve encountered, give or take, and he still has Hell to look forward to.”

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That is a great topic to address and many (either in or departed from the faith) I think are right to ponder this question. As a believer I still have that same question too. And a question I might add to it: what makes us think that just because it seems to have come from our own thoughts or intuitions, why must this mean that it wasn’t also from the Spirit? That too, is a conjecture that I am far from sure about.

Added edit:
[one answer is … “well, my ‘thought or urge in question’ turned out to be wrong … so obviously that can’t have been from God.”

But I think even this is too simplistic, as if all our urgings are supposed to be about ‘being right about something’. If I thought I felt a nudge from the spirit to check in on somebody to make sure they were okay, and it turns out they were - no checking necessary, then I don’t think it necessarily follows that the urge (or my response to it) necessarily becomes ‘wrong’. That kind of approach is more about trying to turn the Spirit into a crystal ball to be tested, than it is about us training ourselves to live lives of faith and responsiveness. And while the ‘crystal ball’ approach to prophecy or spiritual guidance may be sexy among some, it fails to capture what most of scriptures are about, I think.]

Regarding your 2nd “more fundamental” issue … I too think there is a problem with a conception that attributes to God behavior infinitely more despicable than we ourselves (as broken sinners even!) would ever inflict on our own enemies. And saying that we sinners can’t properly recognize justice or injustice doesn’t begin to address this either as the Bible many times expects of us (even fallen as we are) to have those basic capacities in place to at least recognize justice when we see it.

I think you really ought to read George Macdonald’s written sermon “Justice” which addressed (back in the 1800s) this exact this issue you bring up. The language makes it a bit much to wade through, but I think you’ll find it an hour or two well-spent! While a lot of Christians may take offense at his approach, it is solidly scriptural, and no less a luminary than C.S. Lewis was profoundly influenced by this man.

[the link I made above often doesn’t work probably because of apparent server problems or overload on their end. Persist in trying it, and it eventually will work.]

With substantial additional edit.

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Yes. I read that Dorothy Sayers and other prominent folks found that this sermon broke down their barriers to faith because of the very appropriate questions they had–for the idea of an evil god torturing folks for his own vindictive pleasure. It has helped me a lot, too. My own church would reject it, but I think not for scriptural reasons.

Dear Bill,
It is good that reject this 6th century doctrine introduced by the emperor of Rome. The Early Christians agreed with you and the theory was called the Apokatastasis or the restoration of all things. This fulfills Jesus’ promise that all the sheep will be saved and that He did not come to condemn the world. Eternal damnation was the strongest weapon of the medieval church, but again, not what Jesus taught.

Thanks Mervin, I’ll take a look at the sermon. I know CS Lewis had a much broader view of redemption than the church at large. But that goes back to my first question. Why would the church at large not be able to discern God’s will? This is more than just an urge to check on a sick person, it’s his divine plan for the cosmos. The answer I have come to is that we need to use the best tools available to us (conjecture and criticism) to discover what is true, not hope for revelation. Thanks for your reply, I look forward to reading the sermon.

Shawn - I think all Christians would agree that all the “sheep” are saved. I’m wondering what happens to the goats. Matthew and Revelation have quite a lot to say about it that I find disturbing. When you say the doctrine was introduced in the 6th century, are you suggesting that these books were written then? Or that the passages were added in at that time?

It was the emperor Justinian, not the church that declared The Restoration of All Things heresy. the Bible did not require much work since it is not specific. But the early Christian scholarship had to be reworked and destroyed the supported the theory. The words are still in the Bible as I quoted them, but to believe that all will be saved (including the goats), is still heresy. The words of Justinian have never been reversed.

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