September 26, 2017

Finding God in the Waves: How I Lost My Faith and Found It Again Through Science.  A review of the book by Mike “Science Mike” McHargue.  Part 2.

Finding God in the Waves: How I Lost My Faith and Found It Again Through Science.  A review of the book by Mike “Science Mike” McHargue.  Part 2

• • •

Fat. Nerdy. Bullied.  I think it is hard to overestimate how much these early life experiences influence us, even all our lives.  That need for acceptance, the sting of rejection.  We are social animals.  We have that imprinted drive for social acceptance.  Our family, our group, our tribe.  No doubt this need has an evolutionary advantage that has been selected for and is now part of our DNA.

Mike McHargue was raised in a conservative Southern Baptist family.  Conservative Southern Baptists stress “asking Jesus into your heart” from an early age.  Perhaps no denomination is known for evangelizing their young children more diligently and energetically, with the possible exception of some Pentecostal groups.  Walk the aisle, say the sinner’s prayer, and accept Jesus into your heart.  It’s difficult to say what level of understanding young children exhibit to these abstract theological concepts, but one thing I believe is understood; and that is the social acceptance aspect.  Mike said:

God was someone who helped you make the right decisions, understand the Bible, and find peace no matter what was happening to you.  That sounded wonderful to my small ears.

So Mike was baptized at 7 years of age.  That faith and his growing competence with computers sustained him through those lonely years.  He didn’t have any friends at school, but that was OK; his best friend lived in his heart.  Mike still felt the rejection of his peers, but God accepted him as he was.  That is a very powerful emotional experience.  Then Mike hit puberty and as he tells it:

Just before high school, two things mercifully conspired to transform me from an ugly duckling into—well, not a swan, but at least a slightly cuter, hipper duck.  First, thanks to a flood of hormones, I grew taller with such speed that in order to feed its metabolic furnace, my body had to burn off it prodigious belly fat.  Second, one of my friends from middle school told me I should learn to play bass guitar.  He was learning to play guitar, and he thought that if we started a band, people would like us.  Girls might even go out with us.  Maybe.  It was the romantic equivalent of a get-rich-scheme, but it worked…

For the first time in my life, I had friends.  Lots of friends.  Even football players and cheerleaders were talking to me.  For a kid who’d spent his early years hiding from everyone else at recess, this sudden rush of attention and acclaim was a powerful drug.  I craved more of that validation, and I got it.

Of course, being a hipster making it with the ladies did not sit well with the Baptist church elders.  And Mike very well could have drifted away from church and religion had it not been for a good Baptist girl that he wanted above all else; his future wife Jennifer.  She refused to compromise her principles and beliefs for him and finally gave him the ultimatum; get serious about the Baptist church and his faith or hit the road.

So he took Jenny’s words to heart and began taking seriously his commitment to their church.  They got married and at 26 he had a daughter and then two years later another daughter.  Mike was ordained a deacon, which is a big deal in Southern Baptist circles.  This was somewhat a golden age for Mike.  Married to the love of his life, two beautiful daughters, an accepting church home, the acceptance of his peers.  I know we knock evangelicalism around Internet Monk; there is a lot to knock.  But evangelical churches are great at doing a lot of important things.  They showed Mike how to be a good employee, a loving husband and father, to live his life with integrity.  They provided community, comfort, and stability.  And, at least initially, they were there for him when his life fell apart.

Mike’s Dad called a family meeting.  He was leaving Mike’s mother after 30 years of marriage… for another woman.  Mike was devastated.  Divorce is difficult on the children.  We think usually of young children or teenagers, but divorce is difficult for children in their 20’s as well.  Mike refused to accept the situation.  In his words:

Looking back now, it seems so crazy.  I was a man in his twenties, married less than a decade, telling two seasoned adults with nearly 30 years of marriage how to live their lives.  I was so certain that I had it all figured out.  I loved my wife “as Christ loves the church”.  I taught my children but didn’t “provoke them to anger”.  I worked hard at my job “as working for the Lord, not for human masters”.  I followed God, and he’d given me a better life than anyone deserves to have.

I remember leaving my parents’ house thinking, “God can fix this.”  All we had to do was obey Him.  My dad had obviously been charmed by the devil, but I knew that the power of Satan was no match for the power of Jesus.

To their credit, Mike’s pastors saw the dangerous shoals ahead for Mike’s faith and tried to caution him about his denial.  But Mike was having none of it.  One of the things he decided was that he was going to read the Bible for all he was worth; surely he’d find the answers he was looking for in their pages.  During that year of his parent’s divorce he read the Bible through 4 times from cover to cover.

It’s at this point Mike’s evangelicalism betrayed him.  We have talked through this many times at Internet Monk, and we will talk through it many times again.  Flattening the Bible in a coarse, wooden literalism.  Trying to make it an encyclopedia of everything, a manual for everything, life’s rulebook.  A book of promises that can be claimed absolutely without fail.  God’s literal word dictated to his servants magically.  “God said it, I believe it… that settles it.”

The problem was that Mike, like too many evangelicals, had a view of the Bible that Christian Smith calls “Biblicism”.  In his book, The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of ScriptureSmith lists 10 characteristics of Biblicism:

(1) The Bible is “divine writing” (2) that represents all of God’s communication to humanity and (3) touches every issue of human life. (4) Its meaning is clear to average readers (called “democratic perspicuity”), and (5) can be understood at face value without reference to context or (6) historical creeds. (7) Its message is internally consistent and (8) universally applicable assuming one has (9) pieced together the proper truths from the text. Finally, (10) it is like a “handbook” for Christian living and belief, speaking to subjects as diverse as “science, economics, health, politics, and romance.”

So this time, reading the Bible didn’t help.  All the contradictions, inconsistencies, and anachronisms that were in the back of Mike’s mind that he had always ignored or hand-waved away with trite apologetics came flooding to the forefront of his consciousness.  There were days before there was a sun, there were trees before there were stars.  Genesis 1 says that God made plants, then animals, then people.  Genesis 2 says that God made Adam, then plants and animals, and finally Eve.  As Mike says:

Impossible!  How had I missed this?  I’d read the book of Genesis countless times, never picking up on this issue of chronology.  My stomach turned cold, and my face felt flushed as I pondered the idea that troubled me deeply: It’s one thing for the Bible to contradict science, but it’s something else entirely for the Bible to contradict itself.

God can’t contradict God.  Either God made people on the sixth day, or He didn’t.  The first two chapters of Genesis seemed to offer different answers from each other, and that wasn’t possible.  Every spiritual leader I knew told me that the Bible was without error or contradiction.  My parent’s marriage depended on this core truth, as did my faith.

Mike, being the nerd he was, decided to make a spreadsheet on which he could keep track of verses that seemed to hold contradictions.  The spreadsheet started filling up.  He read the story in which God drowns all life on earth except for a lucky few who got put on an ark.  Yes, the Bible said mankind had become wicked, but as a new father he couldn’t see how infants and toddlers could be wicked enough to deserve that kind of death.  He read about God ordering genocide when Israel entered the Promised Land.  The same God who “so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son” ordered soldiers to kill infants and burn innocent animals so that His chosen people could have their own land.

This was not the loving God I knew.

This God was terrifying and brutal.

How had I missed all this before?

The only thing worse was the answer proffered by apologetics; that God had a right to do with His creation as He pleased.

To me, that God seemed like a sociopath.

He expected to find relief when he got to the New Testament.  But why is Jesus cursing a fig tree when it wasn’t even the season, or saying men should castrate themselves for the Kingdom of God, if they can handle it?  The Gospels had the same problem as the earlier books; they didn’t line up with one another.  And Paul.  What was his problem with women?  Why did he think marriage was to be avoided?  And just when you think the New Testament is done with the Old Testament “Warrior God”; here comes the Book of Revelation with Jesus himself making the blood run as deep as the horse’s bridle.

In his attempt to reconcile these contradictions, Mike became a Progressive Christian.  Forget all this fundamentalist bible crap, it doesn’t matter anyway.  The important thing is to live like the example Jesus set.  If my life was wonderful enough, and if I was loving and helpful enough, surely people would connect my peaceful centeredness with my love of God.  Nevermind God didn’t answer my prayer to keep my parents together, my job was to love them anyway.   All you need is LOVE (cue Beatles song).

But Mike had an online friend, Tom.  Tom was an evangelical atheist in the mold of his hero, Richard Dawkins.  As Mike moved into Progressive Christianity, Tom felt like Mike was finally being reasonable.  Of course, evolution was true, science proved it… and so on.  So Tom made Mike a deal, he would read a book of Mike’s choosing if Mike would read one of his choosing.  So Tom read Velvet Elvis and Mike read… The God Delusion (da…da…da…duhhhh!!!!) (Cue ominous organ music.)  (Or… if you’re an atheist, cue The Ride of the Valkyries.)

Anyway, Dawkins deals at length with prayer.  He references a series of scientific studies that failed to show any positive effect of prayer on people recovering in hospitals.  Now prayer was important to Mike, prayer sustained him when he was hiding from bullies in the woods, he prayed for healing from cancer for his Grandmother, and the tumors went away.  But most Christian’s theology of prayer is problematic.  As Mike says:

Most Christians say that God answers prayer in three ways: yes, no, or wait.  If God says yes, you get whatever you were praying for.  If God says no, then you don’t.  If God says “wait”, then you keep praying for your desired outcome, knowing that God’s timing is different from your own.

But the problem is, that covers every possible outcome.  Things either happen now, later, or not at all.  There’s no other possibility.  How can you be confident that prayer works if there’s literally no scenario that could prove it to be false?

It seems obvious, but I’d never thought of it that way before.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that God had never answered a prayer of mine.  My grandmother’s cancer did go away, but it’s not unheard of for cancer patients to go into remission without therapy.  I wasn’t necessarily witnessing the hand of God; I was witnessing probability and ascribing God’s hand to it.  It made me feel silly and superstitious…

I read the rest of The God Delusion and then moved on to dozens of works from other skeptics.  Each one introduced me to new arguments that challenged God’s existence and cemented the ultimate conclusion: There is no evidence that God exists.

Then one night about 18 months after that fateful family meeting with his parents, his wife Jenny and the girls were out of town.  Mike settled in with Carl Sagan’s, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space .

Earth as seen by Voyager 1 at a distance of 4 billion miles

Of the picture taken by Voyager 1 of Earth at a distance of 4 billion miles, Sagan says:

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

Mike said, “Sagan’s words wrecked me.  Nothing had ever shifted my perception of reality so violently.”  In the next chapter, Sagan’s widow, Ann Druyan, proposes an experiment.  She writes:

Look back again at the pale blue dot of the preceding chapter. Take a good long look at it. Stare at the dot for any length of time and then try to convince yourself that God created the whole Universe for one of the 10 million or so species of life that inhabit that speck of dust. Now take it a step further: Imagine that everything was made just for a single shade of that species, or gender, or ethnic or religious subdivision. If this doesn’t strike you as unlikely, pick another dot. Imagine it to be inhabited by a different form of intelligent life. They, too, cherish the notion of a God who has created everything for their benefit. How seriously do you take their claim?”

Mike closed the book.  He felt a profound grief, an inky-black darkness, as he realized there was neither mission nor redemption for humanity:

The universe was indifferent to us.  We were all just an accident of the self-organizing principles of physics—mere quirks of gravity, electromagnetism, and chemistry.  This was it.  This was the end of my search.  “God, I don’t know why I’m praying.  You aren’t even real.”

In the time it took to say those 11 words, I’d become an existential nihilist.

And my parents got divorced anyway.

Comments

  1. Robert F says:

    That the earth is so small compared to the grand scale of the universe is something I’ve known since childhood. I was acutely aware of it as I learned my first lessons in science at public school. I found the largeness of the universe, and its the extent to which we know so little of it, exciting and mysterious It charged my imagination with a sense of magical awe. It never, ever occurred to me that it was in any way serious evidence against the existence of God; I still don’t see how it could be. That earth is small, that human beings are small, tells us nothing about their importance in the scheme of things; neither does it tell us about the truth-value of any of the religions human beings practice. To believe so is not the result of exposure to scientific truth, but failure of clear thinking in the face of it. The failure of clear thinking in the case of “Science Mike” was the result of unmanageable personal pain and despair.

    • Robert F says:

      Of course, Mike’s faith had not developed in a way that would help him to think clearly in the face of his pain and anguish, or in the face of the “Terror Texts” of the Bible as seen from 4 billion miles away by Voyager 1.

      • Stephen says:

        “Of course, Mike’s faith had not developed in a way that would help him to think clearly in the face of his pain and anguish…”

        Or he hadn’t learned to express all the rationalizations available to guard him from the implications of pain and anguish?

        • Robert F says:

          Perhaps.

        • Robert F says:

          Stephen, an almost Nietzschean skepticism is not foreign to me. My faith and such skepticism are in constant dialectical relationship.

          I have a question for you: Do you realize that the road of radical skepticism when followed does not invariably lead to tolerant, liberal humanism? that it can lead into darker forests, darker even than “the implications of pain and anguish”?

          • Robert it comes down to this: I want to know the truth. And I will not assume that the truth will necessarily be to my liking. We are too prone to self delusion and wishful thinking. I am inherently mistrustful of answers that tell me what I want to hear. I can’t ever be satisfied with a second hand revelation. If this is pride and presumption so be it. I’m not afraid to fail and I claim nothing but the right to be unhappy. My pain cost too much to surrender it cheaply.

            Thank you for caring enough to respond to me.

            • Robert F says:

              For myself, I have to say that I’m not sure what answers I want to hear. Certainly the cobbled together, patchwork faith that I hold is not an answer that I ever wanted to hear. Much of the time it tastes like weak tea in comparison to the heady, intoxicating brew others claim to be their own. And yet there is a beauty and appeal in sobriety, and theological minimalism, and I’m growing accustomed to it.

              This much I’m certain of: We are brothers in the community of being, and I wish you well.

              • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

                But how many with their “heady, intoxicating brew” are running a bluff all along?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        There’s another Christian trend out there that also involves Carl Sagan.
        Referencing Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World instead of Pale Blue Dot

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > That earth is small, that human beings are small, tells us nothing about..

      You are correct; and I couldn’t help thinking the same thing as I read it.

      But my (and your?) story is different.

      I entered Evangelicalism as a young adult; I was raised with Science [a father who worked in aerospace] and with old-world folk-lore from grand and great grand parents. Within Evangelicalism, for a long time, I just shrugged off the YEC nonsense [that is exactly what it is] as a cultural anachronism – nod, smile, move on. That stuff never was the point and it never really meant anything to me; trapped within the narcissism of youth I naturally assumed it wasn’t at the core for other people either. I was v-e-r-y wrong. With just a bit of education the YEC nonsense crumbles – and I’ve seen that send people skidding. Sometimes they ‘recover’ and go full throttle for the Double Down, sometimes they are angry, and many times they just quietly walk away into the crowd. Whatever the outcome I suspect Mike’s story is much more common than is reported.

      • Robert F says:

        Yes, my story is different. Raised in Roman Catholicism, which was much more science friendly.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          We have the Vatican Observatory and Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

          They have the Kentucky Creation Museum and Ark Experience theme park.

          • Stephen says:

            True but “they” have never burned anybody at the stake for believing in life on other planets or put someone under permanent house arrest for reporting astronomical observations either. “They” are merely ignorant. The Church simply moves with the times. First it opposes it; then it tolerates it; then it claims credit for it.

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

              True but “they” have never burned anybody at the stake for believing in life on other planets or put someone under permanent house arrest for reporting astronomical observations either.

              That’s just because “they” have never had that level of political POWER. Never had the power of Life and Death over dissidents through the hammer of the State.

              Not for lack of wanting that kind of POWER of Life or Death by “It Is Written!”/”God Saith!” Divine Right.
              Remember Dominionism, Reconstructionism, Seven Mountains?
              “Take Back America and Restore a Christian Nation”?
              RL Republic of Gilead?

              P.S. Treaty of Westphalia ended the Reformation Wars in 1648.

            • StuartB says:

              Neither have they. Let’s not flatten all of Catholic history and assume what some did centuries ago is equivalent to those same people today.

              Or should we also claim that today’s Republican party released the slaves under Lincoln?

              Hardly. History is far more complex and nuanced. A city state is not the same as today’s religion, nor is some bronze aged ANE tribe the same as a modern nation state (be they occupiers or not).

          • Christiane says:

            Yes. It took some centuries, but the Church unfolded to the witness of the Earth as ‘Creation’ in a way that allows for both scientific observation and also for us to be open to this glorious advice:

            “But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you;
            And the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you.
            “Or speak to the earth, and let it teach you;
            And let the fish of the sea declare to you.
            “Who among all these does not know That the hand of the LORD has done this” (Job 12)

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z28Mi6mUyKo

            ‘WHAT ARE WE
            THAT THOU ART MINDFUL OF US ?’
            🙂

  2. Robert and Adam: Indeed. The vastness of the universe has the opposite effect on me. The more I contemplate its size and the power of the forces involved the more I see the majesty of God, His utter transcendance. Mike’s problem ran deeper than just his YEC and Biblicism; after all he tried to adopt Progressive Christianity. I’m going to develop this more in my next post, so I don’t want to go into the detail right now. Mike’s problem is endemic to Western Protestant Christianity since the modern project. God is a hypothesis of nature, and as LaPlace said in a reply to Napoleon, who had asked why he hadn’t mentioned God in his book on astronomy, “I had no need of that hypothesis.”

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > so I don’t want to go into the detail right now

      Cool, I like how you serialize these; it is good writing.

      > Mike’s problem is endemic to Western Protestant Christianity since the modern project. ..

      Interesting.

      > he tried to adopt Progressive Christianity

      Hmmm…. I have ambivalence about this. At this point in my life I spend a lot of time with people who unashamedly – without hesitation – refer to themselves as “Progressive”; Christian and otherwise. Post-Conservative Progressivism can be an odd beast; a Progressivism “tried” on as a life-line to prevent skidding right out the door, a Progressivism that can be very different than ‘convictional’ (??? chosen?) Progressivism. It matters if someone has a belief system because they feel need it vs. one they comfortably believe in. Which isn’t to diminish anyone, we likely [even hopefully?] have all done a bit of skidding.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Problem is, many Christians want a 6021-year old, Earth-and-some-lights-in-the-sky Punyverse, a small pond where they can be a Big Fish.

      Real kicker when you realize that of the three Abrahamic monotheisms, Christianity should be the best equipped to handle Deep Space and Deep Time. Because no matter how huge the Cosmos becomes and how huge God has to be, God remains on a one-to-one human scale through the Incarnation.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      –> “The vastness of the universe has the opposite effect on me. The more I contemplate its size and the power of the forces involved the more I see the majesty of God, His utter transcendance.”

      Amen. As a writer (aka creator), I have ZERO problem with the God of Creation loving the process of creation so much that He’s made a universe as vast as it is. I mean, how many creator-types, TRUE creator types, write one story and then are done, write one poem and call it good, chisel one sculpture and never again, paint one watercolor and shelve the brushes forever, or pen one song and then no more?

      For the same reason, I also have ZERO problem with thinking He might have life teeming on other planets all over the vastness of what He’s created.

      • David H says:

        And if we do end up finding life elsewhere, it will end up being disastrous for the faith of many, while for those like us, it will merely increase our awe in the creator.

      • Yup. How could Tolkien have created a whole world, languages, maps, history and cultures just to write a couple of books about Hobbits? 🙂

  3. T.S.Gay says:

    It is the very expansiveness of our universe that makes dirt cheap. It’s fidelity, and that of the the early Christians, that changed the world at that time. Mike’s parents are emblematic of us today. It is fidelity and the devotion, homage, faithfulness of it that is so rare. And fidelity speaks also to precision and correctness. These topics drive each and everyone of us off the rails of paradox. And a paradox it is.
    I really like the fact that of all the known building blocks of the universe, it is the very simple form of hydrogen and helium that make up 99.99999% of it all. So simple a building block. As a surfer, the ocean and waves attract me always, but it’s not the precision and correctness of them. Those really come from somewhere else. Actually there is a wildness to the ocean. Emblematic of weather patterns of the sun evaporating water or not( causing typhoons and drought). Perhaps to my great grandchildren it won’t seem wild like it does to me.
    The fidelity aspect of this universe is the complicated thing to me. I mean love is complicated. Of the ocean, this existence, my wife and our family, others. It seems it should be common. I mean, who wouldn’t love them. This love thing is actually the better wild ride. So complicated, I doubt any followers will ever find it less so.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I really like the fact that of all the known building blocks of the universe, it is the very simple form of hydrogen and helium that make up 99.99999% of it all. So simple a building block.

      Don’t forget that other basic building block, Stupidity.

  4. Susan Dumbrell says:

    I had another fall tonight. Cut my hands.
    Followed by another anxiety attack.
    A phone friend talked me down.

    my heart aches for peace
    the toils of life overflow
    blood flows from my hands

    Give me peace Lord.

  5. Sagan’s summation of an indifferent universe contrasts with the standard Christian world view which says that there is a God with an earth centered attention. I found it interesting this week to hear a serious astrologist, yes, there are serious astrologists, say that there is a clear and benevolent focus in the cosmological archetypal matrix that moves the evolution of the human race in a beneficial direction. (Sounds like a Christian world view) It was contextualized as “the arc of the moral universe.” This was not a deterministic astrology that says because Saturn is in conjunction with Pluto you should avoid such and such or you will meet so and so. At any rate, Sagan wasn’t the only stargazer out there. I realize there is a substantive difference between astronomy and astrology but nonetheless there are some who spend large amounts of time analyzing the cosmos and its goings on but come away with a very different feeling about it. That is not to say that the earth is positionally at the center but that there is a cosmological bias toward the happenings on this tiny speck. This particular speck draws attention from the larger universe in the opinion of some who you might say are closer kin to Sagan than Christ.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > says that there is a God with an earth centered attention.

      Does it? Or does it simply not talk about anything else? And we infer then that we must, of course, be the center of all things.

      Read with humility the Scriptures actually say much LESS than many insist that they do.

      • Rick Ro. says:

        EVERYONE has an earth centered attention, be they secular OR spiritual. Thus, I have no problem viewing God as somewhat focused on those of us who live on our little speck. After all, if we begin wondering how the folks are doing on Kappa Andromedae b while our planet goes to hell, we deserve what happens to us!

      • I’d say that the Incarnation is the ultimate demonstration of God’s earth-centeredness. 😉

        • Christiane says:

          🙂
          I like your turn of phrase.

          A great mystery, the Incarnation, yes

          ” Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
          and with fear and trembling stand;
          set your minds on things eternal,
          for with blessing in his hand
          Christ our God to earth descended,
          our true homage to command.”

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqA2O1c-WZg

      • Well that’s a good point. I’m not sure what Jesus meant when he said I have other sheep, an other flock. Is that someone other than the middle eastern, Hebrew flock or is that some other world all together that we know nothing of? Of course we assume that it’s all about us but as Eyeore says below there is no question that some serious attention has been placed on this little speck. I just find it interesting that people working in a field far off in the cosmological milieu come to the conclusion that there is a positivity in the universe around us that has as its end the benefit of the human race. These folks are not asserting that only good can happen. Far from it but that over the long term there is an ark toward an evolutionary benefit. I just thought that was very interesting. I know little or nothing about astrology but that they would come up with that is something I took note of. Maybe everything in the cosmos is not empty, cold and dark.

        • Just a note; I didn’t say, “The Scriptures..” but rather, “the standard Christian world view..”. Those two are very different things.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Earth-centered attention from Earth’s POV.
        Kappa Andromedae b-centered attention from Kappa Andromedae b’s POV.

  6. Ron Avra says:

    The difficulty comes in acknowledging that one’s personal experience isn’t a final conclusive argument and yet it is one’s own experience. Your experience is yours alone but it has to be held in tension with the collective experience of the community. Accepting the reality and validity of your personal experience while reconciling it with the collective experience of the community is ongoing and intense work. I require frequent coffee breaks.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Excellent insight and analysis, Ron. The reason I love hearing personal testimonies is because you can’t deny a person his testimony. As you say, though…that testimony might cause some tension within a community. I think of Saul/Paul’s testimony. No one can deny he had some sort of encounter on the road to Damascus, but I’m guessing it didn’t sit too well with the Pharisee community…LOL.

      • StuartB says:

        I wonder who and what Jesus meant to the Jewish believers before Paul. Because he seemed to mean something different to Paul.

    • Robert F says:

      Ditto on the coffee breaks. And of course, frequent bathroom breaks along with them.

  7. StuartB says:

    I want to write more when I’m less busy, but this post would be a good part of a discussion about “what is conversion”…because I sort of want to ask the question: is Mike a Christian/believer? I know too many who would argue no, and not because of his views, but because of his lack of initial conversion.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      You mean some might find his lack of faith…disturbing?

      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=F1xAUfdK9FE

      • StuartB says:

        lol nah. More of the angle of “did he have a true conversion experience, or was he walking the walk/talking the talk because he was hotting the hots for his fiance.” I’ve had several conversations with evangelicals where they say that no matter how much someone walks/talks, if they don’t have a genuine conversion, it’s not real or will fall apart or be worthless or whatever. So, getting people to love others, to live like Christ lived, is of zero importance to them, ONLY the conversion or fire insurance or prayer or whatever matters.

        It’s a weird tangent for my brain to think on but it cropped up earlier today.

        • Robert F says:

          Yet they lack any meaningful criteria for defining exactly what a “genuine conversion” is…as long as they keep their eyes squinted, and the picture remains fuzzy, and they don’t ask too many questions, it seems to work.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Actually, they DO have meaningful criteria:
            Whatever I did that YOU DIDN’T.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          Yeah, I knew what you meant, Stuart, it was just that the Darth Vader line was too close to pass up.

          What you’re really talking about is the notion in some theologies/denominations that if someone has a conversion experience but then falls away, they must not have had a true conversion experience.

          I just threw up a little typing that.

      • StuartB says:

        Could an atheist Hebrew be part of the covenant if he followed the Law?

        Can someone who lives by all of God’s teachings and Christ’s example, truly loves others, be “saved”?

        Can someone love God and love others and walk the walk but has never confessed/converted/been baptized be “saved”?

        • Rick Ro. says:

          Because I’ve drifted toward a sort of universalism (I have no doubts that Jesus saves, I’m just not sure he keeps it to some small Evangelically-defined subset of humanity), my answer to your three examples is, “Sure!”

          Now the question is: is that just my belief or is it truth and reality?

        • Christiane says:

          “Can someone love God and love others and walk the walk but has never confessed/converted/been baptized be “saved”?”

          yes

          ” God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”
          (from 1 John 4:16)

          The answer is a resounding ‘YES’

  8. Christiane says:

    paradox is a witness to me of the mystery of faith revealed in Creation itself

    size? small? why not cease to think of ‘small’ as ‘less important’ and begin to understand the incredible complexity of things at the cellular level, the molecular level ???

    Our Lord, Creator of the Universe, comes to Earth and is born as a helpless baby and we are somehow drawn to kneel before Him anyway, maybe even BECAUSE of the way He comes to us
    . . . . . . maybe people were tired and weary of the ‘God of Wrath’ and needed to kneel before the Christ Child and pray and find peace and respite from fear

    the man who is locked into ‘the Bible’ in a way that does not allow for it to impact him with its mystery and beauty, that man is ‘illiterate’ to much of what is sacred in the Bible, much of what lies hidden from the Pharisee who uses the Scriptures to belittle others or the Preacher who finds verses to ‘justify’ abusing others

    The Bible as ‘sacred’ is not easily received by them who cannot imagine Christian contemplation on mystery and that is sad, because what is ‘sacred’ about the Bible was meant to help them understand more than what a literal viewpoint can possibly provide alone . . . . . reading the Bible in some dry fundamentalist desert may even be risky to that fundamentalism, because the Scriptures contain the power to override bibliolatry with a turn of a phrase at the right moment and help the poor fundamentalist ‘get past those watchful dragons’ (CS Lewis)
    and find the treasures that await in abundance

  9. StuartB says:

    It’s interesting. I was finally exposed to a lot of that Carl Sagan stuff recently, missed it as a kid due to the YEC controlled world I was in. And when I finally heard Sagan’s words, I felt…joy. Relief. Peace. The complete opposite of Mike’s reaction.

    I wonder why that is.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      If you figure that out, make sure to get back to us.

      Sounds like material for a blog post.

  10. Robert F says:

    a dust of atoms
    spins out galactic pinwheels
    like morning mist

    • Centred on silence
      Counting on nothing
      I saw you standing on the sea
      And everything was
      Dark except for
      Sparks the wind struck from your hair
      Sparks that turned to
      Wings around you
      Angel voices mixed with seabird cries
      Fields of motion
      Surging outward
      Questions that contain their own replies…

      You were dancing
      I saw you dancing
      Throwing your arms toward the sky
      Fingers opening
      Like flares
      Stars were shooting everywhere
      Lines of power
      Bursting outward
      Along the channels of your song
      Mercury waves flashed
      Under your feet
      Shots of silver in the shell-pink dawn…

      Bruce Cockburn

  11. Dee Parsons says:

    One minor comment from one who grew up on the North Shore of Boston. *Yiz* is frequently heard as In “Can all of yiz come?” “You guys” is an acceptable substitute.

  12. I’m always a week behind everyone else. Great discussion. I’m buying the book.