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Can You Trust Your Personal Religious Experience?

December 29, 2008

Here’s a story for you: When I was younger, say the beginning of high school, I used to tell my friends the woods behind my house was haunted. They all obviously wanted to see this, I was ok with that. They would all come over and stay the night. Around midnight we would all go out into the forest and I would take them on a “guided tour” through the haunted area. I would instruct them all to be very quiet and walk in a straight line, for safety reasons. No flash lights, only the light from the moon would guide us.

As we trekked through the woods I would tell my friends that we were being followed by shadow creatures and then I would point out where they were, jumping from tree to tree or just off in the distance of the brush. When the wind blew I would tell them the creatures were moving and ask them to look for trees that swayed too much, where it was obvious something was jumping to or from. They would tell me they saw something to left running alongside us and I’d say “Good, keep track of it, tell me if it gets too close.” I’d lead them out pretty far into the woods until we got to a certain point in this field, where there was a large odd looking knoll, the only one in the area. I’d have them sit there and discuss what they’ve seen so far and people would claim to see shadow things out in the field moving around, trying to get closer to us.

Then I would take them back out of the woods the same way, still one by one, still pointing out monsters hiding in the darkness. Everyone was scared and excited when we got back to the house and couldn’t sleep for hours. I even took my step-brothers out there once and they refused to come back out with me because of how intense it felt for them. Every one of my friends swore there was something wrong with the woods behind my house. One friend even described it as a “religious” experience for him. He explained that he believed the creatures to be demons.

Here’s another one: A few years back, while I was still in the Air Force, I had a “religious” experience at work. I was fairly addicted to caffeine and I consumed a large amount it. That particular day, I had likely used to caffeinated soap to wake up in the morning, chewed caffeinated gum all day and I know I had just drank about three Red Bulls in a row for my own personal amusement. I’d first like to state that “coder + caffeine = code”. That’s my pathetic excuse for level of caffeine I was on. I was standing at the other end of a large cubicle talking with a coworker about something when I glanced over at my corner of the large cube. Sitting in my seat was a four armed, half-naked, dark blue woman with a large golden headdress. Then she waved at me.

My speaking paused for about a second while my highly caffeinated brain processed what had just happened at rapid speed. “Did I really see what I just saw? Must have been a hallucination. Dismiss it for now and finish making your point to Ryan.” And so I did. After the conversation was over I explained why I paused and what I had seen. All parties present agreed I should probably cut back on the caffeine rather dramatically and start drinking some water right then. After a Google search by a friend of mine it was determined that I had had a vision of Kali, the goddess of destruction.

Here’s the point of both of these stories. I knew nothing was in those woods. I directed the experience from the beginning. I used their fear of the dark and of the unknown to convince them something was there, just beyond the edge of their senses. I did that all in good fun and my friends did enjoy it, otherwise it wouldn’t have happened very often. I did not see Kali the Destroyer; I had a caffeine induced hallucination. Neither of those experiences was actually religious. You can’t always trust personal experiences. You may think a god has spoken to you, but maybe you just had too much caffeine. You might think you’ve seen demons but maybe someone was just playing on your fears, or maybe you’ve even gotten yourself worked up over those fears of yours.

You can’t live your life based on a personal experience that could have had no basis in reality, but only in your mind. Can you be 100% sure that shadow you saw was a creature following you in the woods, or are you just scared and let that fear get the best of you? If what you experienced can’t be explained rationally then it can’t be trusted. It could be confirmation bias, a hallucination, or maybe even paradoilla. If you can’t explain what happened then you don’t really understand what happened and you shouldn’t make any decisions based on that experience. Just let it go, don’t pray to it.

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44 Comments
  1. December 29, 2008 4:07 pm

    Maybe Kali just wanted to borrow some Red Bull…? Heh.

  2. whatchamacalit permalink
    December 29, 2008 7:34 pm

    Excellent point and I totally agree with you, and surprisingly this this post should help believers, because sooner or later all of us/them will have to face up to the hard questions. I believe in God not because of my amazing, earth shattering, heart rendering experiences but because it just makes sense to me.

  3. Mythos permalink
    December 30, 2008 4:22 am

    Question.

    Is it that you don’t trust your own personal religious experiences, you don’t trust the experiences of others, or you don’t trust religious experiences altogether? I could even take it one step further and ask do you believe there are true religious experiences at all?

    Although I do understand your synopsis of how suggestion, and the like, can play tricks on one’s mind and lead it to think and assume in a certain predictable pattern, (ie, dark woods translates into haunted woods) and I understand that you seeing something resembling kali was most likely chemically induced by the caffeine, but all of that being said still doesn’t genuinely address the true nature of God or the Bible…which I assume is the true meaning of your post.

    What I mean by that is it’s my understanding that the Bible makes it a point to say specifically that you put your faith in God and His word, meaning you trust completely what He has told you and you do what He has instructed you to do, but you don’t put your faith in your senses since your senses can easily be deceived, as you demonstrated perfectly with your “haunted woods” scenario.

    All things considered, I would agree that most “religious experiences” are more than likely based on people’s senses, instead of based on God’s word. But since God’s word makes it a point to stress that you should not lean upon your own understanding (what your senses tell you) but instead rely fully on God’s word, it would be in error to assume that….

    1.) ….there are no true religious experiences involving a true God.

    2.) ….that false religious experiences, that go against God’s word (relying on your sense instead of God), are proof that true religious experience don’t happen; that God doesn’t exist; and/or the Bible is incorrect.

    and finally….

    3.) ….that people who claim to be Christians are in fact following God’s word the way God told them to. After all, nothing at all works the way it is suppose to if you don’t follow the directions, but failing to follow the directions does not inherently mean that it doesn’t or won’t work.

    All in all though, I like the post. Just thought I would throw in my two cents.

    ~ Mythos

  4. December 30, 2008 10:25 am

    @whatchamacalit – Thanks for chiming in! I actually wrote this post because of the number of Christians who come across my blog.

    @Mythos – Welcome to the Sisyphus Fragment! I am an atheist and I personally do not take stock in any religious experiences whether they are personal or not. Every experience I’ve been told can be explained by the probabilities of chance or through misunderstanding of the person having the experience.

    As we both know the Bible is very open to interpretation and Christianity in America is almost defined by it’s “pick and choose” attitude towards the tenets of said religion. If all Christians followed your view about personal experiences then there would be significantly less Christians. I will admit that my view of Christianity is skewed because I was born and raised in the Bible Belt of the Midwest. Most of that area’s faith is based on personal experiences.

    “But since God’s word makes it a point to stress that you should not lean upon your own understanding (what your senses tell you) but instead rely fully on God’s word”

    This is where I disagree with you. People SHOULD rely on their own understanding of something, at least much more so than something mystical, which almost by definition you cannot understand. “You cannot understand the mind of God” is something I’ve heard theists say. My argument is that you should look at your experiences with a skeptical eye and through the lenses of scientific evidence and critical thought and never make assumptions that you base your entire life around.

  5. leftcoastlibrul permalink
    December 30, 2008 1:36 pm

    Good post. No, you cannot always trust experience; especially when in the throes of “religious ecstasy.” All of our experiences are subjective and therefore subject to our particular point of view. Add to that any hormonal imbalance that may be taking place at the time, and what you have is someone seeing things through a very distorted lens, indeed.

  6. whatchamacalit permalink
    December 30, 2008 2:19 pm

    Hi Fragment, You say,

    Every experience I’ve been told can be explained by the probabilities of chance or through misunderstanding of the person having the experience.

    Do you believe everything you are told? Who is doing the telling (to you in this case) and who is stating the misunderstanding (the misunderstanding of what), this is extremely subjective.

    You have chosen what to believe and so have I. My experiences can not be proved nor disproved as having actually happened. That would be unscientific. Science needs measurable, quantifiable proof, so though we can not prove I had religious experiences or that God exists neither can we disprove it.

  7. whatchamacalit permalink
    December 30, 2008 2:22 pm

    Back again, sorry I had two thoughts (hard to believe in this cluttered, middle aged mom brain of mine). I agree again with you that people MUST use their reasoning and as you say “their understanding of something”. I’m all for not believing something if it doesn’t fit in with what you know to be true or not true. Yet, I do have what religious people call “faith” as well.

  8. December 30, 2008 3:01 pm

    I think the point that Sisyphus is trying to make is that true faith is most often derived from personal experience. What reason do you have for your faith?

    – Schev

  9. whatchamacalit permalink
    December 30, 2008 7:00 pm

    Good question Schevus. I have thought about this subject my entire life including periods of agnosticism and short periods of contemplating atheism as well. Lately, my delving into science and even philosophy has pointed me more and more towards a God. I have read Richard Dawkins and lots on the new atheists and nothing impresses me about what they have to say. They sound rather mean and uncaring even selfish to be honest. I can try to explain my faith but it is mine and most likely unique. If you’d like more I will but I don’t want to bore you.

  10. Mythos permalink
    December 31, 2008 12:42 am

    Hi Sisyphus, I wanted to thank you for your input and I also wanted to reply to some of your statements. I apologize if I take up too much room on your site with my reply.

    You stated, “As we both know the Bible is very open to interpretation and Christianity in America is almost defined by it’s “pick and choose” attitude towards the tenets of said religion.”

    It’s true. People can interpret anything into whatever they want. But given that, if the Bible is correct in stating that God is all knowing, then it stands to reason, at least my own reasoning, that God Himself would know people interpret things differently.

    I found this verse in the Bible the other day, it is Isaiah 46:8-10 – “So remember that, you who refuse to obey me. Keep it in your minds and hearts. Remember what happened in the past. Think about what took place long ago. I am God. There is no other God. I am God. There is no one like me. Before something happens, I announce how it will end. In fact, from times long ago I announced what was still to come.”

    That is from the New International Reader’s version, in case you were wondering, but all the translations basically say that, “God knows the end from the beginning.” In other words, He doesn’t get surprised.

    So I took that into consideration concerning all the arguments from people who say the Bible ‘has been translated so many times by so many different people that it is practically impossible to know exactly what it says and so people just interpret it to suit their lifestyles.’

    I don’t dispute that point because obviously there are millions of Christians who misinterpret the Bible. But it is very difficult for me to accept that a God, who knows the end from the beginning, would give us His word only to have it completely misinterpreted by the time you and I got it in our modern time.

    For that to happen, God would have either had to:

    1.) Not know His word would be misinterpreted by us, and thus making it of no use.

    Personally, I think this can’t be the case, if the Bible is correct in stating that God knows the end from the beginning, because He would obviously be able to see ahead of time that we would misinterpret it. So, if that is the case, the question becomes, why would He send His word to us knowing it wouldn’t benefit us at all? So given that, I personally don’t believe He would send His word to us if it was possible for us to grossly misinterpret it to the point where it wasn’t of any use.

    or

    2.) He would have to have not cared that His word would be useless to us by the time we got it.

    This also cannot clearly be the case because if He didn’t care why would He have given us the Bible to begin with? Also, why would He, according to the Bible, have sent Jesus to conquer sin to give us a way to obtain forgiveness for our own sins if He knew we would so misinterpret His word that the sacrifice of Christ would essentially be for nothing?

    So basically all of that tells me that, if the Bible is true, there really isn’t a possibility of God’s word being misinterpreted by those who truly seek Him. Yes, there are a lot of fanatical nut jobs out there who abuse what is written in the Bible for their own personal gain, etc. But that doesn’t mean the Bible is untrue or something we should disregard. It just means that some people are mostly concerned with themselves and those same people will intentionally misinterpret the Bible for thier own purposes.

    Sisyphus, you also made a point of saying, “This is where I disagree with you. People SHOULD rely on their own understanding of something, at least much more so than something mystical, which almost by definition you cannot understand.”

    Practically, I agree with you.

    But within the context that it was written in the Bible (for you really aren’t disagreeing with me, since I didn’t author it) it is basically saying that someone who isn’t wise and knowledgeable can make a wise choice. That choice is whether or not to choose to listen to someone who is still wiser than yourself. God has basically said, “I know all the answers”, so if you choose to go the one with the answers, than you are wise.

    But, if you choose to try to come up with the answers yourself then, although I’m not personally saying you’re wrong or any conclusions you discover are wrong, you are turning down a chance to know more than you currently do.

    It is never a good idea to ignore the words of those wiser than you, even if you don’t agree with them. It is always a good thing to add to your knowledge and understanding of all things. Now, choosing to believe that knowledge and/or build your life upon that knowledge is something entirely different and varies from individual to individual.

    After all, I personally think that the more knowledge you acquire the better informed you are to make the correct choices in life and you will be happier because of it.

    Take care.

    ~ Mythos

  11. wellwateredgarden permalink
    January 1, 2009 11:20 am

    Hey, Mythos … I agree totally with you that God and His instructions and promises is the best answer for all mankind. Jesus said, “Trust in God, trust also in me.” Jesus gave only two commandments: Love God and love your neighbor … shouldn’t be all that difficult.

    The confusion comes when we try to reconcile the teachings of the Old Testament (the Jewish Bible) with the teachings of the New Testament (Christian [Gentile] Bible). The OT are instructions on how to behave while the NT are promises of salvation through Jesus Christ when believed.

    The notion that there is no God is egoistic. The search truth will always lead to God.

    The way I see it, anyway …

  12. Mythos permalink
    January 2, 2009 5:48 am

    Well that is what I’m trying to do, search out the truth. Whatever that truth ends up being. Thank you for commenting wellwateredgarden.

    ~ Mythos

  13. Mark permalink
    January 3, 2009 12:46 pm

    @ wellwateredgarden..

    Truth is reality for some.
    To assume there is a God because of indoctrination is foolish.

  14. whatchamacalit permalink
    January 3, 2009 9:44 pm

    Hi Mythos, to your last comment about searching out the truth, I am totally with you on the journey which for me is the most important part.

  15. whatchamacalit permalink
    January 3, 2009 9:45 pm

    Hi Mark,

    You said,
    “To assume there is a God because of indoctrination is foolish.” I would have to say the reverse is also true though that assuming there is no God is also foolish.

    Mimi

  16. January 3, 2009 11:43 pm

    whatchamacalit, most of us here are willing to admit we all assume that shopper impaling unicorns don’t exist, as we all go shopping all the time. We don’t see any evidence for such a thing and I personally feel that it’s a safe assumption to make.

    However, I don’t make the assumption that a god does not exist, but in the same vein I don’t live my life according to assumption that a god does exist. To behave in a logical manner I would have to assume all gods exist and try to appease all 300,000 gods simultaneously. Instead, I appease no gods and just live my life and try to improve my surroundings for the betterment of mankind. I may not live forever, but I just might leave a positive mark that may outlive me.

  17. wellwateredgarden permalink
    January 4, 2009 10:25 am

    Isn’t free will wonderful? You get to do what you want and I get to do what I want. Everyone of us has to live by our calling, the conscience that daily guides us to turn this way or that, to help here or walk away.

    There is a law built within the earth that demands justice … namely, we reap what we sow. If a farmer plants a potato seed in the ground in the Spring he is not at all surprised when a short time later a potato sprout appears. This law works physically as well as spiritually.

    Daily we sow and reap, daily we initiate actions and thoughts that produce harvests. Justice demands that there is always a day of reckoning, but we are so often surprised that we get what we deserve because we didn’t mean to be unkind, we didn’t mean to cut off another person, and we really didn’t mean to take what was not rightfully ours.

    It seems to me that we all need guidelines to live by and if we don’t use the Bible as a base, what do we use in order to advance our civilized society?

  18. January 4, 2009 4:35 pm

    Whatever are you blathering about, wellwateredgarden?

    There is a law built within the earth that demands justice … namely, we reap what we sow.

    Prove it.

    If a farmer plants a potato seed in the ground in the Spring he is not at all surprised when a short time later a potato sprout appears. This law works physically as well as spiritually.

    Physically? Sure. It’s called biology. Plant potatoes and you won’t expect to be harvesting pumpkins.

    Spiritually? Um, no. You provide no evidence for that at all. Try again.

    It seems to me that we all need guidelines to live by and if we don’t use the Bible as a base, what do we use in order to advance our civilized society?

    If we used the Bible as a base, we’d need the government to keep squads of trained bears on hand to deal with youths who make fun of people with bald heads, so said bears could maul them to death. Not to mention the mass slaying of heathens, slavery, etc.

    On the other hand, we could use what we’re using more and more; a complex system of social interaction which is constantly improving itself to take into account behaviour which benefits society as a whole.

    I don’t know about you, but the system we’re using has a heck of a lot better track record than following biblical teachings, having helped to create a society which has abolished idiotic practices which originated in/where support by religious teachings (such as the afore mentioned slavery).

  19. whatchamacalit permalink
    January 4, 2009 5:28 pm

    Hi Sysyphus, I know the old Flying Spaghetti Monster thing. I don’t buy it. While I can see how many like yourself do not believe in God and I do respect that, it is not ridiculous to believe. In fact it is just as likely if not much more so that we were put here, created, rather than getting her totally by random chance which would be about 10 to the 1000th given what we know about physics, so I think the Flying Spaghetti Monster or as you put it “shopper impaling unicorn” is just a way to make believers look ridiculous and is in fact very unscientific.

    Please note that I am not trying to convince you that there is a God and that you should do anything about it but only that it is very reasonable to believe so.

    Thanks for the great discussion.

  20. whatchamacalit permalink
    January 4, 2009 5:38 pm

    As for free will, I’m not so sure any of us really do have much of it? Our biological impulses are so intense sometimes we seem to do things that are somewhat “inevitable”. We are forced to find food and shelter less we die and are driven by amazing forces that push us to reproduce. That is my opinion from a purely physical standpoint.

    On the social side, if each individual does exactly what he/she wants don’t we call that anarchy? I do volunteer work in a prison and believe me there are plenty of guys in there who thought they had free will but can’t even choose what to eat or drink or even when to go to the bathroom. I apologize if I’m dragging this conversation away from it’s intended topic but this is just what came to mind.

    While free will is an important tenet for most religions I wonder if any of us, believers and atheists alike, are really as free as we think?

  21. January 4, 2009 5:43 pm

    so I think the Flying Spaghetti Monster or as you put it “shopper impaling unicorn” is just a way to make believers look ridiculous and is in fact very unscientific.

    So please enlighten me; what do you see as the characteristics which separate notions such as the Flying Spaghetti Monsters and Celestial Teapot from the Judeo-Christian Deity? Or any of the other thousands of deities have worshipped throughout history?

  22. wellwateredgarden permalink
    January 4, 2009 9:33 pm

    Hey, Matt … True Christians are Jesus Christ followers and they base their beliefs and code of conduct on the New Testament (the Christian Bible). Don’t confuse the Old Testament (Jewish Bible) with the Christian Bible.

    Jesus gave us two commandments … Love God and love your neighbor. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it?

    You seem to think that when a society insists on living wjthout a code of conduct that it will actually do right all by itself and get better and better. Actually, the opposite is true and we witness it today, again, in western society, including the USA, where our civilization as we know it is declining morally and actually. When you look at our prisons (like you do) the point is taken.

    The public schools for a couple generations now have been teaching that the individual is the most important person and we must follow our own dreams because we are number one and entitled.

    Christian churches teach that society, collectively and individually, are more important than any individual. They teach that we are our brother’s keeper.

    Guess who started the major universities? Yeah, Christians. Guess who built the first hospitals and continue to do so around the world? Yeah, Christians.

    Do you have any idea what would happen to our society as we know it if all the churches were to close and we all started listening to and taking our directions from the psychologists and psychiatrists? Or imagine taking our advice on how to raise children, for example, from the government? Have you heard of Russia or Cuba or China?

    Guess who gave us democracy? Yeah, Christians.

    I know this is a big subject and not easily dealt with in a paragraph or two but I think we are beginning to understand each other.

    May the Lord bless and keep you … seriously.

    Think about this a moment

  23. whatchamacalit permalink
    January 4, 2009 10:19 pm

    Who says I believe in a traditional Judeo-Christian deity? I do see your point. The traditional god is seen as a rather pissed off old guy damning people to hell. Who would want that kind of God? We’re better off without him. Who says God is a male anyway?

    What I am trying to say is that it doesn’t have to be that or nothing. I have no idea what God is really like apart from my own thoughts, feelings and yes beliefs. They are not particularly traditional but I don’t think it is reasonable to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” and just say that belief in any creator is ridiculous, it is not.

  24. January 5, 2009 2:53 am

    Hey, Matt … True Christians are Jesus Christ followers and they base their beliefs and code of conduct on the New Testament (the Christian Bible). Don’t confuse the Old Testament (Jewish Bible) with the Christian Bible.

    You mean the old testament that jesus is supposedly on record as stating still counts completely? And that is the basis for your own religion. Fascinating.

    You seem to think that when a society insists on living wjthout a code of conduct that it will actually do right all by itself and get better and better. Actually, the opposite is true

    Really, our society is getting worse morally is it?
    I guess the abolition of slavery, equal rights for women and indigenous peoples, the spread of democracy and the incredible rise in living standards on a world wide basis don’t actually count for much in your version of reality…

    The public schools for a couple generations now have been teaching that the individual is the most important person and we must follow our own dreams because we are number one and entitled.

    I don’t know which public schools you’ve been exposed to but that’s certainly not the case in my neck of the proverbial woods. The main point (in that context) in the schools I’ve been to is social cohesion and tolerance.

    Guess who started the major universities? Yeah, Christians. Guess who built the first hospitals and continue to do so around the world? Yeah, Christians.

    Higher learning was actually started by the Greeks and those same people also had healing houses. Your example also does nothing to reflect on modern times.

    Do you have any idea what would happen to our society as we know it if all the churches were to close and we all started listening to and taking our directions from the psychologists and psychiatrists?

    I imagine that people would save a lot of time, especially on Sundays. But wouldn’t it be ghastly if people actually started listening to trained and experienced experts in particular fields… sheesh. Next you’ll be suggesting we listen to lawyers when it comes to matters of law.

    Or imagine taking our advice on how to raise children, for example, from the government? Have you heard of Russia or Cuba or China?

    Russia … who scared the bejeezus out of the US for a good time? Cuba … who continues to do whatever it likes and continuously snubs the US without any retribution? China … the current global economic powerhouse. Check. Check. Check. Again, your supposed examples are pointless and of little to no worth.

    Guess who gave us democracy? Yeah, Christians.

    Again, it the concept of democracy came from those really rather clever ancient greeks.

  25. wellwateredgarden permalink
    January 5, 2009 11:00 am

    Interesting conversation!

    Matt, listen a moment …

    The Old Testament is the Bible for the Jewish nation and people. The only reason Jesus quoted it was to prove that He was the Messiah that was promised to the Jewish people. Someday the nation of Israel will be a total blessing to all the nations of the earth. There is a good reason why their neighbors can’t defeat them, even though they are hugely outnumbered.

    Regarding people getting better on their own … look at any major inner city worldwide, any refugee camp or any dictatorship and you won’t see a lot of anything getting better.

    Tolerance of one’s neighbor’s lifestyle is a good and loving thing until you let their lifestyle overrule yours, and that is what is happening to wester society as we know it, to our peril.

    Practically all institutions of higher learning in the western world were started by Christians and have since become secularized because of intolerance for Christianity.

    Democracy was started by the Greeks but was introduced to the western world by Christianity.

    Regarding lawyers … within our courts we no longer have justice but the smartest lawyer will always win the case, and the judges let them. Justice, based on our existing laws is a thing of the past already.

    Matt, I have a question for you … if we throw out the Bible as the basis for our legal system and as a basis for getting along with one another as equals, upon what system of rules would you suggest we live and hold each other accountable?

  26. Gloria permalink
    January 5, 2009 12:36 pm

    didn’t take time to read all of the comments, just your article. I do think that we can influence others by what we say in huge ways.
    However, the eyes of faith see signs everywhere. My experiences to be valid must line up with the Word of God. There are many things being done in His name that have nothing to do with Him. My faith in God does have an impact on my experiences. I see the Hand of God where you would just see a coincidence.
    Why do I add my 2 cents to this? debate it if you will? Because my life with Jesus is so much greater than my life was before and I want to share that. God loves people.

    • January 5, 2009 1:04 pm

      “God loves people.”

      Gloria, if a god does exist I don’t see any evidence that it would love us. I see tornadoes, tsunamis, and terrorists. 300,000 people drowning and 3000 people burning alive; where is this love? Why would a god give you those “coincidences” and not other people? Why would a god operate in such a mysterious manner and then send people to hell (in w/e incarnation you perceive it as) for not seeing the evidence? Why would the creator of the universe be a trickster? Why does the universe operate in exactly the way it would if there were no gods?

  27. January 5, 2009 4:21 pm

    The only reason Jesus quoted it was to prove that He was the Messiah that was promised to the Jewish people.

    You might need to go back and reread your own holy text then:
    Jesus believed that the Old Testament was divinely inspired, the veritable Word of God. He said, “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). He referred to Scripture as “the commandment of God” (Matthew 15:3) and as the “Word of God” (Matthew 15:6). He also indicated that it was indestructible: “Until Heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the law, until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18).

    Someday the nation of Israel will be a total blessing to all the nations of the earth.

    They’re off to an incredibly poor start, then.

    There is a good reason why their neighbors can’t defeat them, even though they are hugely outnumbered.

    International alliances based on geo-political stability might have a lot to do with it. Look at the history, the main thing that has contributed to Israel’s continued existence is major support from the US (including massive input of military funding). While Israel may be surrounded and outnumbered, they certainly have greater firepower and allies than it’s neighbours.

    Regarding people getting better on their own … look at any major inner city worldwide, any refugee camp or any dictatorship and you won’t see a lot of anything getting better.

    The world, in general terms, is getting better all the time. Just look at the US, where a man is now President elect whereas if he had been born fifty years ago he wouldn’t have been allowed to sit at the front of a bus.
    Democracy has spread, poverty has been reduced, disease and famine are greatly reduced.
    Is the world perfect? Of course not and no one could realistically expect it to be. But it is a lot better than it has ever been, undeniably massively better than the last time the world powers were run by a Theocracy.

    Practically all institutions of higher learning in the western world were started by Christians and have since become secularized because of intolerance for Christianity.

    Intolerance. Hmm … no. I would put that down to people realising that science is not compatible with a literal interpretation of the bible. And since science can be demonstrated to be real time and again, it only leaves one option as a clear winner.

    And again, higher learning was developed by the ancient Greeks. It also had quite a presence in ancient Rome. Neither peoples, at the time, had even heard of christianity.

    Democracy was started by the Greeks but was introduced to the western world by Christianity.

    Really? That’s not how history in my reality played out. Democracy, at least in England (as an example), came about mostly in part (there were various facts, of course) because the people were sick and tired of taking orders from the increasingly irrelevant church hierarchy. That lead to England telling the Vatican to sod off, forming their own religion, having a few civil wars about it and finally realising that active Monarchies are no good because you’re still living under the religious whims (divorce was a bone of contention, as was the use of idols/statues in churches, as well as what language hymn books would be printed in) of sometimes inbred madmen.
    Over the years, the balance of power shifted from the King being told what to do by Rome … to the King … to the people.

    Christianity, at least in this case, had no positive effect on democracy. I suggest you try a lot harder than you’re currently doing.

    Regarding lawyers … within our courts we no longer have justice but the smartest lawyer will always win the case, and the judges let them.

    You’re starting to sound more than a little paranoid there.

    if we throw out the Bible as the basis for our legal system

    You’re making the false assumption that our legal system is based on the bible to begin with. It wasn’t.
    The basis of our legal system actually comes from a mish mash of other cultures. Ancient Rome, for example, and the ancient Greeks come into play once more here. Legal concepts active in today’s courts come from all over the world.

    and as a basis for getting along with one another as equals, upon what system of rules would you suggest we live and hold each other accountable?

    I think I already mentioned it but I suggest you read up/research rather fascinating concepts such as The Social Contract.

  28. wellwateredgarden permalink
    January 5, 2009 7:27 pm

    I’m beginning to think that there may be some areas wherein you and I don’t totally agree.
    I enjoyed sparring with you. Maybe our paths will cross again. God bless you and keep you!

  29. ak16 permalink
    January 5, 2009 7:45 pm

    god does love us your saying that evil is what makes you believe that God doesn’t love us thats soo not true i know this might sound crazy even more so coming from a 16 year old almost 17 year old but it is by letting evil into the world that God is showing his love for us okay let take a look on the world without evil yay happniess sunshine rainbows and unicorns all great all doing good all loving God all loving eachother…….robots i for sure dont want to be a robot no offence to the robots out there but forced to love eachother and God no way why would i want that so God created evil so we can live with free will choosing to love people choosing to do evil or to do good the choice to love him i don’t know but someone sacrificing his own son so that we could have free will i don’t know if you would agree but i am for sure that he loves everyone even people who hurt Hurt him and his children people that persecute him people that you think could never be loved im sure he does yea thats my 2 cents

  30. ak16 permalink
    January 5, 2009 8:10 pm

    i knew i wrote a paper on this so you don’t have to read it this was from last year my writing skills weren’t the greatest but here it is
    No Pain, No Game
    Why did a good God with authority allow evil and suffering into the world?
    The Columbine massacre, the Jewish holocaust, 9/11, slavery, war, cancer, all of these are types of evil that hurt and destroy so many lives. So why did a good, authoritative God allow them into the world? God did this because He has a plan; He wants everyone to have a free will. “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Suffering, pain, and evil come in a three for one deal which is really tempting and that’s why men choose and continue to choose it. God allowed evil into the world because He wanted everyone to choose to love Him by free will and not by force. Although many atheists and humanists believe that free will just happened and that there wasn’t a mind behind the creation, I think that God created free will and knew the price of letting people choose between right and wrong because God wants all to be freely united to Him.

    Initially, God created the world perfect without with evil, pain and suffering. Evil is solely a result of man’s corruptness. Men choose to bring evil into a perfect world. “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7 God gave them that choice because He wants true worship and love. In order for this to happen God had to create evil, but it also allows joy, and happiness.
    If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free
    will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will?
    Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata – of creatures that worked like machines – would hardly be worth creating (Lewis, 48).

    By giving people a free will, God forces all to make the decision between right and wrong. For this to happen there had to be an alternative, evil. Christians believe that God is omniscient and knew that Adam and Eve would sin. Why did He still give them the ability to sin? It’s not that God isn’t powerful enough to prevent evil. God has the power and desire to eradicate evil and showed it by flooding the earth, killing Ananias and Sapphira, and destroying Sodom andGomorrah. “With God all things are possible” (Mat. 19:26). In order to have free will, God had to let evil into the world while maintaining love, joy and happiness.

    God did not just let evil reign over the earth and mankind without a plan. “The Lord will work out his plans for my life—for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever”(Psalm 138:8). To eradicate evil He gave people a conscience of right and wrong. God gave everyone laws to abide by, the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments, found in Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21 are quite like the laws used today: do not lie, do not murder, do not steal; and others are not, do not use God’s name in vain, do not covet. Jesus gave everyone laws of Christian behavior and attitude during the Sermon on the Mount, through parables, and performing miracles, in His life on earth. Jesus after His ascension sent down the Holy Spirit to live in the hearts of the believers. This gives Christians everywhere the knowledge of how to not fall into evil.

    How does one know if letting evil reign over the earth was God’s will? He is a sovereign and wise God and one cannot even come close to seeing what his entire plan is for every single person’s life. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8, 9). God has a reason and a plan for everything and people cannot understand it. C. S. Lewis uses an example of a mother and her child. Parents do many things that allow their children to suffer at times: vaccinations, baths, cleaning, homework, but they know that the outcome would benefit their child even though the child may not see it at the time. This also applies to Christians and God, He allows suffering but He knows His will and “sees the bigger picture.”

    In this world of evil, God’s will is seldom done. One can’t say that when the terrorists struck the Twin Towers on 9/11 it was God’s will. No, He doesn’t want people to suffer, especially the innocent, but humans choose it. God is powerful and all knowing but He gave people a choice and now all are paying for it through free will and suffering. God is not responsible for the things we choose to do. God gave everyone free will, so it was the terrorist’s choice. Heaven is the only place where God’s will is always done.

    Innocent people who live fervently for God suffer every day. Atheists and other non- believers see this as an argument to God’s reality and love when He allows all this pain and suffering. God does sometimes allow people to suffer because it is the only way they will come to Him. In many of the stories in the Bible, people came to Him because of suffering and pain, they needed comfort. This is shown in A Severe Mercy; Van truly came to Christ after going through the pain of losing his wife, Jean, and might have not if he hadn’t gone through that. Before becoming a Christian, C. S. Lewis’ argument against God was the pain and evil in the world. “A man does not call a line

    Kenney 3 crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line” (38).What is the alternative to the earth that God created? God could have chosen to not even create the earth at all; I doubt that mankind would enjoy that. He also could have created a world where man couldn’t choose evil. God didn’t do any of these things but rather He created a world of free will. By letting evil come into the world through Satan, God was actually showing us how much He loves us. How does letting people suffer show love? He didn’t want us to be sad, pathetic, little robots forced to love Him. Who would want to be forced to love? God wanted people to choose to be truly in love with Him not forced and God knew the price.

    Why can’t evil people only encounter evil and the good people live a peaceful, good life without suffering? People see pain as something they don’t deserve. Pain helps everyone survive and many times people seek God when in pain. People center their whole attention on why something happened, what they did, and did they deserve it or not. Jesus went through a lot of pain and certainly didn’t deserve it. He had to live in a sinful world, with hate and temptations and was sent to the cross to die for sinners. For mankind’s liberation, God made a huge sacrifice for us by sending His one and only son, Jesus, into a sinful earth to preach, teach, and eventually die on the cross for us. One cannot say that He was being disciplined when encountering evil and dying on the cross for everyone. Jesus is faultless, but Christians still fall short of the glory of God. The hate and temptations are there to test Christians and give them the responsibility to know evil and stay away from it. Free will didn’t just happen, and there is a mind behind the creation. God created free will and knows the price of letting people choose between right and wrong. First, if God didn’t allow evil into the world everyone would be like puppets forced to love God, without free will. Second, God is in control and has a plan for every single person and doesn’t want to make people suffer. Thirdly, God didn’t create evil, man chooses it and has to pay the price of that choice. Fourthly, God prepares Christians on how to fight evil and gives people a conscience, the Holy Spirit, and the law. Lastly, God can also turn evil against itself for the good. God knows that love isn’t true if there isn’t another alternative, and He won’t settle for anything but true love. Remember also that God says that He will put an end to pain. In Heaven there is no pain, evil, or suffering. i cut some parts out it was a long paper but hopefully this makes some sense

  31. Gloria permalink
    January 6, 2009 7:15 am

    {Why would a god operate in such a mysterious manner and then send people to hell (in w/e incarnation you perceive it as) for not seeing the evidence?} God does not send anyone to hell. It is our free choice to enter into a relationship with Him. If we reject Him it is not God that is sending us anywhere.

    {Why would a god give you those “coincidences” and not other people? } Oh He does, they just don’t recognize it. They call it luck, coincidence, fate anything but God. I have talked with many people, who once they have come into a relationship with God and then look back on their life, they can see God at work from the beginning. Eyes of faith.

    { Why does the universe operate in exactly the way it would if there were no gods?} Oh I don’t think it does. Take God out of the picture and things would be different. This is where we will differ because you believe He isn’t in the picture and I see His hand everywhere.

    The key is that God could have set it up anyway He wanted. He asks that we come by faith. One day we will stand before Him and answer for our choices. If in fact you are right (and there is no God), what have I lost? peace, hope, love, contentment, joy, purpose, fulfillment, etc. If I am right what will you what have you lost? a relationship with God that will extend forever.

  32. January 6, 2009 8:06 am

    Gloria, You didn’t answer my question. If your god does exist he is hiding and I can’t find him with the evidence provided it is his fault. He shouldn’t be behind the couch in the first place. Your god does send us to hell, he controls everything, therefore he controls whether each person goes to hell or not. If I tell you that you must be my friend or you will be tortured and raped and tortured again is it really a choice to choose not to be my friend? Your god could have created the universe in a manner which was not as horrible for such a small transgression as not finding any evidence because it was purposefully being hidden from him. But instead your god chose to take one of the worst ideas possible and run with it. He’s not very original.

    Eyes of faith? Does that mean you attribute all the good coincidences to it and all the bad are just bad luck?

    Gloria, when I say the universe operates in exactly the way it would with no gods I mean it in terms of physics, not some woo-woo “he intervenes in all our lives”. There is no fundemental part of light were god has to magically keep it going the same speed. The entire universe operates on it’s own, unabetted.

    Your last part is called Pascal’s Wager, and there are a multitude of problems with that thoughtline. Religious extremist kill people in the name of your religion. The only reason they can do that is because of the moderates that stand beside them and come to their defense without thinking. When they look around they see a billion people standing with them all baahing in unison. If you (meaning moderates) not there they would be all alone and could be seen for what they are. You don’t mean to help them, but you do none-the-less. Aside from that, which god do we pick out of the 300,000 pool? How do I know I’ve got the right one? They all have stories and books to back them up, some of them are even much older than yours.

  33. whatchamacalit permalink
    January 6, 2009 3:38 pm

    As for murdering in a big way, atheists have it hands down; Mao, Stalin, Lenin, Pol Pot, never mind atheist governments who wants a Cuba, North Korea or anything reminiscent of these horrific atheist states? Way more people (multi millions) have died as a result of atheism than religious fanaticism by far.

  34. January 6, 2009 7:02 pm

    Oh, not that silly argument again.

    Let’s try to express it in a different manner, shall we?

    How many people died as a direct result in the name of one religion or another? Lots. Pretty much indisputable at this stage of the game.

    How many people died as a direct result of someone’s belief of Atheism? In other words, how many horrendous actions were performed directly in the name of atheism? Mmm, can’t think of any off the top of my head.

    And that’s the huge difference. While several wars, innumerable smaller conflicts have been waged in the name of numerous different religions and for the greater glory of those religions … none have started to spread the glory of atheism. There have been wars/bad acts started to spread the greater glory of individual people (such as Mao, Pot, etc) but they were certainly not done in the name of atheism.

    It is a pretty huge difference.

  35. Gloria permalink
    January 6, 2009 10:49 pm

    *scratching my head* Just because you didn’t like my answer does not mean I did not answer it. Let me try it again. We are created with a free will. God did not make robots. He fashioned us in His image and gave to us the freedom to make choices. He is not hidden, He is not lost. It was His love that caused Him to send His son. It is my choice what I do with that. If someone chooses not to believe than they will end up in eternity without God which is what they think they want until they get it. I don’t have to know what exactly hell is, just knowing it is a place without God’s presence is all I need to know.

    We don’t get to dictate the terms of grace to the creator. We come to Him in faith or we reject Him. In the meantime God uses many different ways to try to reach out to people. He doesn’t want anyone to spend eternity without Him but He will not force Himself on anyone.

    “eyes of faith” I believe all good gifts come from God. I also believe that because of sin in the world that bad things do happen. Yes bad things happen to good people. Yes, bad things have happened to me as a strong believer in Christ. Some things have shaken me to the very core, but God is big enough to handle my questions and my fears. I do not face anything alone. Some things happen due to my own choices, or the choices of those around me or for reasons I haven’t gotten a clue. Yet in each ‘bad’ situation I trust God. Why? because in the midst of those things His presence and His help are very evident. There is a peace that just can’t be bought or manufactored but is found in the ’embrace’ of God in the midst of trouble. He is a very present help in trouble. He works all things out for my good. I have seen it over and over and over again. I trust Him.

    on the universe: I agree to disagree.
    I believe that God holds all things in His hand. Big bang theory – you’ve probably heard this one too, I believe in this bang theory – God spoke it and bang it happened. Why is that harder to believe than ‘oops out of nowhere, with no help came all this’??
    Pascal’s wager – everything to gain and nothing to lose is pretty much how I understand it. As for your multitude of problems?? What?? As for the extremists?? I can’t answer for other people. They will stand before God and give an account of what they have done. God is a just God and I leave all that up to Him. I will answer for me. I’ve lived without God in my life and I wouldn’t go back to that for anything. Even if heaven/eternity weren’t in the deal I’d serve God. He makes that much of a difference in my life.

    Lastly, I clicked on your site at first to check out your blog on 8 things theists….. why? because people matter to God and people matter to me. I also believe because I am not a fruit cake, just a real person with flaws loving God with all that I am, that maybe just maybe it will make a difference. Truly God has made a difference to me.

  36. Mythos permalink
    January 6, 2009 11:20 pm

    Very nicely done Gloria. I realise you weren’t speaking to me, but nonetheless you have given me a lot to consider. Thank you for stating your case so passionately.

    ~ Mythos

  37. whatchamacalit permalink
    January 7, 2009 10:35 am

    Matt,

    Calling someone’s very reasonable point “silly” does not make it so. Also you may think you are sounding more credible by speaking in a patronizing way but you will never defend an argument that way. It is a horrible fact that atheistic governments and leaders have caused genocide. It is history, like it or not. Religious killing can not even compare. You use the words “lots”. Excuse me but how many is lots?

    Let me get specific here, Mao responsible for 49 million, Stalin, 23 million, Tojo, a mere 5 million, Pol Pot 1.7 million, Kim Il Sung, 1.5 million and his son is still carrying on his mission of systematically killing his own people; all in the glorious name of atheism.

    You say this killing is not the direct result of someone’s belief in atheism. Where are you getting your history from?

  38. January 7, 2009 12:47 pm

    Show me the part of atheism that requires that we kill people.

    You won’t find one because there is nothing other than a one line definition: a lack of belief in the existence of God or gods. The Communists killed everyone, including atheists, they killed for power, not in the name of anything other than themselves. Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and even the Catholic, Hitler, all used dogma to gain power and to keep it. Atheism that is brought about through reason and understanding is dogma proof. Communism forces atheism through dogma on it’s people and they are never given good reasons for why religion is just silly superstition.

    I will tell you this; When those men flew into the twin towers they praying, and when that lunatic tried to detinate his car inside the abortion clinic he was praying.

    I actually had a really good discussion about this sort of thing on my post Notorious Villain “Religion” Strikes Again.
    You don’t need to read the post really, just the comments.

  39. January 7, 2009 4:01 pm

    Fragment covered most of what I was going to say but I’ll just add one little piece more.

    I called the argument given ‘silly’ and I do not retract that label. It is an argument that has been refuted/debunked/been shown to be false numerous times and yet it is still brought out like some sort of sad zombie donkey time and again (much akin to the ‘Thermodynamics means evolution can’t happen!’ idiocy, among others). It is also an argument that does not stand up to the slightest logical scrutiny.

    Therefore it is indeed rather silly.

  40. whatchamacalit permalink
    January 7, 2009 5:39 pm

    Matt, you do not retract the label silly because you say the argument has been debunked numerous times and yet you yourself can not debunk it with any factual information, just opinions and red herrings such as the switch to thermodynamics and “zombie donkeys” which have absolutely nothing at all to do with our original debate. What do zombie donkeys, thermodynamics and evolution have to do with the fact that many millions more have been murdered in the name of atheism than religion. I actually believe in evolution but it has nothing to do with our subject at hand.

    You may not agree that mulit-millions of people have been massacred in the name of atheism, but this is a fact not an opinion. While not all atheists are killers of course, as Sisyphus says, you can not deny that the millions WERE killed in the name of atheist regimes. Like it or not that just is the way it is. My point is still the same, religious killing pales in comparison with the atrocities of atheistic governments and leaders.

  41. January 7, 2009 6:20 pm

    So how, precisely, is this a refutation of the statement that such actions were carried out for the greater glory/advancement of one person (and close colleagues in some case) as opposed to atheism as a belief system?

    That is the big difference you are, for some reason, failing utterly to see.

    For example, I could (hypothetically speaking, obviously) wander down the main street of my hometown in an angry mood and shoot some people. I am an atheist so would that action be carried out in the name of atheism? No, of course not. It would be done because I would (again, hypothetically) have been blind with rage and wanted revenge/vengeance/whatever.

    This is opposed to, for the sake of a hypothetical example, a bunch of middle age soldiers charging on horseback into a village, setting it on fire while calling out “Burn the heretics! Praise be to the Lord may he smite them all with fire and may they burn in hell!”.

  42. January 8, 2009 3:02 am

    Shhhhhhh. How can you hear when your mouth is always open? If you seek the truth be still.

  43. ak16 permalink
    January 13, 2009 5:33 pm

    wow

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