Thinking About Belief

Thinking

Earlier today, while I was waiting for an electrician to stop by and install a room fan, I came across a tablet that I had apparently used for “notes” when I was writing my book. Funny thing is … I don’t think I ever used any of them! Probably because the book went in a slightly different direction than I had originally planned.

Anyway, I thought some of the notes were quite good so I decided to share a few of them here. As you will see, my focus at the time was on “belief.”

  • What we want to believe is largely based on emotion.
  • How do we tell the difference between what we want to believe is true … and what is actually true?
  • Beliefs are formed through many avenues, including family, friends, colleagues, culture, and society at large. Once a belief is formed, we defend, justify, and rationalize it — and look for evidence to support it.
  • Why do we not still believe the sun revolves around the earth? Because the evidence reflects otherwise.
  • When some people deeply believe something, they accept it as fact.
  • Many people resist challenging their beliefs even when they know there is no evidence to support them.
  • Is a belief in a god somehow necessary to live a normal life?
  • One may express belief in a being or entity that exists outside space and time — yet is unable to form a concept of or describe such a being.
  • Why is there a near-universal belief that “god” is a word that reflects something other than an idea?
  • Why is belief in supernatural entities not shared by everyone?

And then I came across this …

  • According to the bible, Satan loses in the end, so why does he continue to do his evil work? Can’t he read?

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Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

Winning the Battle

I recently received notification of a post by an ex-Christian blogger who goes by the name of Logan. I’ve been following his blog for quite some time and although he writes only sporadically, I always enjoy his posts. (Some of you may recognize him when I tell you his de-conversion was directly related to his oldest son declaring he was an atheist, which he wrote about here).

In Logan’s most recent post, related to the power of persuasion, he suggests that “we as humans are primarily emotional and intuitive thinkers. We want to believe we are primarily logical and rational thinkers … and adds … but we aren’t!” He amplifies this thought by referencing an open letter written by Dennis Augustine (ex-minister who was helped by The Clergy Project).

In the letter, Augustine describes how he left the faith via emotion, not reason. Here are a couple of excerpts from the letter:

I’m sure that I don’t have to remind you that it’s pretty pointless trying to reason with a believer. It is futile to try to reason a man out of a belief that he wasn’t reasoned into.

[…]

I’m convinced that reason … is pretty ineffective against the armour-plated defenses that shield believers from reason: the shame of sin, the terror of isolation and a fear of death (the ultimate isolation).

[…]

I think that it’s easy for people who are so steeped in a scientific environment dominated by the intellect to think that evidence and reason will make the difference; they can but only after one breaks through the walls around someone’s heart.

As I read these statements, I thought about the many times I’ve read arguments against Christianity in which non-believers have done exactly this; that is, used reason and scientific evidence in their attempts to break through the armor of the believer. While there’s no doubt this approach works with some, I tend to agree with the ex-minister that emotion is the predominant factor behind many (most?) deconversions.

Fundamentalists seem to be especially resistant to reasoning. Any kind of cogent argument is immediately dismissed … and their counter-attack usually includes emotional accusations, such as the non-believer/atheist left the faith because they hated god or their feelings were hurt or they are angry at god, etc., etc.

At the close of his post, Logan included a link to a video validating the power of emotion over reason called “Mr. Rogers and and the Power of Persuasion.” Well worth watching.

P.S. If you’re so inclined, I suggest you follow the link in Logan’s post to the actual letter by the ex-minister — and then read Logan’s comments at the end of the letter. He shares a personal story that happens all too frequently behind closed Christian doors.

Does He or Doesn’t He?

On a blog I follow, the owner recently wrote a post entitled, “Evidence for Jesus?’ At the close of his remarks, he asked:

To date, I have not come across a single piece of verifiable  evidence for the character Jesus of Nazareth.

Maybe someone – anyone – can provide evidence?

Any takers?

Most of this blogger’s followers are Non-Believers so predictably, the general agreement was no bona fide (verifiable, genuine, unquestionable, authentic) evidence has ever been presented to confirm the existence of this individual ingrained as the center of Christianity. In short, outside of the several thousand year old collection of books known as “The Bible,” there is nothing to indicate this person ever existed.

However, as the discussion progressed, a Believer joined the crowd with the following initial comment:

The evidence for Jesus’ existence is the community he founded, the church.

The Believer goes on to discuss Paul’s role in establishing the church which was, obviously, the result of … well … Jesus. Or, as he put it, Paul’s several letters confirm that —

Jesus obviously existed and the 1st century church was obviously his product.

NOTE: Does this seem like circular reasoning to anyone else? 

Eventually (as many blog discussions often do), the conversation soon expanded to include stories in Acts as related to Paul and thus, his role in validating the person of Jesus. Predictably, the blog owner disputed these stories and pointed out that several biblical scholars assert that Acts is historical fiction.

Nevertheless, the Believer continued his plea related to the authenticity of Paul’s experiences (as described in Acts) and how, as a result of them, he was able to persuade others regarding the role of Jesus. In response, the blog owner wrote this:

You seriously think there is a very good chance that the character Paul was able to cow a vicious Roman thug with a sermon, convert hundreds of Jews and Greeks simply from preaching about a messiah and was carted off to Caesarea with an escort of over 400 hand-picked Roman troops?

And then he added this:

You also think it is quite plausible that a vicious brute like Pilate would stand idly by while supposed followers of Jesus of Nazareth ran around proclaiming he had risen from the dead and did nothing? A criminal he recently had executed for treason is apparently now gallivanting free as a bird, witnessed by oooh, let’s just say off the top of my head, 500 witnesses? and he doesn’t even haul in a single Jesus-Follower for a friendly chat?

At this writing, the Believer has not responded. Personally, I find these questions valid and reasonable. However, as has been demonstrated in many other similar discussions in the blogosphere, Believers either ignore and/or discount them.

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I have no doubts that discussions/arguments related to Jesus, his existence, his mission, his demise and his (reported) resurrection will continue for many more years with each side presenting their points of view and “evidence.” And in nearly every instance, neither side will “win.” But it does make for interesting and fascinating reading (provided you can control your blood pressure 😉).

(If you want to follow the ongoing saga, here is the link to the referenced blog.)