Coming Out Yogi

October 2, 2011

Brian asks:

Hey, I was a Christian for 10 years, pursuing Jesus with all my might during my devotions. The thing is, however, that I never grew in my faith. I also had some mood problems that prayer and Bible study never helped. However, since I started doing yoga and meditating, these moods are greatly reduced. I’m fascinated by this yogi philosophy and yogis are some of the most kind and compassionate people. But how do I get out of these church commitments where people need me and how do I explain to them what I’m doing? Especially when I know no one will understand?

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Do You Believe in Faith Healers?

July 15, 2011

I’ve always been fascinated by faith healers, and even more fascinated by the people who believe in them.  This video is long – really long – just over an hour.  And it’s often a bit slow and boring, but it’s also astounding.  Don’t miss any of it!

If you are a believer in God and in faith healers, consider what you have just watched here.  Then ask yourself: “in what material ways are the faith healers I believe in different from Pastor James Collins?”

If you are a believer in God but not a believer in faith healers, you might join me in recognizing how believers in faith healing don’t simply believe – they need to believe.  Any attempt to dissuade them from their belief is not met with good reasons for their belief, but instead it is met by emotional responses that are disguised as reasons.  Because in the end, the “reasons” they give are not rational, and there is no real reasoning with them.  You might ask yourself: “is this like my belief in God?  Do I believe for good reasons, or do I simply need to believe?  Are my “reasons” rational?  Or are my reasons specifically designed to justify what I already believe?”

Extra credit:

Atheists should also contemplate the nature of their belief that God does not exist: “do I start with a belief that God does not exist and then seek reasons to justify this belief, or is my belief that God does not exist a result of reason?”

Since by definition, agnostics don’t find that the evidence they have is sufficient to form a belief regarding the existence of God, can “needing to believe” influence their belief about the existence of God?


Faith: Who Needs It?

October 23, 2010

Who needs faith? This isn’t merely a rhetorical question, it’s a question that deserves an answer. The most basic demand that God makes of us is that we have faith in Him; that we believe He exists. Any other faith about God depends on faith that God exists. If we are to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we must first believe that God exists.

A logical problem:

If we know that God makes this demand of us, then we already know that God exists and we can’t have faith – which is what God demands of us. Is there a demand that we believe in God? Yes. Who is making the demand? God. Because we know that God exists, we can’t also have faith that God exists.

We don’t have faith that the London exists. In fact we can’t have faith that London exists because we know it exists. Faith is incompatible with knowledge.

Another logical problem:

Why does anyone think that God requires us to have faith? Because the Bible says so. How do we know that what the Bible says is from God? Because the Bible says it’s from God. Why should we believe what the Bible says? Because the Bible says it’s from God. That begs the question: Why should we believe what the Bible says?

The problem of Theodicy

If God exists and He requires above all that we believe that He exists, then why would He place us in the situation in which we find ourselves; a situation in which we haven’t a shred of evidence that would lead us to believe that He exists? If God carefully obscures from us all evidence of His existence, then God is responsible for our lack of faith.

Who needs us to have blind faith?

The leaders of Christianity, both modern leaders as well as its ancient founders, demand above all that we have blind faith in God. Blind faith, faith without any evidence, is a fundamental requirement without which Christianity could not thrive. If Christian leaders had any knowledge of God’s existence, they wouldn’t need to “believe” that God existed, nor would they need their followers to “believe” that God exists. God’s existence would be a forgone conclusion.

Put this to the test!

Ask your Priest, Pastor, Elder, Minister this question: “do you know that God exists?” If his or her answer is:

  • Yes – then ask if he or she has faith that God exists, and discuss the incompatibility with knowledge and faith. Post any reasonable answers here.
  • No or I’m Not Sure – then ask why he or she believes that God exists. Post any reasonable answers here.

The Resurrection Story – Retold

August 10, 2008

Of all the accounts in the Christian Bible (any of the Christian cannons), probably the most important is the Resurrection story. In fact, Paul says flat out in 1 Corinthians:

1Co 15:14-17 (NIV); And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

I’m certainly not the first to point out the following inconsistencies in the resurrection story, but since there is still no satisfactory response to the inconsistencies, and since this story is so central to Christianity, it bears reviewing.

Paul’s version written between 50 – 60 ce:

First, I would like to point out that Paul wrote several years before the Gospels were written, some time between 50 and 60 ce (a short 20 – 30 years after Jesus’ purported ministry). Because of this, we have to take care not to project our knowledge of what later writings (like the Gospels) say onto what Paul said earlier. Since the Gospels are clear that Jesus’ resurrection was a physical bodily resurrection, we are tempted to project that understanding back into Paul’s earlier description of the resurrection. But Paul’s own notion of the resurrection does not appear to be the same as the Gospel-writer’s notion. If you look closely at the body of Pauline epistles, you will find no clear indication that Paul considers Jesus’ resurrection to be bodily in the sense that Jesus’ dead body was resurrected. As far as we can tell from his writings, Paul seems to believe that the resurrection was spiritual – Jesus’ spirit was quickened and he now has a new heavenly body, not his corrupted human body that was buried. If he thought the resurrection was bodily and that anyone had seen Jesus resurrected body, he surely would have mentioned this important detail in his discourses about the resurrected Christ.

Now fast-forward several years later to the writing of the first of the canonical Gospels, The Gospel of Mark, which was written some time between 65 – 80 ce, some 35 – 30 years after Jesus. Here is our first claim of a physical resurrection… and already there is a problem:

Mark’s version (the original ending) written between 65 – 80 ce:

Mar 16:1-8 (NIV); When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ” Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

The problem is this: in the original version, that’s where the story ends! The remainder of The Gospel of Mark (verses 16:9-20), where the arisen Jesus appears to various people, was not in the original account but was added much later by a different author. This Gospel originally ended with no one ever being informed of the empty tomb.

In any case, the Gospel of Mark allows us a unique opportunity to witness the mythology as it develops:

  1. from a belief that Jesus was risen spiritually (as Paul believed): you have to take the resurrection on faith because no one has seen the resurrected Jesus – except for a few like Paul in a vision
  2. to an evolved belief that Jesus was risen bodily: you still have to take it on faith because no one has seen the resurrected Jesus and no one saw the missing body – except for the 2 Marys – and they didn’t tell anyone
  3. to the claim found in the new verses that were attached many years later that there were “eye witnesses” of the arisen Jesus.

Matthew’s version written between 80 – 100 ce; the mythology continues to evolve:

Mat 28:1-8 (NIV); After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

In the Gospel of Matthiew written after the Gospel of Mark, the women are afraid but now they run off to tell the disciples who later see Jesus for themselves. Notice how Matthew add guards to the story (as eye witnesses) and also has the angel show the women around the tomb to prove to them that he is really gone (nothing up my sleeves!). Later in the chapter, Matthew makes a point to say that the guards were paid off not to tell anyone what they saw – since he needed to explain why no one ever heard the Romans claiming that Jesus had risen!

Notice also that in Mark’s earlier version, the women encounter a young man in a white robe who was already sitting on the rolled-away stone when they got there. But in Matthew’s version, the woman and the guards were frightened by a gleaming-white angel that came thunderously out of the sky and rolled away the tomb, and then sat on it.

Luke’s version, written between 80 – 130 ce:

Luk 24:1-9 (NIV); On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words. When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.

Now their are 2 angels that look like lightning! Here again, unlike in the original version of Mark, the women do tell the disciples what they saw.

John’s version, written between 80 and 120 ce:

Joh 20:1-8 (NIV); Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.

There is no mention of angels or guards or thunder to legitimize John’s story. Instead, John adds a completely new account of the disciples seeing the tomb for themselves; the disciples, not the women or the Roman guards, are John’s important eye witnesses.

These are by no means a complete list of contradictions in the resurrection story, but they are ones that give us a fascinating illustration into how the resurrection myth grew over time from a crucified Jesus whose spirit lives on, to a bodily resurrected Jesus with credible witness of his bodily resurrection.


The Gift of Faith

July 5, 2008

I recently wrote about a spiritual gift test I had taken online. Besides being amused that fundamentalist Christians seem to believe that ordinary talents that we all possess are somehow supernatural gifts, I was struck by one gift in particular: the gift of faith. I thought about this when J.D., another poster on this blog, took the test and came out with a score of 0 (that’s zero: zilch! nichts! nada! zippo!) for his gift-of-faith score. According to SpiritualGiftsTest.com, the saved receive their spiritual gifts, including the gift of faith, upon salvation. They justify their claim with the following verses:

1Co 12:4-10; Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit…
For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:

Rom 12:3; …God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

But wait a minute – isn’t faith required for salvation? Then how is faith one of the gifts that one receives after salvation?

It gets worse. If our faith is a gift from God, and if salvation requires faith, then those who are saved were chosen by God to be saved (just as Calvin thought). Then those of us who do not believe were not meant to believe. If God created us and we were not meant to be saved, then it was clearly God’s plan to create us for the purpose of torturing us throughout eternity for our unbelief.

One popular (if inane) chorus that Christians often chant is that it takes too much faith to be an atheist. Rather than respond with reason which all to often falls on deaf ears and sluggish intellects, we should simply quote 1Co 12:4-10 and respond: “it’s a gift from God.”


Breaking News: Atheist with Spiritual Gifts

June 28, 2008

According to SpiritualGiftsTest.com,

A spiritual gift is a supernatural ability given by the Holy Spirit to a person at the moment of his or her salvation.

The webmasters at SpiritualGiftsTest.com attend The Vine Church who are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Their site seems to reflect mainstream SBC theology. They provide the following list of gifts, as well as the biblical verses to support their list:

Administration/Ruling Giving Miracles
Apostleship Healing Pastor/Teacher
Discernment of Spirits Helps/Serving/Ministering Prophecy
Evangelism Interpretation of Tongues Teaching
Exhortation Knowledge Tongues
Faith Mercy Wisdom

I took the test myself (you can take it too, the test is here) and guess what! I’ve got spiritual gifts! I answered all of the questions as honestly as I could. I didn’t do it as a joke, I did it because I was genuinely curious about the test. I became curious about it because I’d seen Christians on other blogs claiming to have spiritual gifts and they cited various spiritual-gift test sites as evidence for their gifts; evidence that was accepted by other Christians on the blogs. Since the test results seemed to be an excepted way to know what spiritual gifts you had, I decided to see what the tests were like. I searched on Google.com using the search string “spiritual gifts test” and SpiritualGiftsTest.com was near the top of the list. I took the test.

It turns out that I have every one of the gifts that they test for. My top 4 (20 or more points) are the gifts of Teaching, Wisdom, Knowledge, and Administration/Ruling. SpiritualGiftTest.com says they don’t test for the gift of Tongues among a few others because those gifts are self-evidence – evidently, I have that gift too.

How can this be? According to the site, these gifts are spiritual and they are obtained at the moment of salvation. Possibly I’m actually saved even though I don’t believe that I am. Possibly the claim that spiritual gifts are only for the saved is false. Possibly the test isn’t reliable, and Christians that believe that they have spiritual gifts based on tests like these are being duped by their fellow Christians who run the spiritual-gift test sites. Of course it is also possible, as far as you the Reader knows, that I lied on the test or that I’m lying about my test results. But you can easily verity the plausibility of my claim by taking the test yourself (if you believe you are not saved) or asking an unsaved friend to take the test.

How do you explain my spiritual gifts?  What spiritual gifts do you have?


Got Faith?

June 21, 2008

Jesus is quoted in Matthew 17:20 as saying:

…if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.

In other words, with the tiniest amount of faith, you can move mountains. How much faith do you have? If it is even the tiniest amount, you can move a mountain! Wow! Care to give it a try?

Note that this is not testing God – certainly no one doubts that the creator of the universe would have trouble moving a mountain. This is a test for you and your faith. In 2 Corinthians 13:5-6, Paul suggests that you should indeed test your faith:

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you–unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test.

If you don’t have the tiniest amount of faith (you’ll know this is the case if the mountain won’t budge), there’s a simple way you can get the faith you need. Here’s how according to Romans 10:17:

…faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

If you don’t already have one, go out and pick up a Red-letter Bible to make it easier to locate the word of Christ. Have someone read his words to you – reading them for yourself might qualify but the scripture says hearing so we want to be on the safe side. It could be that any part of the Bible could technically be considered the word of Christ but I recommend you focus on the actual red-lettered words of Christ, again just to be on the safe side. OK, let’s give the “mountain test” another whirl. Any luck this time?

One problem, according to Luke 8:12, might be that:

…the devil comes and takes away the word from [your] hearts, so that [you] may not believe and be saved.

You may have to repeat the hearing-the-red-lettered-Bible step several times to replentish the word of Christ faster than the devil can take it away from your heart.

Why does it really matter if you can or can’t move the mountain? If you don’t have enough faith to move the mountain, how do you know that you have enough faith to be saved? Recall that it only takes faith as small as a mustard seed (i.e., the smallest amount) to move the mountain. How much faith did you really have that the mountain would move? I’m sure some of you actually thought that it might move, others didn’t even try because they knew that it would not.

Exactly how much faith is required for salvation?

For the record, I tried to move ant hill… it wouldn’t budge. Did anyone else have any better luck?


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