The following is a discussion between myself, Nate (a fellow skeptic), and fundamentalist Baptist pastor and childhood family friend, Pastor Bill:
15 June 15
Gary (original comment): Dear Pastor Bill, Nate responded to your last post. He doesn’t believe that you are being open‑minded. I have to agree with him. If you are unwilling to consider that your beliefs MIGHT be wrong, how is it possible for us to have a real discussion or debate? You appeal to the Bible to prove that the Bible is true. However, this is no different than trying to have a discussion with a Muslim who attempts to prove that the claims of the Koran are true by referring to the Koran!
Pastor Bill: Actually I even agree with Nate’s belief in this. I am not open minded on several subjects, certainly the King James Bible is one such subject. If I were completely “open minded” some foolish person might happen by and pour some contaminant into it. You see there was a time when my mind was foul and infected but, by the grace and goodness of the Lord I have been “Brain washed”….guilty, guilty, guilty…I have been brain washed and soul washed in the blood of the Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ. This gives me peace, clarity of thought and causes me to desire to be loyal to Him Who paid my sin debt and set me free.
Gary (as follow-up comment): Pastor Bill appears to have a very strong emotional attachment to his belief system. He believes that his life prior to Christianity was bad. He believes that his belief in Jesus has brought peace and clarity to his life.
Dear Readers: Should Nate and I continue to try and “take” this peace and clarity away from Pastor Bill by exposing the errors and contradictions in Pastor Bill’s belief system?
This is a tough call. I like Pastor Bill and his family. They are really nice people. However, Pastor Bill is indoctrinating people, including small children, with beliefs that I believe are false and harmful. Pastor Bill did not grow up fundamentalist. He converted in his early 20’s. He therefore does not understand the detrimental effects of indoctrinating children with such teachings as original sinfulness: “Without Jesus, you are wicked and evil, little Johnnie and Susie, and you deserve terrible punishment. If you do not repent of your wickedness, believe in, and promise to obey, Jesus as your Savior (slave master), he will cause you to die and will toss you into a Lake of Fire to burn in horrific agony forever!”
This is what I was taught as a child and many other former fundamentalist Christians say they endured the same experiences.
We would remove children from the home of parents who repeatedly threaten their children with being burned alive as punishment for wrongdoing, but fundamentalist Christian parents do just that when they repeatedly tell their children that JESUS will burn them alive in a boiling pit of fire if they do not obey him!
Gary: You have said that your highest authority is the (King James) Bible, but unless your personal Bible has taken you by the arms as its prisoner and controls your every move and thought, your real highest authority is none other than YOU, Pastor Bill. YOU have decided to use the Bible as your ultimate authority so in order to have a rational discussion with you, you must provide evidence for why your ancient holy book is the ultimate purveyor of truth. Your opinion on the matter is insufficient. I have posted Nate’s response to you on my blog.
Pastor Bill: Again, you are partially correct in that I have given myself to the Lord and willfully accepted Him as my Saviour and my guide. What kind of a servant would I be to Him if I faltered each time He requested something of me or each time I did not fully understand something He said whether He was speaking to me or for me, I trust Him. As far as, “you must provide evidence for why your ancient holy book is the ultimate purveyor of truth”…. it is inaccurate that I must provide evidence. I tell people what the Lord has done for me and what He can do for them. I give evidence as to why reasonable people would believe His claims. If someone chooses to believe, great, it they choose not to believe I’m saddened but life goes on, Heaven and Hell remain the same as does the Saviour Who I have found to be as He claims, the same yesterday, today and forever… You men choose to believe the ever changing words and opinions, thoughts, and many times the rantings of, at best, mortal men who are driven by whatever motive they have. I have chosen to believe the never changing Word of the never changing Lord Jesus Christ. I think time and I know eternity will show who made the best choices there.
Gary: I believe that this statement is all the “evidence” that Pastor Bill intends to give us for the veracity of his fundamentalist Baptist, Christian belief system, and I believe that his evidence can be summed up in four words: personal experience and feelings.
Pastor Bill’s personal experiences, and the feelings generated by his personal experiences, reassure Pastor Bill that his version of Christianity is the one and only Truth. I would have no problem with this, except, Pastor Bill also believes that his personal experiences and feelings justify him telling everyone else in the world that they also must adopt his belief system, or, expect horrific, unspeakable, punishment for not doing so.
“I know eternity will show who made the best choices…”. So based on Pastor Bill’s personal experiences and his feelings, he knows what lies in store for Nate and me after we die. How can anyone know Truth based only on his own feelings and personal experiences??
And what do we do with the Muslim, Hindu, and Mormon who report the exact same personal experiences and intense feelings regarding their faith, god(s), and holy book??
The fundamentalist Muslim, based on his intense, devout experiences and feelings, believes that Pastor Bill is going to the Muslim hell! Should Pastor Bill tremble in fear every night because of this Muslim’s belief? Should Pastor Bill convert to Islam simply because a very devout religious person believes Pastor Bill is headed to eternal damnation, but, just like Pastor Bill, cannot provide any good, testable evidence to verify this belief?
As much as I like Pastor Bill, I must be upfront and say the following: Pastor Bill’s approach to knowing what is true and what is false in the world defies logic, reason, and good ol’ common sense. His approach to life and truth is based on emotion. Imagine if we approached every other area of our lives using our emotions as the ultimate authority for truth! What would happen if we all completely abandoned science, reason, and logic and essentially “fly by the emotional seat of our pants”?Dear Readers: If there is a Creator, he/she/or it gave us a brain. Let’s use it! Let’s use our brains to examine every truth claim, including those made by religions, using reason, logic, and the scientific method, not using our emotions!
Pastor Bill: This is the message from Nate…again my responses will be in blue:
Nate: Hi Bill,
Thanks for the reply. I appreciate your honesty in saying that the Bible is your ultimate authority and can’t be questioned. Unfortunately, this kind of position leaves us little to discuss.
The Bible claims that Jesus wants all men to be saved, right? He wants all of them to come to Christianity. But if that’s true, how can it be okay to cling to a belief without question?
Pastor Bill: Partially correct, please note;
Isaiah 1:18 (KJV)
18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
2 Peter 3:9 (KJV)
9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us‑ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
1 Timothy 2:3‑4 (KJV)
3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;
4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
Nate: Your position is that it’s perfectly fine for you to hold onto the Bible without question. But what if a Muslim feels the same way about the Qur’an? How can you reach him if he’s unwilling to question his sacred text? If God expects everyone to just keep the beliefs they’re born with, then it would be immoral for him to punish anyone for that.
Pastor Bill: My position is that I have investigated, sought evidence, spent hours, days, even years, “checking” things out, observing, praying and have come to some concert decisions about what I believe and teach. If the Muslim hears me and returns to his Qur’an that is disappointing, I have done my part and I will leave him KNOWING the Word of my God will do the work it was sent forth to do. Do I rejoice when men laugh or scoff, when they make light or jest, absolutely not but salvation is a matter of individual acceptance. No amount of force can change the Bible, it is what it is and is accepted or rejected by people everyday. If the Muslim chooses to accept the Lord Jesus….wonderful, if he rejects it’s his choice and I will be trusting that my meeting with him pleased the Lord Jesus.
Nate: The thing is, there’s no difference between you and the Muslim. There’s no guarantee that you’re right just because you’re you. You are a fallible human, just like the rest of us. So if you honestly want to find truth, you have to be willing to question the things you’ve always held to be true. So far, you’re saying that you aren’t willing to do that, so there’s really nothing for us to discuss.
There is a GREAT difference between me and the Muslim but first let’s look at the similarities. We were both born sinners. Until we were old enough to understand the difference between right and wrong we were both “safe” because of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. One day we reached the age that the Lord would hold us responsible for our beliefs. We had both been, at some point, presented with a belief system. One (the Muslim’s) was full of do’s and don’ts and hopes and wishes. He knows certainly that he is going to die, he hopes it is in the defense of his belief system for, if so, he is promised many fleshly things upon reaching eternity. My belief system is based on the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. As a hell bound sinner, I turned to Christ Jesus and received Him. My life was changed, my complete direction was changed and regardless of what else may or may not happen, I’m going to heaven… that’s the difference.
Nate: However, since you asked, I will answer one more of your questions:
“So, Nate, what are you using for your final authority?”While some would say that we are simply following something we were taught or something we learned……isn’t that what everyone does? We may choose to begin in a different place but we all begin somewhere with some belief system and go and hopefully grow from there.
Yes, we all begin with a set of beliefs that have been passed on to us by our parents (typically). But growth requires a willingness to learn more and a willingness to change our position. So my final authority is reason. It may not be perfect ‑‑ but it’s simply the best any of us can do. If there is a God, and if he requires anything of us, then he’s requiring us to use our reason. It’s all that we have. It’s what we use to make any decision. Even your decision to hold to Christianity without question springs from your ability to reason.
So if I run across some claims, I try to investigate them. If they don’t make sense to me, then I don’t accept them. I think that’s the proper approach to any issue, including religion. This doesn’t mean I have to understand every aspect of a particular thing ‑‑ just that the parts I can understand fit together rationally.
Pastor Bill: The Lord is willing to “reason” He even invites us to do that in Isaiah 1:18 BUT….He is not going to make a new way, a better way, a different way for anyone. When we approach the Lord with a difference of opinion someone has to change and it’s not going to be the Changeless Christ Who gave Himself on Calvary’s cross for sinners like me and you. What I have is not “religion” it is salvation and there is a great difference. Religion asks, “What must I do to satisfy God” . The answer to that question is, “There is nothing we as a natural man can do to please Him.” That’s the whole purpose of Jesus coming. Everything Jesus did on earth could have been done from heaven…EXCEPT…dying for us. He could not remain in heaven and pay our sin debt so He came, He died, He rose again and He is alive today and ready, willing and able to save to the uttermost all those that come to God by Him…..ain’t it great!
Nate: If you plan to discuss religion with any non‑Christians, you’re going to run into this same problem. If you want us to change our position, it means you expect us to be open‑minded. Yet you aren’t willing to be open‑minded, yourself. That’s just not going to get you very far. If you ever change your mind about your approach, I’d be happy to discuss things with you further. But until then, I just don’t see the point.
Regardless, thanks for the discussion. And take care!
Gary: I don’t think that Pastor Bill has any interest whatsoever in being “open-minded”. His belief system has given him peace and stability for over 50 years. For that reason, he is not willing to even consider the possibility that his belief system might be wrong. There would be just too much to lose.
I think that this is something we atheists, agnostics, and other skeptics of the Bible should keep in mind: Not everyone wants to know the Truth. Many people, including many Christians, prefer being comfortable and having a sense of security over knowing the cold, hard, truth.
I think that is where Pastor Bill is.
I am the kind of person who could never be satisfied with committing to such an important belief system, without first having done the hard work to make sure that my beliefs hold up to vigorous scrutiny from those who hold opposing views, and, being as certain as is possible that my views are based on solid, verifiable evidence.
I cannot believe something just because it makes me feel good. And I definitely cannot, and will not, believe an ancient religious tale just because it makes me feel good…or, because its adherents threaten me with eternal torture if I do not.