Christian: When I pray I feel God’s presence. The sense of love and security tell me it’s right and that I know God/God knows me. When I go for a long time without prayer I feel uneasy, like things are not right. I feel a sense of longing to pray again.
Gary: The problem is, many people of many different religions, cults, and sects claim to intensely “feel” the presence of their deity. How do we determine who is right?
Christian: That makes no difference. God is working in all cultures. Exclusivity is not the reason to accept Christ. There are other arguments.
Gary: How do you know that it is a god causing all these emotional experiences and not simply misperceptions of reality? Many religious experiences seem to be tied to unusual events which the person perceives as a divine miracle. Isn’t it possible that these odd events can be explained statistically as nothing more than rare, but very natural events? If this is the case, these emotional experiences are based on misperceptions of reality, right?
Christian: The concept of God is the basis of reality itself. The nature of mystical experience contains the sense of holiness and union with God. Mystical experiences can be evoked by all kinds of things, not caused, but triggered by mundane things.
Gary: The question remains: Are feelings and perceptions involving mystical experiences reliable sources of information regarding universal truth claims? Can you provide evidence that disproves my proposition that all mystical experiences may be nothing more than misperceptions of reality (illusions or delusions)?
Christian: Dr. [Ralph W.] Hood made the argument and it is backed by the M scale that we should expect a naturalistic psychological process to differ in experiences since religious symbols are culturally based, but the experiences are the same, meaning they experienced the same reality.
Gary: Reality? How do you know it is reality and not misperception? You don’t. In the ancient past, and still today in primitive cultures, the most mundane of events was/is seen as an act of a god, whether it be thunder, lightning, drought, or even just the the rustling of the wind through the trees.
Based on collective human experience, mystical experiences are most likely nothing more than superstitions—misinterpretations of reality—unless you can provide better evidence.
My deconversion from Christianity did not happen overnight. It was a painful, four month process. I started out a fundamentalist, believing that every statement in the Bible was a literal fact, unless the language of the passage clearly indicated it was allegorical. So, I believed that Jonah literally lived in the belly of a fish for three days. I believed that dead saints were literally shaken back to life by an earthquake on Easter morning. When the Bible states that God will preserve his Word, and that he would not allow one jot or tittle to be changed, I believed that literally.
But one fateful day in 2014, I attempted to “reconvert” a Baptist pastor turned atheist blogger who was saying all kinds of horrific blasphemy against my Lord and Savior. In our discussions, he presented information that shocked me: Our Bibles contain thousands of scribal alterations of the originals. I was horrified. God said he would never allow his Word to be altered, but there they are, the Johannine Commae being the most grievous.
I sought reassurance from pastors, of several different denominations. They tried to assure me that these alterations were irrelevant. “It isn’t every word that matters, it is the overall MESSAGE that matters. The MESSAGE is inerrant, not every word.”
So God didn’t mean “every jot and tittle” he meant “the overall message”.
Ok… I’ll go with that…I think.
But then I started looking at the “message”. Was eternal damnation in Hell part of the message or a part of the “jot and tittle” that could be ignored? After all, there is substantial evidence that the concept of an afterlife did not exist until after the Jewish exile in Babylon. What about the Story of the Exodus? Most archaeologists no longer believe that this story is historical. The archaeological evidence for this story does not exist. Yet Jesus seemed to have believed that it was a real event. Jesus also seemed to have believed that Noah was a real person and that the Great Flood was a real event. Was Jesus wrong? I was again assured that since Jesus is perfect and can never be wrong, that Jesus was accommodating to his first century culture who *did* believe these persons and events were real. “The Bible cannot be read literally. One must understand the literary genre and cultural nuances to understand the intended meaning of the author.” So…the common man cannot understand the Bible? Only theologians and scholars can know what God really meant to convey in his message to the human race?
The pastors and online Christian apologists and bloggers to whom I reached out to in my desperate attempt to save my faith, always had a harmonization or resolution for every alleged contradiction or discrepancy in the Bible. But just because one can reconcile every apparent contradiction in an ancient text, does that mean that the text is historically reliable?
I finally had to ask myself this question: Would a good, loving, just, perfect, all-knowing God send humankind a message of salvation that is clear and concise, or would he send us a message that is so complicated to decipher, so full of allegory and “accommodation”, that many millions of people would reject the message as human-made nonsense? Would God send a message of salvation that only someone with a degree in theology could understand??
Well, I wish it had been by a much larger margin, but America has chosen decency over division. I, like many of my fellow Americans, am so relieved that the long nightmare of Donald Trump will soon be history.
Added after original posting:
Part of our long nightmare has been watching the overwhelming majority of Evangelical Christians, the self-proclaimed “moral majority”, supporting and lavishing praise on an amoral, wannabe dictator who has systematically attacked and undermined the institutions of our democracy. Here is a sample of the thinking and behavior of these Americans:
But here we are, four years later, and I think I’m going to vote for Trump. I cannot go into a long discussion about everything that follows, but when it comes to the Trump administration in terms of polices, here is my evaluation, both pros and cons. Obviously, this will not be comprehensive, but these are the things that stood out to me. This will be the only election we’ll be able to say, “Hindsight is 2020,” so here goes. First, the cons:
Much of Trump’s rhetoric and tweeting has been sophomoric at best and divisive and poisonous at worst. It has been positively un-presidential. That being said, I’ve felt that the rhetoric coming from the Democrats has been just as divisive and poisonous as well. Basically, I hate Trump’s rhetoric, but the Democrats are no better.
When it came to the issue of dealing with the border situation, I did not like his decision to separate children from their parents who crossed the border illegally. I fully acknowledge that the overall situation at the border and our immigration policy in general has been broken for years and without Congress getting a spine and actually tackling the problem, it was a lose-lose situation. But that move was not good. At least the administration backed off that decision when the country objected.
I really hate the soaring national debt–I don’t think either party has the guts to get that under control, though.
Now the pros:
Prison reform and the First Step Act, both of which began to rectify the mass incarceration of black men, which had been the result of the Crime Bill of 1994, the one, ironically, that Joe Biden had been instrumental in writing and passing.
Long-term funding for historically black colleges.
America has become energy independent, so we are not dependent on other countries for our energy.
Up until the Covid-19 crisis, record unemployment across the board, especially for minorities.
The median family income for middle-class families rose by $6,000 and worker wages began to increase for the first time in years.
He ended NAFTA and reworked the USMCA trade deal.
He confronted China’s cheating in trade and stealing of intellectual property.
He defeated the ISIS caliphate and killed its leader, Al-Baghdadi.
He killed the Iranian general and terrorist Soleimani.
The three SCOTUS picks he made are all well-qualified and outstanding justices. Regardless if one is upset over the circumstances of Amy Coney Barrett, I don’t think anyone can say she isn’t immensely qualified.
And oh, numerous Middle Eastern countries are signing peace treaties with Israel.
Regardless what one thinks of Trump himself, let’s admit it, any administration would be elated to be able to check all those off as accomplishments. Quite frankly, I have been legitimately shocked at the things this administration has gotten done. But I’m going to give credit to where credit is due.
…Trump, just like every other president, should be evaluated on his job performance. I did not like him at all in 2016 and was convinced he’d screw things up so much that he wouldn’t survive his first term. Although I still don’t like much of his rhetoric, the fact is, when it comes to policies and accomplishments, he has surprised me. That has not been the deciding factor, though, in my decision to vote for him this time. The deciding factor has more to do with what I’ve seen transpire with the Democrats and the mainstream media. To put it in the kindest terms, I have not been impressed…at all.
By the standards of the Bible, Trump is a horrible human being. His worldview consists of one thing: “What is best for ME?” He is a prolific liar. He is dishonest. He is mean and abusive. He disrespects women at every turn. Would you want your child to emulate Donald Trump? Of course not.
“But he has done so much good”, you say.
But what about what he is doing to the institution of the presidency? He behaves like a dictator. He is destroying our intelligence services. He uses his attorney general as his own attorney. He cozies up to and praises brutal dictators. How would you feel if a Democrat did the same thing? You would be outraged! Admit it.
Joe Biden is not a member of the Radical Left. We moderate Democrats, who still represent the majority of the Democrat party, stopped the Radical Left from taking over the party. Joe Biden will govern as a centrist. He will not turn the country into Venezuela or some other socialist country.
No, Trump is not Stalin. But he IS a threat to our democratic values as a nation. Imagine what Trump will do to the institutions of government when he no longer has to worry about re-election. His dishonest, amoral behavior will be unchecked.
We Democrats gave the American people a moderate alternative to Trump. We did not give you Bernie Sanders. Biden is a compassionate, good man with a long history of consensus building and centrist policies. He will restore common decency to the presidency. He will attempt to heal the wounds of division not blatantly attempt to stoke division.
If you are a Christian, ask yourself this question: Who would Jesus vote for if he were an American citizen? Do you really believe he would vote for such an immoral, mean-spirited man as Trump?
For the sake of America and your children, vote Biden!
Imagine if someone today claims that his brother is a god. You would think he is nuts, right?
But that’s not all.
Imagine if this same person claims that his brother is not only a god, but the Creator and ruler of the universe. You would think he is nuts, right?
But that’s not all.
Imagine that this same person claims that his brother was publicly executed, buried, but three days later his dead corpse came back to life, leaving an empty grave. You would think he is nuts, right?
But that’s not all.
Imagine this same person claims that his dead brother’s back-from-the-dead corpse appeared to numerous family and friends over a course of forty days, suddenly popping in and out of locked rooms and on country roads, allowing them to poke their fingers into his execution wounds, eating broiled fish sandwiches with them, and taking long strolls with them on the sea shore. You would think he is nuts, right?
But that’s not all.
Imagine this same person claims that after forty days of making multiple appearances in multiple locations, his dead-but-back-from-the-dead brother levitated into outer space in front of a crowd, promising to one day return to conquer the world and set himself up as King of the Cosmos. You would think he is really nuts, right?
Yet one particular world religion wants us to believe that this is exactly what happened two thousand years ago in the backwaters of the Roman Empire!
How can any intelligent, educated person believe this nonsense! Are they nuts?
Excerpt from Outreach Judaism: [W]hen various individuals witness a traffic accident and then attempt to clearly transmit the information they saw, errors will be made. This is what we expect from imperfect humans!
The Church, however, does not make this claim. Its authors and those who promoted the Christian religion claim that its content was divinely inspired, i.e. every word is from God! Christendom insists that the authors of the Christian Bible were inspired by the Holy Ghost. With this assertion, we must hold the Gospels to an entirely different standard of accuracy – that of perfection. Well over a half century passed from the time that Paul wrote his first letters until the last words of the Book of Revelations were penned. Moreover, these books were written from one end of the Roman Empire to the other. Thus, if we are to assume they were written by mere mortals, without Heavenly inspiration, mistakes and inconsistencies are expected. God, however, is inerrant.
There is another significant difference between conflicting accounts of a traffic accident and contradictory stories of the resurrection narratives. The testimonies of a traffic accident are believable because they are likely to have occurred, and make sense in our world. The resurrection story, on the other hand, is a biological and scientific impossibility. Thus, the only reason for believing the numerous fantastic claims of miraculous occurrences in the New Testament – defying all natural laws – is the believer’s total reliance on the credibility of the divine author. Since the stunning contradictions clearly establish the human origins of the resurrection stories, we can no more accept their testimony than we can that of the Book of Mormon. Moreover, the resurrection story is a self-serving rationalization to account for a messianic failure.
I know that many frantic attempts have been made to explain away some of the countless inconsistencies that exist in the four canonical Gospels. These answers, however, are so plainly contrived that even a perfunctory examination of these rationalizations cast serious doubt on the claim that they were divinely inspired. God doesn’t suffer from human fallibility and certainly wouldn’t present such a garbled account of what Christians consider the most crucial event in world history.
Most Christian apologists (who are not fundamentalists) will admit that some of the stories in the Gospels are probably non-historical. Even conservative, evangelical scholars Michael Licona and Richard Bauckham will admit this. So why then will these same Christian apologists refuse to concede the possibility that one or more of the three detailed Appearance Stories (found in Matthew, Luke, and John) are non-historical?
I’ll tell you why: They know that to do so would be devastating for Christian apologetics! If the detailed appearance stories are non-historical (fiction), then for all we know, the original appearance claims were based on sightings of bright lights or odd cloud formations, just as occurs today with Virgin Mary sightings.
Gary, You’re saying “The Romans would NEVER have tolerated a “great crowd” proclaiming a Galilean peasant as King of the Jews [inthe story of Jesus “triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday]. ”
The Gospel of John says that Jesus entered Jerusalem five days before the Passover. Could you please share your research as to when Pilate actually arrived for the Passover. Also, if you don’t mind, please provide your research showing how many soldiers were actually present in Jerusalem, five days before the Passover, and whether there is any indication that any soldiers of “rank” (ie, higher than the average foot soldier) would have likely been present at the gate that Jesus entered at?
You see, I’m not even sure there was anything more than perhaps 500 Roman soldiers garrisoned at Jerusalem at the time, and I’m certainly not sure that a “great crowd” outside the city walls – of people coming to the Passover (for God’s sake) – would even have drawn notice from a Roman guard: they would be *expecting* “great crowds”. I mean, the “median estimate” of scholars is that the Passover gathered a good quarter-of-a-million “pilgrims” each Passover. So, this was routine. Happened every year at about the same time.
And I have serious doubts that the average Roman auxiliary would have even known what “Hosanna” meant. So, I’d really love to see your research on this to demonstrate your statement that “The Romans would NEVER have tolerated a “great crowd” proclaiming a Galilean peasant as King of the Jews. “
Is it possible that a “great crowd” of Jews welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem as their new Jewish king during the Passover week in circa 33 CE and no Roman soldier heard about it? Sure! Is it possible that Pilate and his troops from Caesarea didn’t show up until the next day? Sure! Is it possible that when the author of John says a “great crowd” he really meant just a few dozen people who whispered “King of the Jews” under their breath as Jesus passed through the gate? Sure!
Anything is possible!
Do you Christians really think that you are the only religionists who play this game? Don’t you realize that Muslims, Mormons, and Hindus are just as adept at inventing rationalizations and harmonizations for the preposterous claims in *their* holy books?
When DNA evidence proved that Native Americans are *not* descended from ancient seafaring Jews as the Book of Mormon says, did the Church of Latter Day Saints fold up shop and call it quits? Of course not! They simply reinterpreted the text!
You Christians have had TWO THOUSAND years to rationalize (explain away) and reinterpret the preposterous, silly claims in your ancient holy book. Why stop now!
But the problem for you is this: Internet-savvy younger generations are not buying your “spin”. That is why the membership numbers of most Christian denominations in North America are in steep decline. So it isn’t just me who thinks your explanations are silly, so do a lot of young Christians. That is why they are LEAVING in droves!
Joel Edmund Anderson, professor of New Testament studies, on his blog: …it is easy to conclude that [the Gospels] are historically reliable.
Gary: Could you be more specific? Which stories in the Gospels are historically reliable?
–Is “Luke’s” claim that 3,000 Jews converted to Christianity on Pentecost in Jerusalem historically reliable? If so, please explain how that harmonizes with your scholar’s estimate that by circa 50 CE there were 5,000 Christians worldwide. If both are true, that means that Christianity increased by 3,000 people in 40 days after Jesus’ death, but then by only 2,000 in the next 20 years. Why the big slow down? Is this story realistic or was someone inflating his numbers? If so, what else did he inflate?
–Is “Matthew’s” story of an earthquake shaking people out of their graves to roam the streets of a major city historically reliable? If so, why do most scholars including some very conservative evangelical scholars doubt this event occurred?
–Is “Matthew’s” story of Roman guards at the tomb historically reliable? The overwhelming majority of scholars do not think so.
–Is “Matthew’s” story of the calling of the apostle Matthew historically reliable? Most scholars, including conservative evangelical scholar Richard Bauckham, believe that “Matthew” invented this story.
–[Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem at Passover] Are we really to believe that the Romans stood by as thousands of Jews greeted Jesus on Palm Sunday as the new Jewish king? Preposterous. This event did not happen.
So if most scholars doubt the historicity of SOME stories in the Gospels, why should we believe in the historicity of the others? Yes, Pilate was governor of Judea at the time. Yes, Tiberius was Caesar. Historical fictions often include general facts.
[A Christian reader of Anderson’s blog then comments that rejecting the evidence for Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem is equivalent to rejecting the evidence for Lincoln’s Gettysburg address.]
Gary: Anyone who believes that the evidence that supports the Gospels’ claim that the first century peasant Jesus entered Jerusalem to the acclaim “Hail the new king of Israel” on Palm Sunday is equivalent to the massive quantity of evidence supporting the historicity of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is not worth debating or even speaking to because either he lacks critical thinking skills or he is not dealing with a full deck of cards.
Joel Edmund Anderson: Gary, you have zero credibility. You are holding up a cheap B-movie caricature of the Gospels and only attack that. I know of no scholar who disputes that Jesus came to Jerusalem for the Passover (either AD 30 or AD 33), ran afoul of the Temple establishment, was arrested, and then crucified by Pilate. He was a messianic figure. Passover celebrated God freeing his people from oppression. When he came into Jerusalem, it is entirely reasonable to think his followers welcomed him in that way. And again, the Gospels do NOT say thousands of Jews did this. When you read the account, it is clear you are imposing on it a caricature of the event that has been undoubtedly shaped by cheezy Jesus movies and bad church Easter pageants.
The Gospel of John, chapter 12:
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him….
9 When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
12 The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!”
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:
15 “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
16 His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. 17 So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify.[d] 18 It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. 19 The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!”
Gary: “the whole world has gone after him”. Yet Joel claims it was a small group of Jews huddled off in a corner, whispering “Hosanna…the King of Israel” under their breath, speaking so quietly that the Romans never heard a word.
This story is NOT historical. The Romans would NEVER have tolerated a “great crowd” proclaiming a Galilean peasant as King of the Jews. Caesar was King of the Jews. To try and reinvent the meaning of “great crowd” to maintain believability in this tall tale is absolutely ridiculous. Christians would not tolerate Muslims, Mormons, or Hindus using such silly rationalizations for preposterous claims in their holy books, yet they do it with a straight face for theirs! Shameful.
Gary: If some detailed stories in the Gospels are not historical (dead saints walking the streets of Jerusalem) then why can’t other stories be non-historical (“Luke’s” Ascension Story, John’s Doubting Thomas Story, etc.)? If some stories in the Gospels are fictional, isn’t it plausible that although the empty tomb, women finding the empty tomb, and claims of appearances to some of Jesus’ followers are historical facts, the detailed stories about these facts are fictional embellishments? Maybe the “facts” are the bare bones account that we see in the Early Creed and everything else is fictional? How would we know otherwise?
It is therefore possible that people really did believe that Jesus appeared to them, but their claims of what they saw are not what we see in the Gospels. Maybe the original claims were the same as Paul’s claim (at least according to the anonymous author of the Book of Acts):they all saw bright lights.
Christian: Gary, none of the apostles expected to see Jesus either crucified or resurrected from the dead. That wasn’t on their radar at all, and in fact, when the women tell the male disciples they’ve seen the resurrected Jesus the men don’t believe them at first.
When Jesus encounters the two disciples headed back to Emmaus in Luke 24, not recognizing him as Jesus (a detail not likely to have been invented, either) they tell him that they thought they had found the Messiah in the person of Jesus of Nazareth however when Jesus was executed by the Romans they realized they’d backed the wrong horse. This too is not a story the early church would’ve invented.
Also, ancient people weren’t stupid; they knew the difference between a bright light and a person. The gospels insist that they saw a flesh-and-blood person, who they touched and could hear and who actually ate a meal with them. I’ve never heard of a light with an appetite for broiled fish, have you?
At the end of the day–as you yourself have agreed–believers and skeptics alike are left with an empty tomb. If there was no resurrection *what happened to the body*?
The fact the gospels make several embarrassing claims regarding Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection (his disciples and family save John and his mother all fled; the Romans had to borrow a tomb to bury him; women were the first witnesses to the resurrection and the male disciples won’t believe them until they encounter him themselves; etc) argues that the story of the resurrection isn’t a literary invention, because–again–people don’t normally tell lies that could damage their credibility.
“This too is not a story the early church would’ve invented.”
The “Church” has invented all kinds of tall tales. Did you know that the Church invented a document whereby Emperor Constantine allegedly donated the city of Rome to the pope? Even the Church now admits that it was a forgery. And please don’t tell me the “early” Church was any different than the Church a few hundred years later. Human beings are capable of telling whoppers when it serves their purposes and goals. Anyone who believes that the original disciples of Jesus and other early followers of Jesus were all “saints” is living in fantasyland.
“Also, ancient people weren’t stupid; they knew the difference between a bright light and a person.”
So was Paul stupid?
“The gospels insist that they saw a flesh-and-blood person, who they touched and could hear and who actually ate a meal with them. I’ve never heard of a light with an appetite for broiled fish, have you?”
This is a circular argument and conjecture: “The disciples really did watch Jesus eat a broiled fish sandwich because that is what the Gospels say, and the Gospels must be historically accurate because Christians would NEVER tell a lie or make up stories that make themselves look silly.”
Nonsense. Oral story tellers and book authors want to give their audience a good story. Inventing a story of the resurrected Jesus eating a broiled fish lunch is much more interesting than rattling off the bare bones story of the Early Creed. This is STORY TELLING. The authors were not lying but neither were they giving a history lesson.
“people don’t normally tell lies that could damage their credibility.”
You are thinking in black and white terms: either the Gospel authors were telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth or they were lying. How about something in between. They were telling STORIES, for evangelization purposes only.
What happened to the body? No idea, but my first guess would be that someone moved the body. Isn’t that the most probable explanation for most empty tombs/graves?