I never really know when I start the day what questions, comments or challenges may come up but they are often interesting. This past week was no exception. On March 13 “Gary” posted a comment to Dr. Tom Howe’s blog, “Brian McLaren, ‘Is Jesus the Only Way to What?,’ Part 1” Gary’s opening line really caught my attention:
As an agnostic, humanist, and naturalist, I am sure that you view me as the enemy.
I stopped and reflected on that for a while. Why would he assume I, Dr. Howe or in fact, MCOI, would view him as the enemy? In my case, I grew up as an atheist. In my early 20’s, I came to realize that I couldn’t in all honesty be an atheist, because atheism proclaims with certainty something that I cannot actually know, i.e., that God does not exist. So, I opted for the safer path of agnosticism. As an agnostic, you really don’t have to claim to know anything for sure! As my friend Dr. Norman Geisler points out, there are two kinds of agnostics, the ornery agnostic and the ordinary agnostic. An ornery agnostic is one who admits they don’t know if God exists and rather stridently insists that no one else knows either, which tends to shut down any real communication on the subject. An ordinary agnostic admits they don’t know if God exists, but is open to information. I guess I must have been more of an ordinary agnostic, because I was open to information that might change my view. And when confronted with good reasons to believe, I was willing to truly consider the evidence and accept the change in worldview that entailed.
To this day, I think that any belief worth holding needs to be able to stand up to examination and testing. Questions are our friends, because answering them refines our beliefs or, if they are found false, allows us to abandon false beliefs. Now I don’t know if “Gary” is an ornery agnostic or an ordinary agnostic, but in his first line he has demonstrated that he makes assumptions, and then jumps to conclusions based on those assumptions. He continues:
But I am actually a friend; a friend trying to rescue you; a friend trying to rescue you from a false belief system; a friend trying to rescue you from a cult.
I can identify with the sentiment here. Joy and I, and in fact everyone associated with MCOI really do care about folks we believe are caught up in false belief systems. I appreciate it when others challenge my assumptions and are willing to rescue me from what they see as false beliefs. Proverbs 27:6 says:
Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.
What “Gary” offers next. though, is a straw man argument. I cannot tell if he really doesn’t understand Christianity or is being intentionally dishonest in his presentation of Christian belief:
Imagine that I am a friend or family member and imagine that I have joined a new belief system, a belief system that believes in black magic, witches, wizards, and evil goblins that have the power to control one’s brain. In this belief system I am taught that “the movement” is right, and everyone else is wrong, and not only wrong, but evil. I am told that all my friends and family who are not members of this belief system are incapable of seeing the truth because evil goblins control their minds and blind them to the “hidden” truth that only members can see. I am told not to listen to my non-member friends and family. I am told to obey and follow, without question, the teachings of our “error-free” holy book. I am told that the leaders of the movement have special, advanced training in “the truth” and therefore I should trust that they understand the truth better than I as a layperson ever can.
I suppose that perhaps some church somewhere teaches this kind of thing, but certainly none of the leaders I have met. One of the keys to the historic Christian faith is that it promotes examination and has strong answers to questions. In an attempt to support his story line he writes:
Your magical belief system tells you that witches exist and have the power to call up the dead (I Samuel chapter 28). Your magical belief system teaches you that wizards can turn walking sticks into snakes (Exodus chapter 7). Your magical belief system teaches you that goblins (demons) can enter and possess large herds of pigs (Mark chapter 5) driving them to commit mass suicide. Your magical belief system tells you that blindness can be healed by rubbing mud and spit into someone’s eye sockets (John chapter 9).
This is not a rational, informed, belief system, friends. This is an ancient, scientifically ignorant, superstition. It is magic.
Although “Gary” claims that he “once was a member of your cult,” it is unclear what he actually understood about historical biblical Christianity. In determining whether or not Christianity is true, the first question to be answered is, does God exist? An interesting short video I just saw is helpful on that question. “Believe in God in 5 Minutes (Scientific Proof)”:
This is an important question to answer. We know that from nothing, nothing comes – so how did everything which exists come from nothing in the beginning? (Darwinism). Now that is an appeal to magic!
We believe that the evidence shows that God exists and has revealed Himself in history, especially in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. This is confirmed by the physical resurrection of Jesus. There are many proofs for the resurrection of Jesus, which I will not go into here, but are available to anyone who wants to examine them. But how do we respond to Gary’s claims of Christianity being a magical faith? Do we believe witches exist? Well, yes and so do groups like the Covenant of the Goddess and Fellowship of Isis but we do not believe that witches have the power to truly call up or communicate with the spirit of someone who has died. I don’t think the Witch of Endor had that power at all, but God permitted Samuel to appear as a judgement on Saul. The witch was terrified! So, the power resided in God and not the witch.
“Gary” makes the same mistake with Moses in Exodus 7. It wasn’t Moses who possessed the power to turn a stick into a serpent, but it was God Who had created the universe Who performed the transformation. In fact, in each example “Gary” ignores the One Who has the power and was actually performing the deeds! That miracles are not normative – they do not happen regularly – does not prove that miracles do not happen at all. The claim of evolutionists/atheists that everything sprang into existence from nothing, by nothing, and for no apparent reason is a singular onetime event – certainly not normative – a miracle! But a miracle without a miracle worker! “Gary” suggests:
I strongly encourage you to do this:
1. Allow for the possibility that your belief system is wrong.
2. Read information that challenges your belief system
That is something I often encourage so we are on the same page there. An untested faith is not worth having. Sadly, though, “Gary” directs those reading to a fairly unreliable source:
—I recommend the following websites: Bart Ehrman’s blog, Debunking Christianity, and The Secular Web.
I do appreciate “Gary’s” expressed concern that we might be deceived. Unfortunately he doesn’t offer any rational reason or evidence to support his claim. He might do well to read Geisler and Turek’s book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist and then either debunk or embrace the evidence presented there.