If you don’t believe that Jesus is God, why not Tom Cruise? Or FM-2030?

If you’re not sure Tom Cruise is crazy, check out his interview expressing his hope to “create a new reality… with enough love, compassion, and toughness.”  I miss Jesus already.  (Helpful explanations of his jargon here.)

Yet Scientology is part of the larger movement of transhumanism, and they’re not even the craziest ones in the movement.  Not to be confused with transsexuality, which this is not the place to discuss, transhumanists hope to incorporate advances in technology and “spirituality” to become immortal, post-human entities (and sometimes cyborgs).

I originally entitled this post “Science Fiction + religion – God = 😦 ” but changed when I realized that some might infer atheist non-cult-members, many of whose views I greatly respect, as being lumped along with self-theist psychos. I value dialog with people of other beliefs, but even I have my limits and and some point have to cry, “Dude, that’s loco!”

Worship someone, please, but not your future self.

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All Roads Lead to Heaven?

“We’re right and we’re the only ones!” shout the Pope, the Baptist preacher, and the cult leader in unison across the trenches.

Then, at Starbucks, in the classroom, in the locker room I hear, “All religions are equal.” Equally right, which means equally wrong, so live it up.

What if there is a third option? What if all of us are wrong, but some of us are less wrong than others?

What if only one person has ever had it 100% right: Jesus. The only human who has ever had a true understanding of reality, of God, or of anything else. Hold on, He was God. The rest of us are finite and screwed-up. But Jesus offered to bring to God any who would follow Him.

Christ saves, not any church, Roman Catholic or otherwise. For some of us, like my best philosopher friends, following Christ means becoming Roman Catholic. For others of us, it means becoming irreverent renegades. Or Baptists.

Different Christian groups, with their different emphases, offer different aspects of the truth about Christ and His teaching: love, grace, the awesomeness of God, the importance of His Word, loving the poor and the oppressed, community, tradition and history, and the reality of how messed-up we are all in this life, etc. If we only turn to our traditions, and not also to their Source, we’ll leave out important aspects of the Truth.

I see in other religions aspects of the truth about God also: the peacefulness of Buddhism; the discipline of Islam; the wild diversity of Hinduism; the restful rituals of Judaism. But I see also important differences. In every case, God is either less of a Person (Buddhism and Hinduism), or less personal (Judaism without Christ; Islam). But do other religions lead to heaven? That is the difficult question facing all Christians today.

I offer a strange possibility which should offend people on both sides of the debate. I think that we’re asking the wrong question. Does any religion lead to heaven? No.

No religion leads to heaven. God leads to heaven. He does so through Christ, but many times the -ianity (or the -ians) gets in the way. Religion — our beliefs, our practices — these are all means to an end: Him. There are many false ways, some in and some outside of Christianity, but only one Shepherd. Many who have correct beliefs, but who did not trust Christ, will be in hell (James 2:19). Is it possible that many who have incorrect beliefs, but who trust Christ, will end up in heaven? I think so, for who among us can claim a 100% understanding of God? I am saved by Who I know, not by what I know. But is it possible to trust Christ without knowing that it’s Christ? I don’t know. But I need to love, listen, speak, and pray as if every moment counts toward that end.

Atheist-Christian Dialog: On What Basis Good?

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

After two-weeks of e-mail back and forth, Skeptigator and I have posted the polished results of our conversation: On What Basis Do You Decide What is Good?  The venture is as much mine as it is his, but for sheer simplicity’s sake, the conversation is posted in full only on his site.  That way, we can both reply to one stream of comments.

However, I will give you at least the cliff note’s version here.  That should give you a flavor for what you’re in for with the full version of this conversation and with future conversations on other topics.

Introduction

Skeptigator’s original question to all of us was: Does atheism lead to humanism?”. He concluded that it had for him and that, even if “humanism” was difficult to define, it had to include emphasis on human responsibility for fixing the world’s problems via reason and science.

My question: If humanity is to solve the world’s problems, how are we to decide which problems are worth solving? And do those ends justify any means? In other words, how do you determine moral goals and the moral actions necessary to fulfill them? On what basis do you decide what good is? Or is there no basis?

My conclusions:

Skeptigator and I agree on four basic things: that we should alleviate human suffering; that reason should play a role in that process; that we should all be willing to work together in practical ways; and that this is a conversation worth having. I commend him for his desire to alleviate suffering everywhere, regardless of any benefit to himself.

The details of our disagreement stem from one primary source (surprise!): the existence of God. And not just any God, but a God who is engaged in human history and knows our suffering on a personal level. An intellectual solution to physical suffering is insufficient. “Every one of us is made to suffer,” Annie Lennox says. It is true, for which of us has not known our fair share of physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual woe? Our problem is bigger than we by ourselves can fix, although we are a part of the solution. The God of Jesus knows, cares, helps us now, and promises that final justice is on the way.

The second less obvious source of disagreement is human nature. Skeptigator, by his own admission [in original “Does Atheism Lead to Humanism” comments], sees no need to define it. I do. I have no business believing that we need God unless I believe that we are needy! By ourselves, we cannot do good. “If history has shown us anything, it is that you can kill anyone,” said Don Corleone. And we will kill anyone, I might add. Christians, Muslims, atheists and everyone else in power throughout history have always abused that power; and they always will, until this world ends, because we are human. We will always seek power, always abuse it in the name of the greater good, and always insist that this tendency is the problem of an isolated few.

The third significant issue is what began this whole conversation: humanism’s basis for determining good. Reason, human experience, and science are useful tools, but are not sufficient for establishing morality and purpose in life. Neither are they sufficient for establishing a consensus, even a wrong one. Disagreement is in our nature. Human reason has its limits, which we are wise to acknowledge.

In the end, we’re both skeptics: him about God, me about us. The burden of proof is on me, but I have none. Evidence and testimony, sure, but no proof. The only one who can prove His existence is God Himself. He refuses, for the time being, for our benefit. Faith will have to remain faith: “the evidence of things unseen” (Hebrews 11:1).

Skeptigator’s Conclusions:

Faithfool obviously has a religious faith and I obviously do not. Faithfool in his quest for understanding (and I dare say a budding skeptic but that’s perhaps wishful thinking) wanted me specifically to further explain where I derive my sense of morality.

The purpose of this conversation was to offer a unique way of discussing the source of morality if you do not have a religious faith (at least from my perspective). I think Faithfool and I could have gone for much longer than this however I believe we’ve each had enough space to make our cases. I do hope that this conversation will add to a growing number of conversations between people of faith and those without. As Faithfool pointed out recently to me, “we are not the only ones having this conversation”.

I do want boil down my primary answer to Faithfool’s question, “On what basis do you decide what good is?” Essentially my answer came down to “we are”. The combination of humanity’s experience, rational thinking and a scientific worldview is an extremely powerful tool or set of tools for understanding reality and the correct moral actions. I believe that this offers a better alternative to blind faith (a bit redundant I admit). I believe that moral actions have always been determined by human reason and that religion all too often captures/justifies immoral behavior at a certain point in time and that fossilizes and becomes incontrovertible dogma.

I am willing to accept uncertainty since a scientific worldview will never offer complete knowledge or certainty. I am willing to accept the possibility that we will make the wrong choices however and perhaps more importantly unlike many religious faiths we have a self-correcting mechanism in place.

Dear God, WTF?!

An Open Letter to God

Dear God,

Heard from a friend today, who reminded me of everything wrong in the world.  Children in sex slavery in Cambodia.  Where the hell are you?  And where were you when the Holocaust happened?  Or slavery?  Or the Taliban?  Or the crusades?  Where?

So I sit, waiting for you to split the sky and come down, burning to a crisp every twisted bastard among us.  I sit, weeping, rocking gently in my chair.  I breath in the air-conditioned coolness.  I look up at the white ceiling of my new house, waiting for you to tear off the roof.  I fume with anger, and then I remember: I had forgotten.

I have known for the years about the child sex trade.  A friend in college did recon and sting operations with the International Justice Mission.  But I forgot.  I became comfortable, distracted, self-centered.  I was so busy being so excited about how many hits my blog got today.  Screwed-up bastard that I am, I forgot to care.

If you’re waiting for me to be ready, God, before you come down… if that’s what’s holding you up, thanks, I guess.

If you’re waiting for me to take action, God, if that’s what these children need… help me!  Help them!  Help me help them!

We need you.  I don’t know how much longer we can wait.

Learning to Love the Opposition

What We Can Gain By Agreeing to Disagree

Most blog conversations, like most real-life conversations, represent like-minded individuals giving each other feedback.  I love it when a friend of mine posts a comment along the lines of “What you said was awesome!”  I can’t get enough of that.  In fact, the blogosphere might have even more affirmation than real life.  Maybe that’s why we love to be plugged in so much.

But what I really can’t get enough of: respectful disagreement expressed with clarity.  No matter what your religio-political-philosophical worldview, I hope you can agree: we can learn a lot from each other, especially when we disagree.

I want your atheism to help me be a better Christian, showing me the ways in which my faith and practice are lacking.  I want to see Buddhist Katy helping Mary Kay to be more Jewish.  I want Michael Moore to help W. to be a better Republican.  Why?  Because if we’re ultimately concerned with pursuing what is true and good, we help each other in that pursuit, even if our conceptions of truth and good differ as much as our ideas for how to live in light of them.

This is probably easier to show than to tell.  In the coming days I will be co-posting the first in a series of “Dialogs with an Atheist,” courtesy of Skeptigator.  I guess he and I got bored with limiting ourselves to in-depth discussion with those who are like-minded.

Every disagreement is a challenge.  Every challenge is an opportunity.  The bottom line: I don’t want to agree with you; I want to understand you.  If I can do that, I will have truly learned something and, I hope, gained a friend.

Sudden Death

“All death is sudden.” – anonymous

Life is precious. We forget so easily. Many movies, most video games, and all advertisements help us to forget. They tell us that our value is in how we look, in how many points (excitement, pleasure, accomplishment) we score, and in what we own. And most of us believe them most of the time. We act and speak as if scoring points was all that mattered. Whatever it is that you enjoy, do as much of that as possible, because today is the only day that matters.

But tomorrow is already here. Death is knocking at the door. He may have been knocking for a while, but you hadn’t been listening. I know I haven’t. Maybe he’s not here for you yet; you’ve got friends and family in the house, along with some random acquaintances you might not miss. Surely he’ll take one of them. Won’t he?

Hedonism’s response to death: ignore it. 

Is that really an option? Then you have no chance to prepare for what’s next, because you have refused to venture to guess that might be. The “great religions” are great because they have at least made an attempt. 

 (***What follows is a brief survey of my understanding of these religions’ views.  If I have misrepresented your view or need to be more specific, please let me know!)

Maybe there is nothing after death. That is atheists’ response. I respect their insistence on only claiming knowledge of that for which we have evidence. But my soul is incredulous before that great emptiness. There is too much purpose in life for there to be no purpose in death.

Maybe there is more life after death: many lives, the next better or worse, depending on how you behaved in this life. And if you are good enough for enough lives, you will enter Nirvana. Or maybe you will escape into Nothingness. That is the Hindu response, with its Buddhist variation. But my soul is too weary of day after day. Life after life would be too much to bear, unless I were utterly transformed.  Plus, I know my own heart too well. I would never think, feel, love, act rightly enough to “graduate” to the next step… and I’m not sure whether anyone else would either.

Death is the will of God. I must accept it and obey Him. If it is God’s will, I will enter Paradise, so I had be get on His good side. I love the simplicity of Islam’s response. But I ache against the thought of God wanting death.

The Jewish answer is in the form of a story: death is the enemy of God’s work and it has infected His creation because of us (Genesis 3).  We have hope of being reunited with each other and with Him after death (Psalm 23), but such hope is vague and fleeting, so theories abound in Judaism as to just what happens next.  The Tanakh (a.k.a. Old Testament) does not tell us how the story ends.

The New Testament finishes the Jewish story: God used death to return any of us who are willing to life by letting His Son die in our place (John 3).  And not just any death: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27).  God will destroy death itself when all of His dead have been made alive again. “Look!  I will tell you a mystery.  We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed….  For when this dying body puts on the undying, the sayings will be fulfilled: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’ (Isaiah 25:8); ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ (Hosea 13:14).  The sting of death is in the weight of our crimes, and the power of our crimes is in God’s law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives to us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:51-57; FIV).

That death is neither the end nor my friend may be the only answer that I can live with… whether I deserve to or not.