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Jan 23 2012

Dialogs with Eric

Last week I had a Gospel Disproof on the topic of “salvation by faith,” and a believer by the name of Eric has been kind enough to offer me a Christian response to the points I’ve raised. Since one of the points he raises repeatedly is that I haven’t said enough about certain topics, I thought I’d take the opportunity to correct the situation.

Eric writes:

Jesus is God and to believe on Him for salvation is in no way manipulative.

So men say. The problem is that God does not show up in real life, so we have no opportunity to believe Him, for salvation or for anything else. All we really have are the things men say about God, including the claim that He showed up thousands of years ago. None of us were there, so we can’t really know firsthand whether He did or not. The best we can do is to look at the claims made by the stories men tell about God, and then compare them to the real world to see if they’re consistent with the truth as it exists outside the feelings and superstitions and speculations of men.

Under the circumstances, then, it is highly manipulative for men to tell us that our salvation depends on our willingness to believe the things they tell us, apart from real-world, non-subjective evidence supporting their claims. If I came to you and said, “Jesus is not God, and my proof is I have a gun and I’m going to shoot you in the kneecap unless you agree with me,” that’s manipulative. Threatening you is not evidence, it’s coercion. It’s no less manipulative to threaten people with eternal torment in Hell unless they agree to believe whatever you tell them about Jesus. If someone wants to make a legitimate argument, they should give us real world evidence instead of trying to bribe us with Heaven or threaten us with Hell.

What is good? Who decides it? What makes something good?

Good and bad are determined by consequences and how we feel about them. Morality in general stems from our nature as material creatures: we have physical needs and limitations, and over the long evolutionary history of biology, we and many other species have evolved the ability to respond emotionally to our environments by desiring the things that promote our well-being and fearing and/or hating those that produce harm. As intelligent and self-aware beings, humans have taken this farther than most, because we are better able to consider complex and indirect consequences of our actions, especially in social contexts. But our morality is inescapably materialistic at heart. We care about the consequences because we are not immortal or invulnerable, and material reality imposes constraints on which outcomes exist for us to choose from.

Not only has God given us reasons to believe the things we orthodox Christians believe but, most importantly, He has given us His Holy Spirit as a self-authenticating witness to our hearts. As Christians, we stand on the truths that God has made known to all men and the truth revealed to us personally by the Spirit. You might say that a Muslim or Hindu can claim similar religious experiences. This is true, but the presence of false experiences does not negate the truth of genuine ones.

So men say. The Holy Spirit is kind of a funny guy. He’s extremely genial: to paraphrase Mark Twain, He never disagrees with anyone who has a conversation with Him. No matter how different people’s religions may be from one another, the Spirit assures each one that they have the real, true, genuine experiences and understanding.

Here’s something else that’s kind of funny about the Holy Spirit. No matter how much assurance He gives to Eric that the Gospel is true, He can never tell Eric anything that an imaginary friend wouldn’t have a good shot at saying also. Thus, like a good imaginary friend, He can “reveal” to Eric that his preferred beliefs are the correct ones, but He cannot tell Eric what is written on the piece of paper in my pocket. The Holy Spirit, being God, cannot operate outside the realm of Eric’s imagination. Eric can make guesses about how things might turn out, and give the Spirit credit for those guesses, but if any of those guesses turn out to be wrong, then by very strange coincidence it will turn out that the voice Eric heard wasn’t really the Holy Spirit after all.

The reason Eric is hearing what he thinks of as “the Holy Spirit” is because he is being manipulated by the Gospel. His salvation depends on being able to declare boldly and confidently that he believes what men say about God, even though God Himself does not show up in real life to back up his beliefs. Eric can tell there’s something not quite right about that, so in his heart he imagines God speaking to him directly, as a compensation for God’s failure to show up in real life. But like all imaginary visions, Eric’s Spirit has limitations, and has to be protected by strict taboos against “testing” or otherwise making demands on Him that only a real God could fulfil. The Spirit exists solely because of Eric’s need to believe the Gospel, and thus that’s the only function He can really serve.

Eric has lots more to say, but let’s stop here for now.

9 comments

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  1. 1
    davidct

    Sadly Eric “Knows” what the holy spirit tells him even though it provides no reason for anyone else to believe. Not only does he know his message is true but he also knows that the messages of others is false. He has certainty about this. While he did not bring this up in the text you cited, most believers will fortify their position with an appeal to faith. The faith trap allows such people to hold on to unsupported positions and feel that they are stronger people when doing so.

    Humans are very good at fooling ourselves and “inner” knowledge is the least reliable measure of what is true. It is not necessarily wrong but should never be trusted without some sort of independent confirmation. It can then be accepted as probably true, always pending further information. To people of faith this worldview is considered a position of weakness. It is no surprise that the discovery there there is no such thing as absolute “Time” was not a theist.

  2. 2
    davidct

    Sorry for the grammar errors. I will have get right with god to do better.

  3. 3
    sailor1031

    “…then by very strange coincidence it will turn out that the voice Eric heard wasn’t really the Holy Spirit after all”

    No. That voice was definitely the holy spirit speaking – it’s just that Eric misunderstood because of some religious lack in himself.

    1. 3.1
      Aliasalpha

      Probably still running Holy Spirit v3.5 after they rolled out the v3.6 patch, this is why automatic updates matter…

      1. sailor1031

        Shoot: I’m running a legacy PPC G5 duo 2.5gHz with OS 10.5.8 and I’m stuck on HS3.5 myself. 3.6 only runs on Intel Macs…..shoot!

  4. 4
    Anthony K

    You might say that a Muslim or Hindu can claim similar religious experiences. This is true, but the presence of false experiences does not negate the truth of genuine ones.

    If the best your god can do to prove that he is unique among the gods in existing is to have exactly the same effect on his believers as the non-existent gods do on theirs when the cost to believers of being wrong is eternal torture, then your god is clearly gleefully evil and despotic, and you’re a self-serving coward if you pander to such a being to save your own skin.

    What is good? Who decides it? What makes something good?

    Another copout. If we take the “it is pious because it is loved by the gods” lemma, then the only thing we know is that things are good when gods say they are. Now, the god called YHWH clearly had a lot to say about mixed fabrics and shellfish, but since then has been remarkably silent on things such as mustard gas and right turns on a red. Since that particular deity has come out as both in favour and against such generalities as killing, we’re not left with very much useable input on good and bad by god.

    What makes this question disingenuous is that any Christian who goes off book to decide the morality of contemporary issues is clearly deciding what’s good in much the same way everyone else does.

    Unless you want to pull the holy-spirit-just-like-every-other-imaginary-voice-except-it’s-true handwave out of your ass there, too.

  5. 5
    grumpyoldfart

    The Holy Spirit, being God, cannot operate outside the realm of Eric’s imagination. Eric can make guesses about how things might turn out, and give the Spirit credit for those guesses, but if any of those guesses turn out to be wrong, then by very strange coincidence it will turn out that the voice Eric heard wasn’t really the Holy Spirit after all.

    I got this idea from Sagan’s “Demon Haunted World”…
    -
    Whenever Christians say they commune with god, I suggest they ask the deity for a proof of one of the Clay Institute’s Millenium Prize problems.
    -
    So far it seems that god (speaking through the Christian) has no answers. In fact, he doesn’t even know what the questions are !

  6. 6
    Eric Miller

    Thank you for the polite treatment of my words.

    1. 6.1
      Sunny Day

      Indeed. Duncan is made of sterner stuff than I.

      When I read your bit about the “supernaturally preserved Word” I almost fell out of my chair laughing.

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