Finding God’s will

This parable is about a bank manager, a good Christian man, who discovered one day that his bank had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars through a combination of negligence and mismanagement. Even worse, it was entirely and exclusively his fault. What was he going to do?

He remembered the story of Gideon and the fleece, and decided to pray for God’s guidance. That night, in bed, he quietly prayed, “O Lord, if you want me to turn myself in and take the consequences, please let the dew be heavy on the ground tomorrow, but if you’ll forgive me for hiding my mistakes and if you’ll bless me in undoing the damage, then please let the ground be dry.”

In the morning he got up, and the ground was saturated: every blade of grass was covered with heavy droplets, and so much was dripping off the trees it looked like it was raining in the shade. So he looked around, and frowned and thought, and went to work, but didn’t say anything to anyone about what was going on.

That night he came home and decided to try again. “O God,” he prayed, “if you want me to give up and disgrace my family and destroy my career, then please let the ground be dry tomorrow, but if you’ll help me pull this off and make things right again, then let there be more dew.”

Next morning he got up, and everything was dry as old bones, and the grass actually made a slight crinkly sound when you walked on it. So he frowned, and thought, and went to work, but didn’t tell anyone anything.

That night he decided to try one more time. “Merciful Lord and Savior,” he prayed, “if you want me to cause a major banking crisis and risk financial panic, besides devastating my family and leaving me with no way to support my children, then please let it be wet only on my side of the street, and dry on the other; but if you will help me get through this without anyone finding out, then let it be a quiet morning. Amen”

The next morning he was awakened by a huge crack of thunder, and he jumped up and ran to the window. All down his side of the street, there was a howling thunderstorm—and yet, inexplicably, it stopped precisely in the middle of the road, and not a drop of rain was falling on the other side. There was even a warm, golden sunrise shining on the houses opposite, while his own side was steeped in gloom and almost invisible in the heavy deluge.

The banker could take no more, and fell to his knees weeping. “Oh God, oh God, oh God,” he cried, “how am I ever going to discover Your will if Satan keeps screwing up the weather?”


God is pro-choice

[Originally published Sept. 24, 2007]

According to CNN and AP, a Nebraska legislator’s lawsuit against God has produced a “miraculous” response.

LINCOLN, Nebraska (AP) – A legislator who filed a lawsuit against God has gotten something he might not have expected: a response.

State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha said he sued God last week to make a point about frivolous lawsuits.

One of two court filings from “God” came Wednesday under otherworldly circumstances, according to John Friend, clerk of the Douglas County District Court in Omaha.

“This one miraculously appeared on the counter. It just all of a sudden was here — poof!” Friend said.

What is particularly interesting about this mysterious filing is that it reveals a hitherto unsuspected side of God’s political viewpoints: He’s solidly pro-choice.

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Framing and accommodation

FtB co-blogger The Crommunist Manifesto explains why he is not an accommodationist.

I am not persuaded that any argument, no matter how friendly or accommodating, can persuade a person away from faith. Faith is not a position that is found by reason; it is one that is found through indoctrination and reliance on heuristics and flawed cognitive processes. It is well-insulated against emotional appeals, and uniquely protected against reasoned counterargument, by virtue of the fact that it claims to be ‘beyond mere human reason’.

The same sort of idea is expressed by the old saying, “You can’t reason somebody out of a position they were never reasoned into.” It’s pretty much an undeniable fact, as you know if you’ve ever tried to argue someone out of their religious superstitions. People sometimes de-convert after listening to arguments against their faith, but it’s virtually unheard of for anyone to do so during an argument about their faith.

And yet—you can see it coming—I’m going to try and make a case that we should try and understand the religious audience, and to frame our arguments in terms they will understand.

I don’t want to mislead anyone, so I’ll say up front that I’m not an accommodationist myself, and I’m not saying that if we just try to get along, we’ll gain a better hearing for our arguments. I’m saying that understanding a Christian worldview, and being able to state our case in terms familiar to Christians, will make our arguments more compelling, and possibly more offensive.

I go back to the early days of ScienceBlogs, when the “framing” debate first broke out. The New Atheists, it was said, were needlessly offending people with their “harsh” dismissal of concepts and values that the faithful held dear. But worse, the New Atheists were undermining the effectiveness of their message by their failure to properly “frame” the debate in more appealing terms. Besides, look how effectively the voices on the Right were communicating their message through their heavy use of framing.

There’s something to be said for that last point, but I couldn’t help noticing that right-wing framing was specifically not the kind of framing the New Atheists were being urged to employ. You never hear Fox News, for example, going out of its way to promote respect for liberal ideas, or to uphold liberals as honorable and virtuous citizens. “Framing,” as used so effectively by the Right, has little or nothing to do with having respect and good manners towards one’s opponents. Framing is all about making your side of the argument sound so superior to the other point of view that your eventual victory is all but inevitable.

At a certain point, the dividing line between framing and sheer dishonesty becomes hazy at best. Still, even a conscientious debater can exercise some discretion in how he or she frames their point, without crossing over to the wrong side of the line. And the more effectively you can frame your argument in terms that will be familiar and compelling to your audience, the more effective your argument will be, if only in terms of planting seeds that will bear fruits of critical thinking later on.

I tried to provide an example of good framing in a recent post comparing Christian homophobia with the description in Galatians 5 about “works of the flesh” versus “fruits of the Spirit.” We can say that homophobic practices are bigotry, and Christians will only cry persecution. If we can show that it actually conflicts with Biblical teaching, however, they might have to stop and think.

One commenter pointed out that Christians have a built-in defense against such arguments, saying that “the Devil quotes Scripture for his own purposes,” and it’s true that you can rationalize away even Scripture if you try hard enough. However not all rationalizations are equally easy, and the hard ones are a burden on the believer’s mind (speaking from personal experience here), so the point is still worth making, even if the believer seems to reject it.

Gospel Disproof #8: Prayer

Believers will often tell you that prayer works, and in a way they’re right. Prayer does work, but the interesting thing is that it works equally well no matter who or what you pray to. One day not too long after I realized Christianity was not The Truth, my wife lost her car keys. It was getting late, she needed to get to work, and we were tearing the house apart looking for those keys. On a whim, I raised my left little finger in the air and prayed to it. “Oh left little finger, if you are truly the only unique, mighty and omniscient God, please grant that my wife would find her car keys now. Amen.” No sooner had I said the amen, than I heard my wife downstairs triumphantly call out, “Found ’em!”

Prayer does work, but what it works on is the mind of the believer. You soon learn, as a believer, not to pray for certain types of things (which coincidentally turn out to be the sort of things that would require God to actually exist). Prayer must ask only for the kind of things that experience shows are reasonably possible to turn out anyway—like finding your car keys when you’re actively looking for them. If you’re careful to limit yourself to such prayers, then it does not matter who or what you pray to, you will always get an answer, and sometimes that answer will be “Yes.”

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Gospel Disproofs #7: Counting heads

The doctrine of the Trinity is a rich source of gospel disproofs, due to the inherently self-contradictory nature of the doctrine. For today’s installment, I’ll just pick one of the problems: counting the number of persons in the Godhead. According to the official doctrine of the Church, there is only one God, and this singular God consists of three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Christians repeat this doctrine to each other and to their children over and over until they can believe it without even thinking, but if you do stop and think, you’ll realize this notion has some major pronoun problems.

The problem is that in the Bible, God is routinely referred to as a Him, third person singular. According to the doctrine of the Trinity, however, God is not a Him, He is a Them. That is, God is not a Person (singular), He is three Persons (plural), which means that it is wrong to refer to Him as a Him. What’s more, God Himself is mistaken when He refers to Himself as “I”, because the Trinity makes God into a “We,” due to the plural persons involved. To refer to Himself as “I” is for one of the Persons to make a distinction between Himself and the other two Persons (because the Trinity requires keeping the 3 persons distinct).

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Help a class in South Carolina

Time to give Donors Choose another plug. This week I’d like to recommend a project I like: Mrs. Johnson, a teacher in Conway, SC, would like to get her class a Wacom tablet to introduce them to interactive media on the computer. It’s fairly inexpensive as such things go, and it’s a great way to introduce kids to what computer art is like when you can hold a natural-feeling stylus instead of trying to “paint with a hockey puck.”



A quick Bible study

Today’s Friday Bible study comes from Numbers 22:27-28.

And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she fell down under Balaam: and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he smote the ass with a staff. And the LORD opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?

What we learn from this passage is that sometimes even God talks out His ass.



Homophobia vs the Bible

I was raised in a nominally Christian home, became a “born again” believer in my mid teens, and remained a devout, conservative, evangelical Christian until my early 40’s. Some of you may come from similar backgrounds, but for those that don’t, I wanted to take a minute and present a Bible passage that colors my vocabulary somewhat. It’s a passage that, properly understood, can give us a way of (pardon the term) “framing” the case against homophobia. That’s important because expressing our case in these terms may be meaningful and powerful to the people who most desperately need to be persuaded.

The passage is Galatians 5: 19-23, and it goes like this:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Deeds of the flesh versus fruits of the Spirit. The first list is bad, the second list is good. And it’s a frequently-memorized passage, sometimes put to music to help believers remember it. Let’s compare these two lists to the kinds of behaviors we see in those who let homophobia dictate their treatment of gays, shall we?

TL;DR: it’s not going to be pretty for the homophobes…

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I am a homophobe, the sequel

Wow, some great responses to yesterday’s post, I’m impressed. If you’ll bear with me for one more post, I’d like to respond to some of the common themes I’m hearing people express.

First of all, I want to emphasize that my point is self-control and civilization: homophobia, whatever its source, is a destructive and irrational prejudice, and we as free moral agents have both the ability and the responsibility to refuse to let it guide our actions. Even if the impulse comes to us “naturally,” without conscious choice, it still must fall in the class of baser impulses that civilized and moral persons ought to deny.

That’s my main point, and I don’t want subsequent discussion to dilute it. I’m an incurably curious person, though, and there’s a lot of intriguing material in the comments. I can’t resist probing the matter to see what else I can learn. I think the discussion might be a facilitated if I proceed from the provisional assumption that I’m right, and then you guys can take my points and either agree with them or rip them up as you see fit. Don’t be shy, I cut my Internet teeth on and alt.atheism, I can take it. I’ve learned a lot from getting beat up in the past. 🙂

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