Tag Archives: Cosmic Butler

A woman asked me whether Hell and God’s harshness caused me to doubt Christianity

A long journey through the night
A long journey through the night

I was having a chat on Friday with a brilliant agnostic young lady who knew as much about Christian apologetics as I did. It was very strange because she was only in her mid-20s, but she was talking about the Cambrian explosion, the resurrection scholarship of Dale Allison and Bart Ehrman, and so on. She had seen a lot of debates, and even knew about intelligent design. Anyway, she asked me two questions that I wanted to write about. The first was whether I thought that Hell was unfair, especially because it’s determined by having correct beliefs, and the second was whether I thought that God was kind or harsh.

Regarding, I do hold to a traditional view of Hell being eternal separation from God. I don’t think that God will be actively torturing people in Hell. I’m not sure if the flames are literal or figurative. But I do know that the severity of the punishment will be proportional to the amount of sinning, in the same way that the rewards in Heaven will be proportional to good actions here on Earth. The duration is the same, but the rewards and punishments fit our actions.

I don’t have a problem with Hell because I’ve spent most of my life trying to talk to people about spiritual things. Although this young lady was very open-minded and honest and spiritual, more than most people in the church, even, I don’t think that this is normal for non-Christians. Growing up around Muslims and Hindus, and having spoken to Jews, I know that there just isn’t much curiosity about God and Jesus in these other religions. Believe me, I’ve tried to discuss spiritual things with people of all different religions, and the idea that religious beliefs should be bounded by logic and evidence is almost nowhere to be found. It’s not even to be found among most Christians, but at least we have scholars who you can find if you dig hard enough.

So, when people ask me about Hell, the first thing that comes into my mind is my experiences trying to get non-Christians to line up their beliefs about God and Jesus with logic and evidence. Although it may seem harsh to shut the door on people who don’t want to put in the work, it doesn’t seem harsh to me. I’ve had it with people who make everything except an investigation into God’s existence a priority. I have no patience for people who think they are very intelligent in their thoughts about God, but then when they get into a discussion, it is obvious they haven’t put in any effort.

Do you know what they do put a lot of effort into, though? Entertainment, fun and thrills. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to give books or debates to culturally Jewish atheists and Muslim-raised atheists and Hindus (because of family and community) in my previous jobs, and got no interest in truth whatsoever. They were too busy watching the Comedy Channel Democrats, and trying to get their kids into Ivy league schools, etc. to care about God or Jesus. And God is not going to force them into eternal life with him, they don’t want it, and they’re not going to get it. It’s important to note that to not prioritize God is a choice. We in the West all have leisure time, and to be ignorant about God after 40 years of leisure time when you have put the time in elsewhere is unacceptable. God expects us to be curious about him and to do our due diligence in investigating him using as much intellect and effort as we put into our educations, careers, marriages, etc.

Regarding her other question about whether I think God is kind or harsh, I just decided to tell her that I didn’t think that God was the kind of God who had to be nice to me so that I would like him. I explained to her that I had wanted marriage from an early age, and had prepared very hard for it, but that it had never happened. I’m not sure that God is able to cause women to freely desire the things I did to prepare for marriage, like chastity, STEM degrees, gap-less resume and savings. I’m not the smartest person in the world, and I did not have family or friends helping me to get ahead most of the time. It was very hard to get ready for marriage. But I realized very late in life that young, unmarried women tend to be interested in a man’s appearance and in having fun – not marriage-ready preparation. They do not want a man who is serious about marriage and children until their mid-30s, which is far too old for my marriage plan to work. So, there’s no point in me marrying now. So does this lack of marriage make me think that God is unkind? Not at all.

I do think that God has been kind to me with respect to health, education, career and finances. Also, I can understand from the Bible (2 Tim 2:3-4) why God might need an unmarried soldier to work for him. And this doesn’t bother me, because I’ve read the Bible, and I didn’t get the impression from it that God was my cosmic butler. Although many Western Christians think that God’s sole purpose is to make them happy, there is no way to actually get that meaning out of the text. God’s own Son has to suffer in order to love his Father self-sacrificially. So it’s clear that God is not “kind” to those who love him in the sense that most people would like him to be. In fact, I would believe in God and serve him, even if he were “harsher” with me than he is now.

So, why would I want to be a Christian, rather than just accept the scientific arguments for theism, and then just say that the New Testament is just not good enough historical evidence to warrant moving from theism to Christianity? Well, I did explain to her the minimal facts argument, and the historical criteria used to obtain them. And I also said that we all need to have some sort of historical explanation for the early belief in Jesus being God stepping into history, and for his rising from the dead.

But I think the real reason why I am a Christian, beyond the evidence, is just this daily experience of dealing with the lack of curiosity about God and Jesus (and sometimes outright self-delusion) that I see in so many people. I see it in uneducated people, unintelligent people, educated people, intelligent people. The willful ignorance about facts that matter, like the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning, the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, etc. It’s not even opposition to Christian specifics, it’s opposition to plain, well-supported scientific facts. I’ve just seen this in action so much with atheists and people of other religions that I have lost all sympathy for non-Christians with respect to what God decides to do with them.

It’s not that I am concerned by their immorality, or their hedonism, primarily. It’s that I am concerned with their lack of interest in puzzling out the big questions of life in a truth-centered way. The only people I really feel comfortable with are Christians who have been serious about proportioning belief to evidence, denying themselves fun and thrills if they have to, and putting their money and time into learning how to defend God’s honor when it’s called into question. A task that simply gets you nothing good from anyone in this world. I find it amazing that there are any of us, but that’s where I want to be – in a room with people like that who put God’s goals above their own desires and needs.

All of my close male friends are either virgins or married as virgins, and they’re all into apologetics. If you understood what it means to be in a room with people who have carefully chosen to live their lives in a quiet, humble way that’s respectful to God and self-sacrificial, then you would understand why there is no substitute for Christianity. In my case, I simply do not want God to lump me in with the people I talk to who have no curiosity about truth in religion. I am not going to be like them, grabbing for happiness, while deliberately shutting their eyes to anything that might cause them to have to take God seriously in a self-sacrificial, two-way relationship. I have more sympathy for God and his reputation and honor than I do for the majority of people who I have seen deliberately keeping him at arm’s length. They want the blessings he provides, but while avoiding the demands of a relationship with him. I’m just not going to be one of them, and I don’t care what people think.

Christian case maker warns Christians to trust the evidence, not their feelings

A conflict of worldviews
A conflict of worldviews

Alisa Childers posted a review of a recent dialog between Dr. Sean McDowell and former-Christian Bart Campolo, son of far-left progressive fake Christian Tony Campolo. The dialog occurred on the Unbelievable radio show.

Here’s an exerpt from Alisa’s review:

Recently, the two came together to have a discussion on Premier Christian Radio entitled, “Why Bart Lost His Faith, Why Sean Kept His.” It was a fascinating discussion, and the thing that most struck me was the reason they each gave for having become a Christian in the first place. Campolo described how he converted to Christianity after finding a youth group he connected with and attending one of their retreats:

There’s hundreds of kids there. It’s Saturday night, there’s candlelight and firelight and everybody’s singing “Our God is an Awesome God,” and “We Love You Lord.” And in the midst of that kind of environment I had what I guess you would call a transcendent moment…I felt something. It felt like there was something happening  in that room that was bigger than the group. I felt like I was connecting to something. And in that moment ….that was God.

I heard something. It was real to me. People that don’t believe in transcendent experiences—I always think like, “You haven’t been to the right concert… You haven’t used the right drugs. You haven’t fallen in love with the right partner.”

These experiences are real, and I think whatever narrative you’re in when you have one, it confirms that narrative. If I would have had that same transcendent moment with my friends in a mosque in Afghanistan, it would have confirmed Islam to me. But I was in the Christian world, so from that point on, Jesus was real to me.

In Campolo’s own words, he became a  Christian because of a transcendent experience….a feeling that resonated deeply in his heart.

He had a feeling, and he took that feeling as a reason for believing propositional claims about the external world. God’s existence? He had a feeling. Christ’s resurrection? He had a feeling. The reliability of the Bible? He had a feeling. Instead of focusing on truth, he spent his early life pursuing social justice. He didn’t look at evidence, he just tried to have experiences. He tried to chase feelings by having little Christian ministry adventures. Missions trips. Volunteer work. Community. Charismatic speaking to crowds about things he knew literally nothing about.

Further on in the dialog, he explains that his standard for allegiance is not truth, it’s literally “what works”. And he clarifies “what causes [people] to thrive, what causes [people] to flourish”. His emphasis (in his ministry) was always on feeling good by being nice to people, because they liked him. This perspective is rampant in the evangelical church, especially among progressive young people. The idea of testing the Christian worldview against science and history to see if it is true is absolutely out. Instead, it’s all about feeling good and making people like you by being nice to them.

Experiences made him an atheist. He worked with poor people, and he decided that God didn’t exist because he wasn’t making these people happy. He had gay roommates in college, so he decided that the Bible’s rules around sexual morality had to be wrong. Never any investigation of economics to understand poverty, no investigation of homosexuality in the peer-reviewed literature, etc. It was feelings all the way. A bit later, Campolo extols the virtue of blind faith, and blasts apologetics as ineffective at changing minds. And then later, he has a bicycle crash, and he becomes convinced from that accident that “this life is all we have”. So he disproved substance dualism, which is consistent with the Bible and supported by multiple lines of philosophical argumentation and experimental evidence… by having feelings about a bicycle crash.

Now, on this blog, we despise feelings and experiences. We discuss scientific evidence for a Creator and a Designer all the time. The origin of the universe, the fine-tuning, the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, the habitality requirements, etc. For Campolo, Christianity was never about truth, and so he never conducted an investigation about whether it was true. The only God he would accept was a god who “worked for him” – who made him feel good, and who made people (including non-Christians) like him. It was all about him, never about adjusting himself to an objective reality that might have involved obedience to God, having some bad feelings, and being disliked by non-Christians.

The more emphasis that a person places on feelings, intuitions, travel, adventure, and social justice, the farther away they tend to be from analytical philosophy, historical investigation, scientific evidence, etc. You cannot establish the truth of a worldview by going on a missions trip to Haiti, or by holding orphans in Bolivia. The truth of Christianity is known through study of reality, using logic, science and historical analysis. Making feelings the foundation for a worldview is just a disaster waiting to happen.

Alisa has some words of caution to young Christians and their parents about experience as the root of a Christian worldview:

  1. You can be talked out of an experience.
  2. Your heart and feelings lie.
  3. You can fall back on evidence in times of doubt or suffering.

Here is number 2:

The prophet Jeremiah described the human heart as “deceitful above all things and desperately sick.” Proverbs 3:5-7 tells us not to “lean on our own understanding.” Jesus described the human heart as being filled with thoughts like murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, and slander. Proverbs 28:26 tells us that whoever trusts his own mind is a fool.

In other words, do not, under any circumstances, follow your heart.

This, of course, stands in stark contrast to the themes we are constantly encountering in entertainment and on social media. However, when it comes to spiritual beliefs, trusting our hearts and following our feelings can lead to all sorts of aberrant theology, sinful choices, and a distortion of true Christian faith.

See that?

“In other words, do not, under any circumstances, follow your heart.”

We need more Christians saying this in the church. Especially Christian women – it’s better when women put evidence at the center of the Christian life, and push feelings out to the edges.

By the way, she mentions a quotation from J. Warner Wallace about not being a Christian because “it works for me“. I wrote a whole post about this.

If you want to read another deconversion story that shows how a focus on feelings and experiences leads to atheism, check out the story of Dan Barker. I know so many people who were raised in the church by pastors who were anxious to “protect” Christian truth claims from  being proved or disproved by evidence. They thought that their approach was more pious – how dare we let science and history stand in judgment over the Bible? When I look at Dan Barker and Bart Campolo, I can see where that fideism ended up. Piety is a cheap way of gaining respect without having done any work. We need to demand better from pastors. They ought to be able to show their work. They ought to be able to demonstrate what reasoning and evidence led them to their convictions. Not their feelings and experiences, but actual reasoning and evidence.

The sooner we get to the point where Christianity is true because of reason and evidence, regardless of individual feelings, the better off we will be at being authentic followers of Jesus.

Finally, if you liked the Unbelievable show dialog between McDowell and Campolo, there is a 3-hour discussion on the same topic, which was held at the Faith Beyond Belief conference in Calgary, Alberta, Canada last week. The video has been posted on YouTube.

Positive arguments for Christian theism