I am most curious about the spectrum of religiosity that I read about in this forum --and others like it. We have all renounced Mormonism as a fraud, yet I perceive that, in varying degrees, some apostates still seem to cling to vestigial beliefs, probably because they were indoctrinated with them as children.
For example, occasionally a few members still maintain a belief in the divinity of Christ. I therefore assume that they must likewise believe in a god who mandates that all "sins" must be "paid for," and that, if they "accept Jesus" as their "savior," he will settle said "debt" for them.
You'll have to forgive me, but I could never accept such a arrangement. I mean, if my sins really and truly need to be paid for, it would be unconscionable, unloving, and downright selfish to have my "brother" pay for them. I should pay for my mistakes myself --not someone else. That is the very antithesis of "doing unto others"! And what kind of god would make such a demand, anyway? Noooo thanks! I would just as soon *not* spend eternity with that kind of nutcase. Talk about hell!
Then there are other forum members who no longer maintain a belief in "Elohim," but still believe there is some sort of "god" out there --if not a "being," perhaps a pervasive spirit, or soul, or transcendent consciousness, or ethereal power. I assume that they must also believe that they have a similar "soul," a "ghost in the machine," even if merely a "part of" the universal, mysterious "entity" that will continue to exist after the brain dies.
Ironically, however, there is no more evidence for the existence of any of these things than there is for the Nephites. Feelings, emotions, hopes, desires, intuitions, inner promptings, answers to prayer, burning in the bosom, still small voices have never constituted bona fide evidence that would stand up in a court of law --and never should. It is almost as though some people just can't let go of having faith... in faith. That belief itself, even when --nay, especially when-- there is no concrete evidence to back it up, is somehow noble, admirable, unassailable, even desirable.
Of course, we all maintain an instinct to imagine a supernatural reality beyond what our five senses can tell use. It is part of our evolutionary heritage that helped our species in its "survival of the fittest." Children who believed their parents that there were unseen "dangers" didn't go swimming in the murky river. Those who didn't believe them... helped the crocodiles replicate their genes instead. Ancestors who projected "intentions" and "purpose" to tall grasses that were moving on the savannah, even when it was just the wind, passed along their "believer" genes to their descendants. Those who ignored that rustling... eventually ended up thinned from the herd by lions and leopards.
To this day even staunch atheists like myself still manifest such genetic predispositions. How many of us, no matter how skeptical of paranormal influences, will throw a bowling ball and then lean in the direction that we want it to go, as if we are trying to "Use the Force, Luke!"...? Never, not once, have I been able to sway that ball one inch with my imagined kinetic "power," yet I still instinctively lean like that! I bet you do too.
Consider how we attribute some sort of special status to a bedroom because "George Washington Slept Here," as though his "aura" somehow permeated the premises. We believe something similar with autographs, as if the writer's hand left part of his or her "essence" on the page. How much do bidders pay for movie memorabilia, thus putting a higher value on a mere dress, no matter how ugly or useless, simply because Marilyn Monroe once wore it?
And we believe just the opposite also. How comfortable would you feel wearing a sweater that once belonged to Charles Manson? Doesn't that show how superstitious we are that a trace of his evil "being" might still linger in the wool? Yet it is, when all is said and done... Just! A! Sweater!
I write all the above simply to express that I understand very well why some ex-Mormons still cling to a "belief in belief." Yet I also want to suggest that there is a lesson to be learned from our escape from the Mormon Cult. Unless and until there is verifiable, reliable, cold, hard facts to substantiate the truth of any belief, the wisest and healthiest position is to remain skeptical of it.
I enjoyed reading your thoughts. I think superstition is also something we always hang onto as well. I can't see any harm in seeking spirituality, whether it is true or not.
Maybe the beginning of an answer from a strange guy who stops by once in a while, and who was never a Mormon?
First, my background. Raised Catholic - but as an adult saw (sounds something like yourself) that the beliefs (transubstantiation, etc) did not make sense. Now attend a Methodist church, I am a Christian, but I have not joined that church. Ok there are plenty of contradictions there. But I do believe that Jesus was the son of God and came to save me.
BS in Physics, lots of work in technical fields.
Still - why do people have such an attraction to faith, could it just be a fear of death and a desire for there to be life after death? Why do I believe, in the face of lack of direct evidence?
The concept that someone would die for the sins of others is a basic fact of human existence. The prehistoric people sacrificed people to their gods. Those people possibly were at times volunteers! People do amazingly brave things, pushing people from in front of buses, etc at the risk of their own lives. People swim out to drowning people and sometimes lose their own lives doing it. I have three boys and if one was threatened I would not hesitate to put my life at serious risk to save them.
One anecdote, is not direct evidence - there are lots of kinds of birds, like flying and not flying birds. Lots of kinds of types of flying birds - like sea birds. Lots of types of sea birds - like types of sea gulls. There is only one kind of intelligent life on Earth. Though one kind could have evolved in Africa, one in Asia, etc. Why are there not several types of intelligent life here?
Do we need saving? YES. This is a brutal, merciless world.
Was the message of Jesus unique? YES. Who else said to sacrifice yourself for your neighbor? Who else said to give all to the poor? Not Confucious, not Buddha, not Mohammed.
Now, us Christians have been TERRIBLE representatives of Christ! But we have tried. In America, we have slowly extended rights to minorities, women, etc etc. No one forced us to. In WW2, Americans tried to treat prisoners of war reasonably, we shipped them to the US. After the war, many of them did not want to leave. In Japan, POWs were horribly treated. In Poland and east Germany, the Communists stripped the countries of anything usable. They built walls to keep the people from fleeing. The US came up with the Marshall Plan in contrast. Now, Poland is a member of NATO, former Communist countries have enthusiastically rejoined the free world. Christian philosophy was partly to thank for this. The best country in the world to be a Muslim - is America. We do not suppress various Muslim branches.
Anyway, the Christian world has been the source of the Bill of Rights, the Magna Carta, the birth of freedom around the world. As much as I love Japan and China, they do not have the history of religious liberty that Europe has.
Christians sure have something going for them.
Now I do think that Mormons have been led astray by their leaders, the current LDS church seems to be the creation of Brigham Young. They reject the long history of Christian scholarship and limit themselves to reading one version of the Bible (along with some other writings of suspect origin). They believe that they will one day be gods, with the power to raise people from the dead.
Now, it is gonna be interesting to run into another intelligent lifeform on some other planet at some time. It will be interesting to see what sort of religious belief they have.
But for now, with the evidence I have, I am a Christian.
Hmmm. Sooo many of your assertions are worthy of debate! I will refrain from my usual diatribe, however, and ask just one follow up question that intrigues me. Since you are "a Christian," do you believe --like Mormons-- that Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden literally took place?
Mark - thank you for your invitation to rational discourse.
The story of Adam and Eve is a parable and is not literally true. Many Christians believe the Bible to be literally true - but that is one of the many places where I must diverge from the more fundamentalist Christians. Just as I do not believe the "miracles" of Lourdes, or of Joseph Smith and the gold plates, etc etc. It is possible to be a rational person who examines what they are told and accepts the parts that pass the reasonableness test - your test is just different from mine.
The Gospels pass the reasonableness test - Jesus says things that turn the world upside down. Like the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Sermon on the Mount. The parable of the workers in the grape field. When a person discounts Jesus - who else do they turn to for teaching like that?
Okay! At least we can agree that Adam and Eve never really existed.
However, isn't Adam's "original sin" a fundamental doctrine of christianity? That Jesus' sacrifice was necessary to pay for that original sin --as well as our own?
I mean... if the story of the Garden of Eden is just a parable, isn't that asserting that Jesus died to pay for a non-existent sin committed by a non-existent person?
As for "miracles," you and I also agree about Lourdes and Joseph Myth's gold plates.
But... what about other traditional judeo-christian miracles? Do you likewise reject Old Testament supernatural events such as the plagues of Egypt, the burning bush, the parting of the Red (Reed) Sea, mannah from heaven, the sun standing still at Jericho, trumpets making its walls collapse, talking donkeys, Jonah in the "great fish," Lot's wife turned into a pillar of salt, etc.?
And what about the New Testament miracles, such as the immaculate conception, the virgin birth, healing the blind and sick, turning water into wine, feeding the throngs with loaves and fishes, walking on water, raising Lazarus from the dead, cursing the fig tree, the resurrection, the ascension into heaven, etc.?
Are these also parables, and didn't literally happen?
Mark - it is wonderful that we keep this to be a reasonable discussion between reasonable people. So often these become heated. You are entitled to your beliefs and I respect them. I should also say that I have NOT done an exhaustive study of religious history, etc. I am just an aerospace guy with wide interests - not a minister or theologian.
Ok, the Old Testament is the easy one! When you get into the New Testament it people get very upset easily. So let's tackle this bull by the horns!
Obviously we do not have film of Jesus walking on water! But if a person claims to be a Christian and simultaneously discounts all of the miracles - what do you have left?? I do know that Jesus has made a huge difference in history - and He was NOT born a prince, born in a major capital, etc. He was not one of the elite of his time. So how come so many people today know his name? There have been lots of people who lived, and so many of them are known by name simply because they happened to meet Jesus. Ok, many of the miracles must be parables. But he must have done some amazing things to have been known so well in only three years of preaching. I do believe that He was crucified, he died, and he was resurrected. He did ascend into Heaven. He was so well known at the time of his death that if he had stayed buried - the site would have been well known and Roman soldiers might still be guarding it today. Even if he had died years later and been buried - the site would be as well known as Troy and Carthage are. There are Roman records today that tell us that Pilate lived for instance, we know what happened to him.
Exactly what amazing things He did - I am not sure of. I do believe that He gave us thoughts like The Sermon On The Mount - original thoughts. That, and thoughts of Love Your Enemy, are the miracles that we need. If Jesus was a fraud or was a fable - how come so many people today still study his teachings? Could this be a huge, massive, comprehensive, mistake? No.
Old Testament - all parables.
The ball is in your court.
That helps! Let's see if I am summing up your perspective accurately.
For you, all the Old Testament "miracles" are parables, analogies, fables, metaphores, i.e., stories that perhaps help to teach some sort of religious concept, principle, moral, or precept --but not to be taken as literal, historical fact. You likewise believe the same about many --perhaps most-- of the New Testament "miracles," such as water into wine, cursing the fig tree, loaves and fishes. Not sure where you stand on immaculate conception, virgin birth, Lazarus, healing the blind, deaf, lame, etc.
Either way... I am curious: how do you determine what is truly literal and what is just metaphorical? It sounds a bit like cherry-picking to me, choosing what tastes sweet to you and dismissing the sour, bitter bits (misogyny? slavery? genocide? polygamy?) as just parables.
When it comes to literal miracles, however, you really and truly believe that Jesus was resurrected, and that he then ascended to "heaven," correct? You'll have to forgive my skeptical nature, but I have to wonder... where do you think he was he going? I mean, even traveling at the speed of light, after two thousand years he would not have traveled even 1/50th of the distance across our galaxy.
And what is that destination like, anyway? For example, what do you envision you will be doing there after you die? Where will you be? With whom? What will it be like? What is so desirable that you long to go there --even though there is no evidence that said "heaven" even exists? Please describe it for me and explain how you know the details. I'm sorry, but I've just never understood faithful believers dedicating the only brief existence they will ever have to a hope of entering yet another, unproven existence... that they can't even describe in concrete terms. The best I have heard is that they will "be with god and Jesus," singing their praises, forever and ever, throughout all eternity.
Maybe I am missing something, but I think that the whole christian belief system is based upon the righteous (those who accept Jesus) going to that "heaven," and the wicked (those who reject him) going to "hell." Apparently Jesus himself espoused that doctrine in Matthew 25:
41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
So, do you also accept hell as a literal truth? Or are both heaven and hell likewise merely metaphors? If so, how did Jesus' disembodied spirit "metaphorically" descend to the latter while his body lay in the tomb? And how did he "metaphorically" ascend to the former after it reentered his dead body?
If you do interpret those events as literal occurrences, I am guessing that you believe that you also have a soul, a spirit, a "ghost in the machine" that will continue to exist after your brain and body dies. And that said ghost will be reunited with that body in a similar resurrection when Jesus comes a second time to rule the earth. Well... at least these are among the traditional christian doctrines that I am familiar with.
And they seem to follow the same lines that you have stated when asserting your belief that Jesus has "saved" you from your sins. (And that he paid for a non-existent "original sin" that we all inherited from a non-existent Adam...?) Again, I will reiterate what I said at the beginning of this thread: I could never embrace such a deal, even if there is an omniscient, omnipowerful deity who demands that such a payment be made. It would simply feel too selfish of me to allow someone else to pay for my mistakes.
And what kind of god would insist upon a pharmakos, anyway? My own recognition, remorse, restitution, resolve to never make the same mistake wouldn't suffice? Why not? Who says so? I dunno, but it sure sounds like the same ploy that advertisers always use: first convince you that you "need" something, and then --voilà! you're in luck!-- sell you the very thing you "need."
Ah... I'll stop for now. SO much more I could ask, but... I have already taken a very wide swing at the ball you put in my court.
Respectfully, as always...
About cherry picking - as a guy with considerable scientific training, I have learned to discard ideas if evidence did not back them up (I know I open a can of worms when I say that).
So is it important to agree or disagree that Jesus walked on water? NO. Is it important to agree that Jesus said "love your neighbor" in a time when conventional wisdom was "grab all the gusto you can, because life is short and brutal"? YES. Jesus said so many things that do NOT appear in the writings of the Greek philosophers or in any earlier writing. The early writings are often tragedies since life was hard. Jesus said things that are very unique and because of that - the many pretenders to the position of Messiah have been forgotten in history. But Jesus - a nobody that came from a small corner of the Empire - has been remembered.
The evidence of the impact He made on the world is all around us.
And Heaven must be some place that is not of this world, you approach it wanting to measure the size of the Universe - a very scientific approach. Heaven is someplace that is not in our understanding. You could read some books such as Flatland, about a two dimensional reality. It is possible to conceptualize a world that is two dimensional - and ask if someone there could understand a three dimensional object. No they could not. Now, I do think that the Universe has more than three dimensions (if we have more than one, we must have an infinite number) but I do not think that Heaven is just another dimension. So people from the material world cannot understand the spiritual world.
Pharmakos - as I said before, the concept of sacrificing for your family, your tribe is as old as people. Prehistoric societies apparently sacrificed people to the gods, sometimes they might have been volunteers. People sacrifice themselves for their friends and family all the time - as we have seen many times in the military.
Don't people have something that animals do not have - maybe a soul? Our simian relatives understand that they have families, they grieve for each other. We are animals but we are very distinct from the rest - we are intelligent. We pass on knowledge to our young, we save for the future. I do believe that intelligent creatures have a soul that survives after death.
Sure people have done terrible things but look at how we have tried to do the right thing. And in some cases have succeeded.
We have created this system which allows us to communicate with respect and reason.
I have learned to discard ideas if evidence did not back them up
Uh... forgive me, but that is not the impression I get from everything you go on to say:
Is it important to agree that Jesus said "love your neighbor" in a time when conventional wisdom was "grab all the gusto you can, because life is short and brutal"? YES.
Sorry, but I question your assertion that such is the "conventional wisdom" of homo sapiens. Numerous recent studies are showing that altruism and "doing unto others" is part of our species' evolutionary heritage. In point of fact, I think that Christianity has a pretty lousy track record when it comes to that particular teaching.
Now, I will agree that some of Joshua of Nazareth's teachings are admirable --but not all, by any stretch of the New Testament. As a matter of fact, I like Jorge Luis Borges' version of the Sermon on the Mount much better than the original:
The evidence of the impact He made on the world is all around us.
Nope. But I will concede that evidence of the impact so-called Christians have made on the world is all around us. And much of it --make no mistake-- is destructive, harmful, deplorable --and has been throughout history.
And Heaven must be some place that is not of this world [...] I do not think that Heaven is just another dimension. So people from the material world cannot understand the spiritual world.
So... you can not describe it, then, as I asked? Yet you are dedicating your life to the hope of going there after death, whatever and wherever it is? Why?
People sacrifice themselves for their friends and family all the time
Yup. Sacrificing time, talents, possessions on behalf is others is likewise part of our evolutionary heritage --and admirable. Yet you still haven't addressed the sticky point. Would you happily stand back and let your child, spouse, sibling, parent, friend sacrifice themselves to pay for your mistakes? That doesn't strike me as "loving thy neighbor" in any way, shape, or form.
Don't people have something that animals do not have - maybe a soul?
No. We do not have a soul. There is no ghost in the machine. Studies on the brain and personality have demonstrated this conclusively.
Moroever, many other animals have, in fact, evolved with a brain capable of self-recognition and intelligence, among them chimpanzees, dolphins, elephants, and even some species of birds. They likewise have the ability to communicate with each other, but not with as sophisticated a "language" as homo sapiens has developed. Whatever we think makes our species "special" is actually a matter of degree --not uniqueness. You might want to read Carl Sagan's Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors about this.
These discussions almost always come down to - we agree to disagree. And this one has reached that point, don't you think?
We see the same things and interpret them differently. That is ok in my world view.
I have read through several studies of the brain, near death experiences, etc etc. and they have no direct evidence of either the presence or absence of a soul. There is no conclusive result.
Where is the conculsive result? I see the progress (slow, halting, etc) made by people and wonder where that came from? Why did the sophistication of the Arab world NOT produce the Magna Carta??? China was civilized while Europe was a wilderness - where is their Bill of Rights??
Why is it that people flee to Europe and the US instead of to a place with the history of Iraq? Why is it that the best place to be a Muslim - is in a country that has the example of Jesus (such as the US)?
One thing - we have the moderation of attempting to live up to the Sermon on the Mount. We have the ideal of the parable of the Good Samaritan.
One criticism of atheists - they sometimes are people that follow their own path and do not see the need to pull the wagon along with us religious folks. I hope that you see the need to contribute to this world that you describe in such dark terms. Are Christians so "destructive, harmful, deplorable"?? If so are you standing apart from us? I hope you help your neighbor, work for peace, and treat people as colleagues. For my part, I will try to as well.
Are Christians so "destructive, harmful, deplorable"?? If so are you standing apart from us?
Yes, many Christians have been destructive, harmful, deplorable throughout history. This does not mean that all Christians behave badly, of course --just like in any religion. I am happy to stand by anyone --whatever their belief or non-belief-- who is altruistic, forgiving, humane, generous, honest, caring, compassionate, etc., and does not try to impose religious beliefs upon others via public policy and legislation.
But you are correct with one thing: we will have to agree to disagree and leave it at that. I don't think we are getting anywhere with this exchange. Thanks for the conversation, and best wishes to you!