Shooting Ourselves in the Foot

Guest post by Seth, an active member of the LDS church
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There is no telling the amount of damage that has been done in the world in the name of a good argument. Argument and debate are a natural part of the process of understanding other people and this is as true of inter-faith dialogue as any other aspect of our society. But we do have to be careful in how we argue. Argument can be very damaging – not just to our opponents, but to ourselves as well.

One way this manifests itself, is when we push an argument that turns out to be just as damaging to our own position as the opposing position. A quick example might show what I mean.

Some time ago, I came across a blog run by an avowed ex-Mormon who had, however, remained “Christian” in affiliation. She was voicing various concerns about her former faith and explaining why she had rejected it. One of the reasons she gave for leaving the LDS faith was the supposed lack of empirical evidence for the Book of Mormon and it’s historical claims. She noted that while the Bible had some hard evidence showing some of its content to be historically-bases, the Book of Mormon completely lacked such evidence, and was therefore not a credible document to her.

Now, I’ve been around the block a few times on the interfaith dialogue circuit, and this argument always annoys me to no end. It just seems to show a lack of awareness of one’s own position and what really provides the foundation for faith. The truth, as I see it, is that while the Bible may have some of it’s historical incidentals corroborated by the undisputed weight of historical and archeological evidence (like the existence of an actual city of Jerusalem, and the fact of a man named Jesus Christ living), it’s faith claims completely lack any such evidence or proof.

Since both the Bible and Book of Mormon claim to be primarily religious texts, it seems apparent to me that – in ways that matter – the texts are equally unproven by empirical evidence (I realize some Evangelicals like to point to eyewitness testimony of the resurrection – but until these people are willing to give equal weight and credibility to the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, I’m not inclined to take these arguments too seriously). It has always been apparent to me that belief in either book is first and foremost a matter of faith in that which is not seen. Evidence is just the icing on the cake for people who already believe. It is not an adequate basis for faith.

Furthermore, I have been arguing over matters of faith long enough to realize that whatever “hard evidence” you think you have, there is always someone out there knowledgeable enough to call it into question. I also have realized that hard evidence has a disturbing habit of becoming outmoded, outdated, and discredited by new discovery. It always seemed like a foundation of sand to me.

So, full of irritation, I waded into the comments section to show this deluded soul what’s-what, and defend my own faith “for the umpteenth time” against this silly and misguided attack.

Well, I made my points, had a bit of back and forth arguing about them, and left feeling like I had defended my position, and my faith well. Just another day’s work in the defense of the true faith. What a hero!

Well, a week or two later, I was browsing the latest new content at the blog of an atheist ex-Mormon whose measured and respectful opinion I have always respected and valued. And he had a new post up – and I was mentioned by name! We bloggers can’t help but feel pleased when other people online are talking about us. Well, what’s this about?

I’m afraid it wasn’t all that flattering. He pointed out my response as an example of how a Mormon SHOULD NOT witness to other Christians. He noted that Mormons supposedly believe in Jesus too, and we are hardly well-served by undermining what basis for faith in Jesus other people may have. His paraphrasing of my argument basically boiled down to:

“Well, my faith might be ridiculous, but yours is just as stupid.”

Which, he noted, is really only a good method for creating a brand-new atheist. Reeling a bit with the irony of being reprimanded by an atheist for undermining someone else’s faith in God, went back to the Christian ex-Mormon’s blog and offered a sheepish apology along with a statement of my belief in the Bible. The apology was graciously accepted, and via continued interaction I was reassured that my opponent’s faith in the Bible had not been irredeemably damaged.

But I was still a bit shaken by the implications of what might have been. Those of us who debate regularly on the internet tend to get a bit thick-skinned and callous, due to the repeated experience of having our treasured beliefs and opinions challenged, and even ridiculed. We also get used to debating people who are just as jaded as we are. After a while, we tend to assume everyone out there is like that – a hardened ideologue who is likely immune to most of the arguments you can make. We start to assume that – if you are on the Internet, that must mean you “came to play hardball.” And the gloves come off.

But I don’t think that was true at all of this particular blogger. She turned out to be much more sincere than I gave her credit for, and my words really did seem like they might shaken her faith a bit. I of course, expecting a hardened ideologue, did not expect this. But the whole experience was a reminder not to forget the people we are arguing against. There is a real person there behind the screen. We cannot lose sight of that as we “prep for battle.”

This makes interfaith dialogue something of a delicate operation – which is unfortunate for me, because I’m not always a “delicate touch.” You never know how much that “false doctrine” you are arguing against is intertwined with something vital in their overall faith life. Like a barbed arrowhead that has lodged close to some vital arteries. You can’t just rip the cursed thing out. You might kill the patient.

There’s probably more that could be said on this subject, but for now, it might be a good idea for us to step back and realize that, while we are at each other’s throats on occasion, we also are all in this thing called “faith” together. And we probably ought to be supportive of each other.

Fellowship in Christ.

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214 thoughts on “Shooting Ourselves in the Foot

  1. This is a very interesting discussion, but to clarify and give some context, it would be nice if you could provide links to the online discussions that you’re building on. 😀

  2. Well, I don’t want to embarrass the blogger in question by linking to her. Especially since she seems to have moved on in life and has deleted all her old posts as a part of that.

    It was Andrew over at “Irresistable Disgrace” who took me to task though.

  3. Seth, one thing I would wish to avoid is the collapsing of the critical distinction between dialogue and debate. You don’t draw this this distinction in your article. You introduce the terms “argument” and “debate” as synonymous with interfaith dialogue.

    In fact, I suggest that what you are describing (i.e. your example of defending your faith against attacks) is much better categorized as apologetics or “interfaith debate” and not interfaith dialogue. In my view, interfaith dialogue is not people of different faiths talking at each other. Interfaith dialogue inherently entails that we approach people as people, not as a generic sparring partner. In your example you speak about assuming the other person is jaded or hardened or “came to play hardball” or have the same disposition or attitude as other critics. By contrast, in interfaith dialogue, we suspend judgment before entering into dialogue. If however, through the course of inquiry, we discover that the other person is unable and unwilling to civilly communicate, then we have a particular basis to make that judgment but not before we even engage in dialogue. Essentially, we give people the benefit of the doubt. Therefore, we treat people on their own terms and not as a generic or fungible representative of their faith (who can easily be substituted out for any other person of the same faith), but as an individual who comes from a unique perspective and personal history.

    In my view, interfaith dialogue embraces a set of goals such as seeking to genuinely understand the faith perspective of the other person, and doing so without the purpose of mocking or ridiculing such a perspective. Interfaith dialogue can be rigorous, but it embraces a set of values as to how we should communicate such as charitably, civilly, accurately, responsibly. In interfaith dialogue, we would not lob over a plethora of arguments to the other side to see what worked, because that simply isn’t “dialogue.” Dialogue requires that we engage another individual and we also listen and value what they have to say, something that only seemed to occur towards the end of your communication in your example.

    I would agree with you that the example you shared is an wonderful example of how apologetics done poorly can be destructive. However, I would not say this is an example of interfaith dialogue going awry because I would not consider it interfaith “dialogue.” Obviously, in this short reply I can’t fully describe my views on apologetics, debate and dialogue, but I’d be more than happy to offer clarification.

  4. Two examples I’ve run across of evangelicals shooting themselves in the foot in interfaith arguments/discussions:

    Arguing against something that Mormons believe that’s clearly Biblical. I recently came across one ridiculing Mormons for believing that when Adam and Eve ate the fruit in the garden that they became like God in knowing good and evil.

    Arguing against a position that, while not held by the writer/speaker, is held by many evangelicals that the writer/speaker would accept as fully Christian. Many of the arguments I’ve seen used against the LDS position on faith and works also work very well against the view of many, many Arminian evangelicals, for example.

    There are plenty of LDS arguments that make me cringe too. Most often they’re of the kind Seth mentioned, that while the LDS position may seem strange, it’s no more strange than the others’ views.

    All that said, I prefer the kind of dialogue that Aquinas is talking about to the types of arguments that come up in many online discussions. But it’s not always easy to accomplish.

  5. I got this story in my email feed and it sounded SO familiar!

    haha

    I suppose the damage truly wasn’t as bad as I thought. The blogger in question is back in the faith.

    I like what aquinas said, but I fear that oftentimes, we slip out of this illusive ideal of interfaith dialogue…it’s just so easy to lose sight of the conversation as understanding the other person and degrade to lobbing rhetorical grenades at what we feel are apparent weaknesses in their arguments.

    but I stick by what I’ve said…I’ve found in my life that, no matter how often I forget, I am ineffective when I lob grenades (and I know DARN well I BUILD UP walls when people lob grenades at me)…and ultimately, even though it is less satisfying or appealing at face value, I am more effective when I try to strive with the other person (and I know that my walls evaporate if someone does the same with me.)

  6. I think it’s possible to point out inconsistencies/fallacies in the other party’s logic and conclusions while still treating them as a person and having a good dialogue. But it usually requires knowing the person fairly well, and that rarely is the case in a blog comment thread.

  7. Tomchik:

    I have a worry though…not saying it’s inevitable, probable, just a freak occurrence, or what…but it seems that when we point out inconsistencies or fallacies, we risk having a bad faith in the other person…we implicitly fail to assume the person’s reasonableness.

    I’m not saying this is always the case, but couldn’t we imagine…when we point out an inconsistency, that we are subtly thinking, “How could you think this? How can you not see it’s fallacious?”? On the other hand, the pure interfaith dialogue cannot be made with undertones of “How could you think this? How can you not see it’s fallacious?” but it must be made with undertones of something like, “I trust that this is reasonable to you. I want to find out why it is reasonable to you.”

    Then, even if we find something is fallacious or inconsistent, we simply recognize that what is reasonable to them is not reasonable to us. If we want to promote consistent thinking, we should still avoid lobbing grenades, even though that may seem to be what we want to do. If what they believe is truly unreasonable…can’t they be gently brought to his realization (unless of course, our goal was never gentleness..then…we can go ahead with other methods)

  8. My thoughts on this:

    – I agree with Aquinas that there is a difference between dialogue and debate/apologetics, although I think the lines do get blurred sometimes. In explaining why you believe in things the way you do, you inevitably wind up doing a bit of defending along the way.

    – I’ve always been wary of evangelical arguments against Mormonism which can be turned back against evangelical Christianity. I think use of such arguments by evangelicals is one of the reasons why the ex-Mormon-to-atheist/agnostic numbers are so high (though certainly not the only reason). Whenever I’m examining an aspect of Mormonism which I view as problematic, I usually pause and try to consider whether or not there are similar problems with evangelical Christianity.

    – When I began observing LDS apologists, I was fairly taken aback by their attitude towards the Bible and the way they were using it. The love affair between LDS academia and biblical higher criticism was disturbing. It was as though the Bible was just an expendable pawn on the road to defending the modern LDS church. Evangelicals who complained about this attitude were usually brushed off, and the apologists would assure everyone that deep down they really loved the Bible, but I just didn’t see it. Bottom line, I think Mormons need to be very cautious when engaging in this kind of argument.

    (BTW, I am not suggesting that people should ignore biblical higher criticism. I do think some consistency is warranted though. If you’re turning to Ehrman and Barker as your authorities on the Bible while hiding behind FARMS Review of Books and BYU Studies every time someone brings up what non-LDS scholars say about Mormonism, there is a problem.)

    – I’m also wary of evangelical apologetics which work in a somewhat similar fashion for Mormonism. We had this discussion in one of my history classes a few weeks ago when we were discussing the question of whether or not one can use the tools of history to build a case for the resurrection. I said, “Well, can I use the tools of history to build a case that Joseph Smith saw an angel who gave him a set of gold plates?”

    Thanks for the post, Seth. I’m actually going to mention you in a post probably in the next few days. DUH-DUH-DUH!

  9. “We had this discussion in one of my history classes a few weeks ago when we were discussing the question of whether or not one can use the tools of history to build a case for the resurrection. I said, “Well, can I use the tools of history to build a case that Joseph Smith saw an angel who gave him a set of gold plates?””

    I’d imagine that went over like a lead balloon.

    Andrew,

    I get what you’re saying on the “rhetorical grenades.” There have been at least several online interactions I’ve had where some Evangelical or atheist blogger posted something rather derogatory about Mormonism and I came out of the gate swinging. We’d trade a few punches until one of us managed to gain our cool enough to say something civil. At that point, there would sometimes be a bit of a softening on both sides and we’d settle down to actually just trading information rather than trying to score rhetorical points.

    The few times that’s happened, it’s always been a nice surprise and left me, at least, feeling a lot better about the situation. It doesn’t always happen, but it’s definitely something better to shoot for.

    aquinas,

    I’d agree that dialogue usually indicates an exchange that is meant to be constructive. But I think it can have a broader definition that allows some degree of argument and conflict – as long as it’s heading somewhere positive ultimately.

    If you’re pointing out that I’m playing fast and loose with definitions here, I’ll agree with you.

  10. Haha, I was thinking that this sounds an awful lot like the Seth R. and Andrew S. I know, but I just couldn’t remember seeing this particular exchange.

    I’m an atheist, and I don’t really agree with Andrew’s position (at least as you describe it). Picking your favorite evidence and apologists to say “The evidence disproves your religion (but not mine!)” is off-putting to anyone not in your choir. If you believe in faith as the path to truth, then being consistent about your faith/evidence position shows integrity.

  11. I’d imagine that went over like a lead balloon.

    Actually, a couple of the other students were familiar with Bushman and some other works in the field of LDS history. So it spawned an interesting discussion.

    One of the students raised his hand and responded that there were over 500 witnesses to the resurrection and that was good enough for him—implicitly this is supposed to be far better than anything Joseph Smith has. The discussion was moving along and I didn’t get the chance to respond, but it just goes to show that a lot of evangelicals are not thinking critically about this claim to evidence. We do not have 500 witnesses to the resurrection. 500 affidavits from different authors dating to the first century would certainly be impressive evidence. What we have is a document written by Paul (ostensibly around 53-57 AD—20 years after the event in question) claiming that there were over 500 witnesses to the resurrection, and when does the earliest extant manuscript of 1 Corinthians 15 appear? 100-300 years after the date of authorship?

    In my book, the tools that can be used to deconstruct the earliest events in Mormonism can also be used to deconstruct the early miracles of Christianity. Evangelicals should tread lightly here.

  12. I appreciate the comments. Jack, I agree that the lines can be blurred at times and in the process of explaining our position we certainly can be defending it.

    Seth, not to belabor the point, but equating apologetics with interfaith dialogue defeats the purpose of using the term “interfaith dialogue” and masks the way that interfaith dialogue differs from traditional religious polemics or apologetics. I’m fully aware of the serious drawbacks of apologetics and I think it has been the cause of so many of our misunderstandings and the cause of bad theology (since much theological development is born in the fire of religious polemics). One of the features of interfaith dialogue is that it cannot be done with just any person. Apologetics on the other hand really doesn’t require an audience or anyone else to be listening, because in most cases the message is not “audience dependent.” It doesn’t matter who the other person is. In this sense, this is the reason why it is impersonal and in some cases dehumanizing. I’ve never suggested that we can engage in dialogue with just anyone. If a person is resistant to dialogue, then no matter how much one side tries, dialogue is an impossibility.

    But with apologetics, it doesn’t really matter whether the other side listens or not. Apologetics is primarily concerned with sending the message, and rarely is concerned with how well or even if that message is received. One of the reasons for this is that apologetic material is generally not written for those outside the faith. It may have the appearance of being written for those outside the faith but this is merely a rhetorical feature. Apologetics is written for those in the faith to demonstrate how belief is either rational or defensible. Even public debates are for the audience and generally not for the persons engaged in the debate. It is spectacle, not dialogue. This is one of the reasons that the educative value is so low. When you engage in debate you don’t do so to find out what the other person believes, because you “already know what they believe.” Most apologists consider themselves experts of their subject matter. And if you do ask what the other side believes you only do so to determine which weapon among your arsenal you need to use against them. But sometimes that is too time-consuming and hence the reason for shot-gun apologetics where a person just shoots all possible arguments and hope one of them sticks. That’s not dialogue at all.

    Jack, I agree with you that one of the main failings of apologetics is a lack of consistency. But that is because consistency is not the prime goal of apologetics, but rather the goal is to defend the faith. This isn’t to say that apologists are unable to be consistent, but rather it is to say that goals drives methods. The goal isn’t understanding the position or worldview of the other party, and certainly not to appreciate it. Or, all too often the goal is to understand just enough of the other side to craft a good argument against them. But anymore understanding would not be necessary to defend the faith. In addition, apologists generally do not pick the strongest argument to treat, and they generally do not rank arguments in order of importance. Rather, as soon as they find an easy argument, they present this as the main argument and then knock it over and walk away victorious. Again, when you are writing for your own faith audience they aren’t going to complain about this method and in most cases, won’t know otherwise because they rely on the apologist to be the expert. There are exceptions to the rule and we should be thankful for those who responsibly interact with other faith traditions, but unfortunately they are exceptions and not the rule.

    At a scholarly level, where apologists actually write for the other party, and even submit drafts of their papers to be peer reviewed by the other party, and engage in personal meetings and develop personal relations with the other parties. I would consider this back and forth to constitute more features of dialogue, because it encompasses a set of goals and values I consider to be consistent with dialogue.

  13. Jack said:

    In my book, the tools that can be used to deconstruct the earliest events in Mormonism can also be used to deconstruct the early miracles of Christianity. Evangelicals should tread lightly here.

    I agree. I’ve long said that the historical evidence for the supernatural origins of the Book of Mormon is at least as strong as evidence for the Resurrection.

    I’m waiting for Tim to chime in here, because I think he may have a different perspective on some of this. But my view is that whatever our religion, even atheism, it ultimately is a matter of faith, not the result of objective historical analysis. Although it may be possible to disprove certain religious tenets, historical proof of faith matters seems to be impossible to come by.

    Granted, when it comes to historical supporting evidence, Mormonism has the tougher job than evangelicalism, because we need not only the evidence pertaining to Joseph Smith, among other distinctives, but also the historical evidence behind traditional Christianity (such as of the Resurrection). But I think neither the evangelical nor the Mormon has the sort of proof that would be required in a criminal trial. If either of us needed absolute proof to move forward, we’d both be stuck.

  14. But my view is that whatever our religion, even atheism, it ultimately is a matter of faith, not the result of objective historical analysis.

    …what is your definition of faith? I don’t see how not being convinced is a faith of its own. (I agree that our worldviews and/or religions are not the result of objective historical analysis)

  15. I don’t see how not being convinced is a faith of its own.

    I was referring to those who believe there is no God and act on the basis of that belief. For those who merely aren’t convinced of matters one way or the other (those I would call agnostics), I’d agree that’s not faith.

  16. All semantics on the possible differences between apologetics or interfaith dialogue aside, I really enjoyed this post.

    Considering that the large majority of human communication is non-verbal, written dialogue is so easily misinterpreted. Even if the intent of the writer is to engage in civil and respectful dialogue, the contents can so easily be taken as an attack or argumentative debate. And be honest… we all like to be right once in a while. Hence what often starts as “interfaith dialogue” sometimes ends up in blatant apologetics (I’m using Aquinas’ definitions here).

    I concur with Seth’s post that too often we forget there is a person on the other side. I’ve personally seen, and to my discredit occasionally participated, in some of these aggresive apologetical debates.

    it might be a good idea for us to step back and realize that, while we are at each other’s throats on occasion, we also are all in this thing called “faith” together

    Point well made. Which I understand to be Seth’s purpose ?

    Mick

  17. Not that it’s divisive. I just don’t get it. Are we (Mormons and evangelicals in general) fellowshipping in Christ now? Are we going to stop telling each others things like “You believe in a different Jesus” and “You didn’t get baptized, you went swimming”?

    I do enjoy fellowship with Mormons all the time. I’m just not sure how much of it is fellowship “in Christ.” It’s kind of hard to have true Christian fellowship with someone who thinks I’m a 60-watt lightbulb while he’s a 100-watt lightbulb.

    To be clear, there are a few Mormons with whom I enjoy spiritual fellowship, and some of them comment on this blog. There just aren’t a lot of them.

  18. When we read or hear a communication, the understanding we take from it is in the context of all of the cumulative things we have read and heard over our lives. We come to each piece of information with a world view constructed from the total history of our prior received communications and our thoughts on those communications. When we evaluate a new communication for its truth or falsity, we are comparing it to the world view that we carry in our own heads. The meaning of each of the terms and phrases is based on our own, idiosyncratic experience with that word or phrase, including secondary meanings (e.g. an apparent condescension that is understood to mean that the speaker/author thinks ill of my mental capacity). That is why setting a goal of changing the other person’s world view is a very difficult one. A more reasonable goal is setting out to describe one’s own worldview, with the objective of the receiver accepting that you indeed have that view, perhaps in place of a mistaken opinion about your worldview previously held.

    In other words, trying to change the other person’s own world view is difficult, but making a clear statement of your own worldview and persuading the receiver to accept it as sincere–not as his own but as your own–is still an achievement, but not as hard to accomplish.

    The goal of changing the other person’s world view appeals to our instinct to have power over others. As much as we protest that it is for their own good, there is always the danger that our motive is selfish.

    The goal of making your own worldview clear, so there is understanding by the other person of what you think and that you are sincere, is a mutual benefit.

    It does not bother me as a Mormon if someone really understands what I believe and simply cannot accept it. What bothers me is when someone has false conceptions of what I believe, and propagates those to others. That is my motive for trying to commmunicate what I actually believe, so people can sort themselves out based on accurate understanding rather than misunderstandings.

  19. Speaking of Xenu, at Eric’s request, I’ll take the role of the contrarian here.

    we also are all in this thing called “faith” together. And we probably ought to be supportive of each other.

    There’s a vibe here that all “faith” should be respected and preserved. I’m not sure I agree. Some Faiths and some ideas are destructive. In regard to some of them I think some people might be better off as atheist than with some false AND oppressive belief system. In particular I think it would be a perfectly loving thing to destroy the faith of a Scientologist or someone in Heaven’s Gate or the Branch Davidians even if I were unable to replace it with authentic Christianity. The “heavenly gain” is still at zero but at least I’ve freed someone from a dangerous totalitarian organization for a few years on earth.

    Now clearly, “lobbing grenades” isn’t going to be an effective method of getting someone to trust me. I’ve got to be more concerned with loving the individual than opposing the idea if I hope to have success. But we shouldn’t forget that ideas have consequences and sometimes those consequences are severe.

    Let’s broaden the discussion outside of interfaith dialogue vs. apologetics. In conversations about philosophy, ethics and values (sometimes called religion) you can’t just be content that other people also hold a belief. There’s little virtue in just forming an opinion. Acting on one’s beliefs (faith) may not be virtuous at all if the beliefs are evil. I’m not going to hold hands and sing “kumbaya” with someone who practices child-sacrifice or flies airplanes into skyscrapers. I’m going to hope to pull that person out of their faith.

    In regards to Mormonism and Evangelicalism, we both have a motivation, based on our respective faiths, to convert the other. I’ll state it plainly, I would like to see every Mormon I come into contact with leave Mormonism and take on some form of traditional Christianity. I expect every Mormon I meet wants me to become a Mormon. Conversion can’t happen for either of us without deconstructing the others’ faith to some degree. We hold some mutually exclusive ideas.

    The other problem here is that Evangelicals are not Universalist. We can’t say “oh well, at least he’ll gain some degree of glory”. If I care for my Mormon brother, then I desperately want to get in the way of anything that might keep him from God. I agree with Seth that we can’t be content to destroy each others’ false ideas. I prefer a Mormon worldview to an atheistic one. But it invalidates and disrespects my faith to ask me to just be content that you have a faith instead of saving faith.

    [Seth, sorry to pick on the closing line of your post. I think the general suggestion of your post is a good one and something to deeply consider]

  20. I think it goes to the heart of what religion is to really understand how faith can be “created” or “destroyed” by pointing out ideas and opinions in a particular way.

    It goes to how short sighted we are and how we have to expect that we aren’t naturally going to get things right. It shows how fragile we are and how quick we can be to follow one particular path that we find compelling at the time.

    I am not sure that destroying faith is a good thing at all but I do appreciate the honesty of the arguments regarding the paucity of evidence supporting the core biblical (and “Book of Mormonal” claims.

    I think understanding that there are no knockdown historical arguments for any position clarifies a lot of the confusion surrounding the artifice of beliefs when we are honest about the real foundations, and I think we can only understand how God is working with us when we understand where we fit in the puzzle that is His creation. Ultimately I think its important to be very humble about how awesome we think our foundation of belief is and recognize our frailty in order to avoid confusion.

    Of course there is a sound argument that we don’t need to figure this puzzle out to be good and/or saved. I also don’t know that shaking the sheeplike followers of one relatively benign religion or the other is absolutely the best use of time. Judging from my reading of the bible, I think we can expect to find true followers and untrue followers of Jesus dressed in the clothing of all kinds of theological positions.

    I personally think the genius of Christianity lies in the clarity of love that the teachings of Jesus can inject into our lives. As for fellowship, He promises that to us when we have that sort of love, I can’t imagine how contrary theological beliefs can really amount to much to prevent fellowship when it is of the sort Jesus and his disciples were speaking of. It pushes us close to spiritual intimacy, even at an uncomfortable pace.

    As I have made clear in other places, my position is that most theological banter, such as arguing about the foundations of a particular belief in the bible seem to me to be just a pastime that has little to do with the core of Christianity. It often simply suffices to be a poor substitute and often a short circuit to real spiritual intimacy. Of course arguing is a lot more comfortable than the sorts of interactions that Jesus seemed to have with his followers.

  21. Jack,

    It’s kind of hard to have true Christian fellowship with someone who thinks I’m a 60-watt lightbulb while he’s a 100-watt lightbulb.

    Are you also saying you 60-watt-ers don’t feel comfortable have fellowship with us dim 40-Watt-ers?

    Jared

  22. Yeah, to also be contrarian, that’s what I meant by the divisiveness comment.

    Seth is trying to broker interfaith harmony…but how? By creating new scapegoats. So, instead of the ingroup being Mormon Christians vs. Protestant and Catholic Christians…we have the in-group of “fellows in Christ” or even “all the people in this thing called ‘faith’ together.”

    So, what are you trying to do? Are you just trying to pin everything else on the people who are not fellows in Christ? People who are not all in this thing called faith?

    Not only that, but your attempt to buddy-buddy with other faiths won’t even work properly, as Tim points out. Theological differences don’t just vanish because at the end of the day, the different faiths concede that they believe in something that resembles the supernatural or the divine.

  23. Just a thought about interfaith dialogue in my community… We have a group called the Religious Workers Association that is connected with the University of Illinois.

    This organisation exists to foster interfaith dialogue and community outreach. It has been incredibly successful in building bridges of understanding, mutual respect, and shared beliefs. Their work has helped others to realise what Seth said at the end of his post: “we… are all in this thing called ‘faith’ together. And we probably ought to be supportive of each other.”

    (Interestingly enough, this group includes at least one organisation called “Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers” which definitely calls upon others to broaden what they mean by “faith”. I’ve spoken with members of this group, and their faith is the faith in human potential. But it is still a faith.)

  24. Well Andrew…

    The blog’s name is called “LDS-Evangelical Conversations.” Not “LDS-Atheist-Evangelical Coversations.”

    It’s going to be hard to build bridges with each and every faction simultaneously.

    Besides, are you trying to tell me that the “faith thing” (as I put it) is an attribute I share with you?

  25. Seth,

    Thanks for reminding me of the site’s name.

    What I’m trying to say is that the “faith thing” is another area of division. You’re trying to create a wider coalition, so to speak, but you do so only by pinning the tension that used to be reserved for the LDS/Evangelical discussion onto nonbelievers. The people who are not all in this thing called faith.

  26. Tim, thanks for stating your position plainly: “Conversion can’t happen for either of us without deconstructing the others’ faith to some degree.” Therefore, it follows that your goal in conversing with Mormons is to deconstruct their faith and you believe that Mormons must take the same attitude towards you. I don’t agree.

    Clearly, both Mormons and Evangelicals are committed to the Great Commission. Neither Latter-day Saints or Evangelicals need to stop engaging in missionary work or evangelism, since that wouldn’t be true to their faith tradition. However, the issue isn’t a broadening of the definition of dialogue, but reconsidering the definition of conversion and evangelism.

    It would appear you are appealing to Hazen’s “disparity of concern” that, to phrase it differently, LDS don’t really see making converts as a matter of life and death because LDS soteriology has the flexibility to allow non-members to gain salvation, while on the other hand, salvation in the Evangelical view is really a grave and urgent concern because all Mormons are completely denied salvation. Given such a view of salvation, Evangelicals can’t be content with any approach that falls short of total and complete withdrawal of a Mormon from the LDS Church. It seems to me that this is your position. I have two responses (bracketing the description of LDS soteriology).

    First of all, when I consider on the “disparity of concern” theory, I don’t believe it matches the actual behavior of Mormons and Evangelicals. If it really was the case that Evangelicals were so terribly concerned with the salvation of Latter-day Saints wouldn’t the behavior we should expect to see be that of a serious investigation into finding the most winsome and effective means of reaching Latter-day Saints and understanding not only their doctrine but their worldview and appeal, stepping into their experience? And yet, with few hopeful exceptions, I don’t really see a serious “urgency” for finding a way to reach Latter-day Saints and bring them to Christ. Rather, the same tried and true methods are used that only cause Latter-day Saints to relive and retell their persecution narrative, to solidify Mormon identity, and to have a greater distaste for Evangelical Christianity. In that sense, while you say you shouldn’t be “content” that Mormons have a faith, it seems to me that many Evangelicals are in fact content with their traditional approaches to Mormonism, regardless of how effective they are. How can a “disparity of concern” explain that?

    Secondly, and perhaps as a corollary, even if I entertain the idea of a soteriological disparity as an explanation of Evangelical approaches to Mormons, it isn’t at all clear that this is desirable or inevitable. It could very well be the case that this zero-sum hermeneutic is a cause, and one that prevents Evangelicals from engaging in careful reflection about the best means to engage others.

    To return to definitions of conversion and evangelism, it seems to me that a “deconstruction” approach is misguided and simply cannot be equated with evangelism. Why is it the case that you must be so focused on deconstruction as the only definition of evangelism? I think the culprit isn’t Evangelical soteriology per se, but rather the way this soteriology is implemented and understood. I don’t know that it serves Evangelicals.

    Rather, I feel that your method is setting you up for a lifetime of frustration because it’s too narrow. Your method simply won’t allow you to see Mormonism as anything other than an obstacle or a firewall that keeps Mormons insulated from the truth. As a result, your interpretation can only account for Mormonism by appealing to some kind of Stockholm syndrome (which by the way is a great example of what I believe Seth is saying because critics of Christianity have made the “Stockholm syndrome” connection before, this doesn’t seem to be different from approaches used by critics of religion and Christianity generally speaking. Are you able to see that?).

    In my view, such a method is too limited and lacks the ability to produce a successful approach to Mormonism. I understand that your views have come out of your personal experiences with Mormonism, but I also think your hermeneutic serves as a filter your experiences so that you only see these negative elements.

  27. Andrew, I think my main concern on this area is that faith be preserved.

    It is something we value. It’s something we wan to preserve.

    Now, if you are saying you share that value with me, then we have grounds to come together on this subject. But if you don’t, I will try and find support for this particular value elsewhere.

  28. aquinas is da best da best da best (x 100).

    Seth:

    I got what your main concern is. But then you just make a different “we” vs. “they.” “We” are believers. “They” are nonbelievers. Whereas beforehand it was. “We” are Mormons. “They” are evangelicals.

    You say, “But if you don’t [share this value], then I will try and find support for this particular value elsewhere.” Or…what if we found a different value than faith…one that is not so exclusive? Tough task, to be sure…

  29. Hi Aquinas,
    a couple of clarifications

    Given such a view of salvation, Evangelicals can’t be content with any approach that falls short of total and complete withdrawal of a Mormon from the LDS Church.

    In addition, I think repentance and a return to orthodoxy by the LDS church as a whole is a viable option (see Worldwide Church of God). I’m also actually content that there are true Christians in the LDS church who for a time remain, but eventually become dissatisfied and leave.

    First of all, when I consider on the “disparity of concern” theory, I don’t believe it matches the actual behavior of Mormons and Evangelicals. If it really was the case that Evangelicals were so terribly concerned with the salvation of Latter-day Saints wouldn’t the behavior we should expect to see be that of a serious investigation into finding the most winsome and effective means of reaching Latter-day Saints. . .Evangelicals are in fact content with their traditional approaches to Mormonism, regardless of how effective they are. How can a “disparity of concern” explain that?

    It could be that we’re just not very good at it.

    Don’t think your the first to point out that Evangelical behavior doesn’t match the urgency expressed in our theology. You might find a good friend in Aaron Shaf on that one.

    I’ve clearly stated that I think Evangelicals have been ineffective in reaching out to Mormons. You’re of the opinion that I’ve done little to improve on our methods. That may be accurate.

    By all measures door-to-door tracting in the United States is ineffective and builds more barriers than in traverses, yet the LDS missionaries persist. Does that mean Mormons don’t really have a heart for the lost? Or is it just an indication that old habits are hard to break?

    To return to definitions of conversion and evangelism, it seems to me that a “deconstruction” approach is misguided and simply cannot be equated with evangelism. Why is it the case that you must be so focused on deconstruction as the only definition of evangelism?

    Let me just turn the situation on what would have to happen for me to become a Mormon. I would have to lose my belief in the “priesthood of all believers”, sola scriptura and the preservation of the saints among other things. I can not become a Mormon without some of my Evangelicals beliefs being deconstructed. The missionary discussions quite frequently introduce the Great Apostasy early on.

    If you want me to say we shouldn’t focus on “deconstruction” I’m likely to be more than happy to agree. Jack holds this position strongly, to a point that she may not even encourage it in someone she sees questioning Mormonism. But a necessary component in transforming someone’s worldview is “deconstructing” their false beliefs. It must happen.

    I think something that is lacking in your approach to “interfaith dialogue” is a serious and authentic acceptance that the other person wants you to convert. Genuine understanding is a worthy goal. But my expression of my faith is compromised if I’m just coldly examined as a research subject and I suspect yours is as well. I’d rather someone give me their best shot at converting me and allow me the same opportunity. That way we both get an authentic look at the “urgency” of our beliefs. If you’re my friend, then you should want the best for me. Sometimes I honestly get the sense that Mormons are smugly satisfied to have Evangelicals serve them for all eternity. As Jack expressed, you’re not doing me any favors to say I’m a 60 watt light bulb.

    You express your disappointment that I focus too often on the “bad news” of Mormonism rather than the “good news” of Evangelicalism. My disappointment with you is that you just report the “news” of Mormonism and the “bad news” of Evangelical-approaches-to-Mormons. Where is your passion to see your faith lived and embraced by others? Where is your concern that others are living a fallen life and are damaged by lies? Are we not allowed to state those things as an expression of our faith?

  30. Andrew ~ Like it or not, I think Seth has a point. Most Mormons do think that it’s spiritually better for someone to be a Christian of some sort than an atheist. Evangelicals are divided on whether or not it’s better for someone to be a Mormon than an atheist. Tim and I say it is, I don’t know Michael’s position, I’ve heard other evangelicals like Richard Abanes say that it’s better to be an atheist than a Mormon (or at least that neither position is preferable).

    As much as we love and appreciate you and chanson and the friendly atheist crowd, people here do think that Mormon > atheist and evangelical > atheist. We’re going to think we should avoid argumentation that destroys faith.

    You want to find something else to share? Well, you and Seth do have that fencing thing…

    If you want a serious suggestion though, I do think that atheists and theists can share a belief that this life matters and we should do everything in our power to improve it for others.

    Jared ~ I think I can have spiritual fellowship with anybody who is a broken sinner living by the grace of a perfect, loving, merciful Savior. Your wattage may vary.

    It’s attempts at fellowship wrought out of condescension that I’m wary of. Let’s face it, the official stances that Mormons and evangelicals adopt towards one another are always at least somewhat condescending. It’s hard to lay those stances aside for any kind of coming together in terms of true fellowship. Not impossible, just hard.

  31. “Most Mormons do think that it’s spiritually better for someone to be a Christian of some sort than an atheist.”

    For me, that would depend on what kind of Christian or atheist we are talking about.

    Tim,

    Door-to-door stuff is probably the most visible thing missionaries do, so it gets a lot of comment. But the LDS Church has been cutting back on that proselyting approach for almost ten years now. It is widely acknowledged in missionary circles – both privately, and officially, that door-to-door is not the most effective use of missionary time. The overwhelming focus right now is on referrals.

    Generally when missionaries are going door-to-door these days, it’s because they don’t have anything better to do and should at least keep busy.

  32. Jack, I’m not denying that Seth has a point. I just think this point is a lamentable, regrettable reality…and not the ideal that we should be praising or seeking.

    I think we should focus on your serious suggestion in sharing the belief that life matters and we should do everything in our power to improve it for others.

    The problem is that defining this goal (and the way to establish it) is the tricky part. The “urgency” that Tim has discussed influences and pervades his beliefs about how he can improve life for others…his urgency is fueled with the belief that spiritual “correctness” (following and believing true spiritual precepts) is part of life improvement. This is why he insists that Mormons must eventually deconstruct the heresies of their Mormon beliefs (and why he assumes that anyone with good faith in their beliefs should share this urgency to people not of their faiths).

    I understand his argument, I think, and I can’t say I would differ if I were in his shoes…but nonetheless, I believe this is a red herring. This is a smokescreen. This is a point of contention and division. This is seeing through a glass darkly. His eye seeks for the prize (e.g., valuing life and seeking to improve it for others), but he is caught up in a particular tool (e.g., Evangelical Christianity) and he cannot see that sometimes, people can use different tools to achieve the prize. (I understand why he can’t concede this…because his prize isn’t just “an improved life.” It is an improved afterlife, which has contingencies on grace according to his belief.) He assumes that this tool is the same the prize (and who can blame him? This is his belief, what his spiritual experiences have confirmed, etc., etc.,) Same with many (but perhaps not all) Evangelicals. Same with many (but perhaps not all) Mormons. Same with many (but perhaps not all) atheists or any other group you can use.

    So, I think when “faith” (which is but a tool) is focused on…instead of the goal (of improving life for others or whatever thing we decide), then even though faith may ultimately be a great tool for many for life improvement, we come up with this lamentable division. People say, “It is better to be a Mormon and have SOME faith than be an atheist and “destroy faith” ” or “It is better to be an Evangelical and have SOME faith than be an atheist and “destroy faith” ” when people really should be thinking, “It is better to have fulfilled, satisfied lives — however that may be achieved, for the tool is just a tool — than to have unfulfilled, miserable lives.”

  33. I write in the hope of being rescued somewhat.
    I am LDS, I have been for many years, I joined the church off my own bat, and had discussions in my early teens, served a mission and all that.

    I never knew that Jospeh Smith practiced Polygamy, Even more shocked when I found out he did it without Emma’s knowlege. or approval. I was shocked also that Emma falied to go west with the saints after Josephs death.

    I also did not know that the church placed such a heavy belief that the USA constitution was inspired.

    As a formerly really active defeder of the faith I am left somewhat winded and would appreciate it if someone stronger than I can explain how Jospeh can be a Prophet whilst behaving this way. After all the difficulty in getting a temple clearance after an unfortunate divorce is so so difficult to get. one would think that it might be easier considering how easy it was for the ealry leaders to do.

    Im drowning in this so please someone help me before I go inactive.

  34. I’m curious robert.

    Why are you presenting these questions on this particular post? And for that matter, why are you even asking this blog.

    The FAIR website has an easily accessible “ask the apologist” form you can fill out and ask your questions to a large group of knowledgeable Mormons.

  35. robert ~ By all means, check out FAIR and hear what they have to say concerning the things you are struggling with.

    If you feel like you still have questions, and you’d like to hear what your evangelical friends and people from other faiths think, feel free to drop by here anytime.

  36. “Most Mormons do think that it’s spiritually better for someone to be a Christian of some sort than an atheist.”

    I think its spiritually better for somebody to live as a Christian, i.e. in Christian love, than have the right Christian theology, even if that person doesn’t believe in God.

    Why, because as soon as you move past actual love as the basis of your fellowship you end up behaving like just another social/political group. I think that real godly love will make its own converts. If it doesn’t, how will those people accept and embrace the love that God offers anyway?

    I think the problem with focusing on deconstruction of belief, even if motivated by nominal love and concern, is that the goal of deconstruction often pervades the love. Contempt for the heresy or the sin often overrides love for the heretic or sinner, to the point that you end up spiritually or socially shunning those who don’t accept your attempts at “deconstruction”.

    Additionally “Deconstruction” of belief systems is generally only possible from a position of intellectual/rhetorical superiority or respect. The knucklehead Christian is not going to have a chance at converting the brilliant atheist in this way. However, by any Christian standard, brilliance in rhetoric shouldn’t be the determining factor in true conversion, or even the method. Seems to me that this is what Paul was getting at in 1 Corinthians 2:

    When I came to you, brothers, proclaiming the mystery of God, I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom.
    For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive (words of) wisdom, but with a demonstration of spirit and power,

    Having studied the art of deconstruction in philosophy and law, I just don’t see a lot of power in this method. I don’t think our arguments are any better at conversion that this power Paul is talking about.

    I think this idea goes to both Seth’s point and Andrew’s. We can and should base our spiritual dialog on the power of our religion rather than our deconstructing rhetoric.

  37. well stated Jared.

    I heard someone recently talk about the chief means of conversion found in the book of Acts was through miracles and gifts of power (and we should be pursuing these). The “problem” with the Holy Spirit is that we can’t control him like we can any other method of Evangelism.

  38. If you want a serious suggestion though, I do think that atheists and theists can share a belief that this life matters and we should do everything in our power to improve it for others.

    I kind of have this feeling that my previous comment didn’t get noticed. Jack’s “serious suggestion” is one that has been used with amazing success around here. It is the foundation of the Religious Workers Association.

    When it comes to having dialogue and debate, this foundation allows those participating to avoid becoming quarrelsome. As I recently taught a 5th grade class, it is one thing to argue your point. It is a completely different thing to become quarrelsome about it. Quarreling leads to the shooting of one’s foot.

    I don’t think the goal of dialogue or debate should be the eventual concession to one party’s view or another. It is to come to an understanding of what’s those views. We can worry about who is right and who is wrong later. Sometimes it is worthwhile to realise that we’ve all got something in common, and that the world isn’t such a lonely place after all.

  39. Tim, I greatly appreciate your response. I’m at a lost where to begin in my reply, but I think I’ll try.

    1. I appreciate your candor that you think “interfaith dialogue” entails being “coldly examined as a research subject.” I think the same caution should be applied to evangelism efforts. No one wants to be seen merely as an object of conversion, where noble virtues of love and friendship hinge on whether they “convert,” whatever that means. Let’s not forget this was why revivalist Christianity lost Joseph Smith in the first place.

    2. I find it intriguing, though not surprising, that you can accept that there are true Christians in the LDS Church, but in order to explain how this could happen within the walls of Mormondom, you must conclude these persons either are or will become dissatisfied and leave the church as a result.

    3. Your references to the LDS missionary efforts seems to me to undermine the disparity theory because if it really was the case that LDS soteriology undermines evangelism, then why do LDS persist in doing it on such a huge scale, and since the time of Joseph Smith? You don’t seem prepared to accept that thousands of missionaries as well as their families would continually support these efforts because of they believe it to be a manifestation of the Great Commission. Of course, you have already telegraphed your answer in our prior and lengthy communications. You appeal to the “missionary held hostage” and “missionary as victim” image just as you have invoked it here yet again. But your approach can’t provide you with anything else.

    4. Now, if you believe that Evangelicals are not good at reaching out to Mormons, and you seem to consider that perhaps you haven’t helped, then why don’t you? Why not inquire into the causes of this situation? Why not take your passion and love and sense of urgency and channel it in more productive means? No one perfectly engages in the Great Commission and I’m not here to say LDS are perfect in their approach by any means, but one thing the Church has done is to research effective means for missionaries to utilize their time and cooperate with members. When Evangelicals offer critiques of Evangelical outreach to new religious movements they are often marginalized and ignored.

    5. I do report the “good news” of Evangelical and Mormon dialogue. I’ve constantly highlighted positive interactions between Evangelicals and Mormons. I’ve been doing this since the beginning and I always seek to highlight where I believe it is successful and promising. It is true I offer suggestions for improvement but I’m not obsessed with looking for flaws in Evangelicalism. I find it somewhat odd that you consider what I’m doing to be on par with what you are doing. I’m trying to persuade people that true and genuine dialogue is more effective for change than religious polemics.

    6. Finally, this is an expression of my faith and one that I’m very passionate about. “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, [I] seek after these things.” But you have to look for it to see it. I don’t feel you are looking for anything of good report in Mormonism, and as a result, you will never find it. As a result, your negative perspective on Mormonism is one large self-fulfilling prophecy. It is an expression of my faith that people are not only courteous and civil in their conversations, also charitable. It is an expression of my faith that we should do unto others and we would have others do unto us. Since I would have others look for the good in my faith then in accordance with that golden rule I seek to do the same.

  40. actually, alextvalencic, I was going to comment on your previous comment (it was the inspiration for my comment saying that promoting interfaith dialogue can be just as divisive…until you broaden the definition of faith until it means very little.)

    But then I realized if I quibbled to you about “faith” in human potential, I would seem much more pessimistic, fatalistic, nihilistic, and absurdist. So, that would not be a good path to take.

  41. Hi all!

    I haven’t commented here in awhile. Interesting post, Seth. I wanted to respond to a couple things.

    Andrew said – “It is better to have fulfilled, satisfied lives — however that may be achieved, for the tool is just a tool — than to have unfulfilled, miserable lives.”

    I think the key difference in our interfaith dialogue motivations lies in our worldviews. Jesus said, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36)

    If this life is all there is then of course the ultimate goal is to lead a satisfying life. But if this life is only a temporary blip on the panorama of eternity and the decisions made in this life will determine where we spend eternity that changes things a bit. There are so many unknowns in this life. One thing that everyone here can agree on and knows for certain is that one day we will die.

    Jack – way up the thread you said, “I’m also wary of evangelical apologetics which work in a somewhat similar fashion for Mormonism. We had this discussion in one of my history classes a few weeks ago when we were discussing the question of whether or not one can use the tools of history to build a case for the resurrection. I said, “Well, can I use the tools of history to build a case that Joseph Smith saw an angel who gave him a set of gold plates?”

    I had a discussion about this recently by email with an ex-mormon atheist. He definitely believed there was a parallel between these two events. I disagree.

    The best case that we can build from history is that people believed Joseph Smith and his claims. That is an undisputed historical fact. We cannot prove from history that the event actually occurred, just that people believed it.

    Similarly, we can build a historical case to show that the disciples and some opponents of Christianity believed that Jesus rose from the dead. This is an undisputed historical fact.

    The difference lies in the nature of the claims. We are dealing with a dead person and an empty tomb here.

    With Joseph Smith’s claims we have a living, breathing human agent to account for how people came to believe in his claims.

    How do we account for people believing in a man they thought looked just like Jesus?

    Who was that man if it wasn’t Jesus?

    I like Gary Habermas’ approach which I’m sure you are familiar with. He uses the minimal facts that the majority of critical scholars concede, builds the historical case for the resurrection, and then shows how all the alternative theories fail.

  42. Can’t say I’m much of a fan of Habermas.

    Too much arm of the flesh stuff going on there.

    He’s OK if you want to supplement already existing faith – but you’d be ill-advised to make his arguments the center of your faith.

  43. Jessica:

    Except you really haven’t changed the goal post. You are still describing a satisfying life…it’s just that your worldview (and Tim’s) incorporates an immortal soul into the calculation. It is as you say: “This life is a blip.” So…we can either go two ways…either…you include the faith in eternity in your satisfied life (tell me: does Christ satisfy and fulfill you in this life? Or does he not? Do you simply believe because of the afterlife or is there anything valuable you get here and now?)

    But if you truly do not believe in the satisfying life, then…you aren’t living for life. You are living for the afterlife. Nietzsche said this equates to living for death, but that really was just a rhetorical grenade, if you will.

    Personally, if we all can agree that one day we will die, but we can’t agree that there will be an afterlife or what that afterlife will entail, then I think we should be focusing on what we know first. Focus on this life and this death…one in the hand is still worth more than even an infinite amount in the shadowy, vague bush.

    If we want to challenge the world, then let’s challenge the certainty that one day we will die. We don’t need to have faith to do this, however. We need to have creativity, unbelievably hard work, and the ability to break a few physical laws. But…ah, such is the jazz.

  44. Hi Aquinas

    You stated:
    You appeal to the “missionary held hostage” and “missionary as victim” image just as you have invoked it here yet again.

    Actually I was making no such appeal. You would hopefully know me well enough by now to know that I would be overt if I were making such a suggestion.

    I was merely pointing out a Mormon co-example of ineffective evangelism techniques. The ONLY reason I stated Mormons might continue to go door-to-door was because “old habits are hard to break”. I offered that as a suggestion and example for why some Evangelicals still approach Mormons with ineffective techniques.

    You don’t seem prepared to accept that thousands of missionaries as well as their families would continually support these efforts because of they believe it to be a manifestation of the Great Commission.

    I absolutely accept this as a reason Mormons go on mission; just as I accept that uber-Calvinist go on mission, out of obedience to the Great Commission.

  45. Here’s the rub Aquinas, I think I’m pretty charitable and courteous to my Mormon friends. I’m told by many of my Mormon friends that I am indeed charitable and courteous and a breath of fresh air. Many have told me how they appreciate my tone and attitude toward Mormonism though I strongly disagree with it. I’ve taken the time to make sure my disagreements are accurate reflections of Mormon teachings and beliefs. I ask questions where I am unclear about what the LDS church teaches and correct my assumptions when I get it wrong. I apologize when I think I have sinned and spoken in anger. I don’t hold the LDS church to standards which my own church can’t live up to as well (folk doctrine, uneducated congregants, past teachings, etc.). I freely and openly offer authorship to my blog up to faithful Mormons who are at liberty to treat my faith tradition as they wish. I’ve boldly criticized Evangelicals who I think have got it all wrong in either their approach or their view of Mormonism. I’ve done this in tension of my accountability before God to speak against false teachers and false gospels.

    So why is it that I get such a different reflection of myself from you? I get the sense at times that I must have written and produced “The Godmakers”.

    I don’t feel you are looking for anything of good report in Mormonism, and as a result, you will never find it. As a result, your negative perspective on Mormonism is one large self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Do you see anything of good report in me? Is your view of me becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy? We’ve had several interactions this summer where I feel you’ve been unable to offer my thoughts a charitable reading even when I’m speaking critically of Evangelicalism. I don’t feel like I’m daily banging a gong in opposition to Mormonism, a great many of my recent post have been about Evangelicalism or Christianity in general.

    I recognize your recent anger over my thoughts on “missionary as victim” (particularly since you brought it back into this conversation). You don’t feel I was the least bit charitable or accurate in my description of the LDS mission environment. At the same time you were taking me to task for those comments, I was receiving private messages from multiple faithful, active Mormons who expressed their concern with how accurately I described their own mission experience (other ex-Mormons felt I didn’t go far enough). I hedged my observations as limited and offered charity to most, if not all, LDS Mission Presidents. I don’t think I should be required to describe Mormonism only as you see it, particularly when I get confirmation from other Mormons that I’m being accurate. Is it at all possible that others haven’t experienced Mormonism in the same positive way you have?

    I think I would allow for anyone to use the experiences of Internet Monk, Brian McLaren or Spencer Burke to describe Evangelicalism.

  46. Seth,
    Your post got me thinking a bit, and I agree that behind the “screen name” of the person we are communicating with, there is a “person”… a “soul”…. you are right about how calloused one can become in these interfaith dialogues… one reason I have taken a step back a bit… becauce quite honestly, I didn’t like what was happening to me… I was becoming ‘cynical’ and a bit calloused….

    I also found quite honestly, as a former mormon that I would much rather be blogging about JESUS and the wonder of HIM, then in blogging about Mormonism and what I don’t like about it…. the first seems so much more productive & useful.

    In any case, your post was insightful & well written.

    Kind regards,

    gloria

  47. Tim,

    Honestly I think you do a great job on being open and respectful in your dialogue here about the LDS faith. I personally have not sensed you attack or riducule, in fact at times, I have felt you handle things rather softer than I would expect an Evangelical Christian. In any case, I just wanted to send a shout out of appreciation for your work here.

    Kuddos,

    gloria

  48. “I also found quite honestly, as a former mormon that I would much rather be blogging about JESUS and the wonder of HIM, then in blogging about Mormonism and what I don’t like about it…. the first seems so much more productive & useful.”

    Gloria, when I read this I felt like saying “amen and hallelujah!” I’m so glad that you’ve finally come to see this for yourself! I think you’ll also find more happiness and success. Does this mean that you’ll be changing the name or focus of your blog?

  49. Tim, thanks for the reply.

    1. I understand your mentioning of “door-to-door” approaches was an attempt to offer an example of the difficulty of changing habits. However, you must admit this was a poor example and simply not analogous.

    First of all, individuals still learn about the Church through meeting LDS missionaries door-to-door. That there are more effective means available it is true, and missionaries are cognizant of this, but where missionaries are unable to utilize those means, speaking with people at their homes about the Gospel is still speaking with people at their homes about the Gospel, and people do join the Church through those efforts. This simply isn’t a good example of persistence in using ineffective methods. In addition, it lacks explanatory value as to why you feel Evangelicals have not developed effective means to reach out to Mormons despite a soteriology that should cause Evangelicals to use any and all resources to discover an effective approach as soon as possible.

    2. The reason I brought up your prior usage of the “missionary as victim” model is to show how it is consistent with and flows from your worldview. You have stated that an LDS mission is “a breeding ground for emotional and spiritual abuse” and that LDS mission conditions contain the “exact set of circumstances manipulative religious leaders put their followers into” in “real life cultic groups” and therefore Evangelicals should help missionaries call home if they want to free themselves of this abusive situation.

    Now, on this thread you stated that some faiths have a “false AND oppressive belief system” and adherents need to be “freed someone from a dangerous totalitarian organization” including a “Scientologist or someone in Heaven’s Gate or the Branch Davidians.”

    Even the most charitable reading would hardly prevent the conclusion that you view Mormonism (or at least Mormon missions) as another “cultish” group inside the “Kingdom of the Cults” family where people are victims or hostages of the oppressive system and need to be freed. Now, I’m not saying you have to see Mormonism as I see it in the least. I am suggesting your worldview prevents you from adopting the empathetic perspective required for true and genuine dialogue, and required to really develop an effective approach with Latter-day Saints. Even Paul was able to see good things in Greek religion and use that to help him effectively preach the Gospel. Here, I’m merely trying to clarify my position and with your help, clarify your position.

  50. Tim, I do appreciate your follow up comments. Essentially, we are continuing the discussion from over a year ago: “What Are We Doing Here?” There you stated

    But I like to have my thoughts and ideas challenged. I also enjoy challenging the thoughts and ideas of other people. I find these challenges to be a sort of refiner’s fire for poor thinking and shoddy reasoning. They also strip away inaccuracies and distortions pretty effectively. . . . I want my thoughts on Mormonism to be challenged.

    Yes, I am challenging your ideas and I feel this is what you desire. I also want to point out that yes, I do find something of good report in you and that is you have the ability to listen to what I am saying and actually respond to something I have written. While we have disagreed on approach since the beginning, I do appreciate the fact that you have been willing to hear me out. Not everyone I seek to engage in dialogue is able to do this. The fact that I spend time commenting on your blog speaks to this fact.

    It is true our discussion about missions made me seriously question whether we were in fact communicating. Part of charity is giving people the benefit of the doubt, and this is especially true of first encounters. This is not your first encounter with Mormonism and it’s not as if you are learning about it for the first time. I must point out that I too had private communication and e-mails from Latter-day Saints who felt the same way as I did. But again, for whatever reason, your blog tends to attract people who are dissatisfied with Mormonism. From my perspective, it seems like you want to see as much criticism of Mormonism as possible and you are completely willing to have any Mormon criticize Evangelicalism. I’m not interested in criticizing Evangelicalism. I have good friends who are Evangelical and they have shown me genuine Christian love and discipleship. They have sometimes told me of problems in their churches but I don’t use that against them or write some blog saying “I knew it!” I know former Evangelicals who have left Christianity all together for a variety of reasons but I have no interest highlighting their disaffiliation accounts and discussing the problems with Evangelical Christianity. Other people can do that if they want. So, while we may share a common interest in communication between Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints, as far as I can tell, we disagree fundamentally as to the nature this communication should take. I believe we have disagreed civilly in the past and I do appreciate hearing me out on these issues.

  51. “I also found quite honestly, as a former mormon that I would much rather be blogging about JESUS and the wonder of HIM, then in blogging about Mormonism and what I don’t like about it…. the first seems so much more productive & useful.”

    That seems a useful and sensible approach gloria.

  52. Hi Andrew,

    You said, does Christ satisfy and fulfill you in this life? Do you simply believe because of the afterlife or is there anything valuable you get here and now?)

    He does. Quite honestly, I can’t even imagine how I could find satisfaction in this world without Christ. He is the One who fills me with joy and hope and peace in the midst of turmoil, pain, and despair in the lives of those all around me. I wrote this in an email last week to someone who was trying to sway me towards considering a religion (any guesses which one?) 🙂

    I’m so weary of this disgusting world – I have no satisfaction for the things of this life. My soul is thirsty for God – for the living God – I desire to just be in His presence and to drink from the streams of His living water. He satisfies me like nothing in this world ever will. No religion can ever satisfy me – Jesus satisfies me! He is my all in all. I don’t need man’s tradition or religion. Just give me Jesus.

    You mention Nietzsche’s worldview. He’s a great example of someone who didn’t know how to find satisfaction in this life. Talk about atheism taken to its logical conclusions! His miserable end was one of mental anguish and despair. I don’t understand why his worldview should be considered intellectually or emotionally healthy. Mental health studies continue to confirm a connection between how a person thinks and their resulting biochemistry. Lack of hope brings despair and inner anguish.

    Jesus said in order to find our life we have to lose it and this has been true in my own personal experience. I don’t want to imply that my life has always been one joyous ride. Far from it. The joy, peace, and hope I have is not because of my external circumstances which are not always what I enjoy, but because of Christ and the internal satisfaction he brings when my heart is right with Him. And I have found that my desire for Him increases the more that I surrender. So it is not without a cost. I don’t want to convey the false gospel of the health & wealth prosperity preachers. 🙂 Following Christ inevitably involves cost and sacrifice. But the truly converted follower of Christ deeply desires Him and will lay down their life willingly because of their love for Him and the satisfaction that He brings. (I’m not saying this is a reason for a person to become converted – I don’t think an unconverted heart can deeply desire Christ or the satisfaction that He brings).

    If we want to challenge the world, then let’s challenge the certainty that one day we will die. We don’t need to have faith to do this, however. We need to have creativity, unbelievably hard work, and the ability to break a few physical laws. But…ah, such is the jazz.

    So, would it be fair to assume that your hope is placed in trying to rise above naturalism? If that thought brings you hope then there is a similarity in our views, but I submit that your approach is incongruous if you are trying to rise above naturalism using natural means. If you desire to break a few physical laws then you might need to embrace some spiritual ones. And, no, I am not referring to the 4 spiritual laws tract. 🙂

  53. Jessica,

    You don’t seem to know much about Nietzsche, he had plenty of hope, and I might choose his life over Job’s.

    Nietzsche lived short and died of an infection that debilitated him, but when he was healthy he lived with passion, honesty and insight that few have achieved.

    I can’t imagine a God that would condemn such a son to hell, in essence because of the mind He gave him.

  54. Hi Jared,

    I suspect that Nietzsche’s mental illness might have been caused by his philosophy. There are whole books written on the subject which I have not read, but the diagnosis of a syphilis infection has been questioned in more recent studies and researchers are still undecided as to the cause of his mental illness.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17087793

  55. “I suspect that Nietzsche’s mental illness might have been caused by his philosophy.”

    He may not have had syphilis, but if not, as the article states, he was quite literally killed by the mind God gave him.

    But his philosophy? come now. . .

    I suppose I will avoid the temptation for further “deconstruction” here given my previous position on that activity. 🙂

  56. LOL – I will also refrain from “deconstruction” which I think should be saved for bigger fish than this, but I will add that while I have not studied Nietzsche’s particular mental illness extensively, I did my graduate work in the field of counseling and so I have some views on how mental illness develops. Studies show a direct connection between a person’s biochemistry and their beliefs/thoughts which is why cognitive therapy has been shown to be effective in the treatment of mental illness.

  57. aquinas,

    Not to interrupt your conversation with Tim but I think that if you step back and look evangelicalism in all of its forms, we have not been able to create a particularly effective method to evangelize the culture in general much less Mormonism. There are theological reasons for this, at least from a Reformed perspective, but we are not called to use any and all means to evangelize. The message is the means. The only tool to evangelize in the evangel. Fads for conversion come and go, but in the end when their effectiveness is examined historically and the soundness judged theologically they don’t measure up to the hype.

    I don’t understand the analogy of the Stockholm syndrome and Mormonism. I would be interested in seeing how evangelicals have used this in context because on its face it fails to takes into account Protestant thoughts on conversion and the obstacle to conversion.

  58. Gundek, please note that I did not say to use any and all means to evangelize. I did not say to invent a fad. Please carefully read my comments.

  59. Jessica, I would prefer Nietzsche’s passion to the complacency of plenty of content religious people.

    Feeling generally nice about the world and everything in it is not the main purpose of our life here.

  60. Jessica,

    I clicked on that link you provided, 9:13 pm, and I read that it said they thought Nietzsche might have had a type of dementia. Maybe I’m all wrong, but I don’t consider dementia to be a “mental illness” at least not like depression, or bipolar, or something like that. My father has dementia. All the cognitive therapy in the world is not going to help it, or make it go away. And he has always been the most loving and optimistic of people. Even now, thank God, his personality has not changed. If Nietzsche did have this dementia, then I don’t think his “bad” thoughts caused it.
    I tried reading an English language version of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” and had to quit reading because it was just too much of a downer for me. But, I do remember reading some things in the book that were really spot on. To me, it’s not so important what was going on with Nietzsche physically, the question for me is, “Is there any truth in what I’m reading?” For me, the answer was yes. There are some real truths in that book, in spite of what he was having to deal with physically.
    I just remember reading that he was very sick, and that he had several medical conditions, and he would take medicine to help one, and that medicine would worsen his other condition/s. Then he would have to take another medicine to ease those conditions that would exacerbate the first condition. It was a vicious cycle, and he was really suffering. In spite of everything though, he managed to write of some things that I have observed myself in the world around me. So I appreciated parts of that book, even though I couldn’t finish it.

  61. Jessica:

    So, then, don’t you see then…you’re believing in exactly the same goal — life satisfaction and fulfillment. You are so fulfilled in and by Christ. I actually am pleased with your answer…because it truly suggests that the eternity, the afterlife, the salvation…it’s just an extension. The real wonder is the change that happens *now* and in *this life*.

    I would simply point out that this is simply one tool. Believe it or not, people find dissatisfaction and lack of fulfillment from a great many things…even the things you would cherish. One size does not fit all in these sorts of things, it seems.

    Now, getting to Nietzsche. Nietzsche actually talked about triumph. Nietzsche, as another commenter wrote, actually talked about passion, integrity, and life. And yet, don’t you see how, because he talked about it within a different tool, you jump to the worst conclusions? Wouldn’t you lament if a non-Christian did that to you, a Christian? When clearly, everyone is simply searching for the tool that fits them to seek authenticity, integrity, and a fulfilled life. They do this despite of their deficiencies and excesses.

    I don’t think you disagree. I think you have also stated you live for life. It’s just that your life is in Christ. This is the tool you use. And yet I fear you might not realize that this is a tool and others use other tools. Your tool isn’t equal to the end goal. One size does not fit all.

    So, would it be fair to assume that your hope is placed in trying to rise above naturalism? If that thought brings you hope then there is a similarity in our views, but I submit that your approach is incongruous if you are trying to rise above naturalism using natural means. If you desire to break a few physical laws then you might need to embrace some spiritual ones. And, no, I am not referring to the 4 spiritual laws tract.

    No, my hope is not in trying to rise above naturalism. First of all, hope is a bad faith. Hope is a letting down and a giving up. When we “hope,” we sabotage ourselves. Instead, we should act. Instead, we must will.

    Second of all, no, my hope is not to rise above naturalism. This is a smokescreen…a deception. Instead, we must work with naturalism at all times. Is an airplane “supernatural”? No. It is a way of working with naturalism to exceed arbitrary boundaries. At some point, progress must become so amazing as to be perceived by ignorant mortals (such as ourselves) as supernatural (sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic), but to people who truly understand, everything is completely orderly.

    If this includes spiritual precepts, then that means those spiritual precepts are natural. (And if this is the case, you should be ACTING towards those spiritual precepts by expanding your knowledge of the natural world instead of creating the arbitrary divide between natural and supernatural, spiritual and material, which is bad faith, and giving up, and sabotage to yourself.)

  62. I was thinking about his post, the comments and the Aquinas-Tim discussion.

    Its seems that dialog and love do not need to come at the cost of honesty.

    I think you should be able to say “I think your view of God is ridiculous” (Which I happen to think about many Evangelical notions) and also say “I really want to understand where you are coming from in your belief”

    I think Aquinas’ point is that there are two distinct activities of (1) explaining the problems with somebody’s beliefs. and (2) trying to really understand a particular group in a human way.

    I think Tim’s point is that sometimes you can’t help but overlap these activities.

    I think you absolutely can think an atheist/mormon/evangelical is ridiculous and still seek fellowship, dialog and understanding on a human level- we are all people, but I think it does take the humility to admit that you may not be as awesome as you think you are. . .

  63. aquinas,

    I am sorry if the lack of quotation marks or any direct attribution led you to believe that I was quoting you. My point is only that you are ignoring the theology behind what makes evangelism effective for the evangelical community, both Arminian and Reformed. To question why evangelicals “…have not developed effective means to reach out to Mormons despite a soteriology that should cause Evangelicals to use any and all resources to discover an effective approach as soon as possible…” presupposes that a different approach to evangelism is necessary or even theologically justified specifically for Mormons. Soterologicaly and more importantly eschatologicaly I don’t have anything different to offer Mormons than I do any other person outside of the Church.

  64. Thank Jared, I agree. Except for one thing, I am as awesome as I think I am. 😉

    Aquinas,
    I appreciate that you’re challenging my thoughts. Please don’t stop. If you disagree with me I want to hear it. Perhaps though, you can find a way to challenge me without giving me the sense that I lack the ability to put two coherent thoughts together. Telling me you disagree might look a little different than telling me I don’t make sense.

    I’m not surprised that other Mormons agreed with you on my assessment about the LDS missionary program. Several of them expressed their disagreement here. I knew Mormons would disagree with me before I wrote the post. The reason I mentioned that some (current, active, faithful) Mormons told me that they agreed with me is that you have to make some accommodation for experiences that aren’t as positive as yours. They’ve got to fit in some box other than just rabid-apostate-exMormon. I’m not scouring exmormon.org for an education on all things LDS. I’m not even remotely reflecting exmormon.org in my descriptions of the LDS church.

    In the same way, I’ve got to makes space for negative and disaffected Evangelical experiences.

    Removing ourselves from the missions discussion for a moment, is it at all reasonable for me to suggest that not everyone’s experience with Mormonism is as glowing as Mormons would like everyone else to believe?

    I do not think that Mormonism is a benign additive that can be successfully mixed with Christianity. I think it contains lies and that people living out those lies experience negative consequences as a result of those lies. I MIGHT on occasion point out that a negative experience just MIGHT have something to do with a falsehood found within Mormonism.

    To get back to our discussion on Evangelical soteriology. . . You’re right it makes no sense that Evangelicals would choose ineffective methods to evangelize Mormons with. If we’re afraid you’re going to hell, then we should find the most persuasive means available to keep you from going there. But it’s the fact that we think you’re without salvation that keeps us coming back at you. When a Mormon decides an Evangelical is uninterested in their message he can console himself with Mormon universalism and move on. An Evangelical can find no such consolation for Mormons, so he must keep presenting his case.

    An Evangelical SHOULD pause and consider if it’s not his message but his delivery that is the problem. The reasons we don’t are varied and complex. For some the delivery is closely connected to the message. For others, moderate or meager success is acceptable and expected. As much as I dislike some of the things Aaron Shaf does, I’m confident he’s brought more people into a saving knowledge of Jesus than I or Jack have. It’s hard for us to argue against his numbers.

    The other problem is that we’re trapped between considering you as false prophets or as lost sheep. If we consider you as strictly false prophets, then there is a great deal of Biblical support for many traditional counter-cult methods. It’s difficult for Evangelicals to strictly have a lost sheep mentality when considering Mormons.

  65. As much as I dislike some of the things Aaron Shaf does, I’m confident he’s brought more people into a saving knowledge of Jesus than I or Jack have. It’s hard for us to argue against his numbers.

    I haven’t the faintest clue about Aaron’s numbers. He was (wisely) modest on the issue when discussing it on John Larsen’s podcast a few weeks ago. IIRC, his explanation sounded surprisingly like the same one I give when people ask me if I’ve ever seen Mormons convert to evangelical Christianity: yes, I’ve seen a few people, but I don’t really consider them “my converts.” I was just one person who interacted with them in something that was a long process for them.

    I haven’t just done evangelism on Mormons, either. I served three mission trips to Mexico in high school and college.

    I think it’s important to remember that Aaron’s goal isn’t just to see Mormons leave the church. He tries to keep other people (especially Christians) from joining the LDS church, among other things, and those things are much harder to track. He also seems to be taking strides towards improving the intellectual quality of arguments employed by the counter-cult ministry.

    Likewise, I’m not just interested in converting Mormons; in fact I’ll openly say that isn’t Priority 1 for me (at least not directly). Priority 1 is bridge-building and Priority 2 is seeing the LDS church reform. I believe that what I’m doing will make it easier for the evangelicals who come after me. I’m overjoyed when Mormons convert, but there’s a reason my blog isn’t aimed at more or less directly evangelizing Mormons like so many other evangelical blogs are.

  66. I clicked on that link you provided, 9:13 pm, and I read that it said they thought Nietzsche might have had a type of dementia. Maybe I’m all wrong, but I don’t consider dementia to be a “mental illness” at least not like depression, or bipolar, or something like that.

    Hi Lisa,

    He had a psychiatric illness with depression (possibly bipolar) for the second half of his life and dementia later in his life. There are various theories about exactly what was going on from a medical perspective and I linked to one of the articles that discusses one of those theories (there are other article links to the right), but I was trying to show that the “infection” theory is outdated. Whole books have also been written on the theory that his philosophy had something to do with his condition. It’s not a totally unfounded theory –the medical evidence is inconclusive.

    Seth told me the other day that Wikipedia is practically an anti-Mormon source, but since we are not discussing Mormonism I will paste from their summary of the various theories:

    Nietzsche’s mental illness was originally diagnosed as tertiary syphilis, in accordance with a prevailing medical paradigm of the time. While most commentators regard his breakdown as unrelated to his philosophy, some, including Georges Bataille and René Girard, argue that his breakdown may have been caused by a psychological maladjustment brought on by his philosophy.[26][27] Manic-depressive illness with periodic psychosis, followed by vascular dementia was put forward[28]prior Schain’s and Sax’s studies [29]; Orth and Trimble confirm that frontotemporal dementia[30] is indicated rather than syphilis, but refrain from speculating as to the cause. Other researchers[31] agree that syphilis is contra-indicated, but argue against Sax’s revival of Hildebrandt’s hypothesis of a benign brain tumor, positing instead a syndrome called CADASIL

    So, then, don’t you see then…you’re believing in exactly the same goal — life satisfaction and fulfillment. You are so fulfilled in and by Christ. I actually am pleased with your answer…because it truly suggests that the eternity, the afterlife, the salvation…it’s just an extension. The real wonder is the change that happens *now* and in *this life*.

    Hi Andrew,

    I think I need to clarify my position. I was focusing on the satisfaction I have in this life because you had specifically asked about this, but this is not my primary goal. Also, my belief in eternity is not merely an extension. My satisfaction in this life is directly connected to and derived from my eternal hope as well as my own, personal relationship with God which I experience on a daily basis. When I first decided to follow Jesus, though, I didn’t have the foggiest idea about how to experience God or find satisfaction in Him. My goal was to be saved from hell – plain and simple. I knew I was a sinner and I believed Jesus’ words that there is no salvation apart from Him.

  67. Pingback: The anchors of narrative « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

  68. Jessica:

    This has to be a purely hypothetical question because obviously, you can’t truly step out of your own shoes and look at things without your life experience, but if it weren’t for “the internal satisfaction [Christ] brings when [your] heart is right with Him,” or “hope and peace in the midst of turmoil and despair,” would you be a Christian?

    If it weren’t for the “personal relationship with God which [you] experience on a daily basis,” then would you be a Christian? (Would you have become one in the first place?)

    After all, if your goal was to be saved from hell, there could be plenty of other religious choice there. But I’m assuming that Islam did not give you “internal satisfaction” (at least, not in this life…not “on a daily basis,” etc.,). Is that right? I’m assuming that Mormonism does not give you internal satisfaction, and that is why you know it’s not for you, right?

    So it still seems to me that the deciding factor was something about this life. It wasn’t arguments about an afterlife per se (because each of the religions has one). Rather, it was how certain theologies pierced you and appealed to you in this life. On a day-to-day basis.

    Do you disagree?

  69. phew…. just got done catching up

    Jack asked a couple of days ago with regards on whether it’s spiritually better for someone to be a Christian of some sort than an atheist.

    Tim and I say it is, I don’t know Michael’s position, I’ve heard other evangelicals……

    If that was referring to me, my answer is: It depends on your definition of “spiritually better”.

    Andrew slowly headed that way a bit in his discussion with Jessica. If this life is all there is and there is no afterlife and spiritually better means what you make of this life, then I would say that no one is better. At that point your faith, or lack thereof, doesn’t matter. The impact you may have, or not have, on other’s existence is then what would catalogue one person as being perhaps better than any other. But then again without a faith, who gets to decided what defines “better” ? Society ? If so, which one ? And why ? A never ending trail I ventured down 20 years ago.

    If there is an afterlife, I think any Christian is better than an atheist. It is not for me to judge and/or decide who, in which faith or from which stream. It’ll be God who judges. If the Muslims are right, which I don’t believe they are but that’s a nother topic, we Christians might be in a world (or afterlife) of trouble 😉 If Christians are right, non-Christians are in a world of trouble. And I believe you can find non-Christians in every doctrinal group, protestants, RC, LDS, you name it.

    Andrew,
    There is one thing I don’t understand. If life satisfaction and fulfillment is truly the same goal amongst us and our faith is but a tool, why are you concerned with others ? Is that was gives you satisfaction and fulfillment ? A very close and long-time friend is atheist. He truly believes this life is all that matters. And this has led him down a very epicurean path of enjoying food, drink, etc. Why do you bother blogging ? Just curious

    That’s all I was able to pick back up. I’ll leave the rest to Tim and Aquinas 😉

    Mick

  70. re Michael L:

    Don’t you think blogging is also part of life satisfaction? Do you not think communication is also part of a fulfilling life? Don’t you think that understanding and being understood is also part of a fulfilling life? I guess for your friend, as long as he has his food, drink, etc., he’s golden. Great for him! But I think even Mill talked about the difference between lower pleasures and higher pleasures. That is why I talk about *satisfaction* and *fulfillment*. I’m not talking about bland concepts like *happiness*. We can have struggle and sacrifice while being *fulfilled*. We can be unhappy but be *satisfied*.

    (By the way, satisfaction and fulfillment are defined by *us* though. They are things *we* perceive and project. This is true whether you believe in an afterlife or not. This is true whether you believe in a deity or not. If you believe in an afterlife and/or deity, then you just generally have placed these things in the calculation of satisfying things.)

    We live in social interdependency. It does me well to care about others because this is a positive sum game for them and me. We can produce some life satisfaction and fulfillment alone (just like we could produce our food alone, our shoes alone, and every thing we *need* alone), but just like with economic goods, the quality of everything improves when we leverage comparative advantages and work together.

    I’ll say something more. I come here to try to improve the positive-sum outcome of our social transactions together. So, to the extent that your Christianity (or anyone’s religion of any stripe) is either conducive to a positive sum transaction for both of us (and the others around you), I don’t care what tool you use to achieve satisfaction. But what I want to raise awareness of is the occasions when these tools are zero-sum…they may be positive for you, but they are negative for someone else…or these tools might be negative-sum (negative for multiple parties). My blogging, dialogue, communication, is to try to raise awareness of these negative sum games and to inspire someone — even if it’s one person — to think about them. Why is it spiritually better to be a Christian than an atheist if there is an afterlife? Think about the assumptions you have about Christians and atheists, the assumptions you have about an afterlife, an assumption of the qualifications for getting into certain places in the afterlife. Do these assumptions seem rock-solid? Do they all make sense? Do they all resonate within you? Why is hell so bad? Why is heaven so good? This is just one line of questioning we could go over.

  71. Andrew
    I would love to have the conversation, be forewarned though that I unfortunately don’t quite have the time to keep up with blogs as much as some of the others here do. If it’s acceptable to you to go for days without a follow-up answer, I’d be happy to have some conversations.

    I was an unbeliever for many, many years. I read a lot of philosophers, different religious, Confucius, you name it. Grew up RC in Europe. Left the church for many years. Traveled the world. It just didn’t give me that “satisfaction” you mention. I have always been and still am quite a social person, yet that still seemed to leave a gap.

    By the way, satisfaction and fulfillment are defined by *us* though. They are things *we* perceive and project. This is true whether you believe in an afterlife or not. This is true whether you believe in a deity or not. If you believe in an afterlife and/or deity, then you just generally have placed these things in the calculation of satisfying things.

    For me personally it’s actually the other way around. I have not placed the belief in an afterlife to make my current life more satisfying. Quite the contrary. I believe and understand that this life can be quite challenging, unsatisfying and unfulfilling exactly because I have the promise in an afterlife that will be all that and more. And no.. it’s not the self-deluding hope that you referred to earlier.

    It may give you a gist of where I’m coming from or what I believe.

    Tim. feel free to shoot Andrew my e-mail address, or Andrew, you can reach out via my website if you would like to continue this conversation off-line. But again, it may be a little stop and go on occasion.

    And btw.. I do appreciate the attempt at keeping conversation to a positive-sum level. Which does however include me sharing what I believe. I won’t judge or condemn, but I will share my thoughts. Unfortunately I cannot always help if that results in a negative feeling on the other side and we end up with a zero-sum.

    Mick

  72. Mick:

    Well, I also don’t want to overrun Tim’s blog, since I’m just a commenter here, haha.

    But here goes.

    I was an unbeliever for many, many years. I read a lot of philosophers, different religious, Confucius, you name it. Grew up RC in Europe. Left the church for many years. Traveled the world. It just didn’t give me that “satisfaction” you mention. I have always been and still am quite a social person, yet that still seemed to leave a gap.

    I find no reason to think this is unusual. One size doesn’t fit all. So for any of those philosophers, different religions, even the RC church of your upbringing, traveling the world, whatever, none of those things were the size for you. But couldn’t you then imagine then that whatever beliefs fill the gap for you create gaps for others? Such as, say, an afterlife?

    Quite the contrary. I believe and understand that this life can be quite challenging, unsatisfying and unfulfilling exactly because I have the promise in an afterlife that will be all that and more. And no.. it’s not the self-deluding hope that you referred to earlier.

    I have a question: does the belief that life can be quite challenging and unfulfilling because you have the promise of a fulfilling and satisfying afterlife satisfy you at all? See, what STILL seems apparent to me is …if an afterlife did not seem to be a suitable, satisfying, fulfilling answer to dealing with the challenging, unsatisfying and unfulfilling nature of life, then that afterlife would go the way of “a lot of philosophers, different religions, Confucius, you name it.” You would say that the afterlife too “still seems to leave a gap.” The fact that you cherish this idea seems manifest to me that it *does* satisfy you. It *does* fulfill you. It does not “leave a gap.” It does not make life a field of daisies, but then again, I never said satisfaction and fulfillment worked like that.

  73. Way off track now.. feel free to shut us down Tim

    But couldn’t you then imagine then that whatever beliefs fill the gap for you create gaps for others?

    I would not be as presumptuous as to assume that I can create a gap in anyone’s life. I can share what I have gone through/go through and how I deal with that and how my faith indeed strengthens me. And yes how if for me personally answers some of the bigger sensus divinitatis if you want.

    The fact that you cherish this idea seems manifest to me that it *does* satisfy you. It *does* fulfill you. It does not “leave a gap.”

    Interesting thought that I’ll have to mull over. However I do feel there are “gaps” or “unsatisfactory” components in my life. My faith doesn’t fill those necessarily but does put them in perspective and makes them secondary to other things. And I don’t mean I don’t get angry, frustrated, etc… trust me… I do 😉 I’ll have to noodle over your premise.. you may have a point there.

    Mick

  74. Mick:

    It wouldn’t be that you’re creating the gap. Rather, the belief you propagate and the actions you take, can create the gap depending on the reaction by the person.

    For example, you can share how your faith indeed strengthens you. This alone is pretty benign. But what if you were to talk about not how your faith strengthens you, but how it must strengthen everyone, and that if it doesn’t, then there is something wrong with the people for whom it does not strengthen them? Then, this creates a situation where a person you are dealing with, confronted with this belief, is jarred. He must deal with the social implications of your attitudes toward your faith and toward him. (This is what I mean by zero-sum. Missionary zeal often has this flavor to it…the missionary views it as positive for himself and positive to other…however the people whose beliefs are encroached, whose lives are stepped into, often see it a bit differently.)

    …But this isn’t what I was really going with that question. I was just saying that, like your experience with so many philosophers, religions, etc., that did not fill your gap, couldn’t you imagine that for some, it is *your* philosophy or *your* religion that doesn’t fill the gap, while those others do?

    Interesting thought that I’ll have to mull over. However I do feel there are “gaps” or “unsatisfactory” components in my life. My faith doesn’t fill those necessarily but does put them in perspective and makes them secondary to other things. And I don’t mean I don’t get angry, frustrated, etc… trust me… I do 😉 I’ll have to noodle over your premise.. you may have a point there.

    Yeah, I’m not saying that when you find satisfaction and fulfillment that means everything will be nice and happy. You can still face anger, frustration, sadness, etc., HOWEVER, you won’t face pervading deep misery. I don’t know how to distinguish the two, but you seem to already get the distinction. Your faith puts “gaps” or “unsatisfactory” components “in perspective and makes them secondary to other things.” So this is a benefit of your faith in this world. If you did not have this benefit of your faith in this world, in this life, then you would treat that faith the same as you treat Confucius, other philosophies, other religions…as things that don’t fill the gap.

    My idea is that the goal is to find some tool that puts gaps “in perspective and makes them secondary to other things.” However, we should recognize that one tool may not fit all. Confucianism didn’t fit you. Other philosophies did not fit you. The Catholicism of your upbringing did not fit you. But couldn’t it be true that for some people, they *do* fit and that your current philosophy doesn’t fit them? And couldn’t it be true that Confucianism does fit some people? Or Catholicism does fit some people? I would say that it must…otherwise, everyone would express the same deep dissatisfaction with them that you did and seek something else.

  75. Tim, I just finished explaining that I appreciate your ability to listen and respond to what I am writing. I looked over my comments and I don’t see where I’m questioning your ability to make sense. I’m pointing out areas where I don’t understand and I’m inviting you to help clarify things for me. In regards to the disparity theory, I’m not dismissing it out of hand. I’m indicating where I believe it is incongruent with practice and suggesting that, while the theory may provide insights in some areas, it lacks explanatory power in other areas. This is yet another invitation to help me understand. One of the problems I see in communication is that people are not explaining why they disagree. To merely say “I disagree” without any following explanation is not useful or helpful, although anyone can do it. It is more difficult to provide reasons and examples of why we disagree but I think this is absolutely necessary.

    You write “is it at all reasonable for me to suggest that not everyone’s experience with Mormonism is as glowing as Mormons would like everyone else to believe?” Just consider the attitude in this sentence. This sounds like it comes from someone who thinks Latter-day Saints are just trying to make people believe they have good experiences, when, in fact, the reality is that they are deliberately covering up their negative experiences so that they can lure people to join the Church. And furthermore, only by locating and identifying those who have negative experiences with the church can you pierce the veil of this conspiracy of silence. Now, if you believe that, that’s your prerogative.

    You write that you have got to make space for negative and disaffected Evangelical experiences and that I should make accommodation for negative experiences of Latter-day Saints. I know you feel this way. But my point is the exact opposite. I completely accept that Evangelicals have positive experiences living their faith, and not because they are merely making me believe that, and hoping I won’t learn the truth that they are really part of a manipulative and oppressive regime. Likewise, I hope that others can accept that Latter-day Saints have genuine positive experiences with their faith, and I believe you do not have to believe in Mormonism or accept its truth claims to take this approach.

    Now so far what I hear from you in response is that you can’t do this because then it wouldn’t cause Mormons to “leave Mormonism and take on some form of traditional Christianity” (your goal). So, because it doesn’t advance your goal it wouldn’t make little sense to do this. You also say you can’t really focus on the positive because if you do it and Mormons don’t convert then your soteriology cannot comfort you. You agree however that rather than causing you to be ineffective with Mormons, that your soteriology should actually cause you to find more effective means to reach out to Latter-day Saints. However, you don’t know how to explain this other than “It could be that we’re just not very good at it.” You agree that “[a]n Evangelical SHOULD pause and consider if it’s not his message but his delivery that is the problem.” You suggest “[t]he reasons we don’t are varied and complex. For some the delivery is closely connected to the message.” I would love to see a discussion about these varied and complex reasons. It seems to me that such a discussion would be infinitely more valuable than continuing with the work of “deconstruction.”

    I do appreciate that you suggest one problem could be that Evangelicals are unable to consider Latter-day Saints to be those of whom Christ said to Simon Peter “Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep.” You argue that there is biblical support for “traditional counter-cult methods” if Latter-day Saints are to be categorized as “false prophets.” I’m not sure whether you consider “traditional counter-cult methods” to be effective or ineffective. You wrote “I’ve clearly stated that I think Evangelicals have been ineffective in reaching out to Mormons.” On the other hand you seem to find those using “traditional counter-cult methods” to be successful. I’m not sure how I am to understand an approach that is ineffective but successful. It sounds to me that you haven’t made up your mind on some of these issues, but I’d very interested in continuing this kind of discussion.

  76. To merely say “I disagree” without any following explanation is not useful or helpful. It is more difficult to provide reasons and examples of why we disagree but I think this is absolutely necessary.

    Totally Agree. Perhaps when something doesn’t make sense you can follow it up with why it doesn’t make sense to you. Perhaps giving some notion of your desire to better understand something that is confusing will help me know you’re not just dismissing the thought as nonsensical.

    This sounds like it comes from someone who thinks Latter-day Saints are just trying to make people believe they have good experiences, when, in fact, the reality is that they are deliberately covering up their negative experiences so that they can lure people to join the Church

    For the record, that is not what I believe.

    You wrote “I’ve clearly stated that I think Evangelicals have been ineffective in reaching out to Mormons.” On the other hand you seem to find those using “traditional counter-cult methods” to be successful.

    Successful to a point. It converts those it converts while marginalizing those it doesn’t convert. I’d like us to be able to find a way to still find conversions without closing the door on those who do not convert.

    Meanwhile, Jack’s goal of reforming the entire church may never happen [sorry to use you as an example here Jack]. The LDS church may not be an organization that can be reformed. If that’s true then the counter-cult method may have been the most effective after all because it at least gained some converts. That’s the tension I think we Evangelicals wrestle with. For lack of a better analogy, do we pull people out of the flood or go figure out what caused the dam to break?

  77. “The LDS church may not be an organization that can be reformed.”

    I respectfully disagree. From my historical perspective, it’s always undergoing reform and change–always has. I’m especially grateful, in particular, for the shift away from an over-focus of Church programs (particularly in the last quarter-century) and giving more due emphasis on the pure gospel of Jesus Christ. Some of us may wish the progress could be greater, but I see evidence that it’s moving in the right direction.

  78. Now, as to the degree of “theological” reform–that may be another issue and evangelicals will probably need to simply keep dreaming. But I hope, at least, that evangelicals can recognize great progress in the lay Mormon understanding of soteriology, particularly in regards to grace. And that true (saved) Christians can and do remain happy members of the LDS Church.

  79. Clean Cut ~~

    Hello.

    I am not sure how God will be leading me to blog in the future. He is the potter & I am the clay. I will follow His lead. For now, the blog will remain as it is. When God bids me to write, then so shall I. Hope that makes sense.

    Hope you enjoy a lovely Holiday season,

    Gloria

  80. Robert,
    I just read your comment, and wanted to send a shout out and let you know ” I hear ya”. Finding out that Joseph Smith may not be the person portrayed by the LDS church and what you taught on your mission is challenging and surprising. I too served a full time LDS pros. mission, endowed, sealed, etc. I resigned from the LDS a few years back after comparing biblical christianity to the tenets of Mormonism. One of the issues that concerned me was the person of Joseph Smith.

    I just wanted to write and let you know that you are not alone.

    If you ever want to chat more, please feel free to drop me a line on my blog.

    I’ll be praying for you,

    Gloria

  81. Clean Cut said:
    “The LDS church may not be an organization that can be reformed.”

    I respectfully disagree.

    Me too!

    I wasn’t making a claim that the LDS church can not be reformed. It has a long history of reform. I was simply stating a supposed Evangelical perspective.

  82. From a historical perspective, there’s mountains of evidence that the church is trending towards toning down its heretical theology. Even its divisive, 19th century “one true church” paradigm has seen a level of revision in the last three decades. The church still has a long way to go, and no, there are no guarantees that it will ever get there. But Mormonism isn’t even 200 years old yet. Christianity didn’t defeat Arianism and firmly establish the Trinity as the standard of orthodoxy until the end of the 4th century, and Arianism still thrived in other pockets of Christianity until the 8th century.

    So if I’m optimistic about the possibility of further Mormon reform, I guess it’s because I’m a historian (in training) and I try to step back and see the bigger picture. Mormonism is still very much a religion that is writing itself, and we don’t yet know what it’s going to become.

    Even if I’m wrong and the church never changes enough to be orthodox, I still believe that the bridges I’m building will make it easier on the evangelicals who come after me and do want to convert Mormons directly, so I don’t think I’m risking very much. If people like Aaron want to keep trying to pull people out of the church one by one, so be it. I’m going to try something else.

  83. Jack, I think you’re on the right track in encouraging reform from within the LDS Church. I think your commitment commendable. I’m curious, however, how far you feel the theology must be “reformed” in order for it to no longer be heretical (in your opinion). This is a sincere question. Must we accept the “triune God” language of orthodoxy hammered out in the 4th century?

    Eschewing certain popular 18th century Mormon opinions about God is possible and has even been done. But embracing the traditional understanding of the Trinity would seem to be asking too much.

  84. Clean Cut ~ Must we accept the “triune God” language of orthodoxy hammered out in the 4th century?

    That is one of the two most difficult issues as far as reconciliation is concerned; I would rank creatio ex materia as the other. Mormonism can drop the eternal regression of gods and the existence of other potential deities (such as heavenly mother), but it is a long ways away from embracing homoousia. The real question is, would a social Trinity that has eternally existed as deity be “good enough” for the rest of the Christian world.

    It would certainly be an improvement.

  85. Tim, it sounds like we agree that disagreement is most useful when followed with explanations of how and our reasoning as to why we disagree. Apparently you don’t feel I have done this here but I assure you that in every comment on this thread I have been offering explanations and reasons for my disagreement. I’m continually relaying to you what things look like from my perspective and inviting you let me know whether I’m accurate in my assessment. You have let me know in several places where I am and where I am not, and I greatly appreciate that. If you feel I have not provided reasons for why I disagree with something you have said here, let me know and I will be more than happy to elaborate.

    Thank you for offering clarification to some of my questions. Speaking on “traditional counter-cult methods” you explained that “[i]t converts those it converts while marginalizing those it doesn’t convert.” In other words, it has unintended consequences and negative side-effects. I glad you recognize this problem and that you would like to find ways to carry out the Great Commission that doesn’t alienate large segments of the Latter-day Saint population as well as the rest of society.

    I want to point out that people change religions all the time and for a variety of reasons. This was highlighted in the April 2009 Pew Forum report “Faith in Flux: Changes in Religious Affiliation in the U.S.” It is not uncommon for people to choose to leave religion or to switch within religion. So, in my view, even without evangelism or apologetics, ceteris paribus, people change their religious affiliation. Now, the question is whether our approach retards that process or assists it, or whether it has a zero net effect. There are people who are going to leave Mormonism or Catholicism or Evangelicalism regardless. I think we need to be more sensitive to the casual nexus between approach and outcome. I’m fully aware that it’s not easy to draw conclusions and there are only a few studies that treat this topic, but studies tend to show that of the population of Latter-day Saints that leave the faith, the majority tend to either leave religion all together. Of those that do choose another faith they join ranks of Catholicism, with only a minority joining a Protestant faith. Could a reason for that be the negative experiences they had from Evangelicals while they were LDS? And what does that say about the supposed effectiveness of counter-cult approaches? At the very least it should case people to pause to consider the ramifications of their approach.

  86. Hi Andrew,

    You said, So it still seems to me that the deciding factor was something about this life. It wasn’t arguments about an afterlife per se (because each of the religions has one). Rather, it was how certain theologies pierced you and appealed to you in this life. On a day-to-day basis. Do you disagree?

    Well, surprise, surprise, I do disagree. 🙂 I do think I see where you are going with this and I can truly understand how someone with your worldview would come to this conclusion. In the dialogue between you and Mick you seem to be making the argument that everyone seeks out a religion that fills the gap for them. Truth appears to be relative in your view – there is no absolute truth – the goal is to find a satisfying paradigm to make sense of this life (correct me if I’m wrong or if I’m misrepresenting your view).

    I simply disagree with this premise. I don’t believe two contradictory truth claims can both be true at the same time. The world has been created with order and laws of logic. Our study and understanding of this world and why we are here could not even occur without these underlying presuppositions. It would be illogical for me to conclude that Islam and Christianity are both true when they have contradictory claims concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ. Similarly, it would be illogical for me to decide that that both atheism and theism are an equally accurate representation of reality.

    This is due to my conception of the world around me. The order, laws of logic, moral reasoning, complexity of life, and ability to conceive of spiritual reality supports my view that life is not random, we are not merely chemical accidents, and so there must be a Designer and He must have a purpose for putting us here. Your “ultimate” goal appears to be life satisfaction and fulfillment and so “different strokes for different folks” can achieve the same end goal. I agree that if there was no God and we were truly here as a result of random accidents in nature, this view would be the most logical. But does the random chemical accident view comport with the reality we know and jive with the evidence? But, I’m not asking this to discuss the evidence (that would complete the derailment of this thread!)

    Rather, this brings us back to one of the themes of the OP (trying here…). I actually agree with Seth on one of the points he made that belief is “first and foremost a matter of faith in that which is not seen. Evidence is just the icing on the cake for people who already believe. It is not an adequate basis for faith.”

    I think there have been people (like Gary Habermas, Lee Strobel, and many others) who were especially influenced toward faith in Christ by their investigation of the historical evidence, but I was not first drawn to faith based on an investigation of those evidences. My faith is supported and encouraged by evidences that speak to my mind, but ultimately my faith is not anchored on a piece of pottery or the dead sea scrolls. “Now faith is…the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).

    Similarly, I would argue that an unbeliever’s rejection of the evidence for faith claims is not necessarily a reflection on the evidences, but rather on the unbeliever’s a priori adherence to their own belief. Both believers and unbelievers employ “rescuing devices” to explain away evidence that is contrary to their world view.

  87. Andrew, one more thing I failed to mention. I wanted to respond to this other question you asked – I’m assuming that Mormonism does not give you internal satisfaction, and that is why you know it’s not for you, right?

    To try to “sum up” my thoughts in the previous comment – although I did not come to faith in Christ because of “evidences,” my faith paradigm is currently composed of numerous evidences that speak to my mind, arguments from philosophy, history, science, etc. – so I do not arrive at the determination that Mormonism is “not for me” based on my perception of how its doctrines would internally satisfy me. I have pretty black and white thinking on the matter – which is logical in the universe we live in where we have hot & cold, night & day, polar opposites, universal moral absolutes of right & wrong, etc. It is not illogical, then, for the believer to conclude that there are opposing supernatural forces, just as there are opposing natural realities.

  88. re Jessica:

    In the dialogue between you and Mick you seem to be making the argument that everyone seeks out a religion that fills the gap for them. Truth appears to be relative in your view – there is no absolute truth – the goal is to find a satisfying paradigm to make sense of this life (correct me if I’m wrong or if I’m misrepresenting your view).

    To correct you…I’m really not making a position on absolute truth other than that we aren’t geared toward finding it. Absolute truth then evades and escapes us…but this doesn’t matter, because it was irrelevant to us anyway.

    I do believe that people believe what makes sense to them…but “making sense,” “fulfillment,” “joy,” “peace,” and other related ideas are all subjective terms…that is…they depend on the person experiencing them rather than the content of the thing itself. So, as people differ from each other in experiences, so too can the things they find that “make sense.”

    So, yes, I do assert and believe that your beliefs represent things that “make sense” to you. They represent things that fulfill you. They represent things that satisfy you. If not, you are living an inauthentic existence in utter misery and you will seek toward alternatives.

    I simply disagree with this premise. I don’t believe two contradictory truth claims can both be true at the same time.

    I agree. That is why I do not make any decisive statements on absolute truth. Instead, I point out that we are not addressing absolute truth at all. Rather, we are addressing several subjectively found “tools” and “models” which we think do a good job of addressing absolute reality and absolute truth…but which may be way far off.

    When I recognize the subjectivity of it, then I recognize that I’m not saying that both Islam and Christianity are true…or that both atheism and theism are true. One, or the other, or none of the above would ultimately be true. However, I recognize that whatever is the ultimate truth — in light of the millions of people who believe in millions of different things — has absolutely no bearing on what people will believe. People seem not to care about truth, whatever it is. Instead, they cling to what sounds right and assert that must be true.

    So, I don’t really know what to say, since apparently, I’m not conveying my position well enough. Let me point out what I am saying:

    This is due to my conception of the world around me. The order, laws of logic, moral reasoning, complexity of life, and ability to conceive of spiritual reality supports my view that life is not random, we are not merely chemical accidents, and so there must be a Designer and He must have a purpose for putting us here.

    Exactly. This is due to your conception of the world around you. This is due to your conception of how to make the world make sense. The world makes sense for you when you account for order, laws of logic, moral reasoning, complexity of life, and spiritual reality, etc., when you say there is a Designer and He must have a purpose for putting us here. This says nothing about what absolute reality actually is though. This only says something about what you believe actual reality to be. What you believe actual, absolute reality to be is based on what makes sense to you, what fulfills you, what satisfies you.

    Someone can look at the same evidence (the universe, the occurrences in the universe, etc., etc.,) and come to different conclusions on several different points. For example, someone could agree with you about order, laws of logic, moral reasoning, complexity of life, and then say, “But this is insufficient for a Designer.” Or someone could point out a Designer, but point out from the cruelness in the world that this Designer is either malevolent or is impotent. Or someone could disagree on moral reasoning or complexity of life or any of your parts. Or they could add different parts to the equation. Don’t you see how everyone is trying to do the same thing: come up with a satisfying, fulfilling account for the universe, but they really are just making models and tools that reflect their subjectivity and may be completely irrelevant to the absolute reality?

    I simply point out that your specific tool or model still does not seem to disagree with mine. For what could be more satisfying and fulfilling than living the purpose your Designer has established for you? So, you believe in the Designer’s purpose for putting you here, and correct me if I’m wrong, but unless your Designer is evil, then isn’t he trying to improve you deeply? Isn’t he trying to make you the best you can be? Isn’t he trying to save and redeem you? So, tell me this: how is this NOT seeking “satisfaction” and “fulfillment?” Do you not understand what I mean by these terms. I am no simple hedonist.

    This is something that can happen regardless of randomness, regardless of a Designer, regardless of anything else. Quite obviously, even if there IS a creator, people have seen fit to believe in very different ways of life. People have become satisfied by very different ways of life. The EVIDENCE (which we don’t need to discuss) is that we see a multitude of diverging beliefs…a multitude of ways. Miserable Christians and joyous Muslims. Miserable Muslims and joyous Christians.

    But again…truly…faith is the spark that makes it all make sense. It is the spark that inclines you to believe this. It is the spark that would make you a Muslim IF ONLY YOU HAD IT FOR ISLAM, but since you don’t, Islam “doesn’t make sense to you,” or perhaps it seems clearly wrong. And yet, this spark allows you to believe you have a relationship with Christ and true spiritual experiences. I’m simply suggesting that you realize that others believe (and are fulfilled just as much) by other philosophies, religions, etc., And because of this, we should guess that we may not be as adept at seeking out for “truth” as we thought we were and instead, we just want to make sense. Perhaps the latter is better than the former…or perhaps not.

    Similarly, I would argue that an unbeliever’s rejection of the evidence for faith claims is not necessarily a reflection on the evidences, but rather on the unbeliever’s a priori adherence to their own belief. Both believers and unbelievers employ “rescuing devices” to explain away evidence that is contrary to their world view.

    But don’t you see this is a rephrasing of what I’m saying. The believer has this “spark” that makes his (or her) religion seem right. It works. It must be true. Look at all the evidence in support. But the evidence isn’t what is needed…because she is a woman of faith!

    She isn’t seeking truth. She is seeking fulfillment…and for that, she needs to be authentic to herself. And for that, she needs a prior adherence to her belief.

    This is the same for any religious person. This is the same for any nonreligious person. This isn’t about religion or nonreligion. This is about humanity.

    If you can recognize this, then why can’t you take the next step and recognize that we may not be so easily geared toward finding and believing truth. Instead, we may be more easily geared to finding and believing…whatever we were already inclined to believe? And this doesn’t escape you or I. Instead, it captures us as prime suspects just as it does everyone else.

  89. re Jessica (comment after):

    I’m assuming that Mormonism does not give you internal satisfaction, and that is why you know it’s not for you, right?

    Most certainly. And I would say the same must be true for any ex-Mormon. So, you don’t have to take my word…talk to your fellow sister Gloria…I’m sure she would say the same things, except you’d probably accept her words because she came to a “saving faith” (or whatever the terms are).

    Let me try to describe…”internal satisfaction” does not mean mere happiness. Mere happiness is not internal satisfaction and mere unhappiness is not internal dissatisfaction. Internal satisfaction and fulfillment ties with what I was saying about making sense…it is a sense of integrity within the self. When you get an answer you believe to be right (even if your belief is wrong), you feel peace because you feel you are on the right track. You think to yourself, “Ahh….2+2=4…this feels right and this is the answer I’m living.”

    So, if you’re in a hypothetical situation where you’re thinking to yourself, “2+2=4…BUT I’m in an environment where I’m pressured to say 2+2=5,” as a result of that pressure, you might go along and say 2+2=5…but…INTERNALLY, you are miserable. You are in despair. Things don’t make sense. And so on.

    Now, here’s the problem. With math, we are pretty sure (however the mathematicians get it) that what we have PROVEN via mathematical proofs is actually proven. So, 2+2=4 is proven true, and 2+2=5 is proven false.

    BUT what if we took other things? Other things, we don’t have “proofs.” What things are beautiful? One person may like one genre of music; the other person may like another. The two people realize that either genre is just a MODEL or a TOOL to reach beauty…they aren’t beauty itself.

    With religions and philosophies, we don’t really think like that. We insist that you should feel a certain way about x religion, because x religion is right and if you don’t feel that way, then you’re as ignorant as someone who cannot understand than 2+2=4. The problem is…we don’t have proofs! We don’t have a base of theorems and calculations! We are ONLY going off of what makes sense to us internally. So, now, in these complex and perhaps unintuitive equations, perhaps there is a right answer at the end of the day. But until we can crack the equation and learn to solve it (if we can even do so), then we are really just making guesses at the answer based on things that make sense to us. If an answer doesn’t make sense, we eschew it.

    Does THAT make sense?

    my faith paradigm is currently composed of numerous evidences that speak to my mind, arguments from philosophy, history, science, etc. – so I do not arrive at the determination that Mormonism is “not for me” based on my perception of how its doctrines would internally satisfy me.

    Jessica, Jessica, Jessica…don’t you realize you are EXACTLY speaking about internal satisfaction. Your faith paradigm is currently composed of what? Numerous evidences that speak to your mind. Numerous evidences that make sense to you, that fulfill you, that satisfy you, that are attractive to you, that are beautiful to you, that seem true to you.

    I don’t know how to communicate that you are saying the exact things that compose internal satisfaction! It’s right in the part I’ve bolded!

    Your bolded part implies that Mormonism “does not speak out to you.” Arguments from philosophy, history, science, etc., that do speak out to you don’t “make sense” in the context of Mormonism being true…so you don’t accept that! Obviously, you have already determined Mormonism to not internally satisfy you. To try to believe in Mormonism for you would be like trying to believe that 2+2=5! Based on everything that speaks out to you — from philosophy, history, science — you would feel deeply miserable to try to force yourself to believe something that does NOT speak out to you.

    Do you understand? Do you still not get what I mean by “internal satisfaction”? Pray tell about what do you think I am talking?!

  90. Hi Andrew,

    Ok, you seem to think I do not understand your position so let me summarize to make sure I understand and you can correct me if I am in error. You believe that ultimate Truth cannot be known and that all religions are equally valid expressions for people to find internal satisfaction for this life. You don’t believe or care whether there is an afterlife and so finding ultimate Truth in this life is irrelevant and unnecessary. Did I summarize that accurately?

    As I acknowledged in my previous comments, I can understand how you would view things this way since you have stated that you are an atheist/agnostic.

    Your intentions in your past two comments were confusing to me, though, as it seemed that you wanted me to agree with you that all religions are merely subjective “tools” or “models” that internally satisfy people and that none of these religions can actually lead someone toward or away from absolute truth.

    I am not sure why you think I should agree with you on this position or why you should feel frustrated with me. I do understand your position and think I have summarized it correctly. I simply do not agree with your view and most people who hold a view of “Truth” as I do would not agree either. When I talk with my JW boss about faith we agree that we cannot both be right. One of us is wrong.

    The “evidence” you cite for your belief that there are a “multitude of ways” is the fact that different people believe different things. But this is not evidence that all of these ways are right. Jesus said He was the only way to the Father. He said there is one path to eternal life. He said we must go through Him, “the door,” and not by any other way. These are exclusive claims. Christianity is exclusive because our Lord made exclusive claims. He did not leave people the option of thinking that “all paths lead to God.” Anyone who thinks that and simultaneously thinks that Jesus was a great moral teacher is being inconsistent. He cannot be merely a great moral teacher and also have made the claims that He made. If He made these claims and they weren’t true then He was a liar or mentally deranged. Since I have given my life to Jesus and He is my Savior and Lord I must believe and obey His Word. It would be inconsistent and disobedient to the Word of God for me to say “all paths lead to God” (i.e. Jesus Christ is not essential for salvation).

    I use terms like “in my view” or “my conception of…” for courtesy while blogging. This is an online “dialogue” and Tim’s blog says the purpose is not to convert others, but to discuss the differences in our views. When I use terms like this please don’t misunderstand or assume that I think “what’s true for me may or may not be true for others.” Of course I think everyone should believe as I do! 🙂 That’s why I am here blogging with you – I assume it is the same for you. You obviously feel very strongly about your position and you are trying to sway others to see things from your view. You have freely acknowledged this. I admit it is surprising to me that you appear so passionate to persuade me to agree with you since on your view the only thing that matters is that I would be fulfilled in my view and I have stated that I am. So why would you care to change my view?

    People seem not to care about truth, whatever it is. Instead, they cling to what sounds right and assert that must be true.

    I can assure you that I care very much about the truth and I’m not “clinging” to what “sounds right” to me. I am open to new truths that God wants to show me and I don’t believe I have “arrived” yet or that I know all there is to know. I do believe with all my heart, though, that I have found the truth that is essential for my salvation from judgment after I die and I am prayerfully seeking to reach out in love to others to share this truth with them.

    Have you seen the YouTube of Penn Jillette, the well-known atheist that claims he crosses the word “God” off every dollar bill he touches? He has no respect for people who claim to believe in heaven and hell and yet don’t proselytize. Someone gave him a New Testament after one of his comedy shows last year and he was very moved. He said “It was really wonderful. I believe he knew that I was an atheist, but he was not defensive, and he looked me right in the eyes…and then gave me this Bible. I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell, or not getting eternal life, or whatever, and you think that, ‘Well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward…’ How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you – and this is more important than that…”

    One last thing… since you brought up math… I invite you to consider the “mathematical evidence” for Jesus. 🙂

    There’s the probability theories
    on the Messianic prophecies… and Daniel 9… 🙂

    (PS- On your second comment I think you answered your own question – that wasn’t mine, but it was interesting to hear your answer to that so thank you for sharing. :)) Feel free to email me anytime if you would like to discuss evidences. 🙂

    pluckyj@gmail.com

  91. I’m really not making a position on absolute truth other than that we aren’t geared toward finding it. Absolute truth then evades and escapes us…but this doesn’t matter, because it was irrelevant to us anyway.

    Andrew, I’m just curious how you were able to climb out of subjectivity to come to know this objective truth (that absolute truth evades us). Apparently this truth didn’t evade you. Could other truths not smack us in the head the way this one did?

  92. re Jessica:

    You believe that ultimate Truth cannot be known and that all religions are equally valid expressions for people to find internal satisfaction for this life.

    Incorrect. I have not taken a position on whether ultimate Truth can be known. I also believe I disagree with your second part. I do not believe all religions are equally valid expressions for people to find internal satisfaction for your life. Religions aren’t quite interchangeable like that.

    What I have said is that we shouldn’t be so keen on believing that our personal mechanisms for formulating worldviews and beliefs are perfect tools for reaching ultimate truth. These personal mechanisms *may* be great tools for finding out what makes sense to us, what satisfies us, etc., but this may not correlate to ultimate truth. In this case, we can see from many different people that there are many different religions that give internal satisfaction…however, this does not mean that each religion is equally valid expression for people to find internal satisfaction. As you yourself have said, your faith paradigm is composed of several evidences that “speak out to you.” Now, you can’t just interchange this faith paradigm for a Mormon paradigm or for a Hindu paradigm or for a Muslim paradigm…however, we could say the same for a Hindu…his paradigm is composed of several evidences that speak out to him as well! And Christianity is not interchangeable either!

    Note that the faith paradigms that “speak out to us” do not necessarily say much about which is ultimate truth. If they did, we would have contradictory truths…which you pointed out the problem in. This does not mean ultimate truth is necessarily unknowable, however.

    You don’t believe or care whether there is an afterlife and so finding ultimate Truth in this life is irrelevant and unnecessary.

    Also incorrect. If I could be said to believe ultimate truth is irrelevant and unnecessary, it is because we strive for things that speak out to us, not for ultimate truth. This is not something that is pinned on a lack of an afterlife. This is something I would say YOU do as well.

    Let us say that ultimate reality is that there is a god, but he is an evil and terrible god. He is a cruel god. Let us assume then, that an afterlife will show us for sure about the ultimate reality of this evil, terrible, and cruel god.

    What would change about this life? Let’s say that this life appeared the same as it does now. So, we would still have Christians being devout, convinced, faithful Christians. We would still have Hindus being devout, convinced, faithful Hindus. And so on.

    What would the ultimate reality of this cruel, terrible evil God matter to us? Really, we would still be living as Christians, Hindus, etc., Because these things would *still* make sense to us. So, in this case, Christians, Hindus, etc., would STILL be believing in afterlives (of sorts)…but their wrongness doesn’t really stop them. It doesn’t really matter to them…they will continue to believe because that’s what fulfills them. The truth doesn’t really touch them (until, of course, the fateful day…)

    Did I summarize that accurately?

    Unfortunately, no. 😦 I must REALLY be doing a bad job today. My comments get longer, but I don’t seem to be communicating. I apologize…

    As I acknowledged in my previous comments, I can understand how you would view things this way since you have stated that you are an atheist/agnostic.

    Except, I’d point out again, this isn’t because I’m atheist/agnostic. I fear I will not be able to communicate what I’m saying until you realize that it transcends atheism or theism. I’m really not the person to talk about this, since I do injustice to my cause. A black mark against me!

    Your intentions in your past two comments were confusing to me, though, as it seemed that you wanted me to agree with you that all religions are merely subjective “tools” or “models” that internally satisfy people and that none of these religions can actually lead someone toward or away from absolute truth.

    Bold is incorrect. I didn’t say that they cannot actually lead someone toward or away from absolute truth. Rather, we don’t really care. (That’s we as in humanity. Not we as in me.)

    OK, OK, let’s say that God was a cruel, evil, and spiteful god. Then, certainly, a religion that taught God was cruel, evil, and spiteful would lead someone toward absolute truth. But would this be a satisfying account? Well, for some, it might certainly be. It would account for the nastiness of the universe, blah blah blah.

    Or…or…what if the truth was that God wanted people to find peace? To find joy? To find internal satisfaction…and then he wasn’t basing things on what people believed in specific…but rather on people’s ability to recognize that others may be fulfilled from different things and the goal to making this whole thing work is to reach across party lines?

    OK, OK, that’s a rather self-serving deity…but in this case, we could see that exclusivist religions would be leading people astray, but those religions and philosophies that led people toward this realization were leading people toward ultimate reality.

    In either of these scenarios, we can propose a “right” and a “wrong” because we have said, “let’s say this is how God is.” But this is academic, isn’t it? Because in life, we really can’t say, “OK, let’s assume that ultimate truth is like…this.” Instead, we stick our monies where are faiths are and assert that reality is like this or that. Why do we assert that reality is like whatever we will say it is like? Because it makes sense to us. Based on what we experienced, seen, heard, etc., that seems to “speak to us.” And so on.

    I am not sure why you think I should agree with you on this position or why you should feel frustrated with me. I do understand your position and think I have summarized it correctly.

    I am frustrated because I cannot communicate properly. You understand a position that is so foreign from mine I have to feel ashamed as a writer and speaker. it’s really my fault.

    I am frustrated because the way you write your position, it seems you are doing exactly what I have described us all as doing. We go by what makes sense, what fills gaps, what satisfies. This shouldn’t be controversial, in my opinion.

    I simply do not agree with your view and most people who hold a view of “Truth” as I do would not agree either. When I talk with my JW boss about faith we agree that we cannot both be right. One of us is wrong.

    One of us…or both. Remember, there is no guarantee that any religion on the face of this earth (or anything else…any other philosophy, etc.,) is right. I am not denying thus an ultimate reality. I am simply pointing out that your JW boss is JW because that faith makes sense…while you are not, because it does not make sense.

    The “evidence” you cite for your belief that there are a “multitude of ways” is the fact that different people believe different things. But this is not evidence that all of these ways are right.

    And I’m not saying that all of these ways are right. I’m just saying that these people believe just as strongly as you do about your belief and they are just as convinced as their correctness as you are. Maybe we all should be humble and recognize that just because it sounds right to us, we may not be approaching truth.

    I’ll leave you to quibble with some of your liberal Christian brethren about the exclusivity of Jesus and God (and what it means to be a follower vs. what it means to be not…since apparently not all who cry “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven…on the other hand, some people will ask, “But Lord, when have we served thee?” and the Lord will say what you know the scriptures say…) but that’s just another thing…so many interpretations within the same religion! Ah, great! I really cannot be the person to talk about that one.

    When I use terms like this please don’t misunderstand or assume that I think “what’s true for me may or may not be true for others.” Of course I think everyone should believe as I do! 🙂 That’s why I am here blogging with you – I assume it is the same for you. You obviously feel very strongly about your position and you are trying to sway others to see things from your view.

    But tell me…what is the position I feel strongly about? What is the position about which I would like to sway others?

    I’ll tell you that it isn’t to make people Mormons or Christians or atheists or whatever else. I’ll tell you it is very simple. It is to try to share something that I think we all are already doing (so then, shouldn’t be difficult to persuade someone to continue doing something they’ve been doing all along, right?)…and this is seeking for peace, joy, and internal satisfaction.

    If you find this with Jesus Christ, excellent. If not, excellent. If you are mismatched, living an inauthentic life and miserable for it, then you should seek change. The only reason I would tell a Mormon to not be Mormon is if I know that he is miserable. If I know that she is deeply unfulfilled. If I know it rends his soul to continue practicing something — for whatever reason — that does not make sense for him. But this must follow for everything else…plenty of people are terrible atheists. They just lose everything. It is draining. Plenty of people are terrible Muslims. You can name anything. For some, the idea just doesn’t fit them.

    I admit it is surprising to me that you appear so passionate to persuade me to agree with you since on your view the only thing that matters is that I would be fulfilled in my view and I have stated that I am. So why would you care to change my view?

    There is a second part here. When you have realized that you are fulfilled by your view, I would like you to seek that for others. Now…here’s where I understand the issue is. Because as an evangelist, isn’t it your great commission to present Jesus Christ as that fulfillment? So, in other words, this deep fulfilment and Jesus Christ are one and the same. (I am really surprised that you would bristle at this throughout the conversation, since I think this should be very uncontroversial.)

    Instead, I am asking that you consider that Jesus Christ doesn’t necessarily fulfill all…now…I know your warning sirens are going off. The afterlife, the afterlife! But let’s think about this life! After all, there are several afterlife theories…It wasn’t just an afterlife theory that moved you…rather, as you admitted, your paradigm was affected by “what spoke out to you.” Couldn’t it be that different paradigms “speak out to” different people? This isn’t saying that they are all right…but that still, people can be satisfied by different things. People can be “spoken out to” by different things.

    This is probably a non-negotiable request. You and Tim and others will say, “Absolutely not! We cannot give up on the Great Commission.” OK, fine, then don’t. But I would suggest that you all — if you want to be successful — keep in mind that people are looking for things that make sense…things that satisfy…things that fulfill…so if you want to bring people to Christ, you have to look at *them* to find out what satisfies them, what fulfills them, and how does Christ offer that?

    So, you see, you can still keep up the work, but work at more effectiveness!

    I can assure you that I care very much about the truth and I’m not “clinging” to what “sounds right” to me. I am open to new truths that God wants to show me and I don’t believe I have “arrived” yet or that I know all there is to know. I do believe with all my heart, though, that I have found the truth that is essential for my salvation from judgment after I die and I am prayerfully seeking to reach out in love to others to share this truth with them.

    So, let us say that the god that truly exists is the evil, cruel malevolent god of the example. How would you deal with this truth? Would you do an action that you viewed as evil if God asked it of you…after all, isn’t God God? What he says rocks, doesn’t it? Now now, please don’t say, “But it is not within God’s nature…” I’m just wondering how you would make this distinction in a hypothetical.

    And of course, with regards to anecdotal experience, evidences, and links, I guess I should just start pulling up the vast repositories of information that all of the faiths use as faith promoting evidences? Right? I’ve got plenty of Mormon ones…a growing collection from my Muslim friend…right? Got tons of suras and everything. I’m sure someone would point out counter responses to those, but I hope you realize there are counter responses to your own things too. Those evidences weren’t part of that spiritual spark, so please.

  93. re Tim:

    I’m really not making a position on absolute truth other than that we aren’t geared toward finding it. Absolute truth then evades and escapes us…but this doesn’t matter, because it was irrelevant to us anyway.

    Andrew, I’m just curious how you were able to climb out of subjectivity to come to know this objective truth (that absolute truth evades us). Apparently this truth didn’t evade you. Could other truths not smack us in the head the way this one did?

    If you’ve been paying attention to what I’ve been saying, I never climbed out of subjectivity. Keep in mind that as I’ve said everyone does, I make statements about what makes sense to me (subjectivity ahoy!). I make positions. This truth “doesn’t evade me” because it makes sense to me. Same as the Muslim’s truth “doesn’t evade him” and the Mormon truth “doesn’t evade her” and the Hindu truth “doesn’t evade them.”

    Of course, as Jessica referred…when we forget that we never stepped out of subjectivity to begin with, it becomes a conundrum of how all these very different people could have contradictory truths smack each other in the head.

  94. What an interesting discussion, Jessica and Andrew!

    Just a few thoughts to toss into the mix…

    I think the emphasis on “objective” Truth is entirely misplaced, especially in spiritual matters. That is not to say I believe objective spiritual Truth does not exist — because I believe it does; SOMETHING is surely True — but I definitely don’t think it’s possible for human beings to understand, grasp, or define it in its entirety.

    I think the best we can do as flawed human beings is to catch glimpses of Truth, and let that work in our lives: when something resonates with our soul, moves us to compassion, gives us (as Andrew has been saying) internal satisfaction and peace.

    Again, this doesn’t mean we buy into a wishy-washy idea that “there is no truth” or that “all truth is subjective” — merely that we are humble enough to realize that, because we are human, we have may very well have things wrong, despite our best efforts.

    Even Paul reminds us that we see through a glass, darkly.

    I think as Christians especially, we need to stop being so concerned with being RIGHT — because we can NEVER, EVER PROVE the “rightness” of our position; it is objectively unprovable — and worry a bit more about being good, kind, and loving. Perhaps in so doing, we’ll be able to fulfill the Great Commission more effectively, because as people are attracted to the inherent goodness of our lives and our message, they will want to have faith in it, too.

  95. Andrew you’re making objective claims that we can’t climb out of subjectivity. How is this even possible for you to do?

    Just because people like different flavors of ice cream doesn’t mean milk doesn’t exist.

    If I meet six different people who claim to be “Andrew, the author of Irresistible Disgrace” and perhaps I’m introduced to a number of fans of each “Andrew”, the presence of false Andrews does not mean the “real Andrew” is non-existent (even if people like the false Andrews).

  96. Tim

    Actually, I’m making subjective claims that we can’t climb out of subjectivity. This is easily possible for me to do because…all the claims we make are subjective claims. Out of all of these subjective claims that we make, we may or may not be reaching some objective truth from the mix…or…we may just be reaching something that makes sense to us.

    Just because people like different flavors of ice cream doesn’t mean milk doesn’t exist.

    I surely agree. But that people like different flavors of ice cream does not necessarily say anything about whether ice cream is “good” or “bad,” or even about whether the milk that is used to create ice cream is “good” or “bad.” (This is a subjective claim. Other people would argue other claims…No, ice cream *IS* ultimately good. Why? That makes sense to them.) It doesn’t mean that ice cream is a proper use of milk, a proper “interpretation” (culinarily, that is) of milk, etc., It doesn’t mean that the true “purpose” of milk is to be used in ice cream, and so on, and so on.

    If I meet six different people who claim to be “Andrew, the author of Irresistible Disgrace” and perhaps I’m introduced to a number of fans of each “Andrew”, the presence of false Andrews does not mean the “real Andrew” is non-existent (even if people like the false Andrews).

    On the other hand, you’re also implying that you definitively know which is the real Andrew and which are the fakes…when the others would be just as convinced that they have the real Andrew and you’re following a fake. Or it could be that all of these Andrews are still the real Andrew…you never met 6 different people claiming to be Andrew (because all talk about Andrew is hearsay…) BUT RATHER, you heard people talking about radically different parts of the same Andrew. You thought, from hearing these different parts, that they certainly couldn’t have all referred to the same Andrew. You thoughts, from hearing these different parts, that there were certainly irreconcilable differences.

    But perhaps it will turn out that some day, I will inform everyone that I am simply a man of many stories and many ways and many means, a complex, not static character.

    It could be that my character is such that we could say we all were both wrong and right. Everyone was a fan of a “false Andrew” (or at least, false in terms of the stories they told). They all had an improper interpretation of Andrew, and this BEING that they wanted to call Andrew truly did not deserve being called Andrew. In this case, your “real Andrew” is so drastically different than anything you have ever heard being called “Andrew” that it is improper to say you’ve ever met him.

  97. I have not taken a position on whether ultimate Truth can be known…What I have said is that we shouldn’t be so keen on believing that our personal mechanisms for formulating worldviews and beliefs are perfect tools for reaching ultimate truth.

    Okay, this is helpful. So, in your view there should be the possibility that some worldviews are more consistent with ultimate truth than others. You said “personal mechanisms…may not correlate to ultimate truth.” I agree. And the converse is also true on your view: one or some or all of these “personal mechanisms” *may* in fact correlate to elements of ultimate truth.

    Given that, I don’t understand how your view can include the absolute claim that others “shouldn’t be so keen on believing [their] personal mechanism for formulating worldviews and beliefs.” If you do not know whether or not any given mechanism correlates with ultimate truth, how can you assert that people shouldn’t believe in their own personal mechanism? Unless you have in fact disproven the person’s mechanism or shown empirically that it does not correlate with ultimate truth, the possibility remains that it might. So encouraging those people who believe their mechanism allows them to determine some elements of ultimate truth to be less vocal or passionate in their views would be unhelpful (and in fact amoral) for the rest of humanity if these claims turned out to ultimately be true (especially if they hold eternal significance).

    And I’m not saying that all of these ways are right

    This is helpful as well – thank you for clarifying your position. I feel I have a better understanding of where you are coming from.

    I’m just saying that these people believe just as strongly as you do about your belief and they are just as convinced as their correctness as you are.

    I haven’t found this to be true at all. I’ve spoken to people of various faiths who haven’t really thought about their beliefs very objectively or who have always doubted, but just continued on because no one had talked with them in depth about their beliefs. This is why I believe evangelism is so important. I believe God uses weak and imperfect people such as myself in the proclamation of His message. What I have found is that others aren’t so convinced of their beliefs as it might appear at first. Sometimes it’s just that they are missing some key pieces of information.

    Also, just because the current religious climate includes a huge population of Muslims does not mean it will always be this way or that there cannot be HUGE change very rapidly (as in revivals where there is unprecedented growth in a short time span). I’m also not convinced that things are all as they appear on the surface. There are numerous reports coming from various sources out of the Middle East that many Muslims secretly believe that Jesus is the Son of God, but they are afraid to take a stand publicly because the persecution is so great. Could it be they are all not as convinced internally as they appear externally? Are there political or sociological factors that are motivating these religious adherents rather than strong belief? As Christians continue to pray for and evangelize the Muslim world I believe we will see even more of them coming to Christ. Christianity is growing rapidly in some Muslim countries. According to former White House domestic policy analyst and New York Times best selling author, Dinesh D’Souza, “A century ago, less than 10% of Africa’s population were Christians. Today it’s nearly 50%. That’s an increase from 10 million people in 1900 to more than 350 million today. Uganda alone has nearly 20 million Christians and is projected to have 50 million by the middle of the century” (What’s So Great About Christianity, p. 10). God is definitely at work in the world today and I lay the blame on myself and the rest of the Church for the lack of growth in this country. We have one foot in Christ and one foot in the world and until we get radical about Christ and start seeking God we will continue to see false conversions and apathy in our ranks. The Church in America is in desperate need of revival.

    RE: your advice on how Christians can be more effective in the Great Commission. I have a different take on this. The main problem I see in Christianity today is that there are so many false conversions. People are being invited to join a culture or a social club rather than being truly converted to Christ. So, my recommendation is actually the opposite of what you said. I don’t think unbelievers should be appealed to on the basis of “this will make your life better.” Often, when a person first becomes converted to Christ their life gets worse right away! Think of Muslims who convert. They are often in danger of being killed! Similarly, I’ve met ex-Mormons who lost their whole family because they converted to Christ (sometimes just the opposite occurs – example: ex-LDS Micah Wilder who led his whole family and many friends to Christ).

    So I see a real danger in appealing to people on the basis of “what will make them feel fulfilled in this life.” Yes, Christ does bring fulfillment, but as I stated in my earlier comments there is a cost to pay as He promised there would be. I think we do people no favors to promote a simplistic or “easy believism” gospel. If we do, people will “join a church” rather than give their life to Christ and when the going gets tough they will fall away. Just like Jesus warned about in the parable of the seeds.

    OK, OK, let’s say that God was a cruel, evil, and spiteful god.

    Ok, IF this were true, how much MORE important would it be that people figure out what God is like and what He wants from them? Of course, we would also have to figure out what evil is if there is no Ultimate Righteous Judge… And how it could be possible that we have any good in the world if an evil being created it…

    Ok, do you think I understood your position better this time? I feel like I did. Thanks for having this conversation with me, Andrew, and for clarifying your position so I can understand better. 🙂

  98. re Katie L:

    Katie, I like what you’re saying (it summarizes a lot in a short paragraph), but I would also have to say…if objective truth cannot be understood, grasped, or defined in its entirety, how can you say that? I think this is the point Tim is trying to accuse me of to, but wouldn’t this be an objective truth that you have understood, grasped, or defined in its entirety.

    (I say no. This is what subjectively makes sense to you. It may or may not coincidentally be objectively true.)

    I think as Christians especially, we need to stop being so concerned with being RIGHT — because we can NEVER, EVER PROVE the “rightness” of our position; it is objectively unprovable — and worry a bit more about being good, kind, and loving. Perhaps in so doing, we’ll be able to fulfill the Great Commission more effectively, because as people are attracted to the inherent goodness of our lives and our message, they will want to have faith in it, too.

    *Golf claps*

    Although, I understand when people oppose this message. I understand when some Christians say…”Hey, Christianity is not just about living a good life. Christianity is about being saved in Christ.”

    Because…here’s what I can easily imagine…what happens when you worry a bit more about being good, kind and loving? This change in emphasis — if it could be brokered — would have lasting impacts to the likeability of *any* religion who could most successfully pull it off. And likeability *does* soften hearts and open curiosity.

    But…this likeability would have little to do from Christianity. I can be “good,” “kind,” and “loving” without Christianity. However, I can’t recognize I’m a hopeless sinner who has fallen short and is in need of salvation without Christianity. How do you jump from the former to the latter? Because personally, the jump doesn’t make sense to me.

    So, I understand WHY Christians focus on being “right.” If you establish that you’re right, it doesn’t matter if it “sounds good.” It doesn’t matter if it “makes sense” or not. Because if you establish that it’s “right,” then some people will want to be right even if it tears their lives in two. Isn’t this the environment we came from the LDS church? This is the environment that every religion and every philosophy and every worldview would want.

  99. re Jessica:

    Okay, this is helpful. So, in your view there should be the possibility that some worldviews are more consistent with ultimate truth than others. You said “personal mechanisms…may not correlate to ultimate truth.” I agree. And the converse is also true on your view: one or some or all of these “personal mechanisms” *may* in fact correlate to elements of ultimate truth.

    The final implication that I suspect you have (and I do) is that when we talk about the “one or some or all of these “personal mechanisms” that may in fact correlate to elements of ultimate truth,” you believe your personal mechanisms, above others, in fact do correlate with ultimate truth. And me too.

    But this is much closer to what I have been saying, so far. Continuing…

    Given that, I don’t understand how your view can include the absolute claim that others “shouldn’t be so keen on believing [their] personal mechanism for formulating worldviews and beliefs.”

    You misquoted me. What I said was:

    What I have said is that we shouldn’t be so keen on believing that our personal mechanisms for formulating worldviews and beliefs are perfect tools for reaching ultimate truth. These personal mechanisms *may* be great tools for finding out what makes sense to us, what satisfies us, etc., but this may not correlate to ultimate truth.

    So, while you and probably me too will probably believe that our personal mechanisms for formulating worldviews and beliefs *are* in fact true, we shouldn’t be so keen that these are perfect tools for reaching that truth. I am calling for humility. We are (and should still be) committed to our personal mechanisms for formulating worldviews because they are what we have. They are what things make sense to us. They are tools that fit snugly like gloves to the hand. They are, as you say, “what speaks out to” us, and so forth. However, in our conversations, in our communications, we should make sure to keep in mind that what makes sense to us may not be the same as what is ultimately true. Heck, what makes sense to us doesn’t even necessarily makes sense to the person we are talking to.

    If you do not know whether or not any given mechanism correlates with ultimate truth, how can you assert that people shouldn’t believe in their own personal mechanism?

    Your misquote carries through to completely incorrect questions. I do not assert people shouldn’t believe in their own personal mechanisms. In fact, I assert that people *should* believe in their personal mechanisms because these mechanisms *make sense*, are *fulfilling*, and are *satisfying* to them. I assert that to the extent one finds themselves constrained to a worldview that doesn’t make sense, they should leave it and use their personal mechanisms (all the things that SPEAK OUT TO THEM, as you describe) to find the worldview that does.

    Please read that last paragraph carefully. Notice how when I talk about people believing in their own personal mechanisms, I do not even mention ultimate truth. Ours may or may not correlate to ultimate truth, but this isn’t even the focus. The focus I have consistently raised is what makes sense, what is fulfilling, what is satisfying.

    Now, I would continue to go on. We have been talking a lot about personal fulfillment so far without any mention that we live in a social community. Is it fulfilling and satisfying to alienate those around you, or is it fulfilling and satisfying to reach accord with those around you? I guess you can answer that for yourself as we all will.

    So encouraging those people who believe their mechanism allows them to determine some elements of ultimate truth to be less vocal or passionate in their views would be unhelpful (and in fact amoral) for the rest of humanity if these claims turned out to ultimately be true (especially if they hold eternal significance).

    So, check this out with my last answer. Is it fulfilling and satisfying to alienate those around you, or is it fulfilling and satisfying to reach accord with those around you? Is it fulfilling and satisfying to alienate people from your beliefs, especially if these claims turned out to be ultimately true. Your efforts in the Great Commission can easily turn someone away from Jesus Christ. Do you want to be the person who alienated the message of Christ?

    When I say you should change your methods, I say it not because I want you to shut up. I say it because your methods are currently ineffective and you should care to know this. And this is something that I am more qualified than Tim, than Katie L, than Jack, than Aaron Shaf, than any of these people to tell you about. Because Tim, and Katie L, and Jack, and Aaron are already in the Christian club. They cannot tell you from the perspective of someone who does not currently believe what annoys people and alienates them from the believers’ message. You think that I am against you. You think that I am telling you something that would hurt your Great Commission.

    But the way I see it is…if we can “make sense” together, if we can “have accord” together, if we can be “satisfied” and “fulfilled” together, this is positive sum for all of us. So, it is to my prerogative if you can improve your evangelical work. It is to my advantage if everyone can learn to communicate their positions better.

    This should not be controversial! You should agree! It is to your advantage if you can learn better ways to evangelize! It is to your prerogative to understand the other person, what’s keeping him away from Christianity, what would bring him to Christianity, and how to express that message to take him from one (away from Christianity) to the other (to Christianity).

    I haven’t found this to be true at all. I’ve spoken to people of various faiths who haven’t really thought about their beliefs very objectively or who have always doubted, but just continued on because no one had talked with them in depth about their beliefs. This is why I believe evangelism is so important. I believe God uses weak and imperfect people such as myself in the proclamation of His message. What I have found is that others aren’t so convinced of their beliefs as it might appear at first. Sometimes it’s just that they are missing some key pieces of information.

    I think this is just coy or is narrow. I have found people of all faiths (including the various outstretches of evangelical Chrisitanity) who are as you describe (who haven’t thought about their thoughts very “objectively” [whatever you mean by the term] or who have always doubted, but just continued on because no one had talked with them in depth about their beliefs.). BUT I have also found people of ALL faiths who had thought about their beliefs very “objectively” (whatever you mean by the term) and who don’t doubt…who have had people talk to them in depth. So, I feel that if you haven’t found this to be true, it seems like you’re being coy about evangelicalism (I find it awfully hard to believe that every evangelical you know is as “on top of the game” as Tim and Katie and yourself and Jack and Aaron Shaf and other intelligent, thoughtful bloggers. Additionally, if you have not found this to be true, I feel you are narrow, in that you are ignoring people like Seth, like the people of the Mormon Bloggernacle, the Community of Christ Blogitorium, and the numerous other religions’ equivalent outposts for deep knowledge about faith.

    I agree with you that there are still people who haven’t really thought about their beliefs or who have always doubted. But to say that this is the entirety of those other religions, or that evangelical Christianity doesn’t have this, or that evangelism is the only way to work against this and other religions can’t just evangelize back…I really am suspicious of that.

    Also, just because the current religious climate includes a huge population of Muslims does not mean it will always be this way or that there cannot be HUGE change very rapidly (as in revivals where there is unprecedented growth in a short time span). I’m also not convinced that things are all as they appear on the surface. There are numerous reports coming from various sources out of the Middle East that many Muslims secretly believe that Jesus is the Son of God, but they are afraid to take a stand publicly because the persecution is so great.

    I really don’t know what to say to this here. What presumptuousness! I’m very certain that a devout Muslim is thinking on the other side, “There are numerous reports coming from various sources out of America that many Christians aren’t too sold on that trinity idea, but they are too afraid to make a stance of the polytheism and the trinity because the persecution is so great.”

    I can imagine that you would bristle at this report. You would bristle at someone trying to make such a statement about your belief. You would bristle at any alleged research that suggested this. You would lament. You would regret. So that is why I don’t really know why you do the same to others. Actually, I can suspect, but I lament it.

    I think that, as long as you believe this, you will alienate. You will alienate Muslims who truly believe in their Islam, because you come to approach them from drastically incorrect assumptions. You do Christianity a disservice. It is a bit lamentable, and I’m not even a Christian.

    Could it be they are all not as convinced internally as they appear externally? Are there political or sociological factors that are motivating these religious adherents rather than strong belief?

    Mirror this back on to America, on to Europe, on to everywhere. I think you do disservice to Christianity if you do not tend your own fields before planting seeds farther. By not asking these very same questions about Christianity, about your cultural and social and political upbringing.

    quote and stats mining

    Meanwhile, Christianity will continue to fall out of favor in your own country. Evangelicalism will continue to be distasteful. But you had your quotes and they made you feel secure in the success of the Great Commission. The Mormons have their quotes and their conversion statistics too and they feel secure in their success. I’m certain Muslims too have own quotes and statistics to make them feel secure in their success. And while everyone is feeling secure, they are becoming gluttonous off of statistics.

    We have one foot in Christ and one foot in the world and until we get radical about Christ and start seeking God we will continue to see false conversions and apathy in our ranks. The Church in America is in desperate need of revival.

    So what are you going to do? Are you going to find the most effective ways to revive America? Or are you going to collectively continue to use the same ways that led to false conversions and apathy in our ranks. If you want to get “radical about Christ,” doesn’t that mean you need to become radically different than what you have ever been comfortable with? It may be that your methods must become things that you never would’ve dreamed would be effective.

    RE: your advice on how Christians can be more effective in the Great Commission. I have a different take on this. The main problem I see in Christianity today is that there are so many false conversions. People are being invited to join a culture or a social club rather than being truly converted to Christ.

    The question, however, is, who is falsely converted. We haven’t quite established what is true conversion. I’m sure you have, and Tim has, and Jack has, and Aaron shaf has, and everyone has personally defined what true conversion is…and they will Bible bash to submission over who is right.

    But it seems to me that even in devout Christians, you don’t even know if you’re truly living Christ’s message.

    I don’t think unbelievers should be appealed to on the basis of “this will make your life better.”

    Then I think you have missed what I meant by “internal satisfaction.” Internal satisfaction isn’t a life that is trouble-free. After all, life is difficult. This is it.

    Internal satisfaction is a life satisfied and fulfilled that anchors through the trial and difficulty. You must make Christianity become this in order to make people realize that “trouble-free” wasn’t the goal. “Internal satisfaction” was. “Happiness” wasn’t the goal. “Fulfillment” was.

    OK, OK, let’s say that God was a cruel, evil, and spiteful god.

    Ok, IF this were true, how much MORE important would it be that people figure out what God is like and what He wants from them? Of course, we would also have to figure out what evil is if there is no Ultimate Righteous Judge… And how it could be possible that we have any good in the world if an evil being created it…

    If God is evil, I don’t want to oblige him. You may, but then I’ll call you a sellout. Don’t take it personally; it’s just a difference between what makes sense to me, what fulfills me, and what makes sense to you, what fulfills you. What would be true is that there is an evil God and he has demands.

    With regards to your last question…couldn’t it be that an evil being created good in the world to give us a scintillating smell of something that we can never have in the end? Couldn’t the good in the world be a torture device…a carrot just out of reach in a never-ending treadwheel?

    Ok, do you think I understood your position better this time? I feel like I did. Thanks for having this conversation with me, Andrew, and for clarifying your position so I can understand better.

    You’ve begun to understand it better, but there are still some critical problems. You misread one of my quotes, so I hope you’ll go back through that. I still don’t think you get what I mean by “internal satisfaction,” but this is tough to grasp. I lament for some of your positions and feel they do profound disservice to your own cause, but I guess that’s something you’ll really have to learn for yourself.

  100. Wow, I’m taken aback by your response, Andrew. I wasn’t expecting personal attacks and criticism. I know I’m a miserable communicator at times and I’m extremely critical of myself and if you knew the “real” me (not my internet persona), you might know how cutting personal attacks are for me and how much I take them to heart.

    But I’m very confused by your criticism of “[my] efforts in the Great Commission” and “my methods.” Pray tell, what are you referring to? My occasional blogging activities? I hardly consider this my “ministry” – it’s more of a side hobby that could be considered “ministry related” I guess.

    I am very sad to hear, however, that you find my side hobby to be so deplorably ineffective in pointing anyone closer to Christ. Of course I would like to hear your perspective on how I might improve my blogging communication so that Christ’s message can be more effectively represented through me.

    I know that I am going to alienate some bloggers by being vocal about my belief in the exclusive message of Jesus Christ. Is that what you are referring to?

  101. if objective truth cannot be understood, grasped, or defined in its entirety, how can you say that? I think this is the point Tim is trying to accuse me of to, but wouldn’t this be an objective truth that you have understood, grasped, or defined in its entirety.

    Andrew, a couple of things:

    1)–I think it’s possible to glimpse “snippets” of truth, or nuggets of truths — but capital-T Truth (Truth in its entirety) will always evade us. I (subjectively) believe Truth is much, much bigger than a systematic theology or philosophy, for example, can ever adequately express. Perhaps it’s better gleaned in a story or a piece of music. I don’t know.

    2)–Having said that, I freely acknowledge it is my subjective experience which leads me to this conclusion. I’m open to being totally wrong here. I don’t think I am, but I’m wrong about a lot of things, so why not this?

    This change in emphasis — if it could be brokered — would have lasting impacts to the likeability of *any* religion who could most successfully pull it off.

    Totally agree. But who’s to say God wouldn’t be behind that kind of change in any religion? I subjectively believe God is big enough to work everywhere, regardless of religion, philosophy, culture, or language — with or without the name of Christ being explicitly invoked.

    However, I can’t recognize I’m a hopeless sinner who has fallen short and is in need of salvation without Christianity. How do you jump from the former to the latter?

    I don’t know. I’ve thought a lot about this lately. But my subjective, open-to-change perspective is that individual salvation from sin is just a tiny part of what the gospel is about. I think the greater part of the gospel is about becoming a new person — more loving, more open, more giving, more humble — and revolutionizing lives, families, and communities through that goodness.

    And before you say, “But I don’t have to believe in Christianity to become all of those things!”, please note that I am wide open to the idea that God often does this outside of Christianity.

    As for who “gets saved” or not, I figure that’s way above my pay grade. I leave it up to God. Let’s just say I won’t be too shocked to discover there are a lot of surprises in this department.

    Because Tim, and Katie L, and Jack, and Aaron are already in the Christian club.

    I’m not sure I technically count as being in the “Christian club,” since I’m an active Mormon still feeling my way through where I fit, but I’ll take it anyway. 🙂

  102. Wow, I’m taken aback by your response, Andrew. I wasn’t expecting personal attacks and criticism.

    *sigh*. I fear this is over. If I have attacked you, then I cannot allow myself to continue. I am truly sorry. I have annihilated my cause.

    In a way, it is an ironic way of showing my own point. If I alienate people from my message through personal attacks and criticism, I do great disservice to my cause. But personal attacks and criticism aren’t the only way to alienate someone else. They are just one of the most effective ways. I must work harder every day to become a more effective communicator.

    But I’m very confused by your criticism of “[my] efforts in the Great Commission” and “my methods.” Pray tell, what are you referring to? My occasional blogging activities? I hardly consider this my “ministry” – it’s more of a side hobby that could be considered “ministry related” I guess.

    Everything we all do is ministry. Every moment of our lives is an interview, and every moment of our lives, are views, our behaviors, our thoughts, our words, our deeds, our everything is being observed, monitored, and evaluated. We cannot say, “Oh, oh, this doesn’t count. This is just a side hobby; please, do not confuse this with the real thing!” Because everything does count. Everything is life. The pastor isn’t just a pastor on Sunday. The evangelist isn’t just an evangelist when she has a specific theme and message. The pastor is *always* a pastor. The evangelist *always* an evangelist.

    I am very sad to hear, however, that you find my side hobby to be so deplorably ineffective in pointing anyone closer to Christ. Of course I would like to hear your perspective on how I might improve my blogging communication so that Christ’s message can be more effectively represented through me.

    I am absolutely convinced that you will bring someone (and maybe a great many) to Christ. But that is a probabilistic necessity, as I am sure it is possible to bring someone to something.

    Instead, I note that the “someone” you would be bringing is a wholly different “someone” than the nonbelievers I know. If you are content in not reaching THESE ones, then fine. If you are only contented in meeting those Muslims who “haven’t thought about what they believe,” or “who secretly believe Jesus is the Savior,” or “who only are Muslim because of social factors” or “who only are Muslim because they haven’t talked with someone about it,” then fine. But if you want to reach a wholly different “someone,” a someone who you have not characterized, who you have not understood, who you have not investigated, who you have not identified, then I feel your current course of action will certainly be ineffective and a disservice. If you think this is a personal attack, I apologize. You did not request any such comment.

    I know that I am going to alienate some bloggers by being vocal about my belief in the exclusive message of Jesus Christ. Is that what you are referring to?

    It is only part. You can be vocal about your belief in the exclusive message of Jesus Christ, for example, without characterizing certain others in straw men. Or without failing to understand the true motives of others’ beliefs. Or without failing to recognize that perhaps many of your fellow Christians may be driven by similar motives that you ascribe only to others.

    Or, you might kill with kindness. You might catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. You might feed your enemies to reap coals on their heads. Who knows?

  103. re Katie L:

    1) Is the truth that “capital T truth, truth in its entirety, will always escape us” a nugget of truth…or is it a truth in its entirety. If it’s a nugget of truth, what is the corresponding mine of truth? That truth won’t always escape us?

    2) I actually like this point.

    Totally agree. But who’s to say God wouldn’t be behind that kind of change in any religion? I subjectively believe God is big enough to work everywhere, regardless of religion, philosophy, culture, or language — with or without the name of Christ being explicitly invoked.

    I think this is a belief with a breath of fresh air, but then I wonder about your co-religionists…what about Jessica who is certain of the exclusivity of Christianity? There are others who have said similar things, within or without Christianity.

    I don’t know. I’ve thought a lot about this lately. But my subjective, open-to-change perspective is that individual salvation from sin is just a tiny part of what the gospel is about. I think the greater part of the gospel is about becoming a new person — more loving, more open, more giving, more humble — and revolutionizing lives, families, and communities through that goodness.

    And before you say, “But I don’t have to believe in Christianity to become all of those things!”, please note that I am wide open to the idea that God often does this outside of Christianity.

    Even more refreshing thoughts. In this case, I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with you…but I would just say, “But what about your co-religionists…what about people who say God doesn’t work outside of Christianity? People who say Christianity is exclusive? Who disagree with you about what the greater part of the gospel is about?

  104. A couple notes upon re-reading my last comment…

    1)–That last sentence should read, “Let’s just say I won’t be too shocked if we all get up there and discover there are a lot of surprises in this department.”

    2)–I keep saying “subjective” and it might come across as sarcastic or obnoxious. That wasn’t my intent; I just wanted to remind you that I acknowledge my views are subjective and unprovable.

  105. oops, missed a part, Katie:

    I’m not sure I technically count as being in the “Christian club,” since I’m an active Mormon still feeling my way through where I fit, but I’ll take it anyway.

    Oh right, I forgot that for the sake of conversation here, I have to separate both you and Seth and others out of the “the Christian club”. 😀

    1)–That last sentence should read, “Let’s just say I won’t be too shocked if we all get up there and discover there are a lot of surprises in this department.”

    I agree.

    2)–I keep saying “subjective” and it might come across as sarcastic or obnoxious. That wasn’t my intent; I just wanted to remind you that I acknowledge my views are subjective and unprovable.

    I didn’t see it as sarcastic or obnoxious at all. I saw it as precise, and I value that.

  106. But if you want to reach a wholly different “someone,” a someone who you have not characterized, who you have not understood, who you have not investigated, who you have not identified, then I feel your current course of action will certainly be ineffective and a disservice. If you think this is a personal attack, I apologize. You did not request any such comment.

    I was hoping for something more specific actually… You have so far only given me broad generalizations that have amounted to “your whole method and style of communication stinks” – this isn’t really anything constructive that I can get my hands around. It would help me more if you could give me some specific examples of what you are talking about.

    You can be vocal about your belief in the exclusive message of Jesus Christ, for example, without characterizing certain others in straw men. Or without failing to understand the true motives of others’ beliefs. Or without failing to recognize that perhaps many of your fellow Christians may be driven by similar motives that you ascribe only to others.

    This is helpful and more specific, but you are making assumptions about what I “recognize” based on my lack of stating these things. Of course I “recognize” that many of my fellow Christians are driven by similar motives for believing in Christianity. And these are not *bad* motives for people in other religions to have either. It feels like you are judging me based on things I have *not* said rather than what I *have* said. Could you give a specific example of “straw men”?

    The evangelist *always* an evangelist.

    Yes, I know and you are right to correct me. I was feeling defensive and started making excuses before asking how I could improve from your perspective.

  107. “But what about your co-religionists…what about people who say God doesn’t work outside of Christianity?

    I don’t know anyone who says God doesn’t work outside of Christianity. I believe God is at work everywhere and drawing all men to Himself. I believe He uses many different people, situations, religions, evil and good, in His purposes. When I refer to the exclusiveness of Christ’s message I am talking about Christ Himself, not the religion “Christianity.”

  108. But what about your co-religionists?

    I don’t know. I think people who say God doesn’t work outside of Christianity are just plain wrong. We’d have to agree to disagree on that one.

    But actually, Andrew, I think most Christians would agree with me that:

    1)–God works everywhere;
    2)–His ways are not our ways;
    3)–When all is said and done, He’s the one who gets to say who’s going to heaven and who isn’t.

  109. Jessica:

    I was hoping for something more specific actually… You have so far only given me broad generalizations that have amounted to “your whole method and style of communication stinks” – this isn’t really anything constructive that I can get my hands around. It would help me more if you could give me some specific examples of what you are talking about.

    You must UNDERSTAND people of other religions. UNDERSTAND why Muslims are Muslims (protip: they aren’t all Muslim because of “social factors.” They don’t all “secretly believe Jesus is the Savior,” and even the ones that do wouldn’t respond well if you spoke of that.) Understand why Mormons are Mormons (protip: same thing: they aren’t all Mormon just because of “social factors.” They don’t all “secretly believe the church believes in the wrong Jesus,” and even the ones that do wouldn’t respond well if you spoke of that.) Understand why atheists are atheists.

    To do this, you must get rid of preconceptions…you actually must do a little more than step into the other person’s shoes, but doing a little more would be impossible so I don’t say to do it. But, just to start with, you have to recognize that devout believers are devout for the same reason you are devout: because this is what “speaks to [their] mind[s]”. Nonbelievers are nonbelievers because the item of belief does not speak to their mind.

    So, what is it that speaks to their mind, and how does Christianity fulfill this? How can Christianity also speak to their mind?

    Don’t begin with Christian evidences, because you’ve made no case for why Christian evidences should speak to their mind yet. Don’t begin with “fulfillments of Old Testament prophecies”, because you’ve made no case for why we should interpret those Old Testament prophecies and their fulfillment in such a way. Your links and arguments build up sky-high walls.

    Begin by understanding that people want things to make sense. They want to be fulfilled. They want to have internal satisfaction. This is not a separate goal from yours…it’s just that you and they either have currently found this fulfillment from two different sources or one or both of you haven’t found this fulfillment and are living inauthentically.

    How can I be more specific when there are so many groups you must address?

    This is helpful and more specific, but you are making assumptions about what I “recognize” based on my lack of stating these things. Of course I “recognize” that many of my fellow Christians are driven by similar motives for believing in Christianity. And these are not *bad* motives for people in other religions to have either. It feels like you are judging me based on things I have *not* said rather than what I *have* said. Could you give a specific example of “straw men”?

    Your characterization of the Muslim world and of what the statistics about Christian growth in the Muslim community means. Throughout this conversation, I have been fighting the characterization of my own position in a straw man. Do you want me to quote the most relevant lines and paragraphs?

    Yes, I know and you are right to correct me. I was feeling defensive and started making excuses before asking how I could improve from your perspective.

    If you become defensive, this becomes part of your evangelism too, you know. In fencing, some people like to think that you should fence as if every point is a new bout. So, even if it’s 0-14 and you’re about to lose, there should be no panicking. Because that will affect your fencing. You must fence as if you’re in a pentathlon…where it’s only one point and if you get a double, BOTH of you are eliminated. Only then will you learn to become creative enough to hit without being hit, to be safe while creating — and exploiting –the weaknesses of others.

    How does this apply here…uhh, I guess this is a long shot…But in fencing, if you have an improper conception of what the opponent is really like, then you will be devising strategies against someone who doesn’t really exist. This will be disastrous, as the *real* opponent will always outmatch your misconception. He will zig instead of zagging (because you never should’ve assumed he would zag), go when you think he won’t, stay when you think he will go.

    You’ll probably say this is too general. :3. I’ll accept it.

  110. Jessica:

    I don’t know anyone who says God doesn’t work outside of Christianity. I believe God is at work everywhere and drawing all men to Himself. I believe He uses many different people, situations, religions, evil and good, in His purposes. When I refer to the exclusiveness of Christ’s message I am talking about Christ Himself, not the religion “Christianity.”

    But what I mean is…what do you mean when you say “God is at work everywhere and drawing all men to Himself”?

    I don’t think you would mean that drawing all men to Himself could include drawing some to Islam, some to Christianity, etc.,? As if Islam will be a saving faith as well as Christianity.

    Katie:
    I don’t know. I think people who say God doesn’t work outside of Christianity are just plain wrong. We’d have to agree to disagree on that one.

    But actually, Andrew, I think most Christians would agree with me that:

    1)–God works everywhere;
    2)–His ways are not our ways;
    3)–When all is said and done, He’s the one who gets to say who’s going to heaven and who isn’t.

    Of course, of course.

  111. You’ll probably say this is too general. :3. I’ll accept it.

    No, it’s actually really helpful for me and I appreciate you offering me some specific feedback. It’s always really helpful to hear how someone else is perceiving the communication from their side.

    Your characterization of the Muslim world and of what the statistics about Christian growth in the Muslim community means.

    Here I was trying to respond to what I perceived was a straw man implication that all religious claims hold equal validity and equal objective verifiability. I believe that when they are compared with the supernatural claims of other religions, the objective evidences for Christ and the resurrection trump them all. I admit I’m extremely zealous to share my belief and the supporting evidences with others (thus the links, etc.). I apologize that this was so off-putting.

    I wanted to point out that not all adherents of other religions believe as strongly in their faith claims (since you had said these people believe just as strongly as you do about your belief and they are just as convinced as their correctness as you are. ). I should have simply clarified that not all believe as strongly and then acknowledged that other religions have adherents who are equally zealous in their convictions as I am in mine and that this still brings us back to square one in terms of discovering what is true.

    I do have a couple of questions for you if you are still willing to dialogue with me. It would be helpful for me in understanding your viewpoint better. You stated, Nonbelievers are nonbelievers because the item of belief does not speak to their mind.

    My questions are,
    1) What is it about the evidence for the resurrection that does not “speak to your mind”?
    2) Do you have an alternative theory for the resurrection?

  112. Jessica:

    Here I was trying to respond to what I perceived was a straw man implication that all religious claims hold equal validity and equal objective verifiability. I believe that when they are compared with the supernatural claims of other religions, the objective evidences for Christ and the resurrection trump them all. I admit I’m extremely zealous to share my belief and the supporting evidences with others (thus the links, etc.). I apologize that this was so off-putting.

    But what I am saying is that other devoutly religious people would say, “When my religion’s supernatural claims are compared with that of other religions, the objective evidences for xxx and the xxx trump them all.”

    Each side isn’t really going by objective evidences. They are going by things that “speak to their mind.” They are going to that which makes sense to them, and then they craft a narrative of evidence that makes the cause look good.

    What I found off-putting was, instead of accepting that other devout believers believe — just as devoutly — in the strength of their case, you say, “Well, actually, many Muslims are secretly Christians. They just are in an oppressive social environment and can’t “come out.” Well, actually, most other religious people are people who haven’t thought about their religion that much.”

    But the exact same could be said of Christians and Christianity. People are going by what makes sense and what fulfills them and are making their own religion, worldview, whatever “exceptional” as a result. “All of these other religious people are like x (they haven’t thought about their religion, they don’t really believe, they are just following for social reasons, etc.,)…but evangelicals like myself truly have thought about religion. All of these other religions lack the objective evidence…but Christianity truly has the evidence for it.”

    I wanted to point out that not all adherents of other religions believe as strongly in their faith claims (since you had said these people believe just as strongly as you do about your belief and they are just as convinced as their correctness as you are. ).

    But I would point out that I’m not saying “all adherents.” Let’s look at it like this. Let’s compare Christianity to another religion. If you point out not all adherents of other religions believe as strongly in their faith claims, you must balance it by asking if not all adherents of Christianity believe so strongly in their faith claims. You find that Christianity is not exceptional on this measure.

    So then you ask, “Does Christianity have people who believe strongly in their faith claims, who believe strongly that Christianity has the objective evidence for it, and have done research to make this case?” Of course. That is your position. But what I point out is, “Every other religion has this too. Every religion has its own case and its own research that it hopes shows it “objectively” is right.”

    I should have simply clarified that not all believe as strongly and then acknowledged that other religions have adherents who are equally zealous in their convictions as I am in mine and that this still brings us back to square one in terms of discovering what is true.

    What would be important about this clarification (since I agree with that) is that…this makes your evidences, your links, your statistics “null.” Because against the other equally zealous people, they too are zealous of their evidences, their links, their statistics against you. Even though you believe Christianity has the objective evidences, this won’t get very far against others who are as equally convinced that another religion has the objective evidences.

    I point out that the objective evidences were never the issue. After all, all of these groups claiming to have objective evidences cannot simultaneously be all correct. Instead, I suggest that this zealous belief may represent something closer to: “different religions make sense to different people. People confuse this with meaning their religion is true, when that does not necessarily follow.”

    I do have a couple of questions for you if you are still willing to dialogue with me. It would be helpful for me in understanding your viewpoint better. You stated, Nonbelievers are nonbelievers because the item of belief does not speak to their mind.

    My questions are,
    1) What is it about the evidence for the resurrection that does not “speak to your mind”?
    2) Do you have an alternative theory for the resurrection?

    1) Probably the supernatural part most (you don’t have “evidence” of that, so to speak…the supernaturality is something you must infer by faith on the assumption that you don’t believe other explanations make sense), but that is among many others. The entire story doesn’t jive with me.

    2) No, I do not posit an alternative theory. This is important: Please note that I do not have to posit an alternate theory to be unconvinced by current theories (this is something that was equally true when there was the huge general conference talk about the Book of Mormon’s claims…ex-Mormons and non-Mormons do not have to provide an alternate hypothesis for the Book of Mormon to unconvinced by the hypothesis that it is divine). So, just as a piece of advice, you cannot hope to try to poke out what I believe and then attempt to show how that interpretation is wrong. That’s not how you make Christians. AT BEST, that’s how you can make ex-Mormons and ex-Muslims, or how other groups could make ex-Christians. But that does not bridge the gap between leaving one thing and joining the other. You instead have to show in a personally persuasive way how what you believe is right.

  113. I should have simply clarified that not all believe as strongly and then acknowledged that other religions have adherents who are equally zealous in their convictions as I am in mine and that this still brings us back to square one in terms of discovering what is true.

    What would be important about this clarification (since I agree with that) is that…this makes your evidences, your links, your statistics “null.”

    This conclusion doesn’t logically follow from the premises. Hypothetically, my evidences, links, and statistics could point toward the truth (since you have admitted the possibility that we may be reaching some objective truth from the mix). Or mine could be false and someone else’s true, etc. It doesn’t make my evidences null. It just requires comparative analysis to see which of the various religious claims have the most objectively verifiable evidences.

    After all, all of these groups claiming to have objective evidences cannot simultaneously be all correct.

    I agree with this. But this does not logically follow that therefore none of them are correct. One (or more of them that are not in contradiction) could be correct.

    Ok, that’s all I have to say for tonight. Thanks for the great discussion, Andrew! 🙂

  114. re Jessica:

    This conclusion doesn’t logically follow from the premises. Hypothetically, my evidences, links, and statistics could point toward the truth (since you have admitted the possibility that we may be reaching some objective truth from the mix). Or mine could be false and someone else’s true, etc. It doesn’t make my evidences null. It just requires comparative analysis to see which of the various religious claims have the most objectively verifiable evidences.

    Except the evidences that you call “objectively verifiable” often do not represent objectively verifiable evidences. They represent narrative stories of history that make sense to you, and so you establish them as historical, and objectively verifiable.

    The problem is in the making of historical narratives. This is where the subjectivity comes in. You are right in that your subjective narrative may be correct, or another may be correct, or none of yours may be correct.

    Your zeal is the thing that muddies the water. Your zeal (and the zeal of other Christians) will produce its best narrative for Christianity’s objective truth. But this narrative is created not from objectivity, but from subjectivity (e.g., the ability of the narrative to ‘make sense to’ Christians). The narrative, then, is DIRECTLY countered by other zealous people of other religions who will produce their best narrative against Christianity’s truth (as Christians will try to do the same against others).

    Throughout this entire process, we forget that we were just comparing historical narratives. We were just placing one product of zeal against another product. Now, of course, of course, one may be right, but that has been always impacted by the subjective, “what makes sense?” question.

    I agree with this. But this does not logically follow that therefore none of them are correct. One (or more of them that are not in contradiction) could be correct.

    Ok, that’s all I have to say for tonight. Thanks for the great discussion, Andrew!

    Most certainly, I agree. I am not saying that none of them are correct. Just that our zealous presentation of “objective” evidences doesn’t seem to be getting at which one is correct. Instead, we are still trying to get at which one makes most sense to us. Which is already clouded by which one we are zealous for so we don’t really move much in the process.

  115. Hi Andrew,

    Ok, I couldn’t resist one last reply to your comment… 🙂

    I think there is a difference between discussing historical “narratives” (whether real or imagined) and historical “facts.”

    You are correct that some apologists of various religious persuasions may try to put the “best spin” on narrative accounts. For the sake of clarifying my position, what narrative would you use to explain the following established historical facts (agreed upon by the vast majority of scholars who study this topic – regardless of their religious or non-religious persuasion):

    1. Jesus of Nazareth died by crucifixion around 33 AD.
    2. Shortly thereafter His original 11 disciples transformed suddenly from fearful despair to a sincere belief that they had seen the risen Jesus.
    3. A violent opponent of Christianity (Saul of Tarsus) was suddenly converted and became one of Christianity’s greatest defenders – based on what he believed to be an appearance of the risen Jesus.
    4. Jesus’ brother James went from being a skeptic during Christ’s lifetime to a Christian leader immediately following Jesus’ death – also because of what he believed to be an appearance of the risen Jesus.
    5. Jesus tomb was found empty after 3 days (this 5th fact is held by about 75% of all scholars from the 1970s to the present while the above 4 are held by practically all scholars).

    Many skeptics through the years have attempted to assign an alternative “narrative” to these 5 (and other) facts. None of these non-resurrection narratives has been able to wholly explain all the data.

    Ok, that *really* is my last comment for tonight! 🙂

  116. I think there is a difference between discussing historical “narratives” (whether real or imagined) and historical “facts.”

    Truly, there is. The problem is that the two are muddled. Historical “facts” are much like objective truth…they exist, but whether we are even describing them is up for grabs. Even when we are confident about what we think are historical facts, this is muddled by the alternative: maybe we are just addressing what makes sense to us?

    For the sake of clarifying my position, what narrative would you use to explain the following established historical facts (agreed upon by the vast majority of scholars who study this topic – regardless of their religious or non-religious persuasion):

    For example, look at the preface you have given for these “historical facts.” It betrays that you are not really referring to actual facts (these may or may not be known), but instead referring to a narrative that incorporates these things as facts. You are just saying that “the vast majority of scholars who study this topic — regardless of their religious or non-religious persuasion” have historical narratives that include the following as historical facts.

    From here though, things get tricky. Disagreeing with the “vast majority of scholars” isn’t something most people want to get into, especially not lightly. However, I’m just pointing out that appeals to authority, however appealing they may be, are just appeals. If we accept them, then it is because they make sense to us, not necessarily because they actually represent historical reality (they may or may not).

    And again,

    Many skeptics through the years have attempted to assign an alternative “narrative” to these 5 (and other) facts. None of these non-resurrection narratives has been able to wholly explain all the data.

    I think you’re approaching things from the wrong direction. Skeptics do not have to assign an alternative narrative to these 5 (or other) facts (if they are facts). Any alternative narratives they do provide (whole or not) are mere icing on the cake. Rather, skeptics simply point out that the believing narrative forged from the facts (if they are facts) is personally unconvincing (whereas to you, it is personally convincing). This highlights the issue. The goal is not to create a narrative that “wholly explains the data.” Instead, if the believer wants someone to believe, then she must create a *personally convincing* narrative — regardless of if it wholly or less than wholly explains the data.

    But this is the problem. You aren’t convinced by these methods, by the presentation of these narratives. You’re convinced by what “speaks to your mind.” It just so happens that this narrative, the facticity of these facts, and other things, do speak to your mind. Without those things, it wouldn’t matter whatever else was the case. So, when someone says, “This doesn’t speak to my mind. I’m not convinced,” it’s still a nonstarter to continue this path.

  117. I was just reminded of something recently.

    Another thing we ought to be doing – which I have often failed to do – is to avoid the intellectually lazy attraction of labels.

    Those of us here – Mormon, Evangelical, and also atheist belong to systems of thought that have a very wide variety of viewpoints, motivations, and approaches underlying them.

    Mormons on the internet (like myself) are constantly complaining that they are being caricatured as a people. Perhaps being pigeonholed based on isolated Brigham Young quotes. Perhaps being unfairly associated with the uncharitable actions of some particular ward an ex-Mormon had problems with. Or perhaps being held to uninformed and stereotypical renditions of our theology and beliefs. Or maybe lumped in with the FLDS. We complain about all these things and wonder why people can’t realize that we are more diverse than all that – and more in-depth than that. And that our arguments are better than that.

    But it’s just highly hypocritical for people like me to complain about Mormons being stereotyped, and then turn around and use the same lazy and convenient labels on atheists or Evangelicals.

    Andrew has already hinted at this in his earlier comment here when he complained about me dividing the playing field into “us vs. them” distinctions in an attempt at solidarity. The fact was, I was tarring atheists with a broad brush. Possibly with the hope of encouraging some sort of solidarity between Mormons and Evangelicals.

    Nothing unites quite like a shared enemy.

    But here’s the kicker. I’ve found myself occasionally doing the same thing when debating with atheists. I’ve found myself occasionally disparaging certain fundamentalist varieties of Christian America that I dislike along with the atheists – maybe hoping to find common ground with the atheists at the religionist’s expense.

    The urge to throw someone under the bus is always there, and sometimes we are most guilty of this when using convenient labels.

    “Evangelical” for instance, has become something of an epithet in certain quarters of American social dialogue. It’s often associated with wide-eyed, censor-happy, Jesus-screaming, 3rd grade educated, dinosaur-riding-Jesus, bible literalist, bible ignorant, fundies. The mainstream media doesn’t help matters by encouraging such views. “Evangelicals” end up defined by the most obnoxious faction of their numbers. And the word becomes almost an insult.

    Any Mormon who has participated on blogs like this one should know better, and should feel obligated to avoid encouraging this kind of imagery. We’ve been the butt of unfair bigoted labeling ourselves. We should be the last people to use it against our own opponents.

    Like Mormons, each Evangelical should be treated as an individual and we should avoid making assumptions about what they do or do not believe. Nor should we sit around smirking when they get pummeled with unfair stereotypes.

    Many Evangelicals here on this blog are about as far from the unkind stereotypes of “Evangelical” as you can get. So are many, many other Evangelicals throughout the US and elsewhere in the world. We do those people a disservice when we encourage negative stereotypes about the label they have chosen for themselves.

    I am guilty of this kind of behavior.

    I have found myself allowing, or even perpetuating this kind of sloppy labeling when talking to atheists. It’s highly tempting. Many atheists arrived at their positions via the negatives they perceived in the religion surrounding them. And here, I find myself nodding in approval – because I don’t like those kind of religious traits either. “Hey, we have common ground!”

    Then, in an attempt to emphasize commonality, it’s oh-so easy to simply use some convenient labeling – set up a common enemy, and try to reach out…

    This is a temptation I’ve tried to resist throughout my encounters online, but often failed miserably at.

    We Mormon bloggers need to discipline ourselves here. We need to be rigorous in our definitions when describing other religions and their adherents. We can’t settle for appealing to the lowest-common-denominator with convenient, but unfair labels.

    Ultimately, encouraging such bigotry does not win us friends, but merely encourages the kind of attitude in society that will damage all of us.

    If we can’t do this, we need to consider the possibility that we shouldn’t be entering the conversation at all.

    And that especially includes me.

    I look to all of you, who encounter me online with some frequency, to give me a kick in the face when you see me engaging in exactly the sort of hypocritical self-defeating methods of argument described above.

  118. Historical “facts” are much like objective truth…they exist, but whether we are even describing them is up for grabs. Even when we are confident about what we think are historical facts, this is muddled by the alternative: maybe we are just addressing what makes sense to us?

    Ok, work with me here… Exactly *which* facts from antiquity can we agree on? Do you ever watch the history channel? 🙂

    Also, I wasn’t bringing up the scholars as an appeal to authority. Rather, the scholars agree on these facts because these facts are supported by the historical evidence. Take, for example, the evidence that Jesus’ disciples sincerely believed that he rose from the dead and appeared to them. Their belief in the resurrection and subsequent preaching of it as the central part of their message is documented in oral tradition (creeds, sermon summaries), by the Apostle Paul (his writings are undisputed historical records), and written tradition (the gospels and apostolic fathers). Further, there are seven ancient sources that attest to the fact that Jesus’ disciples suffered and died martyrs’ deaths for this belief.

    Now, notice I am not saying this proves anything in and of itself. I am just pointing out that the facts I cited above are historical “facts” of the same variety as any other historical facts. For example, I’m sure we both agree that a man named Muhammad was born in 570 in the Arabian city of Mecca, claimed to receive revelations from God, and founded a religion based upon these revelations. There were (and continue to be) people who sincerely believed his revelations were from God.

    if the believer wants someone to believe, then she must create a *personally convincing* narrative — regardless of if it wholly or less than wholly explains the data.

    The historical facts in question require *some* sort of an explanation. Since we are dealing with history, we are dealing in probabilities, not certainties. The reason I mentioned the percentage of scholars that agree on the facts is, again, the issue of probability. The scholars who have studied this issue are the ones most well-acquainted with the evidence. I wasn’t going to build the narrative because you already know what I think. I was just curious how you personally account for the facts.

  119. Seth,

    good comments, all around!

    Jessica,

    Ok, work with me here… Exactly *which* facts from antiquity can we agree on? Do you ever watch the history channel? 🙂

    The history channel is a great example of narrative-making in the process. Watching it is a great way for me to build my doubt with the history-making process, not to quench it. I think we would have to quibble a whooooole lot on the nature of Yeshua ben Yosef (our “Jesus”) to get to any semblance of agreement, and at the end of the day, we’d either not come to agreement, or we’d come to such a vastly different Jesus than would be your theological preference that it would render the rest of the narrative in danger.

    Also, I wasn’t bringing up the scholars as an appeal to authority. Rather, the scholars agree on these facts because these facts are supported by the historical evidence. Take, for example, the evidence that Jesus’ disciples sincerely believed that he rose from the dead and appeared to them. Their belief in the resurrection and subsequent preaching of it as the central part of their message is documented in oral tradition (creeds, sermon summaries), by the Apostle Paul (his writings are undisputed historical records), and written tradition (the gospels and apostolic fathers). Further, there are seven ancient sources that attest to the fact that Jesus’ disciples suffered and died martyrs’ deaths for this belief.

    The problem is what kind of evidence this represents. I mean, there are people who “sincerely believe” they have seen UFOs and have been abducted by aliens. Not to say Jesus’s resurrection is on this same level, but we have quite a few years to muddy the playing field. We have ancient sources that attest that disciples suffered and died martyr’s deaths for this belief…which is akin to ancient sources attesting that anyone suffers and dies martyr’s death for something they truly believe in. What this whole conversation has provided, however, is that people truly believe in things that make sense to them…which may or may not be true.

    Now, notice I am not saying this proves anything in and of itself. I am just pointing out that the facts I cited above are historical “facts” of the same variety as any other historical facts.

    As historical as, say, the historical fact that many people truly believe they have seen UFOs and have devoted their lives to this cause. Yes, that does establish people believed in something. It doesn’t establish that their interpretation (e.g., they are UFOs, they are aliens) is correct or should be trusted.

    For example, I’m sure we both agree that a man named Muhammad was born in 570 in the Arabian city of Mecca, claimed to receive revelations from God, and founded a religion based upon these revelations. There were (and continue to be) people who sincerely believed his revelations were from God.

    Heck, we might even still disagree on that. But let’s grant that we agree just for the sake of conversation. What we would both mutually disagree on is the characteristic of Muhammad and the characteristic of his revelations…and to the extent that the Q’uran and other sources, contemporary or not, speak about these revelations, we discount these sources. We would not take Muhammad’s close believers’ word (who believe Muhammad received theological information from God) as historical evidence that any such revelation was received. We wouldn’t even take Muhammad’s close believers’ word as particularly strong historical evidence about fantastic supposed historical events.

    So, let’s say Muhammad as *we* agree upon is drastically different than the theological Muhammad. We might even say, if the differences become too large, that we don’t even believe the theological Muhammad exists. We might go so far to say that although there are plenty of people who sincerely believe his revelations are from God, they are believing on historical falsities.

    We don’t establish that the theological Muhammad exists.

    The historical facts in question require *some* sort of an explanation. Since we are dealing with history, we are dealing in probabilities, not certainties. The reason I mentioned the percentage of scholars that agree on the facts is, again, the issue of probability. The scholars who have studied this issue are the ones most well-acquainted with the evidence.

    Firstly, the percentage of scholars that agree on the facts does not make a historical fact any more probable. Now this is becoming more dangerously close to an appeal to authorities. It is probably a safer appeal to authority (because the event that our great percentage of scholars, who all indeed are well-acquainted with the evidence, could be incorrect, is just quite depressing), but it fails to establish facticity, nevertheless.

    Secondly, the explanations that we provide are the narratives. But the narratives also apply to what we will determine to be fact or not fact. They are tied together because *we* are not objective.

    I wasn’t going to build the narrative because you already know what I think. I was just curious how you personally account for the facts.

    I account for the facts with humble agnostic skepticism of claims out there combined with some healthy apathy. Are these facts? (I don’t know.) Do we have any reasonable narratives to wrap them up? (As I tell you, I am not convinced.) Do I even care? (I see no reason to.)

    You’re trying to pull more stuff out of me that you’re not going to get. I would suggest that again, the history isn’t important. The history doesn’t convince people (as others have said). Rather, people have to be convinced first. The narratives must be personally convincing. People must care. The subjectivity is what needs to be addressed.

    I know… I said I wasn’t going to comment again. Well, I lied.

    It’s ok; I won’t pull out terrible scriptures against you, unlike some people I know. 😀

  120. Pingback: Narrative calculus and bliss « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

  121. Interesting read over breakfast

    Andrew,
    Here’s I’m going to try to summarize your position. At least it’s how I understand it, from my owb “been there, done that” perspective. Obviously, yours may differ.

    1) We all have an inner drive to find something to make this life meaningful, satisfying, …. whatever the term you want to use
    2) For some people, depending on a whole lot of circumstances going from experience, cultural and social setting, etc.. this may be some form of faith system.
    3) For those that do, this faith system actually becomes accepted, not because they believe it to be the absolute truth, but rather because it provides an answer to #1 above.
    4) Considering this to be the case, and as long as whatever you find to ensure item #1 is met is not hurtful to others, you are advocating that this means is as valid as any other.
    5) That being said, the “great commission” or “evangelism”, if done in such a way that it invalidates and/or attacks the means the other person has found to fulfill #1, is objectionable. After all, the means a Christian believer has found to fill #1 is not absolute truth, but as per #2 whatever makes sense to them to ensure objective #1 is being met.

    Let me know if this is accurate. If not, feel free to correct me please.

    Mick

  122. I am quite entertained when people start speaking about “historical facts”. My father-in-law is an historian (as I am sure I have mentioned before) and the greatest lesson on history he has taught me is this: There is no such thing as “historical fact” only “historical narrative”. All we have is the record of what people claimed happened. (And yes, I know I am making an appeal to authority here. I try to do so when my own expertises – elementary education, drug prevention education, and business – illustrate that I am not really qualified to make statements on someone else’s profession.)

    Ultimately, we choose which narrative we are going to believe. We need to choose a narrative to believe. To horribly paraphrase one of my many favourite quotes, “A life without a belief in a narrative is no life at all.”

    I really appreciate Katie L’s insights into the subject of Truth. I totally agree with her. I don’t think it is possible for us to know the-complete-Truth-and-nothing-but-the-Truth-so-help-me-God but that isn’t going to stop me from trying to find out some of the Truth. Likewise, it won’t stop me from sharing what I have come to accept with others. I may be wrong. I am willing to concede that point. Until I die, or God Himself appears to me and says “Alex, you were right! You win a new car!” I have to accept that there is a chance of me being wrong.

    But this is where what Andrew has been talking about over and over again comes into play. Personal fulfillment. It is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Nowhere in there does he list anything about being “happy”. Happiness is fleeting. Fulfillment is lasting. This idea that happiness is tied to personal fulfillment is why there are so many folks who tie their worthiness before God with depression. (“If I am doing what God wants of me, why am I so unhappy?” “Oh, right… chemical imbalance in my brain.”) But that is surely a whole nother topic.

    As long as I find personal fulfillment in the narrative that I have chosen to accept and live, I don’t need to worry about whether or not I am “Right” or “Wrong”.

  123. Mick:

    1) OK, I guess that works.

    2) OK, I guess that works too.

    3) I disagree. For most people, I think they would believe it to be absolute truth as well. Most people, I’ve found, don’t want to believe that the meaning they have is subjective. They chafe at this suggestion. They want to believe that it is objective meaning, that it is absolute meaning, that it is universal meaning. So, I think that while faith systems do provide an answer to 1), I think that many people believe additionally that their faith system is absolutely true. The problem? Now we have very different faith systems, very different philosophies and worldviews, and everyone thinks theirs is true, when the reason they adopted it was because it “made sense,” it “satisfied” them, etc., This does not mean all must be false, but it’s just saying that “making sense” isn’t necessarily good enough to establish truthfulness.

    4) Since we have to adjust 3, we have to adjust 4. The problem is that because we tend to believe our faith systems represent absolute truths (or contain absolute truths), we do things as a result of our faith systems that generally may “hurt” people. Not in the sense of physically hurting people (not usually), but in the sense of annoying, pressing upon people, assuming, etc., etc.,) But, I don’t see much directly wrong with this; as long as one is satisfied, and they do not harm others, I think that is valid. It may not be true, but it is valid and I wouldn’t wish to take that away from them. For example, I have no problem with a Christian who is satisfied with Christianity. But, to point out what I’ve been saying, Christians aren’t *simply* satisfied with Christianity. As per my adjustment to your 3), they are satisfied with Christianity AND they believe that Christianity aligns best with historical, factual, and metaphysical truth. And if it does, doesn’t the Christian have an onus to share this truth, because of the great (and eternal) consequences it has?

    5) The problem here is again with 3…since the Christians do believe that their system also is absolutely true (and I would venture most others do). If that is the case, the Great Commission itself is part of the ‘satisfaction’ from Christianity. So, as Jessica (I believe) pointed out, to ask her not to participate in the Great Commission would be dissatisfying to her. It would, I think, rip at her at a deep level if she believed Christianity to be true (she does), yet did not share this with her loved ones. In her mind, evangelism may ultimately require invalidating or attacking the means that others use to achieve 1…because for her, it’s a matter of “objective truth” or “objective falsity.” She is making a narrative case that she believes is ultimately, objectively, and absolutely true. This takes no captives.

    Also, I would like to quibble:

    After all, the means a Christian believer has found to fill #1 is not absolute truth, but as per #2 whatever makes sense to them to ensure objective #1 is being met.

    The means a Christian believer has found to fill #1 is not necessarily absolute truth. It could certainly be true. However, yes, I think that it more closely represents what makes sense to them, what satisfies them, fills in holes, etc., If it is true, that really is a side effect (although a believer will of course believe it is true and that the truth is the centerpiece of the belief system. Again, people bristle at the idea that they may be going for “what makes sense” instead of “what is true”, and I don’t blame them).

    So, I think that’s somewhat close (at least, I don’t see many glaring differences), but I think adjusting point 3 really changes the game. It actually makes everything different (because when you realize that the Great Commission *is* part of the satisfaction of a narrative…sharing “the good news” is part of the satisfaction of a narrative, then suggestions as to how people should interact with each other become awkward.)

  124. re alextvalencic:

    I’m really glad that someone else is thinking about similar things with relation to history. Although, as you point out, this is also appeal to authority…just, obviously, a different authority (and underlying set of authorities.) [You give a valid reason why too…which I suppose would also apply to Jessica’s appeal…so…ooohhhh].

    I think you’ve gotten what I’ve been trying to say.

  125. OK, Changed my name since that’s how I sign anyway.

    Andrew
    One clarification I do need to make. What I was stating is not necessarily what I believe to be accurate or what I believe Christians or other believers adhere to, but more a summary of what I understand your objections and/or position to be.

    For instance on #3: I concur that most Christian do accept their faith to be the absolute truth. Those that don’t are usually labeled “Unitarians” or some other ugly term by us true believers, for they have given up that core part of our belief that states that Christ is the only true way.

    However, from what I understand, this is exactly the presupposition you challenge. You would claim that Christians are not Christians because they believe they have the absolute truth. They are Christians because of factors #1 and #2 and the claim of having the absolute truth is more a consequence of the acceptance of Christianity as a means of fullfilling #1 more so than the other way round.

    Same would go for Muslims, Hindu, atheist, you name it…We’re adhering to a faith system to fullfill #1, then since being wrong is not very pleasant or for whatever other reason, we boldly proclaim we have the absolute truth. Whether we admit that is a whole other bag of beans, but this is your position.

    Or even shorter stated, the position you take in this is:
    Hey… you made your life meaningful by adopting Christianity, don’t come and tell me I’m wrong for believing something else because after all, you filled your void by Christianity, I’m filling it with . Your claim to absolute truth is after all based on elements that you accepted to fill the void in the first place (such as inerrancy of scripture, etc)

    A little crass perhaps, but you get the gist.

    Not trying to put words in your mouth, trying to summarize what I understand your position to be.

    I’d really like to make sure I got your opnion right 😉

    Mick

  126. Mick,

    What I was stating is not necessarily what I believe to be accurate or what I believe Christians or other believers adhere to, but more a summary of what I understand your objections and/or position to be.

    And in that, I think you misunderstand my position. I don’t think I’m that ignorant of what Christians believe.

    The distinction is in they believe. If you take this phrase out, things change. Let me try to show you.

    However, from what I understand, this is exactly the presupposition you challenge. You would claim that Christians are not Christians because they believe they have the absolute truth. They are Christians because of factors #1 and #2 and the claim of having the absolute truth is more a consequence of the acceptance of Christianity as a means of fullfilling #1 more so than the other way round.

    No, I do not claim that Christians are not Christians because they believe they have the absolute truth. Certainly, Christians do believe they have the absolute truth. I am claiming that Christians are not Christians because they have the absolute truth. (see: I just took out “they believe.”)

    Rather, they are Christians because Christianity (including the idea that Christianity is/has absolute truth) makes sense to them, fulfills them, etc., (e.g., They are Christians because of factors #1 and #2. The belief that they have absolute truth is tied into the satisfaction and fulfillment that Christianity provides them. But this belief that they have absolute truth is a quite different matter than the reality of if they have truth or not, which may or may not be the case.)

    Does that distinction make sense? “They believe” is subjective and is tied closely with the “making sense” and the “fulfillment”. UFO believers believe that UFOs actually exist…but they don’t believe this necessarily because UFOs actually exist. They believe this because this conclusion and narrative makes sense with what they have experienced, etc., This belief could hold even if UFOs don’t actually exist.

    Same would go for Muslims, Hindu, atheist, you name it…We’re adhering to a faith system to fullfill #1, then since being wrong is not very pleasant or for whatever other reason, we boldly proclaim we have the absolute truth. Whether we admit that is a whole other bag of beans, but this is your position.

    Depending on what you mean, I would disagree.

    OK, let’s go with *your* classification of my position (which I disagree with). If we did NOT believe we had absolute truth and yet we said we believed we did, this would tear at us deep within. Because while we can lie to others, we would not be able to lie to ourselves. Deep within, we would understand and lament, cry over our inauthenticity to ourselves.

    So truly, when we have a belief system that satisfies us, we cannot be crying inside over our inauthenticity to ourselves. This crying within *is* dissatisfaction! So it follows that when a belief system satisfies us, we should believe it is true. Our belief that it is true, however, does not necessarily mean it is true. So, the issue is whether we acknowledge that our belief that something is true does not necessarily mean we grasp truth.

    Or even shorter stated, the position you take in this is:
    Hey… you made your life meaningful by adopting Christianity, don’t come and tell me I’m wrong for believing something else because after all, you filled your void by Christianity, I’m filling it with . Your claim to absolute truth is after all based on elements that you accepted to fill the void in the first place (such as inerrancy of scripture, etc)

    Quite far off.

    It’s more like, “Hey…you made your life meaningful by adopting Christianity, please accept that THIS is why you believe in Christianity. So, although I know it would continue to fulfill you to tell me I’m wrong for believing something else, please recognize that if your life was *not* made meaningful by Christianity, if it did *not* fulfill you, if it did *not* speak to your mind, then you would not believe in it. You would not believe it is correct. So, since I can tell you my life is *not* made meaningful by the view of Christianity you are offering, it is *not* fulfilling me, it does *not* speak to my mind, you should understand that you should try a different method for evangelizing or realize that I am already fulfilled and don’t need a fix. The tools and “medicines” you use to cling the void (scripture, etc.,) are great for you, but these tools and medicines are not applicable to me at this time and I have other tools and treatments.”

    A little crass perhaps, but you get the gist.

    Not trying to put words in your mouth, trying to summarize what I understand your position to be.

    I’d really like to make sure I got your opnion right

    it’s still pretty far off, because of the one change you will not make. The two words “they believe” are pretty critical, and they change everything.

  127. LOL

    Apparently I’m as bad at expressing what I’m trying to convey as you blamed yourself to be a while back.

    Oh well… the disadvantages of time-lapse-written-language-only-communication aka blog.

    And I will make any change you indicate me to. I’m absolutely not gung-ho on any of this 😉

    They are Christians because of factors #1 and #2. The belief that they have absolute truth is tied into the satisfaction and fulfillment that Christianity provides them. But this belief that they have absolute truth is a quite different matter than the reality of if they have truth or not, which may or may not be the case.)
    Does that distinction make sense?

    Absolutely ! And I agree that Christians are Christians because of #1 and #2. And the “belief” that we have the absolute truth is an integral part as to why for us Christianity is a means to fill the void.

    I do think I understand your position way better than I can convey or than you seem to be giving me credit for. It may the language barrier, it may be the written language.

    Personally: of course I have to accept Christianity as absolute truth, if not I am filling the void with something I know not to be true, and therefore it would be not fulfilling but a surrogate ! That’s a conditio sine qua non. If I didn’t accept Christianity as the truth, it would be insincere and I would keep looking to find that thing that does fill it to my satisfaction.

    The tools and “medicines” you use to cling the void (scripture, etc.,) are great for you, but these tools and medicines are not applicable to me at this time and I have other tools and treatments.”

    Got it.. way better put. And I do respect the fact that you have “other tools and treatments” and that they are as valid to you as Christianity is to me.

    All that being said, I have four choices.
    1) I listen and try to understand and stop. At which point we have had an interfaith dialogue and may part ways respecting each other. But as you mention this may violate the goal of “the great commission”, which is an integral part of my faith, and therefore it may leave me unfulfilled and a make a dent in my “tool”, etc..etc..etc..
    2) I listen, understand and continue to try and explain why I came to the conclusion for me personally why my void could only be filled with Christianity. Call it Sharing a testimony It’s sometimes effective, sometimes not. But it leaves room for respect if the other person is willing to listen. I believe we can still do this within the realm of interfaith dialogue since I am speaking and sharing about me, not about you. And it may avoid the inner conflict generated by approach #1.
    3) I do all the same and then attempt to prove you wrong. This very often is perceived as an attack and leads to conflict more so than dialogue. I have now completely taken care of my inner conflict, at the expense of yours. Which btw.. should generate another conflict since I “have not loved you as myself”, but too many of us tend to dismiss that little part
    4) I give you a Bible or a tract or a whatever, give you my phone number or e-mail in case you have a question and move on. Not very effective usually and more an “appeaser” than anything else.

    I tend to stick to #2 if the audience is willing. I can live with #1 and even sometimes #4 if it’s all the time I have.

    #3 is definitely objectionable. Which is, I think, one of the points we should be able to agree on.

    Mick

  128. And as a PS: If you so desire, I can share #2 and my “search for what I could accept as Truth to fill the void” if you want. As referenced earlier, I did go on that search for a while and settled on traditional historical Christianity.

    Just post it in here and I’ll shoot it over e-mail.

  129. re Mick:

    Communication certainly is tough. But I think it’s worth it.

    Absolutely ! And I agree that Christians are Christians because of #1 and #2. And the “belief” that we have the absolute truth is an integral part as to why for us Christianity is a means to fill the void.

    Of course. So if this is the case, and you understand this is part of my position, then why do you summarize my position like so:

    3) For those that do, this faith system actually becomes accepted, not because they believe it to be the absolute truth, but rather because it provides an answer to #1 above.

    ?

    Their believing it to be absolute truth is part of providing an answer to #1.

    Now, let me try to address your four points.

    1) I’ll ask you the same question I asked the Jessica. “Is it fulfilling and satisfying to alienate those around you, or is it fulfilling and satisfying to reach accord with those around you? I guess you can answer that for yourself as we all will.”

    I believe that if you truly believe in the Great Commission, you then feel that it is more satisfying to reach accord with those around you (regarding the Great Commission, Jesus, etc.,) So, AT THE VERY LEAST, you should still be very willing to find methods that invite people to Christ and you should still be willing to learn which methods alienate people from Christ so you can avoid them. You don’t give up the Great Commission, per se. You give up the ineffective methods that actually hurt your cause (whatever they may be) by doing “market research” on the uninitiated and finding out what makes sense to them. They may not want words. They may want actions. They may want time. They may want subtlety.

    2) Sharing a testimony is passive, however. While you note that sometimes it is effective, sometimes not…I think it is very passive. Although…maybe passivity is what is needed. I think it is a neutral choice.

    3) After pursuing 3 enough times, if you’re truly looking, you should RECOGNIZE the internal conflict. You should recognize that instead of advancing the Great Commission, you are holding it back or perhaps even setting it back. Again, this is a sign that you need to change methods (but perhaps not necessarily the message.)

    4) Also passive.

    Now, the thing about 3 is…it requires that someone can step back and LOOK and see that their actions are ineffectual (and perhaps even harmful) to their cause. BEFORE THIS POINT, the individual won’t see the harm he is causing. He will think he is being a great advocate of faith, but that the “hard-heartedness” and “closemindedness” of his audience is preventing them from letting the spirit work within. So instead of looking at his methods, he will continue an ineffective ministry. So, as much as we can say it is objectionable (because it is a lose-lose situation…to a non-Christian, it is annoying, to a Christian, it alienates Christianity and makes enemies, not friends)…the problem is that the person who needs to believe this most (e.g., the ineffective evangelist) is most likely deaf and blind to this very message. Why? Because to him, aggressive evangelism is right and makes sense.

  130. Andrew,

    I hope you don’t mind, I have browsed through your conversation with Jessica and would love to jump in with some questions for you.

    You said:

    I account for the facts with humble agnostic skepticism of claims out there combined with some healthy apathy. Are these facts? (I don’t know.) Do we have any reasonable narratives to wrap them up? (As I tell you, I am not convinced.) Do I even care? (I see no reason to.)

    I am curious as to how strong of an agnostic you are. Do you believe that there is anything that is a fact? If so, do you believe you can know anything to be true?

    Thanks!

    Darrell

  131. Darrell:

    Not that strong of an agnostic at all…

    Do I believe that there is anything that is a fact? Most certainly. But this reflects on my beliefs, of course. It just so happens that regardless of my belief on if there is anything that is a fact or not (and regardless of my beliefs on particular things as being factual or not), there are facts regardless of my position.

    Do I believe I can know anything to be true? Most certainly. But do I believe I can know everything that is true to be true? I doubt it. The difference is between what I can and cannot.

  132. Andrew,

    Thanks for the response and for allowing me to come into your conversation. I agree with both of your answers. What I believe has absolutely no bearing on whether something is true or now, and I have no way of knowing all truth. Afterall, I am not omniscient.

    Earlier you said (along with several other things – but I believe the below quote sums up a lot of what you said):

    This is due to your conception of the world around you. This is due to your conception of how to make the world make sense. The world makes sense for you when you account for order, laws of logic, moral reasoning, complexity of life, and spiritual reality, etc., when you say there is a Designer and He must have a purpose for putting us here. This says nothing about what absolute reality actually is though. This only says something about what you believe actual reality to be. What you believe actual, absolute reality to be is based on what makes sense to you, what fulfills you, what satisfies you.

    What you appear to be saying here is that facts do not have truth labels on them. Instead, we interpret facts and give meaning to facts based upon our worldviews and that those worldviews are formulated by what satifies us.

    Do I understand you correctly?

    Darrell

  133. Why did I summarize your position the way I did ?

    Bad summary ? 😉

    All kidding aside, I’m not sure it’s as linear as that.

    The question on which approach and whether one “Is it fulfilling and satisfying to alienate those around you, or is it fulfilling and satisfying to reach accord with those around you?

    This depends on the person. Are they of the mindset to, if I loosely quote Lewis, “drag you into heaven kicking and screaming” or rather of the “love your neighbor as yourself” attitude ? We all have our values, so it depends on what the person finds fulfilling as his valueset. I’m sure there’s people out there readng this and thinking “what in the heck is Mick talking about these little items for, hit him with some Scripture !”

    Considering I’m perhaps of the latter kind, I feel it important to recognize that you may want actions, time or subtlety. Since I don’t know you that well, this is perhaps the opportunity to get to know you, your thinking, how you’re feeling, etc a bit better to make sure the conversations stay constructive.

    I do agree #2 is sometimes ineffective. But I’ve seen it be very effective as well. Perhaps the work of the Spirit and perhaps the seed planted and received made the other person inquistive enough to start digging and come to the same conclusion. Who knows.

    Personally, I’d rather take my chances with #2 over getting into endless discussions and alienating someone and leave such a foul taste with them they are never going to consider Christianity ever again. I’ve had my share of the ineffective abrasive evangelizers that I am trying not to end up in that category I guess.

    I do concur that not too many people have that sensitivity per se. Although most of the people on this blog are usually civil 😉 I’ve had a couple (and have done so myself on occasion) more abrasive comments on some other blogs, but that’s life. One can find rude people everywhere. Christian or not.

    Mick

  134. Darrell:

    What you appear to be saying here is that facts do not have truth labels on them.

    Facts do have truth labels on them. The issue is that what we believe to be facts (and what narratives we weave with them) and what are facts may differ…so the actual facts have truth labels, but if we aren’t in accordance with the actual facts, then that does us little good as we will continue to use what we believe to be facts (and what we believe to have truth) instead.

    Instead, we interpret facts and give meaning to facts based upon our worldviews and that those worldviews are formulated by what satifies us.

    I’m not necessarily sure as to why you put “instead” to begin this sentence that came after your last. Even if facts have truth labels, this doesn’t change that we interpret facts (even down to what we believe are facts…which may differ in some cases from what the actual facts are) and give meanings to facts based on our worldviews and narratives, and these worldviews are formulated by what satisfies us. So, I wonder what you will say next…?

    Mick:

    I (unfortunately) agree with you as to the existence of people who would believe in “hard knocks” or “drag you kicking and screaming to heaven” or “Mick; what are you doing; hit him with some scripture.” And yet…I wonder if these people are satisfied with dragging people kicking and screaming to heaven.

    I think of an analogy of a parent. The parent is unpopular with his child. The child thinks the parent is mean, unfair, rigid, strict. The parent teaches the child values while the child “kicks and screams.”

    In the end, the child becomes rebellious and rejects the parents’ efforts. He may do drastic actions (like running away from home) to avoid the dominion of his parent.

    Is the parent satisfied to exercise increasing levels of dominion? Or wouldn’t the parent want the child to see that what he was doing for him was for his good?

    Again, mileage may vary.

    I do agree #2 is sometimes ineffective. But I’ve seen it be very effective as well. Perhaps the work of the Spirit and perhaps the seed planted and received made the other person inquistive enough to start digging and come to the same conclusion. Who knows.

    If we are relying on the work on the Spirit, then this is somewhat a bad faith in your own efficacy. You may be inclined to believe in this bad faith, but still…that’s what it is. I don’t doubt that it couldn’t be possible (after all, I can think of plenty of people who became inquisitive for just such a reason and would attribute it to the work of the Spirit along with a friend who just bore their testimony.)

  135. The problem is what kind of evidence this represents. I mean, there are people who “sincerely believe” they have seen UFOs and have been abducted by aliens. Not to say Jesus’s resurrection is on this same level, but we have quite a few years to muddy the playing field.

    I’m glad you stated that this analogy isn’t on the same level. Comparing the resurrection to UFO sightings only works for me if I extend the UFO analogy to include: an ancient people group whose scriptures gave prophecies many centuries before of a particular UFO sighting including details about the specific place that the UFO would be seen (including the name of the town), the timing that the UFO would make its appearance in history, what the UFO would do while here on earth, and how it would die; and accompanied by some relevant, astronomical events in the skies that appear to have marked the UFO’s entrance and exit of the planet.

  136. Of course, an interesting thing is that all of these things need to be wrapped together in a narrative. The difference between Christians and Jews, say, is whether they believe such ancient scriptures gave prophecies regarding to a *specific*…uh…UFO? (The analogy kinda changes.) It makes sense to Christians that it did (and the rest follows)…but it doesn’t make sense to all.

  137. UFOs and JESUS:

    I would argue that there is no solid intelligible evidence that Jesus is God without a belief in the New Testament.

    You have to believe the New Testament prior to reaching this this particular conclusion from the raw historical data we have.

    Pointing to the actual sparsity of evidence for the strong claims of the bible is part of the “shooting yourself in the foot” that Seth posted about.

    However, even though it may not make sense to make certain believers skeptical, recognizing that you don’t have a knockdown arguments for your religion IS an important part with being able to have productive dialog with skeptics.

  138. Andrew
    If we are relying on the work on the Spirit, then this is somewhat a bad faith in your own efficacy. You may be inclined to believe in this bad faith, but still…that’s what it is

    By whose standards ? Yours or mine ? By mine, it’s good faith. Part of my “standards” include the acceptance that I am not omnipotent, the realization there is a triune God who is omnipotent and that He can intervene. It’s not “bad faith in my own efficacy” rather a “good faith in my own limitations

    You call it bad faith because you don’t have that same understanding or standard. I call it good faith, because it’s part of what I believe.

    We cannot measure each others actions and make swooping statements like the one above unless we accept that we are using our own internal accepted standard as the measuring rod.

    So what’s yours ?

    See, I could take that comment you just made and turn it topsy-turvy. [Note: Watch out.. just trying to prove a point, don’t take this literally !] I could say something like:

    With your statement about bad faith in my eficacy, you are infringing on my tools that are fullfilling me and are making my life meaningful. Who are you to dare to call any part of that “bad faith” ? After all, using your quote, The tools and “medicines” you use to cling the void… (logic, etc.,) are great for you, but these tools and medicines are not applicable to me at this time and I have other tools and treatments.. [my faith]

    Now don’t get me wrong here. I’m not attacking you at all. If there was body language involved, you’d see a smile on my face or something. I’m not mad or trying to be aggressive (sigh.. the limits of written language)

    The point I’m trying to make here is that no matter how hard we try, no matter how respectful we are and how loving and caring we try to be, sooner or later in any discussion you will make a judgement call on the “standards” (or “void-filler” or whatever you want to call it) of the other person. It’s inevitable. Whether it’s conscious or subconscious. Whether it’s outwardly expressed or internalized. We would set out not to judge, yet we all fall short of that. So what does one do when one realizes that whatever one tries to fill the void with, it will always fall short of what we set out to do on our own ?

    Respectfully
    Mick

  139. Mick:

    By whose standards ? Yours or mine ? By mine, it’s good faith. Part of my “standards” include the acceptance that I am not omnipotent, the realization there is a triune God who is omnipotent and that He can intervene. It’s not “bad faith in my own efficacy” rather a “good faith in my own limitations”

    By both of our standards. You would actually agree, but let me show you…

    I’m really glad you said it in the way you did. You have “good faith in your own limitations.”

    The reason I call this “bad faith” is because I always use faith as something we should use in ourselves. Faith relates to authenticity to me…and authenticity is internal. So, if your authenticity requires that you recognize radical limitations — even if those limitations do certainly exist — and have faith in some externality, that is to me by default bad faith. So when you say “faith in my limitations,” that latter part (in my limitations) is the “bad” part. My thoughts are that even if Sisyphus truly *is* limited and cannot escape the eternal struggle of rolling the stone up the mountain to have it roll back down again, he must continue and continue and continue. It is absurd, but it is necessary. He does not have faith in his limitations that allows him to have faith in a limitless being. (That would really be victory for Zeus and the rest). He continues and continues and continues.

    So, have I satisfactorily answered what my measuring rod is? I apologize for not coming out with from the beginning, since this really *is* what I meant to put out front from the start. Authenticity is *us*-centric, so whenever it becomes twisted against us (or whenever we feel it is twisted against us), this is bad faith, IMO.

    But as you quite well point out, you don’t have this faith for no reason. You don’t do it to twist it against yourself. Rather, you have this faith in your limitations because it makes sense, is satisfying, is completing. It actually turns back around and is really quite the conundrum.

    With your statement about bad faith in my eficacy, you are infringing on my tools that are fullfilling me and are making my life meaningful. Who are you to dare to call any part of that “bad faith” ? After all, using your quote, The tools and “medicines” you use to cling the void… (logic, etc.,) are great for you, but these tools and medicines are not applicable to me at this time and I have other tools and treatments.. [my faith]

    I highly doubt you want to use this turnaround. You don’t want to turn logic against you, because your use of faith *is* a use of logic. You don’t want to turn things like reason against you. You simply begin with different premises and reach different conclusions. If I accepted the same premises, chances are, through the same course of logic, I would come to similar conclusions. So, beware of making things topsy-turvy…

    Please don’t interpret what I had said as too much of an attack. We really are saying similar things. You admit that you do have faith in your limitations. This is not just recognizing limitations or suspecting limitations. This is *having faith in* limitations. This is…huge…IMO.

  140. Andrew,

    You said:

    I’m not necessarily sure as to why you put “instead” to begin this sentence that came after your last.

    Probably my fault for bad wording. What I was saying was, “Instead of thinking that facts have truth labels on them, you believe that one interprets facts based upon their worldview.” Sorry for the confusion. You answered my questions though.

    I happen to agree with several of your points. Our worldviews do effect how we interpret facts. And you may be correct that in some cases people derive their worldviews based upon how those worldviews make them feel. However, I would suggest some caution in how far you extend this view.

    First, the case can be made that not everyone derives their worldview based upon what satisfies them For, how would you know that everyone does this. Have you observed everyone? Gone inside their heads to test them? In addition, even if I grant that everyone does it, that in no way speaks to the fact that the worldview they come to is incorrect. How one comes to a conclusion does not necessarily cause the conclusion itself to be wrong. That would be a genetic fallacy.

    Second, if all worldviews/beliefs are derived based upon what satisfies, then your worldview that people’s worldviews are derived based upon what satisifes must be derived from what satisifies you. As a result, it is simply the product of a view that you find satisfactory and not necessarily what is true. We are then free to discount it as something that simply satisifes Andrew. In otherwords, it defeats itself.

    God Bless!

    Darrell

  141. Darrell:

    Oh, I would say that I *know* that not everyone derives their worldview based on what satisfies them. Even without going into other heads I can say that I lived my life at a time based on extreme internal tension…without things making sense…without fulfillment. Their worldviews, then, are based *in spite of* or *regardless* how they feel.

    I can only test the symptoms of the extreme internal tension and know that other people have and still do the same.

    In addition, even if I grant that everyone does it, that in no way speaks to the fact that the worldview they come to is incorrect. How one comes to a conclusion does not necessarily cause the conclusion itself to be wrong. That would be a genetic fallacy.

    Indeed, I have not said that the conclusion is incorrect. Just that the conclusion is not necessarily correct (especially not just because it makes sense to us).

    Second, if all worldviews/beliefs are derived based upon what satisfies, then your worldview that people’s worldviews are derived based upon what satisifes must be derived from what satisifies you. As a result, it is simply the product of a view that you find satisfactory and not necessarily what is true. We are then free to discount it as something that simply satisifes Andrew. In otherwords, it defeats itself.

    Since I have already said that not all worldviews/beliefs are derived upon what satisfies (but that produces some adverse consequences, so oh well), let’s just scuttle that out.

    But let’s continue, “Then my worldview that people’s worldviews are derived based upon what satisfies must be derived from what satisfies me.” (Yes.)

    “As a result, it is simply the product of a view that I find satisfactory and not necessarily what is true.” (Yes. I have not said otherwise. Consider how Tim tried to ask, “How did I come out of subjectivity to make this objective claim.” No…I didn’t ever come out of subjectivityThe claim represents something I make from my subjectivity.).

    “We are then free to discount it as something that simply satisfies Andrew.” (Yes, but bewarde this is also the same for any of your beliefs, which has implications).

    “In other words, it defeats itself.” (Uhh…I don’t see where you got this. I would say no. Why? Because the worldview still satisfies me [which is all I warranted], and I can still attempt to communicate of how it should satisfy you [note that neither of which say anything necessarily about the truth value]. [This is something that you would want to adopt for something like, say, the Great Commission. If at the end of the day, someone says, “Well, look, this argument was nice/terrible, but I’ll just discount it as something that satisfies you, regardless of all of the consequences you say,” then at the end of the day, something with grand implications has occurred.] Your discounting my worldview would either represent that my worldview does not satisfy you [in which case, go ahead and discount it…while practicing it] OR that it does satisfy you but you’re not seeking that which would be satisfying to you. Similarly, this is the same thing that I would do to you with your worldview/beliefs.)

  142. Andrew,

    You said:

    “In other words, it defeats itself.” (Uhh…I don’t see where you got this. I would say no.

    Allow me to explain myself a little better. You appear to be saying (and correct me if I am wrong) that since Jessica is deriving her worldview based upon what satifies her, that this then calls into question her interpretation of the facts as she is interpreting these facts in favor of Christianity.

    If this is the case, you need to call your worldview/belief that “people derive their beliefs/worldview based upon what satisifies them” into question as well. For it is self-referencing and could just as easily come from what you find satisfactory – thus it is just as questionable as Jessica’s position. So, the position you use against Jessica’s beliefs can be used not only against your (or anyone else’s) position, agctually can be used against the very point itself. In otherwords, the battering ram you use against other people’s beliefs actually beats itself up.

    Now, perhaps it is not your contention that Jessica’s interpretation/beliefs/worldview need to be called into question. However, that appeared to be what you were saying.

    Blessings!

    Darrell

  143. Andrew,

    One other point. When I say “called into question,” I am talking about calling into question the actual truth of a position. I am not talking about something being pragmatic fro someone (i.e. working for them or satifying them). For pragmatism is not a valid test for truth. As you have correctly pointed out, whether or not something works for somebody or makes them feel good has nothing to do with whether it is in fact true.

    Darrell

  144. Darrell,

    You appear to be saying (and correct me if I am wrong) that since Jessica is deriving her worldview based upon what satifies her, that this then calls into question her interpretation of the facts as she is interpreting these facts in favor of Christianity.

    Well, actually, her interpretation of the facts is called into question either way because it is an interpretation. That she interprets these in favor of Christianity is just accidental. Let’s say she interpreted these against Christianity. The *interpretation* would still be called into question.

    If this is the case, you need to call your worldview/belief that “people derive their beliefs/worldview based upon what satisifies them” into question as well. For it is self-referencing and could just as easily come from what you find satisfactory – thus it is just as questionable as Jessica’s position.

    But it is questionable. I have not said it was not questionable. The question is for what is it questionable? That is: the truth of it. (Note that I have not suggested otherwise, to my knowledge. P.S. I just got the email that you just wrote a new comment confirming that’s what you meant. We seem to be in accord, actually.)

    I do not doubt that it “could just as easily come from what I find satisfactory.” In fact, that is exactly what I’m saying. Instead of brokering for truthfulness, I am brokering that it might actually be satisfactory to Jessica as well or to you as well.

    So, the position you use against Jessica’s beliefs can be used not only against your (or anyone else’s) position, agctually can be used against the very point itself.

    Yes. But the questionability of it as truth (which is granted) isn’t problematic. You only win the prize when you can get at its ability to be satisfactory, fulfilling, etc., So I don’t see how it is self-defeating, if you don’t nullify the pragmatic value (which is all it claims).

  145. Andrew,

    You said:

    Well, actually, her interpretation of the facts is called into question either way because it is an interpretation.

    Your interepretation that “her intepretation of the facts is called into question” is an interpretation as well. So it needs to be called into question. Again, self-referencing and self-defeating.

    You said:

    Yes. But the questionability of it as truth (which is granted) isn’t problematic. You only win the prize when you can get at its ability to be satisfactory, fulfilling, etc., So I don’t see how it is self-defeating, if you don’t nullify the pragmatic value (which is all it claims).

    I am not sure what you mean by “prize”. Are you talking about winning people over to ones point of view?

    The manner in which this position is self-defeating has nothing to do with its pragmatic value or lack thereof. It is simply self-defeating because it references itself and does not live up to its own standard. As a result – to use a Hume statement – it must cast to the flames.

    Darrell

  146. Darrell:

    That the interpretation is questionable does not make it self defeating. It simply makes it questionable (which I never suggested otherwise).

    The only thing that would say it must be cast into the flames is if and when it ceases to be satisfying. If and when it ceases to be pragmatic. That is the standard. So that is the prize.

    Since questionability refers to truth and not pragmatism, it doesn’t necessarily touch pragmatism. It doesn’t even necessarily ensure falsity…just calls into question truth.

  147. Note I de-italicized the word “logic” as it was not part of your quote. Looks like it detracted from what I was trying to convey.

    The point I was trying to make is somewhat similar to the second one Darrell is making.

    You even acknowledged as much:

    Authenticity is *us*-centric, so whenever it becomes twisted against us (or whenever we feel it is twisted against us), this is bad faith, IMO.

    The key there is IMO. Which btw I agree with. Your position of what is bad faith is based on your opinion. Your opinion is based on what you have adopted as your “set of standards” to “fill your void”. And how does one justify that those are “better” or “more true” than mine ? By using the same set of standards… ergo a never-ending circle.

    Alternatively by not accepting anything as truth, and driven to the extreme, this inevitably leads to a Descartes’ position where the only assured reality is that I exist.

    The balance we hence end up with is that almost anything, except as you pointed out perhaps some serious mathematics, is bound to become a matter of accepting it “beyond reasonable doubt” so that what you accept is true.

    I fully admit that my faith is a result of that balanced view. No qualms about it whatsoever. I have accepted Christianity because I considered it to be the only thing to be “beyond reasonable doubt”. And all I can do is invite everyone to try to study, research and figure out if it goes to the same level.

    Once it does… we’re in for a whole different ride… but that’s fodder for another post 😉

    Mick

  148. Andrew,

    The only thing that would say it must be cast into the flames is if and when it ceases to be satisfying. If and when it ceases to be pragmatic. That is the standard. So that is the prize.

    Acutally, I would say it needs to be cast to the flames if it is not true – whether or not it works. For there are problems with solely using pragamtism as a guide.

    For example, the desired results (what is satisfying) may be unrelated to the truth of a view (as you have admitted). If so, what works in the short run (for example lying) may actually destroy one in the long run. As a result, there needs to be something else that we look to – otherwise, we could be in for a huge number of problems down the road.

    In addition, the results do not cause a view to be true; they merely follow from the view. In otherwords, pragmatism confuses the results of something with its cause (i.e. “It works for me so I am going to stick with it.”) However, what works may be completely off base – such as lying or killing. This in turn leads to a problem, for if all you are turning to is “what works” then you really have no basis to judge any other view wrong. Afterall, if killing works for me who are you to tell me I shouldn’t do it?

    Darrell

  149. Alternatively by not accepting anything as truth, and driven to the extreme, this inevitably leads to a Descartes’ position where the only assured reality is that I exist.

    Just a sidenote here – bear in mind that Descartes didn’t stop there. He actually took this point and argued for the ceretainty that we can know that God exists. He only used this position – I think. Therefore, I am – as more or less a starting point.

    Darrell

  150. re Mick:

    The key there is IMO. Which btw I agree with. Your position of what is bad faith is based on your opinion. Your opinion is based on what you have adopted as your “set of standards” to “fill your void”. And how does one justify that those are “better” or “more true” than mine ? By using the same set of standards… ergo a never-ending circle.

    Except I have already noted the key there is IMO (and the same vice versa). You and I already agree here. I’m not saying that these are “more true,” than yours, but I am making a position that they make more sense to me, and I am engaging in communication with the hopes that they would make sense to you. You do the same vice versa with me.

    re Darrell:

    Acutally, I would say it needs to be cast to the flames if it is not true – whether or not it works. For there are problems with solely using pragamtism as a guide.

    When you say “for there are problems with solely using pragmatism as a guide,” you are asserting that it does not work solely as a guide. You are implicitly asserting that untrue things do not work as well as true things. So, to cast something into the flames doesn’t require its truth or untruth, but rather the *belief* in its untruth, rather the *perception* of its untruth (because these are the things which will make it dissatisfying; these are the things that will make it “not work;” these are the things that will make it “not make sense,” and so forth.)

    For example, the desired results (what is satisfying) may be unrelated to the truth of a view (as you have admitted). If so, what works in the short run (for example lying) may actually destroy one in the long run. As a result, there needs to be something else that we look to – otherwise, we could be in for a huge number of problems down the road.

    For example, this is such an argument.

    Of course, we don’t face the “huge number of problems down the road” every day. We face the deep-reaching misery or satisfaction every day. In order for the “huge number of problems down the road” to become effective, you must make them a source of deep-reaching misery today.

    In addition, the results do not cause a view to be true; they merely follow from the view. In otherwords, pragmatism confuses the results of something with its cause (i.e. “It works for me so I am going to stick with it.”) However, what works may be completely off base – such as lying or killing. This in turn leads to a problem, for if all you are turning to is “what works” then you really have no basis to judge any other view wrong. Afterall, if killing works for me who are you to tell me I shouldn’t do it?

    Uh, right…the results do not cause a view to be true. In this case, my goal would be to convince you that killing “doesn’t work for you.” How do I do this? I do this by trying to appeal to you that you believe it is “completely off base” (regardless of if it is or not). My goal would be to convince you that actually, killing will not satisfy you and not killing will. My goal is to convince you that not killing makes sense and killing doesn’t make sense.

    In this case, I still don’t get wrapped up in what actually is right or wrong…instead I am dialoguing about what we think is right or wrong with the hopes of changing what we (and in particular, you, the prospective murderer) thinks.

  151. Andrew,

    When you say “for there are problems with solely using pragmatism as a guide,” you are asserting that it does not work solely as a guide. You are implicitly asserting that untrue things do not work as well as true things.

    What I am saying is that to look at how something “works for you” is not a accurate guide to whether something is true or not. For, things that are not true may work for you in the short run (i.e. lying).

    “What works” is not a sufficient condition for truth – especially when looked at in the long run. However, truth is a sufficient for “what works” in the long run.

    Now, if one does not really care about truth, then all this discussion may be pointless. However, not caring about truth says nothing about the value of truth. All that not caring about truth says is that the individual who holds this worldview is actually defeating themself. For, they hold a worldview that says it is “true” that truth does not matter. My question would be “Is this a truth that is important to you?” 🙂

    In reality, I think we all, in our hearts, believe that truth matters. The second someone tells a big lie to the person who screams that truth doesn’t matter, that individual will be the first person to say, “Hey, that’s not fair! You lied.”

    My goal would be to convince you that actually, killing will not satisfy you and not killing will. My goal is to convince you that not killing makes sense and killing doesn’t make sense.

    But, if I wholeheartedly believe that killing works for me, why would you try to convince me that it doesn’t? If I am well aware of the consequences, am willing to accept them, why would you try to convince me that I shouldn’t do it? If pragmatism is really all that matters, and I am being very pragmatic in seeking to satisfy what I desire (revenge, lust, anger, etc.), what is wrong with what I am doing?

    Let me share another example. Let’s say I am a very carnally minded person and all I really care about is satisfying my desires with very, very young girls – children in fact. All I care about is satisfying my desire, I realize I may get caught and sent to jail, and I am willing to accept the consequences. Being a pragmatic person I seek out and satisfy my desires on a regular basis.

    Now, here is my question Andrew – is what I am doing wrong? Bear in mind, I am being very pragmatic. I have a desire and I want to satisfy it, and I could care less what happens down the road. I am willing to accept the consequences, and all I want is to satisfy my desire today. Pragmatically speaking, I am doing what I am supposed too to satisfy myself. So, is my action wrong Andrew?

    Darrell

  152. Darrell,

    What I am saying is that to look at how something “works for you” is not a accurate guide to whether something is true or not. For, things that are not true may work for you in the short run (i.e. lying).

    Um, right. That’s what I have been saying as well. On the other hand, just because we’re going by what works for us doesn’t necessarily mean that it is untrue either…especially in the case that the truth *does* work for us.

    Now, if one does not really care about truth, then all this discussion may be pointless. However, not caring about truth says nothing about the value of truth. All that not caring about truth says is that the individual who holds this worldview is actually defeating themself. For, they hold a worldview that says it is “true” that truth does not matter. My question would be “Is this a truth that is important to you?” 🙂

    Well, one does care about “truth.” So that would explain why one believes that what “makes sense” or “works” or “satisfies” or “fulfills” to be true or correct, even if it is *not* (and even if the individual realizes that it may not be, and is really just what “works” or what “satisfies” or what “fulfills”.) The answer to your question would have to be: any truth (real or not) that you can make make sense, make fulfilling, make satisfying, etc., to me. That would bring with it importance.

    In reality, I think we all, in our hearts, believe that truth matters. The second someone tells a big lie to the person who screams that truth doesn’t matter, that individual will be the first person to say, “Hey, that’s not fair! You lied.”

    That is because the “truth” was something that made sense, was fulfilling, was satisfying.

    Consider if someone tells a big lie to the person who does believe that truth matters. If the lie does not register as a lie (because it does not “break” sense, it does not lack fulfillment, it is not dissatisfying), then there is no “Hey, that’s not fair! You lied.” despite the fact that a lie was *actually* told.

    Similarly, consider if someone tells a truth to someone who does believe that the truth matters, but the truth registers as a lie (because this truth does not make sense, does not fulfill, is not satisfying). Then there *is* a “Hey, that’s not fair! You lied.” despite the fact that the *truth* was *actually* told.

    Despite the value of the truth, you have to work at the individual’s sense of ‘making sense,’ sense of ‘fulfillment,’ since of ‘things working,’ etc., Even if you believe these things are sometimes faulty.

    But, if I wholeheartedly believe that killing works for me, why would you try to convince me that it doesn’t? If I am well aware of the consequences, am willing to accept them, why would you try to convince me that I shouldn’t do it? If pragmatism is really all that matters, and I am being very pragmatic in seeking to satisfy what I desire (revenge, lust, anger, etc.), what is wrong with what I am doing?

    I would try to convince you that it doesn’t because that is the action I must take to be authentic to myself. Even if pragmatism is really all that matters, then I must be as pragmatic in seeking to satisfy what I desire (to change your perception of what you desire). The true rightness or wrongness of what you’re doing has little impact on what the outcome will soon be (even if I believe you shouldn’t act in such a way) *unless* I can convey to you some model of rightness or wrongness that makes sense to you, that works for you, that satisfies you (and will therefore defuse you and protect me.) This model of rightness or wrongness need not be a correct model. It needs to be the one that works in convincing you otherwise — that you truly do not believe that killing little ole me would work for you.

    Let me share another example. Let’s say I am a very carnally minded person and all I really care about is satisfying my desires with very, very young girls – children in fact. All I care about is satisfying my desire, I realize I may get caught and sent to jail, and I am willing to accept the consequences. Being a pragmatic person I seek out and satisfy my desires on a regular basis.

    Now, here is my question Andrew – is what I am doing wrong? Bear in mind, I am being very pragmatic. I have a desire and I want to satisfy it, and I could care less what happens down the road. I am willing to accept the consequences, and all I want is to satisfy my desire today. Pragmatically speaking, I am doing what I am supposed too to satisfy myself. So, is my action wrong Andrew?

    By the terms of our society, you are wrong. By the terms of a past society, you may not be wrong. Neither of which have any bearing on if you *truly* are wrong or right. So, if *I*, a non-pedophile-advocate from the current society answer, “You’re wrong,” then I am doing this from the point that my modern society upbringing tells me this is so. (This would get really awkward if I were a pedophile-advocate.) Even if I’m correct, it could be for a drastically different reason than it is. Now, I don’t know where you’re going with this, since we’ve already established that pragmatism has no say on whether you’re right or wrong, but the thing you haven’t addressed is this: unless someone else can get involved, it does accurately project that you’re likely to continue doing what you’re doing.

    So, for those of us who think you’re wrong (so let’s say I do), then regardless of if you are right or wrong, I would need to work at convincing you that a moral system (where you are wrong and should stop doing that) makes sense to you and is personally persuasive. Your actions cannot simply be wrong. In fact, even if they are right, they cannot simply be right. Rather, you have to believe — whether we are right or wrong, whether you are right or wrong, whether the action is right or wrong — that it is right or wrong.

  153. Truth may be ultimately pragmatic, that seems pretty clear . . . but true does not seem to be ultimately satisfying and fulfilling unless you have a taste for it.

    most I know prefer some brand of fantasy.

  154. Jared, somehow I don’t think Darrell is going to let you get away with that comment. “Truth may be ultimately pragmatic,” that is.

    I would say yes, that we seem to have more of a taste for the pragmatic than the truth, whatever the case is, but that doesn’t make the truth ultimately pragmatic.

  155. Andrew, I assume that you take the Albert Camus view of Sisyphus? It’s an interesting insight into the absurdism that you talk about.

    “The struggle itself…is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

    Kind of fun to read about.

  156. Truth may be ultimately pragmatic, that seems pretty clear . . . but true does not seem to be ultimately satisfying and fulfilling unless you have a taste for it.

    This kind of strikes at the heart of what I have been saying. What is “pragmatic” depends upon what a person is trying to accomplish. If all I care about is satisfying my carnal desires (as in my earlier example) then having multiple relations would be “pragmatic”. However, this has no connection whatsoever with whether these relations are “good” or whether any of it is “true”.

    Andrew, this is the problem with your pragmatic approach. It completely leaves out truth. You pay lip service to truth with statements such as “one does care about truth” but just a few comments before you say things such as:

    “The only thing that would say it must be cast into the flames is if and when it ceases to be satisfying. If and when it ceases to be pragmatic. That is the standard. So that is the prize.”

    What is satisfying and pragmatic is the prize?? Irregardless of whether it is true or not? Statements such as this don’t place a whole lot of importance on truth. This brings me to the reason I brought up the “pedophile example”. “What works” for the pedophile in my example is rape. Rape enables him to acheive his prize (carnal pleasure with children), and since as you put it, it should only be cast into the flames if it ceases to be pragmatic, he should continue to rape. Given your worldview you have no basis to tell him not to do it.

    It is only when you bring objective truth and objective standards into the picture that one can get out of the mess that your pragmatic approach creates. For then, and only then, do you have a basis for approaching the pedophile and telling him that while he might want to satisfy his carnal desires, and pragmatically speaking he can satisfy those desires by raping, he should not do it because those desires are wrong.

    Blessings,

    Darrell

  157. Darrell

    You’ve really not stepped out of anything, much less the pragmatic mess. In fact, your appeal to truth and objective standards will fall flat as it is. For your appeal to work, you would have to convince the pedophile of these objective standards, which would only be possible through appealing to his *subjective* sense. You would have to convince the pedophile that what you propose are objective standards (regardless of if they are or are not) are most applicable, would work best for him, etc., etc.,. Because of this, it still follows that appealing to subjective sense is the only basis for approaching the pedophile and trying to convince him otherwise.

    Let’s say pedophilia is objectively wrong, but you cannot convince him it is so. Then what? You have failed at a pragmatic level. You have failed regardless of what right and wrong is. So you must become more creative. You must realize that the objective right or wrongness is not at stake and is relatively powerless (unless you pin all your hopes on the future when all consequences will come crashing at someone.) It is whether you can convince the pedophile that his action is right or wrong. But this is completely separate of the rightness or wrongness…

    Furthermore, the standards that you propose are objective need not be objective. The only thing that needs happen is that, if you are compelled by objective standards (and believe that the pedophile is compelled by objective standards), you need to be convinced that they are objective (regardless of if they are or not).

    This is the same way with the truth analogy. People *do* care about truth in a lip service way. The thing that needs to happen is that, given we are compelled by “truth,” one needs to be convinced that something is true — regardless of if it is or not. When people start changing minds, it is not that what is true changed…it is that those people finally were *convinced* of something’s truth. But this process of convincing does not require that something to be actually true.

    You assert that objectivity would give “basis” for approaching the pedophile and subjectivity would not…but I don’t know how to say it…you won’t accomplish anything with the pedophile unless you can convince him — and this is a task that relates to subjectivity — that he is wrong. There is nothing in my worldview that prevents me from trying to convince him otherwise. I just recognize that I’ll only be successful not if I can find that pedophilia is objectively wrong…but if *I* can convince the pedophile that it is wrong. This would be *my* pragmatism.

  158. Ok, I am sure it would take a lot of explaining to show how I am right on this issue but, what I meant was, as a description of reality, truth is ultimately pragmatic.

    Notice I did not say that what is “good” is ultimately pragmatic. What is “good” seems to be the question of the day here.

    “It is good to rape.” as a proposition is only true if it works completely with what is “good”. Coherence and correspondence with the concept of good.

    “Snow is white” is true IFF the statement ultimately works within our concepts of “snow” and “white” and all of the appurtenant concepts and related facts.

    “God exists” is true IFF this proposition fit, cohered and worked within our concept of God and existence. I think the reason why this is always a source of contention is that what “God” is has always had such varied meanings that its usefulness as a generic term doesn’t really work. “God” unlike “white” or even “good” nearly always means something quite different to most people using the term.

    Now this still leaves the entire concept what is “good” to be explained.

    I don’t think you can equate Truth and Good since truth does necessarily imply normative consequences.

    It may be better to ignore the truth, it may be way to complicated and painful. as I said before, most people I know seem to think this and live in some sort of fantasy world. Living in delusion may actually be better than living in the “real

    I don’t think you are ever going to get out of the “mess” since there is no real “objective” standard. You ultimately have to choose one perspective and decide that it is the “good” one or the one that most people can view from.

    For me, most “objective” of standards of Good seems correspond with what most people can be satisfied with, all things considered. To Andrew’s point, this seems to be what most people mean by “objective good” anyway.

  159. Jared,

    I don’t think you can equate Truth and Good since truth does necessarily imply normative consequences.

    You can easily equate Truth with Good… “There are objective truths as to what is good and what is bad.” This was kind of my point with the pedophile example.

    One question: Do you believe that objective universal truths exist?

    Darrell

  160. You can easily equate Truth with Good…

    Nope, I think you are still confusing concepts here.

    The statement “there are objective truths as to what is good and what is bad” only implies that there is actually an objective good and bad. In this case the truth only reveals what is good and bad. “Truth” is descriptive not normative.

    If you are saying that belief in the True = Good I think you still have a lot of proving. It does not really follow that it is always good to believe what is true. Even though it does follow that, maybe by definition, its always better to DOgood.

    We can argue about what is good and bad, (i.e. what true propositions there are about the good), But we could also reasonably argue that in some cases its better to believe what is false.

    Hence, True does not equal Good.

    Do you believe that objective universal truths exist?

    Answer: sure.

  161. Andrew,

    Please understand that I agree with you that part of convincing a person that *I* am right about something involves appealing to what satisfies them personally (FYI, I make my living in sales 🙂 ). That ultimately appears to be what you are arguing here and it is not something I am arguing against (I think we may be talking past each other in some ways).

    What I am offering is some caution with how far you take pragmatism as your guide. As you have already admitted what is pragmatic has no necessary or sufficient connection to what is true and it is certainly possible to be pragmatic and be walking in complete error.

    What is strange about your position though is that while admitting that pragmatism has no necessary or sufficent connection to the truth and that truth does matter, you still say things such as “the prize” is in what is pragmatic and that the only reason to discard something is when “it ceases to be pragmatic”. You appear to have effectively placed pragmatism as your ultimate guide and discarded the truth as non-important.

    One problem with you position is that if you are truly consistent in your application, you have no basis for telling someone they are wrong even if you disagree with their actions (pedophilia). For if their actions are pragmatic for them (works for getting them what they want), you would be denying your allegiance to pragmatism to tell them they should not do it (remember the prize is in getting what satisifes and what satisfies them is pedophilia).

    Now you might say, “I am being pragmatic about what is important to me when I tell them they should not practice pedophilia.” Here is the ultimate problem though… your pragmatism is personal to what you desire and his pragmatism is personal to his desire. Remember, what is pragmatic depends upon the goal. Your goal (I would imagine) is not pedophlia and therefore, for you to speakk to him about what is pragmatic to you has nothing to do with what is pragmatic for him. In reality, you really wouldn’t be talking to him about what is pragmatic, you really would be talking to him about what his desire is (abberant sexual behavior) and trying to convince him that it is the wrong desire to have.

    However, what is your basis for talking to him about what is wrong about his desire? What makes it wrong? This leads to another point and really will open up a whole different conversation. Bottom line, you have no basis for telling him something is wrong unless there is an ultimate objective truth standard that transcends both you and him. Otherwise, it is just your view against his and who are you to say he is wrong. Afterall, he is being pragmatic and satisfaction is “the prize”. 🙂

    Darrell

  162. Darrell:

    You can easily equate Truth with Good… “There are objective truths as to what is good and what is bad.” This was kind of my point with the pedophile example.

    Your pedophile example doesn’t actually point out that there are objective truths as to what is good and what is bad (at least, not in the way you want it to). Rather, it picks at broad agreement as to what we subjectively believe to be good or bad (whether we believe it is an objective morality or a subjective morality.) So, at best, this shows the objective truth that you (and, say, I) believe x to be good and y to be bad. It is true, for all people, at all times, at all places, that YOU BELIEVE that x is good for all people, at all times, at all places, and y is bad, for all people at all times, at all places. I guess if you’re happy with that truth, then good for you: congratulations: that does apply as an objective truth as to what is good and bad. But it doesn’t go so far as to establish the truth that x is good for all people, at all times, at all places, or that y is bad for all people, at all times, at all places. Just that you or I believe so.

    For example, you ask:

    One question: Do you believe that objective universal truths exist?

    What does this one question determine? Only whether someone BELIEVES that objective universal truths exist. The profession of belief in objective universal truths has no impact on if objective universal truths actually exist. (Of course, I guess you could say that if you believe that objective universal truths exist, then I guess it is objectively, universal true that you believe this. To use your word, it would be “self-defeating” to say you believe objective, universal truths do not exist. Because at the very least, it would be objectively, universally true that *you believe* that objective, universal truths do not exist.)

    Now, getting to your next message, which is actually addressed to me.

    You appear to have effectively placed pragmatism as your ultimate guide and discarded the truth as non-important.

    One problem with you position is that if you are truly consistent in your application, you have no basis for telling someone they are wrong even if you disagree with their actions (pedophilia).

    It does not follow that I have no basis for telling someone they are wrong. You keep on saying this, but you don’t seem to provide a sufficient reason why. As a person in sales (may I say salesperson or is this presumptuous?), you are trying to convince people that the products your represent will satisfy them. Now, let’s say they come to you and they are currently unconvinced that your product will satisfy them. Let’s say they are convinced that a competitor’s product will satisfy them. Do you give up? Do you have no basis for telling them they are wrong?

    I should hope, for your commission as a salesperson, that you do not give up. No, you jazz up your product and jazz down the competitor’s product. You become very creative in trying to show to them that the product actually *will* satisfy (and if you’re a sleazy salesperson, which I hope you are not, you will do so regardless of whether you believe your product actually will satisfy).

    Is this breaking pragmatism? No. Because there is nothing that says you have no basis for trying to convince someone that they are wrong if this is pragmatic for you. There is nothing that says you cannot or shouldn’t try to convince someone they are wrong if this will satisfy you. And you aren’t being completely egocentric about this. After all, you aren’t seeking to deprive them of satisfaction so that you may be singularly satisfied. Rather, You are seeking to inform them of a satisfaction they did not know so that you both (and of course, the little girls) will all be satisfied.

    Now you might say, “I am being pragmatic about what is important to me when I tell them they should not practice pedophilia.” Here is the ultimate problem though… your pragmatism is personal to what you desire and his pragmatism is personal to his desire. Remember, what is pragmatic depends upon the goal. Your goal (I would imagine) is not pedophlia and therefore, for you to speakk to him about what is pragmatic to you has nothing to do with what is pragmatic for him.

    No ultimate problem here. What I do is I seek to convince him that my goal *is* his goal. But of course, just as a salesperson, I have to be quite a bit cleverer about saying what my goal is. If I say my goal is to get a commission, that doesn’t look good. But if my goal is to increase his satisfaction in a way he did not yet see, then I might have a better chance. All I need to do is to convince him that the goal is shared. If I can do that, then to speak to him about what is pragmatic to me will be ultimately what is pragmatic for him. If I cannot convince him, then boo hoo. But the thing is…everything hinges upon the convincing. This is the gamefield.

    In reality, you really wouldn’t be talking to him about what is pragmatic, you really would be talking to him about what his desire is (abberant sexual behavior) and trying to convince him that it is the wrong desire to have.

    If I do this, then I’m being “quite a bit cleverer about saying what my goal is.” If I wrap things up in “rightness” in “wrongness,” it is beckon I reckon that I might be able to convince him more easily by invoking these terms. Again, though, you say EXACTLY the key words. I have to CONVINCE him that his is the wrong desire to have. How can I convince him? By making my particular framework of morality appealing to him. I have to make this particular framework of morality make sense to him, fulfill him, and satisfy him. And then, once that has happened, we share goals, and I can then leverage that to get him to buy *my* product and stay away from little girls.

    Bottom line, you have no basis for telling him something is wrong unless there is an ultimate objective truth standard that transcends both you and him.

    This does not follow. Of course, if the pedophile is like you, who *believes* that there is no basis for telling him something is wrong unless there is an ultimate objective truth standard that transcends both him and me, then I’ll simply have to become creative and play his game. I’ll have to work at convincing him that there *is* such a truth standard (regardless of if there is or is not).

    Otherwise, it is just your view against his and who are you to say he is wrong.

    In reality, this is the case. Who am I to say he is wrong? I am whoever I need to be: someone who seeks to persuade and convince.

  163. Hence, True does not equal Good.

    I see what you are getting at. However, the above statement is overreaching. Truth does not not equal good either. One could argue that what is good is always true. In this case, the two would equal.

    Now, true to your point, you could also say that what is true does not always equal what is good. For example, “It is true that terrorists flew planes into buildings on 9/11.” While this is a true statement, very few people would be willing say it is good.

    So, while in some cases truth = good (i.e. what is good is always true) it is not always true that truth = good.

    Back to my point though, what is pragmatic is not a sufficient or necessary condition for truth. Pragmatism is defined by what one wants/desires – it is what works to get you what you want. Change the desire and you change what is pragmatic. On the other hand, truth is just that: truth. It is not defined by anything. If something is true, it is true for all people, at all times, and at all places.

    If you don’t mind, help me to understand your position a little better. Explain a little more about how you see truth as being ultimately pragmatic.

    Darrell

  164. “Explain a little more about how you see truth as being ultimately pragmatic.”

    William James explained it better than I can (or most anybody):

    http://www.authorama.com/pragmatism-7.html

    I think the idea of “pragmatism” as what “works” in the widest sense rather than what works for the individual is important.

    I think this concept of truth fits better with the reality of the messy relationship between ideas and reality.

  165. “Pragmatism is defined by what one wants/desires – it is what works to get you what you want.”

    Not really, getting what you want does not always work for you. The process of convincing people of this is what Andrew seems to be pointing at.

    Certainly being a pedophile does not even “work” for the pedophile on so many human levels that its not that difficult to convince them of that, this may not change their behavior. I would submit that few pedophiles would agree that they are doing good in their pedophilia because of this.

  166. To use your word, it would be “self-defeating” to say you believe objective, universal truths do not exist. Because at the very least, it would be objectively, universally true that *you believe* that objective, universal truths do not exist.

    You are correct. For a person to say, “There is no such thing as an objective truth.” they are implicitly stating something they hold to be an objective truth. As a result, any such statement is utter gibberish. While it is stateable, it is not affirmable and can have no basis in reality.

    It does not follow that I have no basis for telling someone they are wrong. You keep on saying this, but you don’t seem to provide a sufficient reason why.

    Yes, I actually have. Allow me to restate.

    For you to tell someone their desires are wrong based upon the pragmatic framework you have laid forth is inconsistent. For pragmatism is defined as what works to achieve the desired end. If an individual’s desired end is carnal pleasure, you have no basis for telling them they are not being pragmatic in practicing pedophilia. For you to do so is to deny your contention that satisfying ones desires is the ultimate prize.

    Now, if your ultimate desire is to change his ultimate desire, we have now stepped out of what is pragmatic and into a completely different arena: you thinking something is wrong. The fact that you think that it is wrong is really what is motivating you. Pragmatism at this point is not your ultimate guide… your belief in something is.

    This opens up a whole different can of worms… why do you think it is wrong? What basis you have for contending that just because it is wrong to you it that it should extend over to being wrong for him?

    You have stopped using pragmatism as the ultimate guide and have started using your belief in what is wrong/right as the ultimate guide.

    If I do this, then I’m being “quite a bit cleverer about saying what my goal is.” If I wrap things up in “rightness” in “wrongness,” it is beckon I reckon that I might be able to convince him more easily by invoking these terms. Again, though, you say EXACTLY the key words. I have to CONVINCE him that his is the wrong desire to have. How can I convince him? By making my particular framework of morality appealing to him. I have to make this particular framework of morality make sense to him, fulfill him, and satisfy him. And then, once that has happened, we share goals, and I can then leverage that to get him to buy *my* product and stay away from little girls.

    Okay.. I do not see your point in sharing all of this. I have already told you that I am with you in that part of convincing people involves appealing to what satisfies them You are really rehashing the same thing over and over again while failing to see my point that pragmatism is not truly your ultimate guide and that if it is, you have no basis for telling a pedophile that they are wrong.

    Darrell

  167. Jared,

    Thanks for the link. I will check it out.

    I think the idea of “pragmatism” as what “works” in the widest sense rather than what works for the individual is important.

    Ah, now you are getting really messy. Who decides what “works” in the widest sense? The majority? If the majority decides that slavery does that make it okay? There are still countries today that do this. Afterall, one could easily argue that slavery is pragmatic economically for nations.

    Again, pragmatism as an ultimate guide is very, very troublesome. I would rather stick with truth.

    Darrell

  168. Stick with truth, by all means, but its just as messy to actually explain what you mean by “truth”, pragmatism is a method of doing so.

    Further: How would you explain that pedophilia is always wrong without an appeal to what works for human beings? How do we tell that its true that pedophilia is wrong?

  169. I agree that at some point our intuitions betray something that is unsaid, and maybe cannot be said. Some things are just wrong and those that don’t believe that they are wrong we consider sick.

    Certainly we could argue about one thing or another but if you are going to argue that putting out a cigarette in the eye of a child is at any point the right thing to do, I don’t really care to go down that path.

    However, there are societies that believe it is absolutely right to do things nearly as heinous, and further, warranted by God.(e.g. female sexual mutilation in some African societies) What is the coherent basis that we can offer to verify the “truth” that their acts are not good? The truths that we must generally resort to verify our position are the truths of pragmatism, since they are the easiest to trade on.

    There may be some other “non-pragmatic truth” that verifies the proposition “cutting off the sexual organs of young girls is wrong” but if the truths are either not-understandable or not-explainable to the mutilators, it really doesn’t matter if they exist.

    I don’t deny that there are certain “absolute” wrongs, I certain believe there are. . but I would also argue that all generally understandable explanation of right and wrong involves an appeal to pragmatism. My own intuition or revelation gets me to my belief, but may ultimately be irrelevant in any discussion if I can’t point to similar intuitions or believable revelations in the person I am speaking with. This is the basis of a truth being believable and explainable.

    And who really cares if something is true but unexplainable and unbelievable.

  170. Darrell,

    For you to tell someone their desires are wrong based upon the pragmatic framework you have laid forth is inconsistent. For pragmatism is defined as what works to achieve the desired end. If an individual’s desired end is carnal pleasure, you have no basis for telling them they are not being pragmatic in practicing pedophilia. For you to do so is to deny your contention that satisfying ones desires is the ultimate prize.

    No, this still does not follow. It still does not follow that it is inconsistent with a pragmatic framework to tell them that their desires are wrong. It still does not follow that I do not have basis for telling them they are not being pragmatic in practicing pedophilia, because *my desired end* is to convince the pedophile that his desired end is not carnal pleasure. Therefore, pragmatism (doing what works to achieve my desired end) not only does NOT strip the basis away, but it gives me basis aplenty (and its axe!) in support. To the extent that he believes it is and I am unsuccessful in convincing him otherwise, of course, he will be pragmatic in practicing pedophilia. This is completely consistent with pragmatism. My job still is to convince him otherwise and my job is made more urgent because I know that without my intervention, I will not satisfy my desire and I will not achieve my ultimate prize.

    For me to convince him that his desired end is not carnal pleasure would not be to deny my contention that satisfying one’s desires is the ultimate prize. Rather, it would be agreeing that satisfying one’s desires is the ultimate prize, contending that his desires and mine really agree and then seeking to persuade that he desires something other than carnal pleasure.

    But let’s see what you continue to say:

    Now, if your ultimate desire is to change his ultimate desire, we have now stepped out of what is pragmatic and into a completely different arena: you thinking something is wrong. The fact that you think that it is wrong is really what is motivating you. Pragmatism at this point is not your ultimate guide… your belief in something is.

    No, you have not said anything that would make it the case that I would step out of what is pragmatic. Consider: what would thinking something is wrong do to me? If something I believe to be a wrong act occurs, this does not satisfy me. This does not achieve my desired end. So, to be consistent with pragmatism (“what works to achieve the desired end;” “what satisfies my desires”) I must seek to convince the pedophile that he has some other end goal that is not satisfied through the carnal pleasure and pedophilia.

    You divorce what I think is wrong or right from pragmatic considerations (and then put the belief in right and wrong *higher* up) when you have made no justification (much less a good one) as to why you would do this.

    This opens up a whole different can of worms… why do you think it is wrong? What basis you have for contending that just because it is wrong to you it that it should extend over to being wrong for him?

    It could be for a number of reasons. (Golden rule; empathy for the girls; belief in divine command that proscribes such an action, naturally selected reaction of revulsion, etc.,) The basis I have for contending that because it is wrong for me that it should extend over to being wrong to him is that I believe I can convince and persuade him, for if I can (whatever method I can), then we have a shared subjective morality…and this will factor in our calculations of what works for us and what satisfies us in reaching our ends. (See how pragmatism doesn’t go away?) This is the same thing you do as a salesperson. The only basis you need as a salesperson to extend yourself over to the customer is the BELIEF that you can convince them that you guys are on the same wavelength as to the Excellent Product (TM) that you are representing.

    Okay.. I do not see your point in sharing all of this. I have already told you that I am with you in that part of convincing people involves appealing to what satisfies them You are really rehashing the same thing over and over again while failing to see my point that pragmatism is not truly your ultimate guide and that if it is, you have no basis for telling a pedophile that they are wrong.

    The point you missed is that evocation of morality systems is used for pragmatic purposes. (Even YOU invoke it for pragmatic purposes: it is to achieve your goals in this conversation, which of course we all can see is much lower stakes than convincing the pedophile). It is used to achieve something that “works” for us and “satisfies” us. What is our end? To convince others to share the morality we’ve invoked and live by it. We often use tricks such as jazzing up the morality as “objective” (whether it actually is or is not), and then jazzing up even more elaborate arguments as to why it is. Do we need to show that it actually is objective? No. All we need to do with all this jazz is convince someone else to adopt it, which we additionally hope will give them new “ends,” “desires,” and “satisfactions.”

    I think you’re failing to see how pragmatism still is *your* ultimate goal and that your beliefs about and for morality doesn’t exist in a void. Rather, you seek to integrate it in a pragmatic framework. In fact, your morality exists because of a pragmatic framework of what “works for you.” Your system of morality represents what you think “makes sense” of the world, the universe, interactions with people.

    If you think I’m rehashing the same stuff over and over while failing to see your point, then I’m glad I’m not alone in thinking that of you. I guess this captures that idea of seeing past each other?

  171. The problem with appealing to pragmatism is that it goes full circle, for you have to ask, “Pragmatic for who and for what?” What is pragmatic for you may or may not be pragmatic for me depending upon what our goals and desires are.

    You may look at my goals and desires and think they are pointless. And, at the same time, I might look at Joe Smith’s goals and think they are sick. Bottom line, it ultimately always leads back to asking what one holds to be true and right. That which is pragmatic will flow from what that.

    Darrell

  172. Darrell,

    But under no condition does asking, “Pragmatic for who and for what?” preclude us from seeking to convince and persuade…or to try to reach common ground on our goals, desires, and the pragmatic actions needed to take them.

    You say that things ultimately always lead back to asking what one holds to be true and right. But couldn’t we just as easily say that what one holds to be true and right serves a pragmatic function for an individual?

  173. Andrew,

    It does start with what you believe. What you believe is *higher up* as you call it, for if you did not believe anything there would be nothing to be pragmatic about. Your pragmatism is flowing FROM what you think is right and wrong, it is not the SOURCE. As a result, the ultimate source and guide of your motivation is NOT your pragmatism, it is YOUR BELIEF.

    In addition, your belief is either true or false. Obviously you believe it to be true and want it to be true (whether or not it is), so really your guide is your desire for truth – truth is the prize. What works is just the tool/method that you use to achieve the truth.

    Now, if we look at it your way – if pragmatism is the ultimate guide, and if you are to be consistent – you have no basis for telling someone else they are wrong. For if they are being pragmatic (and what is pragmatic is the ultimate whether or not it is true), it doesn’t matter if they do what you want them to do.

    However, if your ultimate desire is for them to stop doing something you believe to be wrong and to go to a correct/true belief/practice then we have a different situation. Your guide then becomes what you hold to be true… it becomes the prize. Pragmatism is just the tool/method that works to achieve what you really want – truth.

    Blessings!!

    Darrell

  174. Darrell, are you ultimately arguing that you have to have some extra-human standard to determine what is “good”?

    While I do hold to the belief that unless there is a transcendent standard of right and wrong, we as humans have no basis upon which to judge something right or wrong, that is not the argument I am making here (although I have alluded to it a couple of times). The argument I am making here is that pragmatism fails as an ultimate guide. Pragmatism merely flows from what one thinks/wants/desires, and if what one wants/desires is wrong, they can still be very pragmatic about it.

    Darrell

  175. What about this scenario:
    Darrell,

    Suppose I may not be absolutely sure of the ultimate foundation of the Truth of what I believe to be right and good, I may just take it on faith that my conception of the good is “ultimately” true.

    In this case I can’t really advocate that Truth is what I am going on, since faith is driving me, not actual knowledge of the truth. Without some pragmatic basis of explanation, All I can say to my fellow human is that this faith is a good enough basis for them to believe as well.

    I can’t really argue from the perspective of “pure” truth disconnected from what works, since I don’t even have access to that.

    In this case I have to resort to pragmatic understanding of the truth to explain myself to others rather than the ideal understanding you are speaking of, don’t I?

  176. Darrell,

    ok, I get what you are saying and I tend to agree. I suppose I just believe that most every human can relate to certain desires, goals and values and that is generally the basis upon which we determine what truly is good. I think this is the case even with the most deviant among us.

    Also, We generally test our conceptions of the good based on pragmatic tests rather than any other. I would argue that most others are not even close to universally intelligible and therefore have little use.

    So we probably agree on fundamental questions, even though we may explain differently. I just don’t think the idealistic understanding of truth works as well 😉

  177. But couldn’t we just as easily say that what one holds to be true and right serves a pragmatic function for an individual?

    Well, you would have to ask pragmatic for what function for the individual. Pragmatism is just a tool for achieving a desired end…. so what desired end is there? I would suggest it is the desire for truth (which is what is motivating even you as I pointed out above).

    I can point to many, many people who hold beliefs that are not at all pragmatic for them in any extrinisic sense. In fact, they actually intrinsically cause them a lot of heartache. Yet they still hold them because they believe them to be true despite the lack of any pragmatic value outside of them being true (at least in their beliefs).

    Darrell

  178. Darrell:

    It does start with what you believe. What you believe is *higher up* as you call it, for if you did not believe anything there would be nothing to be pragmatic about. Your pragmatism is flowing FROM what you think is right and wrong, it is not the SOURCE. As a result, the ultimate source and guide of your motivation is NOT your pragmatism, it is YOUR BELIEF.

    On the other hand, there would be nothing to believe without pragmatic consequences to me. So what if pragmatism and beliefs about right and wrong are connected to each other, and the ‘from’/’source’ distinction fails to characterize either sufficiently?

    Let’s say I did not admit pragmatism. So, then, I “do not believe” pragmatism. Let’s say I am at an empty slate. So, how do I come to my beliefs? It can still be that I come to my beliefs through pragmatism — through what works. In this case, pragmatism was necessary for my beliefs, but it was not necessary to have a belief in pragmatism first (so pragmatism is higher). After all, what one believes is not the same as what really is. So, you haven’t established that beliefs come first or are higher up.

    In addition, your belief is either true or false. Obviously you believe it to be true and want it to be true (whether or not it is), so really your guide is your desire for truth – truth is the prize. What works is just the tool/method that you use to achieve the truth.

    Yet, our guide being our desire for truth ends up as lip service. After all, we desire truth, but what we are is “truth” is what we believe truth to be. Our belief can either accord with truth or not. How will we reach our beliefs though? Through what works. Through what satisfies. That is why the pedophile has such drastically different *beliefs* in the first place — he is satisfied differently. So even if we do not recognize it, that is what we use to achieve our beliefs in truth (which may or may not achieve the actual truth — which we would hope is the case for the pedophile). Pragmatism still is ultimate — even if you don’t realize it and are, as you say, “self-defeating.”

    Now, if we look at it your way – if pragmatism is the ultimate guide, and if you are to be consistent – you have no basis for telling someone else they are wrong. For if they are being pragmatic (and what is pragmatic is the ultimate whether or not it is true), it doesn’t matter if they do what you want them to do.

    You keep on saying this but haven’t shown how consistency demands this. In fact, I have repeatedly suggested instead that pragmatism would allow you to convince them their goals are yours (which even you have conceded would change what is pragmatic.)

    However, if your ultimate desire is for them to stop doing something you believe to be wrong and to go to a correct/true belief/practice then we have a different situation. Your guide then becomes what you hold to be true… it becomes the prize. Pragmatism is just the tool/method that works to achieve what you really want – truth.

    “If your ultimate desire is for them to stop doing something you believe to be wrong and go to what you believe to be correct, true belief, practice,” then this is still pragmatism. You are still doing what works to seek your desire. But what you believe is “truth” and what you believe is right and wrong is also achieved through what works/doesn’t work — through pragmatic considerations, pragmatic arguments, and pragmatic deliberations.

  179. Darrell:

    Well, you would have to ask pragmatic for what function for the individual. Pragmatism is just a tool for achieving a desired end…. so what desired end is there? I would suggest it is the desire for truth (which is what is motivating even you as I pointed out above).

    I can point to many, many people who hold beliefs that are not at all pragmatic for them in any extrinisic sense. In fact, they actually intrinsically cause them a lot of heartache. Yet they still hold them because they believe them to be true despite the lack of any pragmatic value outside of them being true (at least in their beliefs).

    When someone beliefs something to be true, this very belief in the truth is pragmatically valuable. It “makes sense” to the individual. It “fulfills” and satisfies them. DO NOT confuse “fulfillment” and “satisfaction” to mean “they will have no heartache or they will extrinsically be pleased.”

    Rather, if we looked at what happens when a person tries to say to themselves, “I don’t believe this to be true,” then what we would find is that this person has a great inner conflict…he may lie to everyone else, but he feels deeply that he is lying to himself. So, to say he believes relieves this pressure. It IS still pragmatic. It IS still what works for him.

    You can have some unfortunate beliefs in truths. In this case, there would be intrinsic heartache and so forth. But this still doesn’t change the satisfaction gotten from a perception that they believe they understand the truth.

    You call this a pursuit for truth. But what I say is this is lip service to the truth…because this can actually happen for things that are not actually true. All it takes is the belief that something is true.

  180. Jared,

    You said:

    I can’t really argue from the perspective of “pure” truth disconnected from what works, since I don’t even have access to that.

    Yes, I agree with you. I believe that if something is true, then it will ultimately *work* for that which is *good* in the long run. What is true is not disconnected from what works. However, what works is not always what is true.

    In reality, taking any one approach to knowledge (Agnosticism, Pragmatism, Feidism, Experientialism, Evidentialism, etc) and building an entire worldview around it fails. Each approach has many helpful characteristics, but when used all by itself you run into many, many problems.

    This is one of my problems with the Mormon Experientialistic approach to discovering truth. It highlights one main approach to truth while ignoring its problems and ignoring the contributions of other approaches.

    Darrell

  181. But what you believe is “truth” and what you believe is right and wrong is also achieved through what works/doesn’t work — through pragmatic considerations, pragmatic arguments, and pragmatic deliberations.

    …which flow from what you believe. Again, without belief there is nothing for these arguments, considerations, deliberations and actions to FLOW FROM.

    You call this a pursuit for truth. But what I say is this is lip service to the truth…because this can actually happen for things that are not actually true. All it takes is the belief that something is true.

    I didn’t say it had to be true… I said the desire was for the truth. And the desire is what motivates… not the pragmatism. The pragmatism flows from the desire.

    Let’s say I did not admit pragmatism. So, then, I “do not believe” pragmatism. Let’s say I am at an empty slate. So, how do I come to my beliefs? It can still be that I come to my beliefs through pragmatism — through what works. In this case, pragmatism was necessary for my beliefs, but it was not necessary to have a belief in pragmatism first (so pragmatism is higher). After all, what one believes is not the same as what really is. So, you haven’t established that beliefs come first or are higher up.

    This is question begging reasoning. For you had to have a *belief* that pragmatism was *true* before you would use *it* to prove *itself*. Sorry, beliefs are the source NOT pragmatism!!

    Darrell

  182. Well, I suppose I am arguing at a deeper level, that philosophically, pragmatism is one of the “truest” understandings, explanations of what we mean by “true”. I.e. it works best.

    I agree that taking one approach to knowledge generally does not work, and even our approaches to knowledge are therefore pragmatically judged. That is what I mean by pragmatism, a working coherence with our ideas and experience.

    I think we may be talking past each other on this point. I am not talking about utilitarianism, i.e. about optimizing some value function. I am talking about working on some more universal level.

    The pragmatic approach to what is good and best, in my view is about what works best for human beings in connection with what is true. I don’t believe that much of what determines what we think is valuable and good can really be absolutely coherently put into words, but I believe that humans have a common understanding of important things. I don’t know that you can get away from the fact that most everybody considers “Good” is what best works in relation to these values.

  183. Darrell:

    …which flow from what you believe. Again, without belief there is nothing for these arguments, considerations, deliberations and actions to FLOW FROM.

    What you believe flows from what works. Without something to work vs. something not to work, there is no impact for belief.

    I didn’t say it had to be true… I said the desire was for the truth. And the desire is what motivates… not the pragmatism. The pragmatism flows from the desire.

    Why does the desire motivates? Because the desire works. The desire satisfies. The pragmatism then drives the desire.

    This is question begging reasoning. For you had to have a *belief* that pragmatism was *true* before you would use *it* to prove *itself*. Sorry, beliefs are the source NOT pragmatism!!

    No, not the case at all. I don’t have a belief that pragmatism is true for it to be true. As YOU pointed out YOURSELF. BELIEF in the truth of something does not point out the TRUTH of something. Lack of belief in the truth of something does not make that something untrue. Even if you do not believe pragmatism is true, that doesn’t mean you don’t use it.

    So you can’t just keep on saying beliefs are the source beliefs are the source LOL.

  184. You keep on saying this but haven’t shown how consistency demands this. In fact, I have repeatedly suggested instead that pragmatism would allow you to convince them their goals are yours (which even you have conceded would change what is pragmatic.)

    Pragmatism is not a basis for anything, your belief from which the pragmatism flows is. If *what works* is the ultimate goal (as you keep stating) then it *doesn’t matter* to what end it works… that is, unless you have a BELIEF. The belief is the basis… not the pragmatism.

    Darrell

  185. Darrell:

    Pragmatism is not a basis for anything, your belief from which the pragmatism flows is. If *what works* is the ultimate goal (as you keep stating) then it *doesn’t matter* to what end it works… that is, unless you have a BELIEF. The belief is the basis… not the pragmatism.

    Your beliefs which came from…what worked. So without pragmatism, you’d be belief-less.

    EVEN YOU say that beliefs come from this desire for truth. Why do you have this desire for the truth? Because this desire for truth works for you (regardless of if you recognize that). You don’t need to believe in your fulfillment, the “working of it”, the “satisfaction” for it to still work. This desire for truth *still* fulfills you. The pragmatic impact of the desire for truth comes first. Without the pragmatic impact, your beliefs would be null

  186. I think Andrew is right in that its not really possible to explain the “good” without resulting to what “works” in relation to some sort of value.

    Ethical propositions are inherently pragmatic in that they are about acting in a way that corresponds to values. I think Andrew is right in that the values are held because of their satisfaction or agreement to the human holding them.

    I think we ultimately determine that our values are the “truth” by pragmatic means, i.e. do they work the best with our intuitions, experience, nature, genetics, etc.

    In this sense, Pragmatism is not a value, or a method of coming to the truth or the good, it is an explanation.

  187. No, not the case at all. I don’t have a belief that pragmatism is true for it to be true. As YOU pointed out YOURSELF. BELIEF in the truth of something does not point out the TRUTH of something. Lack of belief in the truth of something does not make that something untrue. Even if you do not believe pragmatism is true, that doesn’t mean you don’t use it.

    Andrew, seriously, stop and think for a second. You are actually claiming that you don’t have to believe that what works is true in order for you TO COME TO the belief that what works is true. You are not talking about what IS true here… you are talking about what you BELIEVE to be true. And, you are making the argument that you can believe NOTHING IS TRUE (be a clean slate as you put it) and somehow come to the belief that pragmatism is true without evey believing that it is true. You are using question-begging- reasoning and it FAILS. Sorry.

    Darrell

  188. Darrell:

    To COME TO the belief that what works is true, you CANNOT believe that what works is true. How can you COME TO something you already believe? Think about THAT!

    Your clean slate is NOT the belief that NOTHING IS TRUE. It is the LACK OF BELIEFS that anything is true. Do you even understand what you are saying? A belief that nothing is true is a belief. A LACK of BELIEFS that anything is true is a lack of beliefs. A clean slate. From here, this is how you can GO TO anything else (even that belief that pragmatism is true.)

  189. Andrew,

    You got tied up in symantics which have nothing to do with my point that you are using Question-Begging-Reasoning.

    If you have a lack of belief/clean slate (does that make you happy), you then have to come to a belief in something. Your contention is that you can then not-believe-in-pragmatism, but somehow use *it* to prove *itself* true without believing *it* to be true in the process.

    Question-Begging-Reasoning

    Darrell

  190. re Darrell:

    If pragmatism works, it works regardless of if you believe it or not.

    So, we start at this lack of belief/clean state. We just DO THINGS. Some things will work and some things will not work. As a result of DOING THINGS, we will keep track of what things work and keep on doing them (and only after this come to any belief, especially regarding pragmatism or belief in desire for truth).

  191. We just DO THINGS. Some things will work and some things will not work. As a result of DOING THINGS, we will keep track of what things work and keep on doing them (and only after this come to any belief, especially regarding pragmatism or belief in desire for truth).

    Ahhh, but you are a clean slate. So you don’t even *believe* the fact that *doing things* and seeing them *work* is even believable. Otherwise, why would you trust it? Because it worked last time? So what! That doesn’t mean it will work again… that is, unless you first believe it will. But, this is question-begging-reasoning.

    BTW, I did not come up with this position – Hume, whom I am sure you as a skeptic have read, did. He firmly argues that this is question-begging-reasoning, and, on this one point, I agree with him.

    In addition, we can take this even further, for if you have no belief do you even believe you are real? That the ball you are holding (assuming you are holding one) is real? That the chair you are sitting in is real? That feeling in your hand as you hold something is real? Remember, you are a clean slate… you have no belief. You would at least have to come to the belief that you are real and the world around you is real prior to being able to trust your *pragmatic* testing of what *works*.

    Bottom line, everything starts with a belief. Without a belief that pragmatism *works* there is no basis for trusting in *pragmatism* as a test for *pragmatism*. You can’t use *pragmatism* to prove the truth of *pragmatism* without first believing that there is a basis to *believe* that pragmatism is *believable* as a test. It is circular, question-begging-reasoning.

    Darrell

  192. Darrell:

    Ahhh, but you are a clean slate. So you don’t even *believe* the fact that *doing things* and seeing them *work* is even believable. Otherwise, why would you trust it? Because it worked last time? So what! That doesn’t mean it will work again… that is, unless you first believe it will.

    If you are a clean slate, you don’t even believe the fact that doing things and seeing them work is even believable. But you don’t believe that doing things and seeing them work is *unbelievable* either. So you would only need to do something *once* to trust it. Why trust it? Because it worked last time. So what doesn’t mean it will work again. BUT after you do something ONCE (from the clean slate), you can believe it will.

    Your trust is only broken (and then you pragmatically adjust things) when something happens that gives you reason to believe that something that worked before will not work again.

    In addition, we can take this even further, for if you have no belief do you even believe you are real? That the ball you are holding (assuming you are holding one) is real? That the chair you are sitting in is real? That feeling in your hand as you hold something is real? Remember, you are a clean slate… you have no belief. You would at least have to come to the belief that you are real and the world around you is real prior to being able to trust your *pragmatic* testing of what *works*.

    !

    Dang it. You’ve foiled me again, sir!

  193. So you would only need to do something *once* to trust it. Why trust it? Because it worked last time. So what doesn’t mean it will work again. BUT after you do something ONCE (from the clean slate), you can believe it will.

    But why think that just because it worked once it will work again? In order to *believe* this you must first *believe* that what you hold to be *logical* has any basis in *reality*. You must have something to base your belief that pragmatism *works* on – for example, a logical order to reality, that you actually exist, that you are in reality performing a test, that testing is a logical way to find things out, etc. Everything starts with some belief/knowledge and flows from there. Pragmatism flows from belief – it is not the source of it. There is some form of “a priori” knowledge/belief that starts it off. Nobody is a clean slate.

    Darrell

  194. Pingback: Because Seth R will not write on his own blog « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

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