The Gospel to a five-year-old – Part 2

I tried this once before, but — as was obvious in the long, rambling –– I overshot the intended audience by quite a few years.   Here is another attempt at translating the Gospel into language a contemporary young deist — like a kindergartner — could understand:

God is the mysterious source of all things.  God is the source of the orderliness of the universe, including the law of right and wrong.  We cannot say anything coherent about the nature of God because it is necessarily incomprehensible, but we posit that there is a source that injected order into the chaos of simple matter that is the universe.  We can prove this source “exists” because there is order and not chaos.

The interaction between human society and the individual human yields law. These are the patterns of behavior that humans think they should follow. This law is “written in our hearts” — i.e., we understand the law in our bodies and brains through our intuition, conscience, and culture.   When we violate the law we are guilty.  Guilt exists when facts of our choices do not fit the pattern of the law. We can’t erase the law inside us easily.  To abandon the law inside us, would be to abandon our past and future care about society and culture.  There are some who are this way, but for most the law sits over our thoughts.

Logic dictates that guilt is a state that does not go away on its own because: (1) the facts do not change, (2) the law inside us does not change, and (3) guilt is a simple relationship between the facts and the law.   Guilt persists even when a punishment is inflicted. Some of us feel guilt when we violate the law, others don’t . But guilt is independent of the feeling.

When people are conscious that their choices are not in compliance with the law in their hearts they either (1) deny guilt, (2) deny the importance of the law in their hearts, or (3) admit guilt. The first two options lead to injustice, cultural disintegration of the law, and dishonesty.  The third option can lead to a state of self-hatred and sorrow in most people, described as “hell”.  Christians recognize that some people are conscious that they are in hell now, but some are not conscious of hell in this life.  But logic dictates that if the existence of an individual actor is eternal, guilt and the resulting hell are also eternal.

Experiencing “salvation” is the consciousness that comes from self-honesty, admitting guilt, and — in doing so — recognizing that the source of the law has erased this guilt through the mysterious fact of Christ. This consciousness precipitates a state of joy often called “grace”.

The fact of Christ has a redeeming relationship with all guilt.  Christ is available to all persons —  the wicked and the righteous — just like the sun and the rain.  Because the fact of Christ is an infinite fact that exists outside of experience, sort of like a numerical constant, the fact of redemption does not depend on any particular behavior, compliance with the law, or state of mind.

The fact of Christ is the meaning of the phrase “the love of God”.

Following Christ is acting in grace — i.e. admitting guilt, experiencing redemption, and letting our will bend to the law —  and having faith that this will lead to an abundance of life that is worth living.

Christ as a hidden answer to despair

This is a quickly drafted response to Andrew S about this comment:

I don’t think that it is pain is a pre-requisite for understanding Christianity, but enormous pain is just a part of life- that is the message of the Buddha as well as Christ. In my view, Christ is about facing reality. Discovering the reality of despair is as easy as looking out the window, most simply ignore it because they don’t have to/want to worry about it.

Andrew asked: How does this reality support Christ, rather than diminish/preclude Christ?

The short answer is that the despair and pain we see in the world neither proves nor disproves Christ, nor does it reveal Christ.  There is no explanation for why the world is the way it is.  The fact that more people do not find joy in Christ just shows that the way is straight and narrow and few will find it.

I think Christ is a reality just like I think language is a reality.  It is obvious that language exists, but I can’t explain why it works or how.

Continue reading

Rethinking the Great Apostasy: “The Peasant Revolt of the Spirit” and the definition of Mormonism

Friedrich Nietzsche explained Luther’s Reformation as a dramatic spiritual revolution within Europe of the northern sentiment and character, which demanded simplicity, with the southern, liberal sentiment that allowed for unending complication under the simple structure of the Church.  Whatever can be said of Nietzsche, he was a fabulous writer.  His imagery viscerally cast light on the spiritual facts going on around him, that cleared the clutter of culture to allow the simplicity of “modern science” but eventually pushed Europe into the maw of gore and madness that reigned there in the first half of the 20th century.

Luther’s Revolution

Nietzsche explains, with at least a bit of lament, the ruins of the Church as he saw it in Europe in the 1880s:

. . . were there ever finer ruins?  Overgrown with weeds, large and small.  It is the Church which is this city of decay: we see the religious organisation of Christianity shaken to its deepest foundations.  The belief in God is overthrown, the belief in the Christian ascetic ideal is now fighting its last fight.  Such a long and solidly built work as Christianity it was the last construction of the Romans!  It could not of course be demolished all at once; every sort of earthquake had to shake it, every sort of spirit which perforates, digs, gnaws and moulders had to assist in the work of destruction.  But that which is strangest is that those who have exerted themselves most to retain and preserve Christianity, have been precisely those who did most to destroy it, the Germans.  . . The Lutheran Reformation in all its length and breadth was the indignation of the simple against something “complicated”.

He describes Luther’s revolution as that of the thinking of simple, good-natured folk over the complexities of culture that shone in the Church because the church retained “the luxury of skepticism and toleration which every victorious, self-confident power permits.” While Nietzsche acknowledged the fact that Luther spiritually revived Christianity as a worldview, and his simplicity allowed for modern thinking, but to him, Luther’s German reasoning meant an unraveling:

“[H]e tore asunder with honest rage, where the old spider had woven longest and most carefully.  He gave the sacred books into the hands of everyone, they thereby got at last into the hands of the philologists, that is to say, the annihilators of every belief based upon books.  He demolished the conception of “the Church” in that he repudiated the belief in the inspiration of the Councils: for only under the supposition that the inspiring spirit which had founded the Church still lives in it, still builds it, still goes on building its house, does the conception of ” the Church ” retain its power.”

Nietzsche also puts his finger on the simple fact that the Reformation made the Church, which had enforced its superiority since Theodosius, the vassel of the state rather than its rightful superior.  Christianity became “good-natured” in its simplicity, and cleared the way for infecting law with modern thinking in the form of modern science.

The consequences of Luther’s simplification of Christianity Continue reading

Why do we believe the implausible? – Do we have to in order to be good Christians?

Questions concerning why or whether we should believe in implausible things that lack evidence come up tangentially in many threads on this blog. They often comes up when people are trying to show that that the Book of Mormon is not believable because it has stuff in it that is at odds with current understanding of archeology or history.  At risk of starting another boring discussion of archeological evidence , I am genuinely curious about in these questions and how believers answer them.

I think it is clear that both LDS and Evangelicals (1) believe things to be true that are historically very implausible and (2) believe these things without the type of objective evidence that is generally accepted as required to establish historically implausible things, and (3) believe that its extremely important to believe these things to be true, despite there implausibility and lack of objective evidence.

When it comes to my questions, it is irrelevant what specifically these beliefs are are and I think its probably counterproductive to compare lists, even if one religion had a longer list, there is are things on each or their lists of implausibilities that are important and maybe even critical to the religion.

It seems that in order to be a strong member of either group you cannot take the position of agnosticism even when there is barely any of evidence to justify belief.    It seems that in order to be a strong follower you need to overlook the lack of evidence and embrace some things as doctrine (e.g. Inerrancy of the Bible, the divine power behind the translation of the Book of Mormon, or even the Resurrection).

Apologetics of course is the activity of making these implausibilities seem more plausible, or at least not silly, but they seem to be more of an afterthought rather than the primary ground of most people’s belief.  Without some other ground to believe, it seems that there is no compelling reason to engage in apologetics.  However should our faith fail if our apologetics do?

So, arise the questions:

A. Should you believe that some stories are true even when there is no historical evidence?

B. On what basis should you trust stories that are not historically proven, or very plausible?

C. Can you be a good Christian if you are not willing to accept some things that are unsupportably implausible?

D. Do Mormons and Evangelicals answer these questions differently?

What is your most compelling reason for believing in God?

Here is a question that may shed some light and understanding on the common ground between Evangelicals and Mormons:

Why (the heck) do you believe in God anyway?

There are all kinds of reasons not to believe in God, all kinds of proofs for his existence, but I doubt these make a lot of difference in the bedrock reasons for belief in a personal God.  So, for those willing to share, if you do believe that a personal God exists, what is the most compelling reason for you. Is it a historical account, a personal experience, a series of personal experiences?

For me, although there are other reasons, it comes down to a series of personal experiences  (quite a few) that I can’t explain effectively without refering to God.  I know this comes across as pretty weak, but my skeptical nature has stripped bare my interpretations of these experiences to the point to where that is the best description of what anchors my faith.

In recent years I have mentally revisited many of my experiences and tried to be more discerning about what they really mean.  My attitude is partly shaped by the thoughts of the  philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, one of the most compelling and entertaining anti-christ writers, who criticised the way people view religious experiences:

” As interpreters of our experiences- One sort of honesty has been alien to all founders of religions and their kind: They ahve never made their experiences a matter of conscience for knowledge. “What did I really experience?  What happened in me and around me at the that time? Was my reason bright enough? Was my will opposed to all deceptions of the senses and bold in resisting the fantastic?” None of them has asked such questions, nor do any of our dear religious people ask them even now.  On the contrary, they thirst after things that go against reason, and they do not wish to make it too hard for themselves to satisfy it. So they experience “miracles” and “rebirths” and hear the voices of little angels! But we, we others who thirst after reason, are determined to scrutinize our experiences as severely as a scientific experiment– hour after hour, day after day.  We ourselves wish to be our experiments and guinea pigs.” — (The Gay Science #319 trans. by Walter Kaufmann, 1974, Random House. )

I have tried to take guidance from this advice, because I think it is important for me to feel comfortable that I am not deceiving myself, because ultimately I have to be able to trust myself in order to trust my experiences.  One of these experiences that confirms my belief in God occurred about 4 months ago.  I went to temple square in Salt Lake City and walked through the tour posing as a non-mormon. It was me, a couple from Britain and a guy from Brooklyn.  The sisters that lead us through the tour, although pretty, did not have much game when it came to explaining the church to the savvy, skeptical non-believer.    The tour lasted about 20 minutes and ended at the Assembly Hall a pretty church that sits next to the Tabernacle.   I sat down on an pew and told the sisters I wanted to ask them a question, why did they believe in God.   They gave me the standard, true believer answers, i.e. that everything tells them that there is a God, that they get answers to their prayers all the time (e.g. one sister prayed in the morning when she lost her keys, and they turned up, etc).   I could tell they were sincere believers, not brainwashed, but not skeptical of the experiences they had either, therefore I found much of what they were saying un-helpful. All of this was very sincere, and I don’t find any fault with what they said or how they said it, but I was essentially disappointed, this was the same stuff rehashed and wasn’t at all compelling.  Then one sister turned to me, and said that if I would pray in my room that night, and ask God to show himself that I would get an answer.   Of course this is exactly what I had expected, but I did not expect the internal response I had.  Almost the instant the words came out of her mount, it was all I could do just to hold it together, tears were streaming down my cheeks.  I was not sure if I was surprised or not but tried to remain as “objective” as possible about what was happening, and I don’t want to jump to many conclusions about the ultimate meaning and interpretation of the experience.  But suffice it to say this came at a time where I was at my most skeptical of the existence of God, the Church, Christianity, etc.

The sisters were remarkably cool about how they reacted, they stood there until I pulled it together, I apologized for my tears and they said goodbye, didn’t push anything or put any spin on what they clearly saw happen to me.

Now I am not about to put too much of a spin on this experience either, I don’t know that it should “prove” anything to you at all, after all you were not in a position to observe myself as I was, you were not in a position to be the scientist to make sure that there were not non-God influences that brought about such a strong reaction in me.   Certainly you cotuld chalk up my reaction to so many similar childhood experiences, or even  conditioned response.  But as the observer who knew my history best, and can see the similarities and differences in this context compared to other near identical experiences where I did not have such a reaction, my conclusion is that something outside of me triggered this reaction.  Given the vagueness of the way I felt,  I can’t say that this experience was proof of the truth of the Mormon Church, or Christianity, or anything particularly detailed, but I can say that on that Sunday afternoon, I felt that God existed and was making me feel it in the presence of those two kids with nametags, representing the LDS Church and It didn’t seem to have much to do with what they were saying or how they said it.

This is one of dozens of experiences that  I could relate.  Unfortunately, even taken together, they don’t remove most of the questions I have regarding God and religion, but they do mean something.   To continue with the science analogy, I am still seeking more data points before I draw my regression line.

I am interested to know what Evangelicals and Mormons alike think about this sort of anchor for a belief in God and also very interested to know what anchor’s other people’s faith.   My guess is that we my have more in common on this issue than on our theology.

3 Aspects of Belief

I recently read something in JP Moreland’s “The Kingdom Triangle” that resonated with me. In regards to strengthening one’s faith he says there are three aspects of belief that are important to ponder.

1. The Content of a Belief. The content of a belief helps determine how important the belief is for our character and behavior. What we believe matters — the actual content of what we believe about God, morality, politics, life after death, and so on will shape the contours of our life and actions. In fact, the contents of our beliefs are so important that according to Scripture, our eternal destiny is determined by what we believe about Jesus Christ.

Today, people are inclined to think that the sincerity and fervency of one’s beliefs are more important than the content of the beliefs themselves. As long as we believe something honestly and strongly, we are told, that is all that matters. Nothing is further from the truth. Reality is basically indifferent to how sincerely we believe something. I can believe with all my might that my car will fly me to Hawaii . . . but that fervency doesn’t change a thing. As far as reality is concerned, what matters in not whether I like a belief or how sincere I am in believing it, but whether or not the belief is true. I am responsible for what I believe and, I might add, for what I refuse to believe because the content of what I do or do not believe makes a tremendous difference to what I become and how I act. [note from Tim: nobody doubts the sincerity of the 9/11 terrorist, but we still think they will be punished despite their efforts to try their best to do God’s will because the contents of their beliefs led them to conclude something evil was in fact righteous.]

2. The Strength of a Belief. In addition to content, a belief also exhibits some degree or other of strength. To see what I mean here, consider the fact that we all believe things without being absolutely certain that they are true. If you believe something, then you are at least more than 50 percent convinced the belief is true. If it were 50-50 for you, you wouldn’t really hold the belief in question. You would still be evaluating the claim to see whether or not you should believe it. A belief’s strength is the degree to which you are convince it is true. As you gain evidence and support for a belief, its strength grows for you. That belief may start off as plausible and later become fairly likely, quite likely, beyond reasonable doubt, or completely certain. The more certain you are of a belief, the more it becomes a part of your very soul, and the more you rely on it as a basis for action.

3. The Centrality of a Belief.
Finally, there is the belief’s centrality. The centrality of a belief is a measure of how crucial the belief is for supporting your other beliefs. The more central a belief is, the greater will be its impact on your worldview if the belief were given up. My belief that tulips are better than roses is a fairly strong one for me but it is not central. I could give it up and I would not have to abandon or adjust many other beliefs I hold. But my belief in the existence of God and Jesus Christ is very central for me . . . as I grow, these beliefs come to play a more central role in the entire way I see life.