CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

I recently ran across this post at debunkingchristianity (DC) which credits Martin Luther with a quote attacking reason:


Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but - more frequently than not - struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.

The gist of the post is that a young Christian had not really questioned his faith as he was growing up, but that once he did he saw all sorts of problems with it and abandoned it. There are no detailed substantive arguments, though the author alludes to atrocities in the Old Testament as conflicting with the kind God of the New and the creationist/evolutionist controversy.

I am not sure how this atheist autobiography approach to de-evangelism pans out among most readers, but it usually strikes me as ineffective and a poor substitute for discussion over the ideas that may have lead to a loss of faith. Yet this tactic is a mainstay of DC as its contributors often seem to think that the rest of us just have not gone through these struggles or squarely faced our doubts or reason, evidence, etc. Though I do not necessarily deny their sincerity, I have good reason to believe that this is untrue in the case for many if not all of my fellow CADRE members and know it is not the case with me.

When I was younger, I went through an extended period of questioning, tackling issues similar to those raised by the DC post and plenty more. Yes, I truly entertained and explored the idea that my faith was wrong. We all have different areas of doubt that are more personally relevant than others. Of particular concern to me were questions over the transmission and accuracy of the Bible and the ultimate issue of whether God even existed. I studied philosophy, history, and science, and really struggled. For an extended period of time, I felt completely cut off from God. For a young charismatic Christian whose movement emphasized enjoying the presence of God, this was yet another reason for doubt. My whole life I could turn to God and feel his presence, his guidance, his love. Where had that gone? This was also a heavy blow.

For many reasons, including reason, I came out of this time period with an adjusted but stronger faith. My exploration did convince me that parts of what had been my faith were simply wrong and had to be abandoned. The earth was much, much older than many Christians I knew believed. The concept of rigid inerrancy I had held was at odds with my reason and history. But my exploration also convinced me that core parts of my faith were true. The resurrection of Jesus did happen. The best explanation for that resurrection was a God involved in the creation and design of the material world. Christianity made more sense out of history, science, philosophy, my experiences, and reason than any of its competitors.

Not coincidentally, I think, during this time I was maturing as a young man in other areas of my life. That time period was not the end of my inquiry or the adjusting of my faith, but no evidence or argument since has provoked the kind of doubt and questioning I had then. I remain a convinced Christian. And, as a charismatic, I enjoy the presence of God as well as other aspects of my faith that needed development and maturing that would likely not have come but for my period of deep doubt.

So am I at cross purposes with Luther? Perhaps. But then again perhaps not. Luther was open to correction not only from the proof of scripture, but from reason. Indeed, it was at least in part his trust in reason that led him to defy his received faith and radically challenge the institutions in which he had been raised and taught to submit. As he famously declared, "I cannot submit my faith either to the Pope or to the Councils, because it is clear as day they have frequently erred and contradicted each other. Unless therefore, I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture and plain reason ... I cannot and will not recant ..." Martin Luther, April 16, 1521.

But Luther – however significant – is not the only Christian thinker to have commented on reason. More than a thousand years before Luther, the Church Father Tertullian wrote:

Reason is a thing of God, inasmuch as there is nothing which God the Maker of all has not provided, disposed, ordained by reason—nothing which He has not willed should be handled and understood by reason.

Around the same time, another Church Father, Clement of Alexandria, wrote:

Do not think that we say that these things are only to be received by faith, but also that they are to be asserted by reason. For indeed it is not safe to commit these things to bare faith without reason, since assuredly truth cannot be without reason.

More recently, Augustine – himself a substantial influence on Luther – wrote:

Heaven forbid that God should hate in us that by which he made us superior to the animals! Heaven forbid that we should believe in such a way as not to accept or seek reasons, since we could not even believe if we did not possess rational souls.

And even more recently, Christian philosopher and historian William L. Craig thinks enough of reason to title one of his most popular apologetic works and his website, Reasonable Faith.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that Christianity does believe that human reason has been affected, even clouded, by the separation of God from Mankind. This is not a denial of reason, but a recognition that man’s ability to engage in it can be corrupted, mistaken, or misguided. Whether stated as a theological concept such as original sin or a postmodern theory concerned about the impossibility of objectivity, this cautionary approach to reason, I believe, strengthens mankind’s rational endeavors. The difference being that whereas the postmodernist may deny that there is a truth destination that can be arrived at, the Christian will admit its existence and work all the harder to reason and verify. As stated by Rodney Stark, “scholastic theologians placed far greater faith in reason than most philosophers are willing to do today.” The Victory of Reason, page 8.

I do not assume my journey has been normative for all Christians. I hope that most Christians have a solid faith that was not challenged as mine was. But for those who face the kinds of questions the DC poster did, or that I did, please know that the outcome can be an increase, rather than a loss, of faith. Also know that the notion that Christianity is the enemy of reason would surprise a lot of top Christian thinkers.

(The Tertullian quote is from On Repentence, Ch. 1, Clement from Recognitions of Clement, 2:69, and Augustine from Summa Theologica 14:28, working from quotes cited in Rodney Stark’s The Victory of Reason, page 7).

Update: Coming from a very different background and arriving at a somewhat different destination, my friend Meta recounts his journey through atheism into faith in Christ. I especially appreciate how his story illustrates the potential danger of prematurely giving up the intellectual search.

21 comments:

I really appreciate this post. For about the last two years, I have been struggling greatly with my faith in the ways you describe. I can connect with a lot of what you're talking about. I was actually talking to my wife just the other day about this, because it's very hard sometimes to deal with doubts, since it does seem that a lot of Christians just are not bothered by a lot of these things like I am, so again, reading this is very meaningful to me. That's not to say they don't use reason, as many of my Christian friends are quite brilliant, but these things just don't bother them so they don't always offer answers that are meaningful to me.

I've actually been debating with two friends of mine from college who turned away just after we all graduated back in 2005. I tend to agree with you, the more I look at their arguments, that Christianity truly is the best option. I think I was somewhat expecting to be intimidated by their arguments, but I'm not finding them to be that way now.

Thanks again for this post, and the blog as a whole.

Layman said...I am not sure how this atheist autobiography approach to de-evangelism pans out among most readers, but it usually strikes me as ineffective and a poor substitute for discussion over the ideas that may have lead to a loss of faith. Yet this tactic is a mainstay of DC as its contributors often seem to think that the rest of us just have not gone through these struggles or squarely faced our doubts or reason, evidence, etc.

The audobiographical approach we utilize is what it is, and doesn't claim to be more than it is. Christians use it when they give others their testimony. Paul the Apostle used it. And you just used it. We do not presume to convey the message that you have not struggled, or that Christians may have been atheists before their conversion. But there are indeed some Christian thinkers who do struggle with their faith.

And I don't know what you mean by saying this approach being the "mainstay" at DC, since we do in fact discuss the issues of why we reject Christianity.

Loftus,

You are having trouble reading what I wrote, again.

I did not write that this was "the 'mainstay'" at DC, but that "this tactic is a mainstay of DC." And of course it is. You guys stress your Christian backgrounds again and again and again and again and again. This does not, by any stretch of the imagination, mean that you do not also discuss other issues.

As for testimonies, they are a mainstay of evangelism and in some churches. But less so in the realm of apologetics. I do not think I have ever written about my own experiences in this regard in connection with the CADRE until now. In any event, and perhaps more to the point, what may be effective for Christians is not necessarily effective for atheists.

Leslie,

Thank you very much for your comment. It means a lot to read what you wrote. If you ever want someone else to discuss any of this with, please feel free to email me.

Layman, I was commenting on what you wrote. What does it mean to say it's "a mainstay" at DC? The indefinite article still claims this is our chief support according to the word itself:

main·stay [máyn stày]
(plural main·stays)
n 1. chief support: somebody or something that plays the most important role in a particular group, place, or situation.

Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

And as far as using testimonies in apologetics goes, many people do it on both sides, beginning with the apostle Paul, and William Lane Craig, even if it's true that not all do it.

Layman...what may be effective for Christians is not necessarily effective for atheists.

Why do you say this about the personal testimonial approach? In our testimonies we offer up the initial reasons why we changed our minds. Most all of the testimonies I've heard from Christians DO NOT MENTION any reasons or list the evidences for why they changed, but focus instead on personal religious experience. And what do you mean by "effective" here? Effective as a means of persuasion? Effective in so far as it introduces the person to other like minded people? Or what?

John,

I know what "a mainstay" means to me: It means that you harp on it. It means that you try to pretend that any Christian who thinks through these issues will become, at minimum, an agnostic or, even better, an atheist, or best yet, a person who creates their own Internet webpage to try to destroy other people's faith. It means that your main argument is, now and always will be, "I was a Christian until I realized how dumb it was." It means that you constantly return to the argument that begins "when I was a Christian, I [foolishly] thought . . . ."

As for me, I find these types of arguments sad. They prove nothing.

BK, I really like the new feature that emails me when a comment has been made here.

You said...I know what "a mainstay" means to me...

You realize there is a big difference between meaning and significance, don't you? The meaning of the word is what's important. What it signifies to you may be based upon personal experiences. Please stick to the meaning of the word.

I have never said I was "dumb" for believing in Christianity. I never argue people are "foolish" to believe it. This is a gross mischaracterization. I merely think I was deluded, and I think you are too. Now, once again, please stick to the meaning of the word "deluded," since we've had problems here with that word as well:

de·lude (past and past participle de·lud·ed, present participle de·lud·ing, 3rd person present singular de·ludes) vt lead into false belief: to persuade somebody to believe something that is untrue or unreal.
Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

BK: As for me, I find these types of arguments sad. They prove nothing.

I don't know what can "prove" anything here, but they do show we were once professing Christians just like you (and professing Christians are the only kind anyone ever sees).

If personal testimonies have no effect, then why do Christians tell them? None of these Christian testimonies "prove" anything to me either, but at least our testimonies speak directly to the reasons and evidence that changed our minds, unlike most all of those coming from Christians.

Loftus,

There is a difference between saying that something is "the mainstay" and saying that something is "a mainstay." The former is what you said I said but the latter is what I actually said.

One of the central parts of DC, its distinctive you might say, is that it is made up of former apologists, ministers, and Christians. Is this not true? Should I prove that you are intentionally misrepresenting your readers yet again by finding all the times you guys have reminded us of these things?

From your chief description of your own blog:

This Blog has been created for the purpose of debunking Evangelical Christianity. We are ex-Christians, ex-ministers, and even ex-apologists for the Christian faith. We are now freethinkers, skeptics, agnostics, and atheists. With the diversity of our combined strengths we seek to debunk Christianity. (emphasis added).

In no context that I am aware of does "mainstay" mean exclusive.

Why do you say this about the personal testimonial approach? In our testimonies we offer up the initial reasons why we changed our minds.

Because atheism claims to be all about the evidence, rather than about subjective experience.

Most all of the testimonies I've heard from Christians DO NOT MENTION any reasons or list the evidences for why they changed,

Hmmmm. Almost every testimony I have heard gives a reason for why they changed. Perhaps they do not list evidences that you will admit are evidence.

but focus instead on personal religious experience.

Which many find to be a "reason" for a change.

And what do you mean by "effective" here? Effective as a means of persuasion? Effective in so far as it introduces the person to other like minded people? Or what?

I do not think it is an effective means of debunking christianity. If you are saying it acts as emotional comfort to atheists out there, then I presume it could be effective in that regard.

But this is all secondary nitpicking in any event. The point, which you are free to admit or deny, is that other Christians have stared into the same abyss but found reason or evidence sufficient to bring them back. And that reason is not the enemy of faith and that Luther hardly meant to be understood in the way that he was portrayed.

As Ronald Reagon used to say, "there you go again..."

Could it be possible that you don't want to deal with my arguments so you resort to ad hominems every time I visit this blog? And did you not read this?

Do you prefer to sidetrack this discussion with yet another round of this? Didn't we just go over this recently?

But I'm game, and I'll do this every single time you want to resort to ad hominems until you and the rest of the CADRE get as tired of it as I am.

Fault away. Throw the first stone. Look at the splinter in other people's eye all you want to. Make mountains out of molehills, and continue repeating them all you want to. It's that kind of behavior that makes me glad I left the Christian faith in the dust. Thanks for yet another reminder."

I remember a Barthian Scholar talking about Origen who castrated himself for religious purity who said, 'it's not what I do that bothers me so much. It's what I think about. My mind is a cesspool of filth.' Apparently you are different, purer, holier than others. Congratulations!

Layman why do you really care whether I misled my readers one time? You think I mislead my readers every single time I argue against Christianity anyway.

And even though I did, big deal. Deal with your own (hidden) sins. Or, you can reveal them and confess like I did on my Blog. That's the difference between you and I. I can admit my faults" [and when caught in a lie yourself, you try to gerrymander around it]. "They are expressed on several pages in my book. Inside the Christian community there is this huge pressure not to admit faults, and you know it. Plus, many Christians never let others forget they did wrong.

BTW, if what you point out is my biggest fault, then I am truly thankful. I have so many faults and problems that you have no idea. I am a flawed human being, okay? How about you? As a former counselor in the churches I served I know the hidden faults of many Christians, and I suspect you are no different than them.

Can we move on now? Please.

BTW: The more you do this the less chance you'll have to get rid of me. I'll just keep coming back. You're better bet is to simply argue me away.

Layman why do you really care whether I misled my readers one time? You think I mislead my readers every single time I argue against Christianity anyway.

There is a difference between misrepresenting readers by being wrong, and intentionally misleading them as you did, as you first defended you had the right to do since it served your atheist agenda, and only recanted after public pressure was asserted against you by your own co-bloggers! And then you delete the entire thread of your defense of your right to intentionally deceive your readers, trying to make it go away.

Why do I care? If you are going to frequent our blog and continually play these kinds of games, I am going to remind people that your credibility is very much in doubt.

As for your threat to keep coming back, if you cross the line into simple harassment, then we've plenty of grounds and people who can start deleting your comments.

And there is still the matter of your claim to have never reviewed your own book when you apparently did just that.

You continue to come here and claim you want substantive argument. Then you beg off debates because you claim that people do not "like" you. Then you pick a fight over the meaning of "a mainstay," only to abandon that one to try and blackmail us with, well, with you actually hanging around more. However unpleasant a prospect that may prove to be, it is not exactly moving the debate along, is it?

Chad McIntosh said...

Nice post, Layman--I can appreciate the testimony on a personal level, for my own is similar.

One of these days I'll get around to writing out in full my own dramatic conversion from atheism to theism.

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This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Loftus,

Your comments are under heightened scrutiny at present. One post was deleted for spamming. The other for tangentialism, including your fall back attack against me as "Mr. Lawyer."

In fairness, here is how Loftus explains his attack on others who pointed out that he'd reviewed his own book on Amazon. He claims to have forgotten, but when challenged on it, personally attacked those who made the claim.

Loftus, you claim to want to discuss issues substantively but have ignored debate challenges from CADRE members to do just that and are reduced to claiming persecution (again). If you want substantive argument, just do it.

Layman, if you can attack me and then delete my comments then you win by default.

Such a nice way to deal with me, eh?

I cannot respond.

That's censorship. If that's what it takes to deal with my arguments then you have lost the debate. You do realize this, don't you?

I plead with you to allow me to respond. And I plead with you to allow me to repost what I said in defense of your personal attacks on me. And I plead with you to allow others to see how politely I responded to you, so they can see for themselves.

Loftus,

As is obvious, not all of your posts have been deleted. In fact, the majority of your recent posts stand, including several that demonstrate excessive spamming.

And just as obviously, it is possible that responses to the arguments of others (characterized as "attacks" or not) are subject to administrative oversight.

I allowed your links defending your actions on the two issues I raised, to remain. Indeed, although the post the second defensive link was subject to administrative deletion, I went out of my way to repost the link so anyone here could read your explanation. I thought fairness required that, but not more.

You are wrong about having responded politely.

You are hardly censored, you have a blog that gets more hits than ours.

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This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Loftus,

Further questions or comments about administrative deletions should be taken up via email, either to the CADRE itself or to me. Your choice.

So the debate is over ... for now?

Despite all the words that came against it - and possibly because of it - a transparent testimony such as yours has great power and influence on others. I also read JD Walters post which followed yours: The Power of a Christ-filled Life. And it moved me to add that you not only have a powerful testimony but you lead an authentic Christ-filled life and have all the years I have known you. That gives you an effective double edged sword: how you live backs up what you write.

I perhaps differ with you on the question of whether all Christians are tested in their faith. I would say that faith that is never challenged will not be solid faith. I believe we Christians are tested most in our area of greatest strength because it is in that area that we will tend to rely on ourselves rather than God. And it is in that area that we have the most influence once we learn to submit our gift to God.

I really enjoyed reading your post. It is well written and researched and honest.

Thanks, Mom.

I also appreciate the point about being challenged in our strength. I had not thought of it in those terms.

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