I'd Like to Tell You The Good News

“Thank you for sharing the gospel with me.

I want to share something with you. I know you will find it almost impossible to believe me, but I will share it anyway.

I know the God you are talking about. I understand the relationship you have with him. I understand the Holy Spirit that indwells you. I understand the Jesus you know. I understand your prayer life, how your soul is uplifted in worship, and how in God you find solace, redemption and grace. I understand the ways in which you see God at work, in the miraculous and the mundane, in scripture and the spiritual realm. I get it. I really do.

I am not behind you in this journey, fumbling to keep up, catching only glimpses of light ahead. I’ve come through the half-light where you are, and gone beyond, into the sunshine. Like you I was once convinced that we can now see only dimly, as through a mirror. But I am here to tell you good news of great joy: the dim mirror is a damn lie. The real world is bright and vivid, full of colour and texture, if you can set down the clouded mirror and turn to see it.

You are trapped in the world of a story. By focussing everything on that story, you’ve made the mythology into your reality. You have constructed an idol to worship: a base idol, made of words and doctrines rather than stone and metal. And, like Demetrius, you are consumed with its defence.

You hear the story, but do not understand what it signifies. Every conclusion you draw, every experience you have, is expressed in terms of the story, you mentally can’t go beyond it.

I know this because I too have been there. But I woke from this spirit of stupor, and so can you.

Let me suggest you read the bible again, more carefully this time, and in some detail. Given the season we’re fast approaching, read the two birth narratives of Jesus side by side, and try to understand what is going on.

It is hard, I know – your mind will keep being drawn to the surface things. You will be tempted to think always in terms of the world that is portrayed, to think about what it tells you about the character of God. I fear that you may just glide over things of significance, because you have been trained to do so. You’ve been taught to listen for the voice of God. That is hindering you, because that is still part of the narrative. It brings your mind always to the surface, with the illusion that you’ve been somewhere deeper.

But it is worth the attempt. Please try it. Take it slowly. Try to hear the real voices behind the story. Try to understand what they are saying and why. Listen to their tone. Use your intuition. Hear the echoes of the words that were not written; and feel the narrative rise under your gaze until you can see its naked form, and finally comprehend it.

You might not be able to do it. Not everyone can. Many who come from deep indoctrination just cannot. All they see is the superficial layer. They can never see the why, the how, the where. But maybe you can. I hope so.

I fear, though, that you won’t even try. That you’ll merely dismiss everything I say. Or decide that I’m simply lying, or ignorant of the true nature of your faith, or deluded, or stupid, or a tool of Satan seeking to attack you. If you can never even wander from that fortress of certainty, then I’m afraid you are truly entombed within its walls. You are condemned to live your whole life in twilight, convinced it is noon.

I can only hope that you can find any spark in you to try. Really to try. Not to dismiss, or to try with a condescending amusement. But to really try.

Even the effort may not be enough. There is no guarantee of success. I’ve seen some who’ve tried and failed, though most shun even the trying. But if you do, and do succeed, it will truly be the best thing you ever do.”

— edited from my response to an evangelistic commenter on this thread. Those of us who have seen the light should encourage those still lost in the darkness, right?



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90 responses to “I'd Like to Tell You The Good News

  1. I love it, particularly in the context of the comments you were responding to. It is very frustrating to be in a dialog where the person on the other side absolutely either can’t or won’t make the effort to consider their beliefs from another perspective.

  2. getoffmylawn

    Thats great. I love the way you put so many bible quotes into it. Feeding them their own medicine.

    Can I use this?

  3. Ian

    @attr – thanks.

    @goml – Nice nickname! Thanks for commenting and welcome to the blog! Yes, I was wondering if they would be obvious. You can use it with attribution, sure. As well as attribution it would be nice if you could link back here. You didn’t add a website address to your comment: do you blog too?

  4. I think it’s great; lots of my friends tell me to lay off on the religion thing and stop offending people, but it’s like when you solve a great puzzle and you know that the solution is really really useful, if only people could see it. And they don’t see it, and take offence at you pointing it out. Which wouldn’t be quite such a problem if they were actually looking for it in the first place…

  5. Amen, brother Ian.



  6. getoffmylawn

    no, I dont blog, just lurk. I wanted to print it out and give it to family members next time they jump all over me for ‘losing’ my faith — “wait, I put it down somewhere here, dammit.”

    I remember being taught that Logos means a whole teaching, not just one word. Could John chapter 1 be translated “in the beginning was the story”?

  7. Ian

    @shane, andrew. Thanks, I really appreciate it!

    @goml – Cool suggestion. Unfortunately that translation would be pushing it a bit. Logos can be translated something like an ‘account’ of something, but when it is used like that it should be understood in contrast to ‘mythos’. Rational account vs. story. But of course, the key insight is that the logos’s claim to being ultimate divine rationality is itself just part of the story. And frankly, given some of what Jesus goes on to say in John, pretty risible.

  8. Ian

    Which wouldn’t be quite such a problem if they were actually looking for it in the first place…

    Or, as in this case, trying to do the same to you.

  9. Rob

    Something on here jogged my memory about a line from Jules Shear: a very underrated songwriter.

    “It’s a great puzzle . . . but you gotta like games.”

  10. Ian, if you knew Christ like i know Christ… oh wait…

    great post. i’m with you here. i may steal this or at least repost it. i maybe a Christian, yet i’ve had that label ripped away from me by these types. they say i’m too open, or unitarian. or whatever. i love this letter, but not for the same reasons as others maybe.

  11. Ian

    o1 – That means a lot, mate. I hoped you’d get it.

  12. Ian

    @Rob – I do like games. And more than that, I think they are very important. In a way which isn’t normally credited in our culture. Games are the foundation of all skills, I think.

    I say that because I concur with your (perhaps not totally comfortable) implication that religion is a type of game. But it is important for it, I think.

  13. Rob

    hey, not so fast! Not making any implications, just holding Jules Shear up for general admiration . . .

  14. I liked your talk about the stories we make about our lives and how they can become a trap. Everyone makes these stories, there are other stories besides religion. People make big investments in their stories and so they hang onto them. I wrote an essay about that: having lived my life in a story about the psychosocial effects of abuse, then finding out I was gluten intolerant: http://camoo.freeshell.org/journey.doc

  15. Ian

    @Rob – okay – so it was my inference rather than your implication. But still.

    @Laura – thanks for the comment, and welcome to the blog! I’ll have a read of your document. Yes, I think stories are crucial for our self-understanding. A friend of mine who’s into the “Landmark” self-help organization says they call them “rackets” – stories we tell ourselves to make sense of the world and to organize our behavior. Which is fine and good when the behaviors they engender are positive. But destructive when they are not. And in those cases, often it is harder to shake the story that causes the behavior than it is to shake the behavior.

  16. Adonais Salvare

    Good day to you Ian,

    … and also the many who gaze upon these pages.

    Just to let you know… I have been traveling for a good many days since I last spoke with you… or shall I say, since you last put me in my place. What was I thinking? I actually don’t know much. I obviously am far back in the line… way behind you.

    So, since I know nothing and have read no books, of which you obviously know that I haven’t read…. probably… because I haven’t… since you said so. And since I haven’t read those books which you seem to indicate or rather infer that… if I did, I would be as knowledgeable as you about things!!! Gosh, I want to know things!


    It’s clear that I will never know anything here… even if I do learn something, like there are a great many people out there, who just cannot accept that we are all unique, yet down deep at the core we are pretty much the same to the naked eye, with slightly different functions in this Universe. The amazing thing about our uniqueness, is that most, will condemn the other, for “their” uniqueness, because most believe that everyone wants everyone else to be “them”.

    That may be true, but it’s not even close to the way I operate. I accept everyone for who they are, and allow them to be who they are… because I know I cannot change anyone but myself.

    One thing, if anything you may want to get from this last post (I say last, because I have run my time here)… the one thing you may want to see… if you can is this:

    It serves in humanity’s best interest for each individual to approach another person and never mention their wrongs, not telling another person where they have faltered, followed by the correction. It is far more productive, by letting a person ( behave badly… and say all their negative things that they will say) and then, simply encourage…. encourage them to do the right, by showing them where the right is (remembering, to not point out the wrong, as they have done, perceived by us.)

    If you must read into those words… then God bless you, because there is nothing hidden there….it’s straight to the point as everything I have said thus far has been. God bless.

  17. I’m not sure how it serves humanity’s best interests not to point out when someone is talking bollocks. It is also highly disrespectful because it shows you to be shallow, more concerned with having an easy life than tackling anything difficult. It is also profoundly non-Christian and more like pagan New-age cobblers.

    Ian, you know etymology stuff – any linguistic connection between “Adonai” and “Adonis”? Many aspects of YHWH have pagan roots, especially the OT names and epithets, but I hadn’t thought of this one before.

  18. Ian

    If you must read into those words… then God bless you, because there is nothing hidden there….it’s straight to the point as everything I have said thus far has been. God bless.

    I’m not sure I understood your comment enough to read anything into it! I mean, I got the sarcasm (which I’m not sure I deserved, but still).

    I also don’t understand the bit about being unique. Are you suggesting that your attempt to get me to find your God, or telling me that it is impossible that I believe what I believe, is somehow respecting my diversity; where me telling you that there is a wonderful world beyond your indoctrination is somehow abusing yours? I don’t get how that works…

    It serves in humanity’s best interest for each individual to approach another person and never mention their wrongs, not telling another person where they have faltered, followed by the correction.

    And how does that fit into your plan of telling me that it is impossible that I believe what I believe and that I’m throwing around words like Atheism without knowing what they mean?

  19. Ian

    @shane – Yes absolutely. The words are cognates. ‘ADN’ was a Phonecian god brought into both the Hebrew and Greek pantheons. It likely came into the semitic polytheistic panetheon alongside other gods such as El and Yahweh. And like them it came to be used as an epithet “Lord” pertaining to the one God, as the Hebrews moved to a monotheistic model of divinity. Adonai is the Hebrew transliteration, and Adonis is a greek version – imported into the Greek pantheon.

    Interestingly, if you go to a really posh store in Jerusalem (and are male), the shop assistant might greet you by saying “Adonai” (my Lord). A super formal version of “Yes, sir?”.

    Other trivial fact, it is the divine name used in place of “Yahweh” by orthodox Jews and some Christians. And it is by the Butchering of Adonai’s vowels along with Yahweh (or Jahweh)’s consonants that we get the invented word Jehovah.

  20. Ian


    Just to let you know… I have been traveling for a good many day

    Please don’t worry about that kind of thing. One of the great things about blogs is that they support these kind of extended conversations. For me, certainly, the willingness to really engage is far more important than time scale.

  21. Hmmm – any link to pa Aten, the solar disk? I think that would be pushing it 🙂 I’m afraid last time I was in Jerusalem I didn’t have the dosh to go into one of *those* stores!
    Btw, did you see Robin Lane Fox on BBC recently, linking the Greek goddy mythologies to those of the Hittites? It was a nice one – still on iPlayer I think.

  22. Ian

    I can’t join Aten, no, although it doesn’t seem inherently absurd.

    I didn’t see that program, no, but I’d be really interesting in seeing it. I’ll have a hunt on iplayer when I get home tomorrow. Thanks for the tip!

  23. I love the way you have phrased this post – it’s the most poetic explanation of atheism I have ever seen. I am a non-theist (I think “God” is in the experience of our interconnectedness – it’s not a person). I particularly liked the use of the imagery around giving up seeing through a glass darkly, and turning to face the bright beautiful colours of the world – Amen to that! It reminded me of the Lady of Shallot (“I am half sick of shadows, said the Lady of Shallot”).

    I was interested that you said religionists are too involved in the story to be able to step outside it. I think that is true of fundamentalists, but in the case of liberal religion, I think people are capable of seeing that it is only a story, and appreciating other stories, and seeing the whole thing as a metaphor. I practice two religions (both of which are very eclectic), partly to remind myself that both are only metaphors. I practice them because I like the spirituality and the community and the sharing of stories from many different traditions.

  24. Ian

    Thanks Yewtree. The post was directed specifically at a fundamentalist / literalist / non-pluralist view of the Christian faith. I know and appreciate those who do use the Christian faith as a set of aesthetic guides to help their spiritual practice.

    I have a lot of time for a lot of U/UUs (in fact, I lurk at your blog too ;).

    I attend services too. Partly out of interest, but mostly out of community: I care for and are cared about by the community. But outside a couple of experiences with UU congregations while living and working in the US, I’ve not found somewhere I was totally comfortable. I wrote about what my ideal church might look like last fall: https://irrco.wordpress.com/2010/10/05/this-is-my-church/ That still stands.

  25. I like that article and the ideas in it very much. My main thought was that it would require a fairly large building. And that 10.30 on a Sunday morning is actually a rather inconvenient time, when I would actually rather be out hiking than going to church – though I do go to church.

    I find that when Unitarians do God-talk, they seem to mean something very similar to what I mean (the Divine as the combined energy of everything and everyone, and not a person with intentions), so I don’t mind God-talk. We had a very interesting series of talks on what we mean by God at last year’s Hucklow summer school (I delivered one of them) and the idea of God-as-connection came up there, too.

    Do come out of lurk mode on my blog! Which one do you read? Is it Stroppy Rabbit, or Dances of the Elements?

  26. Ian

    Building…. yes, although I was thinking something like a high school would also work.

    I have had Dances of the Elements on my blog reader for a while. I have also at times added various others you contribute to in my “temporary” list of blogs I follow for a while. Because I’m interested in U/UU, but not really a part of it in any sense, I don’t tend to comment much on the U/UU blogs I follow. In fact, recently I don’t tend to comment much on any blogs.

  27. Hey Mate. From a bible college student, training to be in ministry I’d like to say a couple of things. First, It’s such a waste you’re writing for the other team. You are really easy to read whilst being truly insightful. This article is, to date the only thing (outside of college) that has encouraged me to go back and read the bible on face value with an effort not to assert my presuppositions. this honestly challenged my faith. I must admit I fall into the group that is unchanged but you are the first atheistic writer who I can say I respect. You are fair, but firm. Your article has in turn stregnthened me. I won’t waste my time throwing in witty attempts to convert you, but your article does qualify the potential for predestination. Bless you friend. Keep writing, I’ll keep reading!

  28. I think there are truths in the Bible that you have not yet come to appreciate. More specifically, I think there are aspects of Jesus Christ about which you are not even aware. All this in spite of the fact that you are quite sure that you have “Been there, done that.”

  29. Ian

    Interesting Mike, but I notice you don’t say what they are? I challenge you to tell me any aspect of Jesus Christ that I am not aware of. Or any truth in the bible I do not appreciate. Can you? If not, then how is your comment not just wishful thinking?

    See it is a trivial game to just say “no, I really know it at a deeper level”, “no, deeper than that”, “no, even deeper”, without actually saying what it is “I can’t, it is something you have to appreciate yourself!”. Well how convenient! But you see, no matter how deep you can go, the truth is I know the bible at a deeper level than you, and at that deeper level I’m right. No, seriously, no matter how deep you think you are, I’m deeper. Am to. Am to. Am to.

    How to break the silly playground game? Well, how about you say what you actually mean, rather than just pretend it is ineffable?

  30. You don’t like it when the shoe is on the other foot, do you?

  31. Ian

    Mike, I think you missed the irony in the original post. The shoe is *always* on the other foot. Religious folks are *always* trying to suggest they have some deeper understanding of reality, without actually ever saying what on earth it might be. That was the whole point of this piece!

    The fact that you responded with a variant “no, I have an even deeper understanding” was rather the point.

    At least one Christian minister in this comment thread got it.

  32. The Scripture says that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ. Unless you are prepared to say that you have minded them all, you should acknowledge that there are truths there that you have not yet apprehended. Whether I have apprehended more or less than you is irrelevant to the point.

  33. Ian

    Why would I agree the bible is right to claim that? As far as I can discern, scripture is wrong in that regard, as in many others.

    It is telling, the fact that nobody has been able to point out any piece of knowledge the scripture contains (or their faith more generally) that isn’t more clearly articulated outside it. Although many Christians are fond of telling me there are some, they are surprisingly reticent to venture them! All very convenient.

    It is trivial to write sentences like “all widsom and knowledge are available through the Church of Scientology” (say). But you, as I, rightly regard them as pious nonsense when we come across them. We’ve no more grounds to believe that claim of Christianity than we do of Islam or Scientology or any other.

    But feel free to demonstrate, if all knowledge is available, some knowledge in the bible or available in Christ, that is not available elsewhere.

    I’m afraid the emperor has no clothes.

  34. In the Bible, Christ is revealed. And in Christ, God is revealed. If you choose to reject this, so be it. But it’s foolish for you to reject it, and then blame others as if it was their lack of convincing power rather than the force of your will that decided the issue.

  35. Ian

    Nice projection, Mike.

    If you read the original post, you’ll notice I never blame anyone for their lack of convincing power, I don’t blame you.

    Quite the opposite. I *know* why you have no convincing power. I *know* why you can’t point to a single one of the truths you alluded to. It took me a long time to get it, but I can see deeply into Christianity and how it works. I was once where you are, but I saw the light, and now I understand it on a much more profound level.

    I was asking you for the truths you suggested you had, I never expected you to give them, my questioning was more aimed demonstrating how transparent your words were. The course of the conversation is pretty much what I’d have expected (except where you missed the irony, I expected that to be more obvious), right down to the projection here at the end.

    I understand exactly where your inability comes from, I don’t blame you for it. I understand you can loosely articulate theses kinds of truths to yourself, but you won’t even venture a single one, because you know that such a truth articulated will seem foolish when considered outside the safety of the story. The story is everything, it is all-or-nothing, it is ultimately only self-referential. Which is fine, because the story has an excuse for that too. The things of God seem foolish to unbelievers, so perhaps it is better not to cast your pearls before swine. If the fool says in his heart there is no God, then why be surprised at his foolishness concerning things unseen.

    It surprises me that you can’t see what you’re doing as well, but then hindsight is 20/20, and having been where you are, I also did not notice the patterns either.

    I don’t blame you. If anything I feel sorry for you, because I know you’d be happier, more complete as a human, and more moral, if you could come further and see the light.

  36. Ian

    “The course of the conversation is pretty much what I’d have expected” – as a temper to the (intentional) self-righteousness of this comment, btw, I’ll point out that the simultaneous conversation we’re having about homosexuality on the other post has taken some interesting and unexpected turns…

  37. “I was once where you are.” I marvel that you can say such a thing – and with such confidence! Where is it you think I am?

  38. Ian

    “Where is it you think I am?”

    Caught in the spirit of stupor. Lost in the story. Convinced the shadows on the wall are the true reality. Seeing the world darkly, as through a mirror.

    And fundamentally unwilling to accept that where you are, is where you are.

  39. That’s the best you can do?

    I’m willing to take you seriously, but you have to put in more effort than that.

    You’re said, “I was once where you are.” When I ask you to describe that place, you give a bloated version of “You think you’re right but you’re not.” If you’re just going to call names, at least be succinct.

    I thought you meant that you once thought the way I am thinking. If that’s what you think, then tell me how you think I’m thinking and I’ll know whether or not you know what you’re talking about.

  40. Ian

    Please read your first comment again, Mike. I get that you’re not tuned into irony, but it isn’t that hard, surely?

    “If you’re just going to call names, at least be succinct.”

    I didn’t think two lines was particularly verbose. I’m not sure I can be clearer.

    I once thought that the story was real, that the scripture revealed the truth of the nature of the creator and redeemer God, but then I came beyond that, and learned how the story works, how belief in God reinforces itself, and how spiritual experiences arise.

    [Edit] Just occurred to me that trying to enumerate your beliefs is silly. I just read your blog for half and hour. Unless you want to claim that doesn’t reflect what you think, then let’s have that stand for what I think you think. You seem to be pretty good at articulating what you think, so let’s not pretend that your beliefs are some kind of inscrutable mystery. Nothing in your blog posts I would have objected to, when I was where you are. Your views articulated there form a perfectly average constellation of perfectly unexceptional claims that I am very familiar with and have moved beyond, and seen for what they really are.

  41. You said, “I once thought that the story was real, that the scripture revealed the truth of the nature of the creator and redeemer God, but then I came beyond that, and learned how the story works, how belief in God reinforces itself, and how spiritual experiences arise.”

    That’s better. So what happened between “but” and “then.” In other words, what persuaded you that you had been wrong, and what did you then embrace as true in its place?

  42. Ian

    I began to observe the mechanism behind the scenes, that most Christians (and folks of other religions) spend a lot of effort not noticing.

    I noticed the features of religious narrative that build-in their own desired dynamics, such as evangelism, the afterlife, scriptural authority, exclusivity, sin, and spiritual warfare, and noticed they are no different from the lock-in mechanisms in any business model. I found that spiritual experiences (answers to prayer, healing, words of knowledge, tongues, prophecy, many others) are perfectly unremarkable features of our psychology that are accessible regardless of your faith story or culture. I learned about group-dynamics, how to model them, and their characteristic behaviours, and saw immediately that they were a sufficient explanation for religious phenomena. I spent increasing time talking to the friends I knew who are Christian ministers about how their job really works. But at that point, my knowledge of religion was parochially limited to Christianity (and western evangelical flavours of it at that), so I spent four years researching hundreds of different religious traditions from around the world and through history, as well as other overlapping phenomena (such as alt med, mindfulness mediation, mediumship, nlp) and found that they all worked in the same way. Not every faith or religious tradition has all the same surface features, but they have the same set of gears behind them.

    There are probably a lot of other things that fed into the same process, as well.

    So I didn’t decide that God didn’t exist, so much as just get to see behind the curtain for how God works. Once you know, once you understand, it is clear, and the world is a much brighter and more vivid place. And, most importantly, it need have no impact on the vitality and profundity of your spiritual experience.

    Unfortunately, most Christians, as I once did, pay lip-service to being truth seekers, but are actually afraid to look behind the curtain. The Wizard is grand, and breathes smoke, and speaks in a loud voice. Sometimes we need a Toto to go rooting around where we are afraid to look.

    And, of course, once you’ve seen behind the curtain, then the sight of well-meaning believers saying “no, really, the Wizards is really real, look at its smoke, the deepness of its voice”, when you’re standing watching the gears turn and the smoke travel along the tubes, is pathetic and saddening.

  43. Like you, “I began to observe the mechanism behind the scenes…et al.”

    Unlike you, I was able to distinguish them from God Himself. When it comes to Christianity, Jesus Christ, as testified to and revealed in the Scriptures, is the baby – everything else is bath water.

  44. Ian

    “When it comes to Christianity, Jesus Christ, as testified to and revealed in the Scriptures, is the baby – everything else is bath water.”

    I’ve had the very same thing to me said about Scientology, and the Pope, and Mohammad. Each time with a flurry more story to back it up.

    Of course you’re right, obviously. When it comes to how your God works, the mechanisms don’t apply, yours runs on magic, the rest of them run on gears.

    But we’re back in a circle. The claim for ‘no, my God is the real one’ is cheep, a claim everyone else makes about their Wizard. But you’re not going to actually provide any demonstration of this, at least not one that every one of those other religionists don’t also claim as evidence of their own unique status, are you?

  45. Jesus Christ was willing to be disbelieved. Should I therefore complain if someone doesn’t believe me when I talk about Him?

  46. Ian

    Wow, I didn’t expect you to come back with another post-hoc rationalization from your story. Shocking!

    Honestly Mike, we both know you would not accept this kind of nonsense as anything but transparent evasion from any other faith position.

  47. I look to Jesus of Nazareth as my moral exemplar. I commend Him to you as well.

  48. Ian

    [Edit] – I think we’ve completely lost the plot now. Since you’ve evidently given up trying to have a conversation about any actual issues here, I’ll close this thread. Feel free to pick up with something more substantial if you like.

  49. Max

    Reading your conversation with Mike Gantt reminds of the fun I had with the Eliza program nearly 40 years ago. You initially think you are conversing with a real thinking human being but its all a scripted program. And when you get outside the parameters of its script, they lose the plot completely. 🙂

  50. Ian

    Thanks Max. I deleted the duplicate, and the extra message. An apologist Eliza – I wonder if that’s the holy grail of Turing Test research. It might just be possible… 🙂 Although often I read the comments on, say, Pharyngula, and think that some of the commenters there are no better.

  51. Max,

    Your comment led me to go back through my dialogue with Ian on this post, looking for any points at which he “got outside the scripted program.” I can’t find in his position anything new, fresh, or distinct from what a host of other erstwhile believers have been saying on the web. If you really want to throw me for a loop, tell me something I can’t find on umpteen other “I’ve seen the secular light!” blogs.

    Meanwhile, help me understand Ian’s puzzling claim to have spent an hour and a half on my blog and not realized that he probably can’t name a single other blog that promotes Jesus Christ while discouraging churchgoing. It seems that it’s you guys who are the ones stuck in a script.

  52. Ian

    Well, I’m still waiting for the much vaunted knowledge you suggested you had, in your opening comment. And you’ve still not provided any reason other than “they didn’t believe Jesus either” for why we should take your claims to know the truth any more seriously than any other religionist.

    But I notice you’re now trying yet a different trolling tactic to avoid actually proving any of this knowledge you claim to have access to.

    I’m sure there are many of us “erstwhile believers” who noticed the Emperor had no clothes. You can bluster as much as you like, but unless you’re actually going to show us these clothes you claim are so beautiful, your petulance is just a transparent [sic] distraction tactic. But you’re not, actually going to show them, are you? You’ll just find other ways to say “no, really, they really are there, and really are beautiful” or justify why you can’t or aren’t going to show them.

    There’s a reason we tell the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes to children.

  53. Ian,

    I’m doing nothing that constitutes “trolling.” You’re simply using a pejorative in place of actual argument. Insult is a poor substitute for reason.

    I don’t suggest that anyone should take my claims based on my authority. I have no authority. I’m just reporting what I’ve read in the Bible.

    To be specific – though your hour and a half on my site should have been more than enough time for you to discover this on your own – everyone is going to heaven, churchgoing is not a requirement, the Second Coming of Christ was accomplished long ago, the Trinity is an erroneous way to view Christ, and God doesn’t pay attention to human social labels such as Christian and atheist – He loves every one as His own child. What does matter very much to God is the purity of our hearts – that we are always thinking good, clean, and just thoughts – toward Him and toward each other.

    I don’t claim to be unique about everything I say, nor am I trying to be unique about anything I say. I’m just stating, to repeat how I began here, that much of what you have thrown out from Christianity deserves to be thrown out – but Christ Himself does not.

    In other words, you and I would agree about much that is wrong with organized Christianity. However, I am trying to get you to see that you have merely exchanged a life of trusting Christians for a life of trusting secularists. That is, you’ve traded fellowship with one group for fellowship with another. There is a true Christ, and it is to Him I am pointing you. There is fellowship available with Him.

  54. Ian

    I used trolling to mean a comment primarily intended to garner a rise, rather than further the discussion. This latest reply is constructive. Thanks for changing the tone.

    “That is, you’ve traded fellowship with one group for fellowship with another.” I suspect you’ve massively misjudged who I have fellowship with. Still, I also suspect this isn’t your point.

    “There is a true Christ, and it is to Him I am pointing you. There is fellowship available with Him.” Exactly. And this is still my point of contention. So many think their Christ, their version of God, their religious beliefs are true. The one true one, all the others being wrong. Your idiosyncratic list of doctrines are nothing special, as you say. Your personal combination might be more or less unusual, but they are wholly unremarkable in the history of Christianity. So given that you claim to be able to see the machinery behind the curtain of every other religious truth-claimer with a different story to yours, including the vast majority of other Christians, why on earth should anyone take your claims any more seriously. I contend that your version is just as much of a just-so story as all the others. Have you got anything outside of the story to suggest otherwise, something that you wouldn’t dismiss out of hand if claimed by someone with a different favourite story to you?

    My point is simply that. Truth claims about religion are all just “no, mine is the true one, God himself revealed it to our forefathers… no, mine is the true one, it says here in my scripture mine is true… no, its mine, God personally told me so.” If yours is different then please show how, otherwise you’re just another me too with no more credibility than the rest.

  55. If you don’t want responses, don’t write a blog. If you only want affirming responses, make the blog private and only give the password to your friends.

    I haven’t changed my tone at any point along the way. Nor will I.

    You tried to make a point with this post. No harm, no foul. I responded to it. No harm, no foul. I was not off-topic. I directly engaged you on the point you raised. There’s no reason for you to insult me for it by calling it trolling.

    As for your most recent comment, first a clarification and then a question:

    I am not proclaiming a different Christ than the one proclaimed the 2 billion or so Christians in the world. I am only saying that organized Christianity is riddled with ideas that obscure Christ in the same way that excessive barnacles can obscure the hull of a ship. The Christ of the Bible, and thus of Christianity, is the One I proclaim. As for why someone should agree with me that a particular idea is a barnacle rather than part of the hull, I give chapter and verse so the person can make their own decision.

    My question has to do with your overall outlook, and it is this: Do you challenge your own view with the sort of questions you pose to me here – or is it only religious truth claims that get such scrutiny? All other things being equal, does your secular truth claim deserve more respect than my religious truth claim?

  56. Nicely written. I have done the same, not only with the birth narratives but with much of the OT and NT and have found myself on the other side of disbelief. Although we see the world differently, I hope we can respect each other’s path.

  57. Ian

    Thanks Dan, and welcome to the blog. Yes, absolutely. This post was a response to a poster who arrived here to tell me what I believed and that I wasn’t a real atheist and that if only I did or believed what he told me, I’d see how wrong I was. Any tone of disrespect is aimed at that kind of self-unaware evangelicalism. I consider myself very much on the same journey as many who still profess their faith.

  58. Ian

    @mike “I am not proclaiming a different Christ than the one proclaimed the 2 billion or so Christians in the world.”

    So it seems we agree. Good. I also think you are telling the same story as every other Christian, and your source for that story is the same storybook, though you read a slightly different character from its pages (though as you pointed out, the character traits you emphasise, while not common, have been previously noted by others). Exactly. And it is a story I know well, I know how it works, I know how powerless you are to step beyond it (as you’ve shown throughout this thread). I know it is a fiction. And moreover I understand why you’ve proven utterly unable to even acknowledge what the story is for; why instead your every response is in terms of the story.

    To revisit the metaphor of the Wizard of Oz, I’ve seen the gears and tubes. That you like to dress up your wizard in a fez and handlebar moustache won’t change the fact that I’ve seen behind the curtain. Pointing furiously at the “Oz Guide to Wizard Fashion” and shouting “No, the fez is crucial, crucial I tell you! Look at the fez and you’ll know the wizard is real!” hardly strengthens your case. Which is where we came in, before you tried to convince me that you too knew everyone else’s wizard runs on steam, but yours runs on magic.

    As for the question at the end. I’m very happy to concede that my contention that wizards run on steam could be refuted by just one that didn’t. Or even any *function* of any wizard that wasn’t driven by chains and sprockets. My truth claims are fragile in that sense, and easily challenged. Provided there is such a thing as magic. Lots of believers claim there is, of course, but when pressed they simply tell more stories of how magical and fearsome the Wizard is.

    Can you point to anything other than more storytelling? Though I’ve been asking you the same question throughout, you’re not doing well in this thread so far, for all your bluster.

  59. Ian,

    “The Wizard of Oz” was obviously written as a fiction; the New Testament documents claim to be writing about reality. You say that you know the story is fiction, but you don’t say how it is you know this.

  60. Ian

    Baum’s book wasn’t playing the role of the New Testament. That part was being played by “The Oz Guide to Wizard Fashion”, deliberately not a work of fiction in the context of the metaphor. You know what a metaphor is, right?

  61. We don’t need to get bogged down in the metaphor. I’m interested in how you came to the conclusion that the story of Jesus of Nazareth described in the New Testament documents is a fiction.

  62. Ian

    Depends what you mean by “fiction”. As a genre it is certainly not fiction. But in content, I’m with the vast majority of scholars who recognize it is mythologized, hagiographic, and its variant forms are written for the benefit of particular contemporary faith communities. Is that what you mean?

    I suspect you might be not reading me carefully again. My point is not that the bible is fiction (although as above that may be true in certain parts, for certain definition of “fiction”), I deliberately didn’t choose a work of fiction in my metaphor to make that point, but that your religious narrative is a story, just like every one else’s religious narrative.

    The evidence for that is written large in this thread: despite me asking you in almost every reply, you’ve get to suggest anything about your religious story that isn’t just more story. And any other religionist could and does the same.

    It’s a point you also seem to have failed to grasp throughout, as your responses are either more story, or a tu quoque that misrepresents what I’m claiming.

  63. You were the one who said, “I know it is a fiction.” I’m merely trying to find out what you mean by that.

    Scholars vary considerably in how much of the New Testament they ascribe as embellishment beyond fact. On one end, some ascribe none; on the other, they ascribe everything beyond a 1st-century Jewish preacher was crucified as not factual. That is a very wide spectrum, and thus for you describe your position as the same as scholars does not describe much.

    As for story, everyone operates according to one. You never answered my question about whether you subject nonreligious stories, including your own, to the same scrutiny as religious ones.

  64. Ian

    “You were the one who said, “I know it is a fiction.”” – yeah, sorry if I’ve not been clear. I was referring to your religious narrative there.

    Yes, I guess I should have said “mainstream scholars”. You’ve got someone like N T Wright at the more believing end, I think. But I think you’ll find it hard to find some peer reviewed scholarship that argues that all, or even most of the NT is fact. Of the scholars I know, and the scholarship I’ve seen presented at the SBL, say (outside the denomination-specific micro-programs, such as the adventist group), none argue for anything but a mostly mythological treatment of Jesus.

    “You never answered my question about whether you subject nonreligious stories, including your own, to the same scrutiny as religious ones.”

    Yes, indeed. In fact “my own” story *was* the religious one, and the “scrutiny” was a process of understanding how human being build models to represent their experiences, and how those models can then influence the kinds of experiences we can have. That skepticism has stayed with me, more so because I really believed. I understand how easy it is to be trapped in such a model, and how hard it is to see it for what it is.

  65. No, I’m not talking about the religious story you had. I’m talking about the nonreligious story you currently have. What is it, and what causes it to survive the scrutiny that you’re prior story didn’t.

  66. Ian

    I get you want to draw a false equivalence between understanding how religious stories work (what you term a ‘nonreligious story’) and having a religious story. You’re using “story” to mean something like “whatever you happen to believe”. Because, in turn, you haven’t understood or accepted your inability to escape yours (or even acknowledged it exists).

    If I say I recognize that cars use engines to move, is such a realisation an engine, or a car?

    It is the standard trick of calling non-stamp-collecting a hobby, or atheism a religion. Which in turn is a tu quoque to avoid actually stepping up to the plate and putting forward what you claimed to have in your first post.

    I expose my beliefs to the same level of scrutiny I always have. If they buckle I will revise them, as I did before. If you can give good reasons for your beliefs outside your story, then I’m very happy to hear them.

  67. Not everyone has a hobby, but everyone has an existence…and a story about that existence. This story is the eye through which the individual views life: his outlook, his worldview, his set of beliefs, his perception of reality.

    The source of the story I have embraced is the one I learned, ultimately, from first-century Jews, most notably Jesus of Nazareth, as recorded in the set historical documents we call the New Testament. Thus I know the story in which I dwell, and I know from whom I have learned it. I took to the story because, when I finally read it in my late 20’s, it squared with my experience of life – that is, it resonated with truth. Conversely, I cannot find a basis in logic or conscience to reject it. It is plausible non-fiction; it is implausible fiction. Thus I not only believe it – I know why I believe it.

    You, on the other hand, seem to think that you shed your old story without acquiring a new one. This amounts to pulling the wool over your own eyes. You have a story – yet you do not seem to know its contours, nor do you seem to from whom you have learned it, nor why you believe it. You have thus chosen the story from which it is hardest to escape – the one you don’t even think you have. Yet, you shouldn’t despair: with God all things are possible. Even escape from the story you don’t think you have (Psalm 68:20).

  68. Pingback: Dialogue with Ian at Irreducible Complexity | Current Events in Light of the Kingdom of God

  69. Ian

    As I said, you misunderstood what I mean by “story” when it comes to religion, as you have throughout this thread (and one of the reasons I used metaphor, to try to disengage you from having your nose so close to the wall you can’t focus on it). You’re using story to mean “a belief system”, and in that case clearly I’ve moved from one belief system to another: I know very well the contours of my previous and current beliefs. But that’s not what I mean by a religious story.

    So you try the same kind of evasion as you’ve been consistently trying throughout. Trying to avoid actually answering any of the important questions by implying I’m being hypocritical for asking them.

    “You have thus chosen the story from which it is hardest to escape – the one you don’t even think you have.” is a beautiful piece of projection, because that is exactly where you’ve proven to be throughout.

    We can go round and round as many times as you like, but given that you still aren’t willing to engage, preferring to wheedle out of the process, there’s very little I can do to help you, I think.

    The best way I know of helping people along the path from where you are is if they’ll engage. If they are willing to have a game attempt to figure out what kinds of claim they could make about their religion that couldn’t be made in good faith by believers of countless other religions. I hope you’ll agree that your paragraph beginning “The source of the story…” is a paragraph that, with the names changed, would be recognizable to scientologists, muslims, Christian scientists, Bahai, and so on. But as I said in the OP, this isn’t the twee seek-and-ye-shall-find of the Christian story here. It is hard, and not everyone can do it, either through lack of trying or through lack of ability, I don’t know.

  70. Projection is the only explanation for how you see me.

    As for your repeated assertion that there is nothing distinctive about the story of Christ, and that its outline is followed by “scientologists, etc.” I cannot think of a more absurd and ill-informed statement. Yet perhaps it is I who am ill-informed, so let me test your thesis.

    In which of the other stories to which you refer is the text containing the founder’s belief system written hundreds of years in advance of his?

    In which of the other belief systems are many key biographical details about the founder written hundreds of years in advance of his birth?

    Which of the other belief systems has its founder shamed in death and only honored subsequent to that by God through resurrection from the dead?

    Ron Hubbard was a religious entrepreneur. Jesus never sought money.

    Muhammad was a warrior who assembled his own army. Jesus discouraged his followers from armed offense or defense.

    Joseph Smith was both a religious entrepreneur and a warrior.

    All of them wrote their own books to promote their own causes in their own lifetimes. All them sought the same demonstrations of earthly gain as worldly leaders seek: fame, money, power, sex. By contrast, Jesus shunned all these things.

    The differences between Jesus of Nazareth and other religious figures with whom most people are familiar are far more striking than the similarities.

  71. Ian

    “As for your repeated assertion that there is nothing distinctive about the story of Christ, and that its outline is followed by “scientologists, etc.” I cannot think of a more absurd and ill-informed statement.”


    Come on Mike, you can’t possibly be this… I don’t know. *Of course* every religious story has a unique set of elements. Otherwise they’d be the same story.

    Can you really not bubble up a level at all? This response is really quite staggering from someone with your level of intelligence. Not the content of it (some of which seems quite self evident), but just that you’d think this was a response to this conversation.

    This response is equivalent to saying “Of course my Wizard is magic, look at his fez, other people’s Wizards don’t have a fez!” – sorry to keep going back to the metaphor, but I’m really struggling to find any way to get you to step back to focus.

    Here’s another analogy, again an attempt to communicate how this conversation is occurring to me. Years ago I was encouraged by a friend of mine to reach “Eye of the World” – the first volume in a set of epic fantasy novels. I can take or leave fantasy books, but I find relatively few have much literary merit. I read the first book and was talking to my friend. I confessed I wouldn’t carry on with the series, because I didn’t think it was very good, “I mean”, I said, “the main character is this orphan, growing up in a rural village, unknowingly a powerful magician and the subject of an ancient prophecy – why would any writer do that?”. My friend was a little offended “No, you don’t understand”, she said, “he was abandoned by his family, because they detected the magic in him and were afraid” (I forget what the actual story justification was – the point is that it is irrelevant). “No, I don’t mean that”, I said, “I mean that he has approached the tension of a) generate an epic world-threatening story and b) teaching the reader about the world from nothing; in the most hackneyed way.” My friend thought for a bit and said something to the effect of “But, he has grown up on a farm in the middle of nowhere – he has to learn about the world!”

    For the sake of avoiding another roundabout of misinterpretation the point of this analogy is NOT that the bible is a fantasy novel!

  72. I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer but I have been used to cut warm butter. Maybe if you’d drop the condescending tone and stigmatizing metaphor, and just tell me plainly what it is you’re looking for, then perhaps I can supply it.

    In the meantime, I can only conclude from all that you’ve said that you view anyone with a religious story as bound to that story, whereas people like yourself, without a religious story, are viewed as free. I can’t think of a better example of someone locked in their own story.

  73. Ian

    Okay, so first off, I’m sorry for the tone. I responded in that way based on your initial comment. I filed you under “drive-by evangelist”. I do very much appreciate you’re still here, and still engaging. So I’ll try to be a bit more ‘normal’ from now on.

    I was condescending because I’ve been harangued by many folks who assume that, because I don’t believe exactly what they believe, I must be ignorant of something. I’m very confident that my lack of belief isn’t due to a deficit of information.

    I think some people’s beliefs would change if they knew more: some non-believers would come to faith if they knew more about Christianity (proclaiming the gospel is a time-tested strategy, after all), some believers would lose their faith if they knew more too – but the link isn’t obvious. So you can’t infer someone is lacking some bit of knowledge just based on whether they believe or not. One would need to find out rather than assume.

    Secondly, “I can only conclude from all that you’ve said that you view anyone with a religious story as bound to that story, whereas people like yourself, without a religious story, are viewed as free.” I can see why you’d think that, but it isn’t a good statement of my position — though I intentionally aped the tone of some evangelists in the blog post above (in particular “Adonais Salvare”, who motivated this post).

    I think many religious folks are trapped in their story, but conversely many others aren’t. My wife is an example of the latter. Her beliefs are very close to mine, but she is a Christian. I don’t think she is trapped in her story, but she *chooses* it to be her story. I know many others like her. On the other side, lack of faith doesn’t mean lack of suppositions, beliefs, and world-view. Nor even lack of unchallenged assumptions and irrational beliefs. Reality is, as usual, quite complex and nuanced.

    So third, the main point. I’m really not sure how to succinctly communicate (in a non-stigmatizing metaphor) how to ‘bubble up’. It seems obvious, and I was frustrated with your last response that you couldn’t see what I was getting at. But that’s just churlish of me: it’s very easy to say it is obvious now. It definitely didn’t seem obvious to me ten years ago.

    My process of understanding took a long time, a lot of study and practice (not saying that to mean “look how smart I am”, or “come back when you know as much” – I just had to work hard for it). I have similar frustration with myself in conversations with creationists (not trying to say you’re a creationist), when I say “that’s not evolution” they say something like “so what is evolution then?”, and I think “oh boy, I studied evolution for 10 years, how do I explain it in a 500 word comment?”. So bearing that in mind, if I try to help you change perspective, I’m quite likely to fail. I’ll give it a try, but not here. I’ll write another post, and hopefully that will also be a good break to begin a different tone of discussion.

    [tl;dr Sorry for the tone, can we pick this up on a forthcoming post]

  74. Vizion

    Ian, very interesting post.

    Here’s my take on this. I know your god, too. I really do. You may think I could never know him (or her or it), but I really do.

    You can see it everywhere. I takes no faith, you can actually see it with your own eyes. What god am I talking about? What good news is this?

    It’s actually very simple… In the beginning … wait a minute, there wasn’t exactly a beginning…

    let me try again… about, around (these are all scientific terms) 4.5 billion years ago (give or take a few million, come on, we’re being scientific here) matter appeared (!!!) containing all building blocks of what would later be known as life. We can’t really know how these particles appeared, nor do we really care, because if we did we’d had to answer embarrassing questions like “doesn’t the first law of thermodynamics state that matter cannot be created or destroyed”.

    So we kind of avoid the argument of where did space and matter come from, but it’s ok, because that doesn’t require any faith. All it requires is that we close our eyes, state emphatically that it happened and not talk about it, while making fun of stupid, ignorant Christians who are dumb enough to think that for something to come into existence, somebody has to create it.

    And so, these little particles exploded (!!!) and continued to expand and create more matter. Some of this hot soup created (!!!) stars that somehow (again, science here) created gravitational and rotational forces, while others continued their journey to make planets and cool off.

    It just so happened (get it, science) that one of these planets decided to position itself the right distance from the sun, turn itself in the right angle to create conditions for life.
    Of course this god didn’t know what life was, but it’s ok, because by chance soon (i.e through millions of years) the dna and rna that somehow appeared by chance will align itself in sequences of amino acids that would create life. Yes, Hallelujah, praise be to chance!

    Now, this wasn’t enough of course, and so again by chance this god continued to perfect its creation until the perfect being came to be.

    But do not mistake this for a feeble god, because all along, this god had in mind not only elements of life, but also design, beauty, patterns, and aesthetics. Yes indeed,by chance and probability this god fashioned even the features in a human’s face. And they had to be perfect, they had to align, and when it did, god knew to stop improving upon them.

    To put the finishing touches on it’s creation, god created sex, independent of each species, at the same time so they could not only reproduce but also enjoy this wonderful gift of probability.

    I could go on and on, but I think you get my point by now. Make fun of my God, I”m not offended.

    However, please understand that you have a lot more faith than I do. Blind faith. There’s no such thing as an atheist. You worship a god, but in comparison to a christian you are to be admired for the amount of faith you display. Rock on!

  75. Ian

    ” You may think I could never know him (or her or it), but I really do.”

    But then you post paragraphs of — what I think you mean to be — some kind of scientific critique, which is very odd. Given this post doesn’t talk about science at all, and I’m not basing any of this post on science in any form.

    How about finding out what I am talking about instead of assuming?

    Questions are easy to ask. It shouldn’t challenge your faith to ask them.

    “Make fun of my God, I”m not offended.”

    I didn’t make fun of your God at all. If you think I am making fun of your God, then you misunderstand me in the deepest possible way.

    “There’s no such thing as an atheist.”

    And as I’ve said on this blog many times, words are just tools that help us communicate. So yeah, sure, if you define ‘god’ that way, then I’m not an atheist, I worship a god and I have faith. So what? Do you think that changes anything? Do you think that giving me a label that you think I wouldn’t want is somehow a clever argument against what I actually think? We can play language games all day, yet a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

    You appear to have no idea what I’m actually talking about. At least, there’s nothing in your response that suggests you’ve engaged at all with what I’m saying. So while your attempts to respond clearly amuse yourself, and make you think you’re making some deep point, they are hopelessly naive.

    But hey, as I said in the About page, if you’re not willing to actually listen to what I say, then there’s no point in the conversation!

  76. xman

    I’ve been where you seem to be. However, I recognised that the science seeming to suggest a creator independent reality is as much a religion as any other, requiring almost blind faith in many of its assumptions and statements. Possible explanations for various features of our reality are numerous. Biological and even cosmic evolutionary theories pick one and decide it is Truth, and so do religions. Reality is so complex that there is enough data to prove almost any theory. But doubt will always remain. Stop seeking solace in the certainty of our current consensus reality. This too shall pass.
    All those searching, stop trying to find the answer by your own effort. Instead ask (genuinely) and you shall receive. I did and I had. In a way that I would have completely disbelieved would be possible.
    For those with a scientific bent, study biblical prophecy at the source and observe the world. Events are now under way unnoticed by many which are going to change the world. The next such event on the horizon is the complete destruction of organised religion on earth by the “kings and merchants” of the world. Sceptical? Watch and see.

  77. Ian

    I appreciate that you think you are beyond me, but I think you should look more carefully to find the real truth. The fact that you think this is a question of science, or evolution, or whatever, shows you have not yet got the slightest clue about how the real world works.

    I was where you are now, but I’ve come to understand there is more to life and reality.

    You’re lost in a myth, but there is hope – you can come through and see the universe in a new light! When I was where you are, I’d simply have not believed it was possible. I thought I had the answer, I could not have comprehended how the world really is.

    Stop trying to find solace in stories and myths. Take hope, you can shed the scales from your eyes and see through the glass less dimly.

    Sceptical? Try it and see. It is hard, not everyone can do it, many cannot. But perhaps you can. Try it and see.

  78. xman

    This has been my first and accidental visit to your site. Reading your About Me appeared to suggest that science was central to your life.

    Making a statement that science has nothing to do with understanding the nature of reality is provocative but meaningless. Short of claiming emotional mystical insight as ultimate personal proof, all logical mental analysis of your individual experience of what you perceive as reality will be a form of scientific investigation, however limited.

    I thought that I was dealing with a serious person. Your response however was empty posturing without meaningful content.

  79. Ian

    Now now, no need to be tetchy.

    Science is interesting to me, certainly. It is not central. I didn’t say that science has nothing to do with understanding the nature of reality. Again, perhaps you’re not as smart as you think you are. That’s fine, perhaps you should read the post again.

    I’m a very serious person, but I’m afraid I’ve long since left high-school epistemology behind. And I find power-assumptions and posturing a joke (hence this post). Perhaps we could have a sensible conversation if you can show you’re more than just a self-parody who can’t understand subtext.

  80. Xmas

    At the end, we all have to choose our way ourselves, so this my last reply.

    I’ve been on your side of the argument for half my life, doing what you are doing. However, I have always been unwilling to compromise for the sake of intellectual or emotional security. I realised the reasoning in support of atheism is not fully logical, is not fully supported by evidence, is supported and popularised by individuals with seriouy flawed moral motivations, and has had a devastating impact on the ethical maturity of the human race over the last century or so. I have decided to ask for clarification once and for all from the god I did not believe in. Which, unexpectedly, I did receive in a way which left no doubt that our everyday reality is an illusion. An almost literal road to Damascus experience. The persecutor turned into protector despite his own expectations.

    Now the Message of the Kingdom, and then I’ll say good bye:

    One of the Creator’s created beings has called his universal moral right to rule into question, at the same time hinting that our race would fare much better independently. An accusation has been made, a universal court case is in progress, human history has been evidence for the defence, and the case is now almost decided as we continue our headlong rush toward ecological self annihilation. Once the case is decided, a judgement is to be handed down. This case will then serve as precedent for all eternity should the same challenge ever be made again.

    What comes after is what Jesus preached as the Kingdom of God.

    I know, ridiculous notions to our enlightened minds. A couple of decades ago I would have agreed.

    From first hand experience, reality, however, is stranger than fiction, religious or secular.

    Best wishes.

  81. Ian

    I’m happy to let your testimony stand here. But I’m not entirely sure why you think this would be a sensible response to this post, or why you’ve decided to avoid any engagement, put your hands over your ears and repeat your beliefs again. Seems a rather shallow approach, but so be it.

    I was “on your side of the argument” for more than half my life, and I came to see the truth. I hope you will too, though I fear you lack the self-awareness necessary.

  82. xman

    Ian, reading some of the other comments and your response to them makes it clear that the person your criticisms most describes is yourself. Your arguments are circular, you display an apparent inability to hear the content of message posts, a behaviour so extreme that I have considered the possibility that your responses may be written by an automated system, or that you may either be someone very young or someone with mental or emotional problems. The truth may be as simple as you wanting to provoke or to bring traffic to your site.

    If you are not unwell, the naïveté, wilful delusion, blindness, the inability to engage with conflicting ideas you accuse others of calls into question your ethical motives. You are aware of the great harm that religious conviction often brings into the world and you misapply your moral frustration. However, human beliefs and behaviour have nothing to do with proving or disproving the existence of higher levels of reality.

    As to your “church”, the BYO approach is the refuge of the truly self centered. Anything goes feel good religion will fulfill your needs but says little about and expects less of your individual responsibility as a moral agent in an immense and complex universe.

    I have ended up on your site accidentally, while researching an unrelated subject. Please take my address of your responses list.

  83. Ian

    Very amusing. I’d have taken a bet you’d descend to that kind of response in short order. The pathetic attempt to goad me and to puff up your own sense of self-importance is very transparent, but all too common.

    But I’ll take pity on you, and explain.

    This post, and many of my responses to commenters here, is a parody of your attitude. A send-up of the similar comments left on another thread by a different commenter. It is a game that many play, claiming they hold unique and superior knowledge of how the world really is, and all anyone else need do is come to their epiphany and see the truth. Claiming that they were exactly like those poor unfortunate souls who disagree, so understand them completely. But have risen out of that mire of ignorance, and ultimately only want to show their benevolence by helping those still lost. It is just an ego-trip posing as engagement.

    But ultimately, of course, like this post, there’s no actual substance there, just wild claims, a patronizing tone, power-assumptions and a futile one-upmanship. And if the person being patronized in that way refuses to accept the self-appointed authority of the other, they often respond with name-calling, accusations of mental illness and judgements of mental incompetence (well done for upping the ante with the ‘automated response’ comment to imply I am literally mindless!). Its all classic, I’m afraid, and worthy of nothing but derision. I’m sorry you didn’t recognize the parody in the tone of this post, and I’m sorry you so thoroughly embodied its cliches.

    Feel free to leave. Or keep up with the cheap insults and vacuous evangelism, and I’ll continue to mock your lack of self-awareness. Or, alternatively, come down from your throne, pick an actual issue, and engage reasonably with me.

    Also, on a side note, that’s the second time you’ve threatened to take your toys and go elsewhere, and reminded me that you wouldn’t actually come here to engage, that its all just an accident that you ever arrived. Yet here you are still! If you subscribed to comments, you can unsubscribe, if you don’t want any more responses, don’t make any more comments!

  84. Ian

    “Or, alternatively, come down from your throne, pick an actual issue, and engage reasonably with me.” – for example, since you bring it up, how about an open and mutual discussion of the role of a church or religious community? Try it without the “you’re wrong, I know it all”, and you might be surprised what conversation can ensue!

  85. You have constructed an idol to worship: a base idol, made of words and doctrines rather than stone and metal.

    You might find note 2 of NET’s Ex 20:4 to be of interest:

    2 tn The word תְּמוּנָה (tÿmunah) refers to the mental pattern from which the פֶּסֶל (pesel) is constructed; it is a real or imagined resemblance. If this is to stand as a second object to the verb, then the verb itself takes a slightly different nuance here. It would convey “you shall not make an image, neither shall you conceive a form” for worship (B. Jacob, Exodus, 547). Some simply make the second word qualify the first: “you shall not make an idol in the form of…” (NIV).

    There is also the possibility you’ll find Not in Heaven to be interesting. I found it via Jon Mark Ruthven’s What’s Wrong with Protestant Theology? Tradition vs. Biblical Emphasis; while it comes from Judaism, he thinks that Christianity has a version of it which is sadly quite popular.

    Try to hear the real voices behind the story.

    You might like Mark Turner’s The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language, which argues that story is a fundamental way that the human brain works. From that, I might suggest Donald E. Polkinghorne’s Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences (Google Books preface). Oh, and definitely the TED talk The danger of a single story. Thinking of the Genesis creation myth as an alternative story to the Babylonian creation myth, Enûma Eliš, can send one interesting places. The differences could make all the difference, and only via have two stories to compare, can one see them in their full glory.

  86. Ian: But we’re back in a circle. The claim for ‘no, my God is the real one’ is cheep, a claim everyone else makes about their Wizard. But you’re not going to actually provide any demonstration of this, at least not one that every one of those other religionists don’t also claim as evidence of their own unique status, are you?

    It strikes me that the natural response here is to point to Mt 5:43–48, Jn 13:34–35, and Jn 17:20–23. The natural retort is to point to somewhere this has happened, where it was the Hot Thing to figure out who’s a real Christian and who’s not. Nevertheless, these seem like pretty strong claims as to a “demonstration of this”, and it would seem our world desperately needs something to overcome the deadly conflicts blossoming all around this Enlightened world.

    Another thought is that if Jesus cares so much about “the least of these”—e.g. Mt 25:31–46—then sure, if he’s going to dish out power anywhere, it would be available to helping “the least of these”. One might pick out Homeboy Industries as an example, with the beautiful, heartbreaking gloss of Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. Then again, who says one needs supernatural power for such a thing? And why isn’t it replicated all over?

    Anyhow, I got quite excited about your research program, and wonder whether it provided connections to either of the above thoughts. I myself have been doing my own research program, although the emphasis is more on theory—philosophy, sociology, psychology, economics, political science—than practice. What I tend to read is reduxes of practice, such as Bent Flyvbjerg’s Rationality and Power: Democracy in Practice.

  87. Ian: Yes, I think stories are crucial for our self-understanding. A friend of mine who’s into the “Landmark” self-help organization says they call them “rackets” – stories we tell ourselves to make sense of the world and to organize our behavior.

    Here’s some scholarly backing:

    Here we connect up with another inescapable feature of human life. I have been arguing that in order to make minimal sense of our lives, in order to have an identity, we need an orientation to the good, which means some sense of qualitative discrimination, of the incomparably higher. Now we see that this sense of the good has to be woven into my understanding of my life as an unfolding story. But this is to state another basic condition of making sense of ourselves, that we grasp our lives in a narrative. This has been much discussed recently, and very insightfully.[24] It has often been remarked[25] that making sense of one’s life as a story is also, like orientation to the good, not an optional extra; that our lives exist also in this space of questions, which only a coherent narrative can answer. In order to have a sense of who we are, we have to have a notion of how we have become, and of where we are going. (Sources of the Self, 47)

    [24] See Heidegger, Sein und Zeit; P. Ricoeur, Temps et récit, 3 vols. (Paris: Seuil, 1983–1985); A. MacIntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985); Bruner, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds
    [25] For instance, in the works mentioned in note 24 by MacIntyre, Ricoeur, and Bruner

    Somewhere, Alasdair MacIntyre was reported to have said that Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self would provide a better liberal arts educations than some, if not many, universities. Having read only some of it, I believe him. MacIntyre’s own After Virtue is also excellent, and according to Wikipedia, “widely recognised as one of the most important works of Anglophone political philosophy in the 20th century.” (citation: Lackey, 1999 “What Are the Modern Classics?”)

  88. Ian: It is telling, the fact that nobody has been able to point out any piece of knowledge the scripture contains (or their faith more generally) that isn’t more clearly articulated outside it.

    Have you read any Jacques Ellul? A search of your website turned up nothing. I’d absolutely love to hear your thoughts on his The Subversion of Christianity. Here are two snippets:

        And what about another concept that seems to be essential in the life of Jesus Christ, that of weakness, which is linked with anti politics? What can be more the opposite of what we are? Is not the spirit of power at the heart of all our actions? I concede that it may not exist among some so-called primitive people in tribes that know no violence and seek no domination. But these are such an exception that we certainly cannot take them as a natural example of what humanity is in general—if there is such a thing as “humanity in general.” (164–165)

        How truly intolerable, then, is a message, and even more so a life, that centers on weakness. Not sacrifice on behalf of a cause that one wants to bring to success, but in all truth love for nothing, faith for nothing, giving for nothing, service for nothing. Putting others above oneself. In all things seeking the interests of others. When dragged before the courts, not attempting any defense but leaving it to the Holy Spirit. The renunciation of power is infinitely broader and harder than nonviolence (which it includes). For nonviolence allows of a social theory, and in general it has an objective. The same is not true of non power. Thus the revelation of X cannot but repel fundamentally people of all ages and all cultures. (166)

    First, his Frenchness is just awesome. No holds barred, no punches held, in your face, exaggerating as a matter of course. Ellul turned me onto the notion of power and its centrality. One sees this in passages like Mt 20:20–28 and Jn 13:1–20, but of course those passages cannot mean much if one has never seen something remotely close to them acted out in real life. We understand the meanings of words by things we’ve experienced.

    I wonder if there is anything like what you are describing (that I’ve quoted), if it lies in the matter of power. In my experience, that concept isn’t talked about much among Christians except in terms of God having lots of it but not using much of it while threating plenty of it in unfalsifiable ways. There is also, of course, the matter of many Christians using power as if it’s their right, which is something Ellul has fun pointing out time and time again. But—and here’s where I lack much data—what happens if one screens out the nonsense use of power? I feel like this is a regime of reality that has hardly even been explored. Then again, I could easily be projecting.

    Anyhow, I should probably stop writing replies to this comment and see if you’ve got a taste for any of the dishes I’m serving. :-/

  89. Mitchell

    I just, in these last couple months have lost my faith. A faith that was very strong and rigid of 27 years. I know the reasons for what I believe to be true now but I dont see what you are trying to show in comparing the two birth stories after re-reading them. Will you email me what it is you see happening?

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