I'd be particularly interested in knowing what you think on some
specific issues. I'm a busy person too (although I'm not spread
nearly as thin as you appear to be at the moment), and I'll understand
completely if you don't want to write long "essay-type" answers to all
of these questions. I'd appreciate at least a sentence or two on
whichever ones you find interesting enough to answer, though -- I like
your approach and I'm sure I'd find your comments interesting.
--what do you make of the numerous books that have been published
recently reporting "life-after-death" experiences?
This is a tough one, and one I have been working on for decades in my mind...
right now, I am convinced that a person who has entered into a substantial relationship
with Christ CANNOT be 'cast out of the Family'...he can even forget that he is 'saved'
(2 Peter 1), and be so rebellious against His Lord that he will die prematurely
to avoid further misery on earth (I Cor 11)...but I do believe there are practical limits--
over time--of the behavior of true children of God...I am saying that incidences
of major failure, even small periods of relapse, do NOT constitute proof
of a lack of character-renewal...
I do believe, however, that the vast majority of those individuals who call themselves 'saved' and then live lives that consistently embarrass the Lord and disgrace His name in the world--probably NEVER were saved...
--have you read Dan barker's "Losing Faith in Faith"? If so, what did you think of it?
Did my Church die on the Cross as my sub...
Did my good life die on the Cross...
Did my faith die on the Cross...
Did my bible die on the Cross...
Did my religion die on the Cross...?
You get the idea...
--what would you do if you became convinced that you were mistaken on
the issue of whether a god exists? I'm not talking about momentary
doubts, but a situation wherein you thought about the matter for
several months, and after that time found yourself more clearly
convinced than ever that you had been wrong -- what then?
To be quite frank--and I think about this a lot--I think it is too late for
me in this regard...the last 25 years of my life have been a process of building
an interactive relationship with this dis-embodied Mind that we call "God"...
there is just too much data and experience and even psychological 'awareness'
of this in my life...and, I might hasten to add semi-defensively,
I have NOT accepted this 'stuff' uncritically--I have pondered and analyzed and played
the devil's advocate and abandoned evangelical positions of fluff etc...
I have not always been certain of this,
but the certainty has definitely been progressive and cumulative over time...
I think about what KIND of data counts against the existence of God--and the closest I can come up with is the problem of evil...but even there I cannot formulate the anti-God argument rigorously (as the professional philosophers have noted in the textbooks) ...it can raise considerable doubts but cannot actually contribute any POSITIVE DATA AGAINST! But this is a very complex and long subject...and you wanted a sentence or two (I do discuss this issue in a number of places in the Tank, actually)...
--have you ever thought about the possibility that your approach to
life, religion, philosophy, etc., is pretty much guaranteed to have a
very positive impact on your life for purely naturalistic reasons?
For example, regularly taking stock of your life and evaluating your
direction in terms of goals and values, facing facts -- both external
facts and internal facts of your own thoughts and feelings -- honestly
and acting on what you see, believing that you have been accepted by
God and thus need not constantly strive to be "enough", trying to
maintain a long-term perspective, etc.?
But having said this, for ME what comes up now is my historical lack of ability to
DO THOSE 'SMART' things...Given that behavior X (reasonable self-examination,
goal adjustment, etc.) produces positive results Y (personal growth,
increasing sense of fulfillment, etc.) and that evil behavior A (e.g. murder, chronic worry)
produces negative results B (incarceration, ulcers and deformed personality styles),
WHAT IS STILL MISSING is perhaps the ability/motivation/education of the individual
to eventuate/avoid THOSE behaviors. In other words, it may not be the 'what to do'
that is the problem, but rather the 'how to make myself do it'...
I have found HUGE discrepancies in all but a few people between the OUGHT and the CAN
So, in my own case, even the ability to be honest with my failures and limitations
(neither under NOR overstating them) escaped me for decades and decades.
By sense of self-worth and sense of 'calling' in the world was not clear enough
to facilitate needed assertiveness in my life until very recently.
(and this is not a simple maturation process--the vast majority of people like me,
demographically speaking, suffer from these 'shortages'--
maturation processes seem rather to hone/refine/solidify these, for some reason)...
EVERYONE 'matures'; FEW grow healthy!...My sense of significance
in this universe derives solely from my worldview--I BELONG in my Father's universe...
as a son, I FIT!...I was created to enjoy this world and to help it
(and the other people in it) reach its greatest possible potential
of beauty, health, development, balance...this would apply
even if I were the only person ever created!...my feeling 'welcome'
or 'at home' in my Father's world is a function solely of the Christian revealed worldview...
I no longer feel the alienation that so many feel--the existentialist feels
this about the universe in general: the cold, impersonal, valueless, purposeless universe
into which he is thrown is SO INCONGRUOUS with their consciousness which feels, which values,
which seeks purpose...to me, the universe is rather a beautiful garden created by my Lord,
with expressions of His beauty in the flowers, and sunsets, and rainbows, and oceans...
my worldview floods my existence with quiet grandeur....
Others feel extreme isolation from people, from community, even from self...their
sense of belonging is compromised at critical points...I, although being somewhat reclusive,
sense a family connection with others who seem to know and love this same God...
Anyway...(the one liners have gotten a bit long-winded, no?)...so, the net is that
attainment of the orientations REQUIRED to realize the proper patterns of belief/practice,
for me, has been largely unexplainable from a naturalist perspective...
again, practically speaking...
I have always found it interesting that one of the 'fruits' of the Spirit listed
in Gal 5.22-23 is 'self-control'...as I have pondered this over the years
I have discovered that the goal of much of God's activity in the life of the believer is
FREEDOM TO ACHIEVE THEIR POTENTIAL--and actually to achieve BEYOND that as well...
if my experience of having multiple self-limitations
(acquired from bad environments, or developed through bad choices--a la addictions)
can be called a 'slavery or bondage' to pathological patterns, then reaching higher and higher
levels of self-control would constitute 'freedom'--one of the major benefits
of a relationship with God (in my opinion--2 Cor 3.17)...
a freedom to truly 'be yourself--in all of your capabilities'...
Also, for me personally, there is a STRONG intellectual 'transcendental' issue.
personally care MUCH MORE about knowing the truth (and being sad, let's say),
THAN about deluding myself (and being blissful)...
for ME, the issue of self-delusion is a constant 'enemy'--
I work hard at self-examination, and work hard at knowing what data is 'hard'
and what data is 'soft'...
But let me hasten to add...what I have been blathering about for the last few paragraphs
is the effect of this on my life/character....
and this constitutes ONLY ONE of the evidences of His involvement in history...
for me I still have a few really strange answered-prayer situations,
and a couple of longer term prayer-patterns; I have the historical evidences surrounding the NT
and the life/resurrection of Jesus of Naz
(esp. in the context of 'inference to the best explanation' justification methods),
and I have the phenomena of fulfilled prophecy (esp. messianic)
that I cannot honestly explain away...
To be quite frank, J--------, at this point the cumulative evidence is overwhelming--
both cognitively, emotionally, intuitively, even volitionally...
I cannot imagine even Descartes' demon being able to create and sustain such an illusion
so perfectly over 25 years...
In epistemology, one of the common replies to the skeptic is that NO illusion is
indefinitely sustaining--that the skeptic has been misled my making the "sample size of time"
too small. For example, I can be deluded into believing I can fly and after jumping
from the top of a tall building, may actually believe that I AM flying--
but this illusion will obviously not continue...
I may be misled by darkness into thinking that the t-shirt lying over the chair
is actually a ghost, but eventually (maybe even in the morning) I will see that it is not...
I have lost the reference, but I remember reading in a book an anecdote
about a young atheist who hounded this old Christian to go hear a popular traveling atheist
speak in a nearby town--Robert Ingersoll...
The old guy went to the meeting and patiently listed to the presentation.
When they were returning to their hometown in the car,
the young man asked the thoughtful old man what he thought about the presentation.
The old man quietly and tearfully replied that he had heard the speech 30 years too late--
for in the last 30 years he had seen God do all the things the speaker had said was impossible:
He had answered his prayers, He had changed his life and character, He had kept His promises...
My situation is very similar. I can maintain a theoretical or intellectual
'suspension of conviction' for the sake of research, of understanding, of argument,
but it is almost impossible for me to suspend the incredibly strong perception of His presence
that has accumulated over the decades...I realize this sounds a bit mystical,
but I really think that the reality DOES HAVE a 'mystical' aspect to its experience...
it is MORE THAN mystical: there are considerable cognitive dimensions to the faith, obviously!...
but the sense/intuition/perception of God's reality is also one of the goals
of the Christian experience...
I am no doubt inconsistent in this area of my life, and you are right to point that out... thanks, glenn