TAWDE: Aim for That Haystack! (Ch 5)

Hi @Interested_In_Book_Studies!

I hope your end of the year is going well as we push into the final weeks of December! I know that this time of year can be a whirlwind but stay strong and I want to encourage you again to keep reading and interacting with one another so that 2020 will be different because you are better equipped to share the gospel in a loving manner.

This chapter dealt with psychological objections against God. Here, Andy builds off the last chapter as he continues to show how these objections commit the genetic fallacy over and over. It may be true that belief in God does bring comfort and eases pain in difficult times, but the feelings that accompany belief have no effect on the truthfulness of that belief. The how and why someone believes the way they do has little usefulness in assessing its truth value; however, I would like to point out that the how and why behind beliefs are of tremendous use in answering the questioner over the question.

Next, the chapter reviews the motives certain atheists have given as to why they don’t believe God exists. The narrative in each of them repeats the desire for personal autonomy and one even goes so far as to say, ‘I don’t want God to exist because I know that would bring entailments that I don’t want.’ None of these reasons given are for academic or intellectual consideration but rather for negative emotions, and if positive feelings towards a belief do not say anything about its truth value, neither do negative feelings.

Reflection and discussion questions, if needed:

  1. Are you beginning to see a pattern in these objections? None of them have solid foundations to ground themselves in. How is this affecting your conversations with your non-Christian friends and family?
  2. What specifically stood out to you from this chapter? Why is it sticking with you and what are you going to do about it?
  3. What is a practical step that you will take to begin using this information in your daily life?

You may have also noticed that I try to ask at least one question each week about doing something with what you’ve read. The reason for this is that I know, personally, I acquire lots of information but a lot of times I just hold on to it without application. However, that’s not what Jesus asked us to do. Jesus didn’t say, “study this book and make sure you have it memorized” or “he who knows the most will enter the kingdom of heaven.” No, Jesus said, “Go make disciples of all nations.” He sent us to bring the lost to him. That’s the reason we read and study; so that we can see our friends and family follow Him, not so we can win online debates or sound smarter than other people. That’s my prayer that as we continue to increase our knowledge, we have our eyes on the right goal. Lastly, I want to finish this post with a quote that has moved me recently:

“My perception is that, as it relates to Christianity, study should not become an end in itself. Study must have, ultimately, some sort of an application. Unless your study affects your behavior, you’ve studied fruitlessly.” – John Wimber, 1985

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I read through the chapter; and I wondered if this touches on the suffering question a little. In particular when we place our faith in Christ, perhaps when we were younger, before we are hit with suffering, we do in our teens have an incorrect perception that God exists to answer our prayers; Of course, God does answer prayers; but what about when prayers are unanswered, or answered with a no when friends or family members pass away or suffer. Like Job we ask “Where are you God”. I wonder if God uses suffering to get our attention; and gently say to us “trust me, when you can’t understand”. As it has been said God whispers to us in our pleasure, but shouts to us in our pain.

Belief in God (and placing one’s faith in Jesus’ completed work on the Cross); does give real hope that God will judge and justice will prevail; and wrongs will be made right. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

I have had a very interesting conversation with a gentleman (a PhD in Philosophy) about a month ago about various topics, and he said that faith can be like a crutch; He said he was a Christian but seemed to say that all faiths were valid; and he was currently interested in the wisdom of the book of Urantia (https://www.urantia.org/); this is a conversation for another day, but I did simply ask what were the truth claims in the book of Urantia regarding who Jesus was; it seems to have very serious issues from what I have found so far (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Urantia_Book; https://www.urantia.org/urantia-book/read-urantia-book-online)

I think, in answer to question 3; this book is quite good; but a lot of it is quite sophisticated reasoning; I think it answers a lot of questions; and it might be a good book to keep in the glovebox of the car to give out if I manage to have a good starter conversation with someone (currently I have Lennox’s “Can science explain everything?” as my book to give away)…

Enjoying the book; I think realistically; I’d have to read it 4 or 5 times before I understand the logic of the arguments well enough to have them in conversation…

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@matthew.western, I’m glad to hear you are enjoying the book! A quick question, what thoughts came up after reading this chapter and remembering your conversation the the professor? I had a similar situation happen 2 days ago where the person I was talking with said, “Religion was create to control the masses.” I thought, “How timely! We just read this last chapter!” I love when study matches up with experience.

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Hi @boabbott,
so we had an in person conversation which I really enjoyed and went very well and during the conversation; my response to the comment that “faith can be a crutch” was; yes, it can be a comfort; however it is the object (or person) of the faith that needs to be true.

We then exchanged emails several times; but this has fallen silent at this stage (perhaps I was too forthright in the last message); if interested the conversation (personal details redacted) here: Email conversation (redacted) .pdf (317.0 KB) . I’d be interested in your (and @SeanO if you have time) comments on the dialog;

So, after reading this chapter; I understand the following simple points

  • yes belief in God may give hope;
  • equally disbelief in God is equally likey to be a psychological response (a crutch) of not wanting God to exist because as the two atheists quote.

Huxley:

For myself, as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation.The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom; we objected to the political and economic system because it was unjust. The supporters of these systems claimed that in some way they embodied the meaning (a Christian meaning, they insisted) of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and at the same time justifying ourselves in our political and erotic revolt: we could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever.120

Nagel:

I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

Bannister, Andy. The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist (p. 91). Lion Hudson. Kindle Edition.

and one of the quotes of the chapter that really got my attention:

One of my heroes has long been the German Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, arrested during the Second World War and eventually killed by the Third Reich for the stance that he took against them. Bonhoeffer had an unnerving knack for writing paragraphs that can make one feel profoundly uncomfortable, such as this one:

If it is I who determine where God is to be found, then I shall always find a God who corresponds to me in some way, who is obliging, who is connected with my own nature. But if God determines where he is to be found, then it will be in a place which is not immediately pleasing to my nature and which is not at all congenial to me. This place is the Cross of Christ. And whoever would find him must go to the foot of the Cross, as the Sermon on the Mount commands.

Bonhoeffer is making the point that the heart of Christianity lies not in the idea that we invent, project, create, or choose God – if we did that, what we would have would be a God of our own making, one who looks suspiciously like us.

Bannister, Andy. The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist (p. 95). Lion Hudson. Kindle Edition.

there was also the quote which I’ve heard Lennox use; “Christians are afraid of the dark”; and the similar response “atheists are afraid of the light”.

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@boabbott. Posted again and waiting for moderator approval. I must keep hitting those watch words! Someone should send me a list and a thesarus! :grin:

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@matthew.western What an esoteric discussion— the book of urantia. Sounds like this individual may be involved in a cult that no longer exists. I wonder - do you know how they ended up jettisoning orthodox Christianity and started getting into all these rabbit holes? It might be worthwhile to hear their life story and see if they rejected orthodoxy or if they were never really near it. If the former, you may be able to address some of their reasons for leaving. If the latter, I think I must wonder what it is exactly they are seeking - esoteric knowledge, spiritual experience, some secret revelation?

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@matthew.western an interesting idea about how believing children/teens view God before life throws them a curve ball.
@boabbott I might gather some Christian friends together and have a testimony sharing evening. It would be really interesting to see how they came to follow Christ. Were they brought up in church? If yes, when did they make the decision for themselves and why? If they came to faith as an adult, why? What drew them?
It would be interesting to see how many came to accept God in a season of suffering. Hopefully this time would encourage us all and build faith as we share the reality of God in our lives, which then hopefully will give more confidence when responding to this kind of objection.
My own story is, as discussed last week, that I believed as a child because it just made sense, however, I had no concept of a relationship with God. In my early 20’s my life was pretty rubbish just before I encountered Jesus - but accepting Jesus didn’t just make me feel better (which it did) but my whole life was changed! Also, I am a very analytical person. I couldn’t honestly say I believed something just because of the way it made me feel. Going back to last weeks chapter, I remember learning that Father Christmas was not real. I wasn’t devastated, but I was pleased that I got to continue pretending to believe for the benefit of my younger sisters. I enjoyed how it made me feel, and even would lie in bed on Christmas eve listening for sleigh bells that I knew I’d never hear. The point is, no matter how hard I enjoyed the fantasy, I could never really convince myself it was true. Even as a child I knew it was just a game that I enjoyed. But with Jesus - it’s a whole different story. I am convinced of His existence because of my experiences (as well as the evidence), and the times when it would be preferable for me if He didn’t exist (like when I am being sucked in by some temptation that I’d really like to make a reality), I can’t make myself believe He’s not there, convicting me, councelling me, drawing me back to Him. Surely if it was about feelings, my belief in God would switch on and off depending on what made me feel best at the time?

I haven’t said much about the chapter this week, but this stood out:
“It is possible to believe in things - real, existing things - for entirely wrong or incoherent reasons. Most of the time, when it comes to the “God Question”, I’d suggest that our deeper motives are hidden…” (pg.90)

This is just an excellent reminder to answer the questioner rather than the question. Is their objection based on the evidence presented, or is it psychological?

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Thanks for the reply @SeanO, yes I’ll admit it was a little out of my league and I was somewhat intimidated at the level of thought being discussed; although I knew that if God helps a conversation then it can be still useful as ‘sowing the seed’ and leaving the results with God; I just did my best and tried to point to Who Jesus was; and referred to some of the ‘greats’ who may be more on his level of intellect; Zacharius, Lennox, Craig; and mentioned Andy’s book we’re working through as well.

We talked for about 20 mins initially; and all I know (without going into any personal details) was that the gentleman held a PhD in Philosophy; completed his PhD at what I would describe as a reputable Christian College/University in Australia; did his doctorate on faith/belief. He said he loved to read the 4 Gospel accounts especially of the trial and crucifixion; and we briefly touched on the atonement and it’s purpose in our conversation; we mentioned briefly about the interesting balance between free will of man vs God’s sovereignty and I mentioned I preferred Molinism as the middle ground;

In answer to your question; I’m not sure about rejecting Christian orthodoxy; or never near it. I did get the impression that the knowledge of God revealed through the person of Jesus Christ wasn’t enough for him (maybe too simple?); and he did reference the fact that he did identify as a Christian, but didn’t identify as ‘born again’ Christian; and I simply commented that from John 3 the description of being born again is Jesus explaining to Nicodemus about the spiritual birth etc (again, just touching briefly on it during the conversation)

I did suggest that the RZIM Acadamy courses were excellent and recommended them as well worth doing, and also invited him to join the RZIM connect forum; as we both agreed that sometimes in smaller churches it’s difficult to find others to have a deeper conversation with.

I really enjoyed the conversation - as Bo says; it really felt like a ‘winsome’ conversation in both directions and I really learnt some things as well; and I hope to talk again in the future; but for the moment the email exchange has stopped and I’ll just pray for him and leave it with God.

thanks again for your reply… :slight_smile:

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Hi @Keith_Moore; thankyou for sharing your story; that’s a great idea to ask about people’s stories;

my story is growing up in a church (here from the intro thread if interested: Introduction: Matthew) ; hearing and responding to the message of Jesus as a child; and I guess being introduced to apologetics around 40 partly because I wanted to share Jesus with atheists and partly because I was wanting to ensure the evidence was there myself as I was challenged; I believe the Gospel itself is simple enough that a child can understand and respond. I think that no matter at what level a person’s intellectual ability and at what age; there is still a ‘balance’ of evidence to consider pointing to Who Jesus Is; and one can reject or accept this; When a person places their faith in Christ; to follow Him; the Christian life starts; I like the clear Gospel message in Lennox’s book “Can Science Explain Everything?” under the section “Conversation on a Train”.

As we get older; I suppose we develop so much deeper understanding of things. So I guess what I’m trying to say is; I think God honors children who listen to that still small voice (the Holy Spirit prompting), and does answer prayer; As Jesus said in Matthew 18:1-4, it seems that humility and childlike trust is what is required to believe. in teaching Sunday school to primary school age kids; they ‘get’ it very quickly when we talk about heart issues like knowledge of right and wrong; sin; and point to Who Jesus is;

It’s a great book; and I’m enjoying it. :slight_smile:

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@matthew.western Encouraged you are reaching out and engaging others with grace and truth brother! May the Lord open his eyes wherever he is blind and help him to keep his eyes fixed on the risen Christ.

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thanks for the encouragement Sean; and your ministry on the forum to help many others also… :pray::+1::slight_smile:

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You’ve had quite the conversation! And, the tone I get from this gentleman is that he really likes you as a person. That’s exactly how it should be, I’m so proud of you! Building a true friendship is going to allow deep conversation and real thoughts/ideas to be expressed in a safe environment. Maybe one day he’ll start to follow Jesus exclusively.

I think you’re doing a great job asking questions, especially when something is cloudy. The more you can ask questions like, “What do you mean by that? Could you explain that further? Why do you think that? How did you come to hold that view?” The better you’ll be able to answer the questioner.

I don’t know anything specifically about urantia, in fact, this is the first time I’ve encounter it. However, keep asking good questions and he’ll end up telling you exactly how to interact with the material and show you its pitfalls. Keep going!

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I love you idea of getting people together to learn each person’s story! I think you should do that and then have a further purpose from the evening’s interactions (or multiple nights depending how many people come and how much is shared). I don’t have anything specifically in mind but I know when people get together and share, God tends to show up and move. Maybe you learn how to better pray for each other or how to equip one another for sharing or a third/fourth/fifth alternative; I’m just free-styling ideas. Again, I absolutely love it and think you should do it!

One caution, I know 2 churches that started in this exact manner. People just started gathering regularly to pray and share their lives and asked the Holy Spirit to join them… and He did. God moved and people were changed. I don’t know if this will happen or if it’s on your radar, but what an honor if God decides to do this through you!

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Thanks for the encouragement Bo. Yes I’d never heard of it before the conversation as well! Thanks again for leading the book study. :slight_smile:

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