This is the third installment in my series in which atheists and/or Christian skeptics who received a golden ticket in their Willy Wonka chocolate bar are invited into my factory to share their reasons for disbelief with my readers. Today we have Edward Babinski. Ed edited the book Leaving the Fold and blogs here.
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Tried Christianity, several franchises in fact. Was baptized and confirmed Catholic. Born Again Evangelical, Charismatic in teens and college. Also had friends who were Orthodox, and, Reformed, visited their churches. Read C. S. Lewis, Chesterton, Francis Schaeffer, McDowell, assorted IVP books, Reformed theology, and later read moderate and liberal theology. Saw several friends grow cooler toward Evangelicalism, others became lukewarm or left the fold. They left Evangelicalism for either more inclusive versions of Christianity, more inclusive non-Christian religious views, or for agnosticism or atheism. I tried to argue two of the most intelligent ones “back into the fold.” One knew comparative religion and mysticism, and another was obtaining his Ph.D. in New Testament studies. After years of exchanging lengthy letters and booklists with them, I was the one who began to mellow and even grow lukewarm toward my former Evangelical beliefs. A third person whom I corresponded with had an advanced degree in Chinese studies and read some C. S. Lewis type materials I sent him and had a conversion-like experience, but in the end Christianity was not for him either.
As I learned about the Bible’s lack of indisputable prophecies, and reliance on mere analogies/typologies and stretching the meaning of OT passages, I grew disillusioned. –When I learned about the variety of historical interpretations of the books of Moses, the Book of Daniel, and the Gospels, by scholars from a wide spectrum of approaches to biblical history, I grew disillusioned.–When I considered whether people should be damned or annihilated based on which religious doctrines/dogmas they “believed,” or which God (or version of God) they “loved,” such threats began to make less sense to me.–When I read the Bible and Gospels themselves, I ran across passages that made me wonder “why is THAT even in the Bible?”–When I studied NDEs I began to realize they do not all point to Evangelical or orthodox doctrinal Christianity being the one true religion.–When I studied miracle stories and coincidences from a wide variety of sources they also did not point in the direction of any one religion being true.–When I studied the history of life on earth including the history of early primates and early species of homo, additional questions arose.
One estimate at a science site points out that as many as “7 billion humans” may have lived and died before the written revelations of ancient Israel or Jesus’ followers were ever composed. I guess God thought those 7 billion who lived prior to the days of written revelation could get along O.K. without it. And it took 1500 years or more after the birth of Christianity before it began to reach humans living in the New World and other distant regions on earth. I guess God thought those millions could get along O.K. without it. And during the first 500-1000 years of Christianity I guess God thought it was alright that Christianity lost the Eastern Roman Empire, its Christian Emperor, bishops, including Christianized North Africa, Augustine’s home. Lost to Islam. And Islam became the world’s second largest religion. I guess God didn’t think it was important to inspire Mohammed with the same message as St. Paul. Today, look at Europe, the center from which Christianity spread to the rest of the world–it now has fewer believers percentage-wise than ever before, fewer than in North and South America or Africa.
The God who allegedly used to send miracle working leaders, judges and prophets, when needed to set his nation straight, now sends us televangelists (of an Evangelical or Catholic persuasion–, the Eastern Orthodox, and Calvinists, haven’t mastered how to set up worldwide networks yet). Yes, we’ve had our shared of “Popes” and “saints,” and their relics, miracle stories and apparitions, but then Protestanism came along and they were not impressed by such stories, in fact they debunked the hell out of them or said their power was from Satan. One need only read the books or just their titles, by Protestant debunkers of Catholic miracles. Such books appeared from the 1500s to today. So miracle debunking began even before the Enlightenment. B.B. Warfield, well known Protestant scholar and father of a popular form of inerrancy, wrote a book debunking Catholic miracle tales, and Protestants have also debunked the tales of miracles that came out of the 1970s Pentecostal revival in the Philippines.
God could inspire new revelations, like, “It’s time to stop seeking to fill the earth, to let the garden grow back, stop trying to cut down everything to make more stuff just for humans, which also creates more waste poured over the earth.” Such a new revelation could also feature passasges foretelling events with astonishing exactitude. Or why the need for written revelation or even prophets, since billions of humans lacked written revelation in the past as stated already, and because God could speak or appear to anyone anytime directly, and show anyone the same true clear vision of Jesus, and of heaven and hell, to let us know what’s going on. Instead, science seems to have a greater power of universal demonstration than religion. Science has demonstrated that the death of our planet seems inevitable in a cosmos such as ours, via any number of probable doomsday scenarios, after which stars have enough fuel to continue burning for billions of years after ours is gone, and some regions of our cosmos are still forming new stars at a huge rate. Furthermore, The rate of miracles at Lourdes (the miracles vetted by Catholic doctors who question the likelihood of any particular case being a genuine miracle, and only admit some are “miracles”) is actually lower than known rates of spontaneous remissions from cancer that occur regularly and to people with a variety of religious beliefs or none.
Even if Christianity is true, it does not appear to be fair for people to be divided into “saved and damned” based on how much they endorse (or question) the existence of “invisible places they have never been to and cannot even pretend to ‘see’ via any known universal means, and based on accepting various theological terms, ideas and functions, and the purely magical relationships between them.” Theoretical physicists do not form literal churches with particular doctrines and damn each other to hell or annihilation for holding different hypotheses such as string theory or quantum loop gravity. They form diverse schools of thought, admit their knowledge is limited and their conclusions tentative. In the world of religion you either believe in particular magical terms, ideas, functions, actions and “holy” places and “holy” writings (interpreted the way your particular church interprets them), or you find them questionable (and you don’t have to be an atheist to find particular religious terms, ideas, functions or ultimate destinations questionable–Christians have been debunking each other’s views for ages and continue to do so).
The long version of my testimony:
Reasons to question Christianity:
Questions for resurrection apologists:
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Whew! Some people identify one event or moment or argument as the catalyst for a shift in one’s fundamental belief commitments. In other cases the process is much too complex to describe in those terms. For example, I ask myself how I moved from the young earth creationism of high school to the theistic evolution I had adopted by my late twenties. Thinking back I recall one event in particular. I had purchased a series of cassette tapes from the Regent College bookstore (I was doing a Masters degree at Regent at the time). The tapes consisted of a course on science and religion delivered at Regent by Philip E. Johnson. (I do remember in my defense that the tapes were on sale!) I hadn’t bought the tapes to argue with the cassette player … but that’s what I ended up doing. The more I listened the angrier I got listening to Johnson’s poor theological reasoning and his uninformed critique of Neo-Darwinism. And it gradually dawned on me that somewhere along the line a fundamental shift (or series of shifts) had occurred.
Ed’s narrative is complex and includes everything but the kitchen sink (though one might even find one of those in the links he provided!). While it may be hard to tease out fully articulated arguments, I think this is a fair and accurate account of the way many people change their fundamental beliefs, with a flurry of partially formed considerations that, brick by brick, build a general wall of incredulity toward formerly held beliefs.
If there is one theme that seems to recur more often than others, it seems to be Ed’s incredulity toward Christian soteriological exclusivism (henceforth CSE), i.e. the position that one must assent to propositions about Jesus in order to be saved by Jesus. That’s unfortunate because many Christians reject CSE. What is more, even Christians who say they affirm CSE are rarely willing to endorse it categorically when placed in the interrogation room and presented with real life scenarios.
Let me give you an example. Su Ji is raised in a North Korean labor camp where she lives with her entire family. The reason? Her grandfather was accused of criticizing Kim Il-sung thirty years ago. (North Korea standardly imprisons three generations for “political crimes”.) One day thirteen year old Su Ji is caught attempting to smuggle a handful of rice out of the confectionary. As a result she is beaten to death in front of her parents and other prisoners. Obviously Su Ji never heard the gospel let alone had a chance to respond to it. Is she in hell? I’ve shared that scenario with many self-described exclusivists, and never once has one of them said “Yes”.
(No doubt there are some who would say yes with a nod toward passages like Acts 4:12 and Romans 10:9. However, to attempt to use those texts categorically as a basis to conclude that a child like Su Ji is surely the worst kind of hermeneutical abuse. Acts 4:12 speaks to the Christian’s commitment to the fact that Christ is the sole one through whom all people are saved. It doesn’t present necessary and sufficient conditions for salvation that would oblige a Christian to conclude that Su Ji is lost. And while Romans 10:9 provides sufficient conditions for salvation, it never provides necessary ones.)
This reflects a most unfortunate situation in which folks grow incredulous toward Christianity because of their experience with one particular segment of it — one particular set of beliefs or one social group. After the fact it may be pointed out that this step in your deconversion was never a part of core Christian commitment, but by then it is likely too late.