A Challenge to My Christian Friends

Tell about your theology using critical reasoning.  How do you know that what you believe is true? 

Everybody in seminary has to do this. It’s an exercise to separate fact from feeling and truth from bias.  Many are quite shaken by the assignment.

Which reminds me… before you read further, let me say two things. First, if you’re in a vulnerable state, such as grief or illness, just skip over this post. Second, if you read further and it’s too disturbing, please understand that you can walk away from your computer screen and go right back to the security of your faith. I’ll understand.

I’m asking you to show me that your God is real.  Don’t tell me to go read a book or watch a movie or listen to your special preacher.  1 Peter 3:15 says to always be ready to give an account of your hope to someone who asks. So here I am, asking. 

Ready? Let’s begin.   

Can you describe God without using imagery? 

A clever story isn’t going to get the job done.  I’ve heard a lot of them and at one time I told them from the pulpit.  Metaphors, analogies, illustrations, and other literary devices can be valuable in their descriptive powers but they don’t prove anything. 

I’m aware that this takes out your best stuff: All those great preacher stories. And the biblical images: God is love. God is light. He is Abba Father. God is a nursing mother,  the Lord is our Shepherd.  Don’t forget the more severe ones where God is a Judge or a defending warrior.  And then there’s all that stuff in Revelation.

It’s all quite dramatic but it’s not proof.  If your God is real, you shouldn’t have to rely on imagery to talk about him. 

On to the next question:  

Can your God be described without quoting the Bible?

I’m a skeptic, and you can understand that your telling me the Bible is the inspired Word of God because the Bible says so just isn’t going to cut it.  Besides, truth is truth and it can stand on its own without having to quote chapter and verse.  So tell me something true.  

And don’t tell me to just open my eyes, look up, and see…. That’s subjective stuff.  Pointing to a flower, or a rhinoceros, or the sky and telling me that God made it… that’s not proof.  Neither is it proof when events worked out favorably after you prayed–that’s still subjective.  

This is the point where most people get exasperated, throw up their hands and mutter something about casting their pearls before swine.  You’ll want to dismiss me by saying God will remain a mystery as long as I refuse to believe.  But I don’t refuse to believe. I always wanted to believe.  I’ve spent my life trying to believe.  

So don’t be ashamed of your gospel.  You want to stand up for Jesus, don’t you?  You want to win me over don’t you? Wouldn’t that be a feather in your cap?  

However, you should be fair.  I want the chance to persuade you, too, not because I want you to come over to my side and not because I’m trying to deliver you to the devil.  I aim to win you over to yourself where you can own your thoughts and make your choices.   

I want to engage in real conversation.  I’ll try very hard to be respectful. I know that many of us atheists can get cranky and perhaps you can understand where that comes from when you realize that many of them have been ridiculed, excluded, and attacked by the people they love. Some have lost everything—jobs, marriages, family, children…. But I promise I won’t be mean to you, and I’ll ask my atheist friends who comment here to do the same.  

So talk to me in the comment section. Or you can email me, if you like, at damercer1961@gmail.com.  

40 thoughts on “A Challenge to My Christian Friends

  1. Since you have set this up as a contest, that some one is right and someone is wrong, I have no reason to spend my time trying to prove that which can’t be proven, especially since you say you won’t accept anything I find to express what my experiences have been. For me my experience has convinced me that there is something beyond the physical that has an impact on the physical and non physical. There is something that invites me to growth and compassion, I find it in others and I find myself connected to all. I have found the Christian experience of the Triune God to help me understand my experience but I have also found many other spiritual traditions to help me expand my understanding. I especially am drawn to the Buddhist tradition that teaches concepts create conflict. Therefore the concept of God seems to do that. Am looking forward to other responses. Darlene Little, Presbyterian Minister of Word and Sacrament, retired.

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    1. I appreciate your taking the time to respond. I also appreciate your acknowledging that the basis for belief consist of your personal experiences and are not a basis for trying to “prove that which can’t be proven.” Did I sum that up correctly?

      I do not intend to disparage your experiences. I’m sure they are quite powerful to you. But they are not proof.

      Again, thank you for sharing.

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      1. David, I understand my experiences aren’t proof to you or anyone else, I accept them as proof for me as to the existence of “God”. Each of us determines what is proof for us, each of us defines what we are trying to prove or have proved to us and each of us decides how we will respond. I was wondering why I responded and have come to the decision, I am curious as to why you seek for proof.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Darlene, I agree: “something that invites me to growth and compassion” is always a good thing for each of us! What is “right” for one may not be right for another. It’s never a competition. Each of us has a lifetime of experiences to examine, appreciate, and learn from. Thanks for being part of the conversation.

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    3. Also, after thinking it over, if you would like to use analogy and scripture to communicate your thoughts, I’m happy to listen. My point is that the use of such isn’t going to prove your point.

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  2. Hello David…understandably the limitation of the human might might lead someone to conclude there is no God. But consider the possibility that God simply need our belief to exist. Consider that God is a power or force that is greater than the sum or whole of all that exists and is observable and understandable through our thoughts and observations. Einstein, who personally described himself as an agnostic rather than an atheist made the following comments regarding his views regarding God’s existence:
    “A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.” (Albert Einstein)

    “I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.” (Albert Einstein, 1954)

    “I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings.” (Albert Einstein)

    “A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. The true value of a human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive.” (Albert Einstein, 1954)

    “The most beautiful and most profound experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms – this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness. ( Albert Einstein – The Merging of Spirit and Science)

    David, I do not condemn or judge you for your conclusion that there is no God but would encourage to you look beyond the limits our all our mere human understanding and perhaps you might get a glimpse of a power that is some much greater than our very limited understanding. A power that stands outside observable material manifestations within the space/time continuum and cannot be logical grasped or totally understood using the limited capacity of the human mind… or as Einstein also said: “You can’t blame gravity for falling in love.

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    1. Bill, Thank you for the Einstein quotes. However, the point that God is too great to be understood does not prove anything. My reply to that has always been that if God is so great, if he can do anything, why does he rely on our faith to acknowledge him. If he wants our attention, as it would seem in scripture, why doesn’t he simply use his power to communicate directly with us?

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  3. “Tell about your theology using critical reasoning. How do you know that what you believe is true?”
    As you well understand Dave, it is epistemology that explains how we rightly know the things we know.
    “Can you describe God without using imagery?”
    Yes, the law of identity. No one can know anything without that.
    “Can your God be described without quoting the Bible? ”
    God can not be described no matter how anyone tries.
    I know you want something, believe this, you don’t want anything to do with me.
    I am cruel even merciless at times. I am an Objectivest Christian like you would be if you had any faith, see, there I go again. 😎

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    1. David, I gotta admit, I dont’ follow much of what you’re saying. Perhaps you could unpack your terms, “law of identity” and “Objectivist Christian.”

      If God cannot be described (or heard or seen) I repeat, how do you know he exists?

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      1. Metaphysics:
        “Everything is what it is”
        Epistemology:
        A basic law of logic is the principle of non-contradiction, namely that it is contradictory to say that something can both be and not be at the same time.’
        and ” the law of excluded middle states that for any proposition, either that proposition is true or its negation is true.
        But you surely know these rules that must govern our communication with others and our understanding of the validity of the things we believe are correct.

        On the other question, an Objectivist holds these fundamental laws important to understanding.
        Add that to Christian and you have the answer to the “unpack” question. 😎

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    2. Hi, David Swalley. You seem to be pulling terminology from Ayn Rand’s philosophy but your description of yourself: “Objectivist Christian” is a contradiction in terms, unless you mean “Christian” in the Jeffersonian sense of a follower of the ethical teachings of Jesus, minus anything of a supernatural nature (which would be antithetical to Objectivist philosophy).

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      1. Yes, it is a dangerous thing, my objectivism, but not as dangerous as my Christianity.
        And yes, it may have been a mistake to capitalize that word earlier. It was Ayn that formalized it as a philosophy, coined the term, and much of her writings on the subject are truly Atheistic.
        Still BeckoningH, are the basic laws of understanding the basis of knowledge, posted above somehow unChristian?
        ps. not Jefferson, maybe Hume.8-)

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      2. I wouldn’t call it dangerous but would sway it’s contradictory. Per Rand, Objectivism holds that all which exists or can be known to exist is natural. Gods, spirits, and anything outside the natural realm does not and cannot exist. “Objectivism advocates reason as man’s only means of knowledge and, therefore, it does not accept God or any variant of the supernatural.” So, I am curious as to how someone can honestly call themselves both an Objectivist and a Christian (other than in a cultural sense). And please, no more clever “dangerous” monikers and such – just a straight answer, please.

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      3. You may not have been in a room with a bunch of Rand Objectivists and had them smell blood in the water, finding a believer in their midst. 😎
        It is a good thing BH, you have been able to build enough boxes to stuff everyone into one or another, how convenient.
        Even Rand had a series of ethical precepts or premises that transcended times of unavailable or unknown information in which to apply reasoning. That was, in fact, how she alone in the hundreds of years of philosophers trying, solved Hume’s “is, ought” problem called the “guillotine”, made the question moot.
        Should it be that you don’t already have one, for about $2, here you go.

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          1. That was not my intent Dave.
            In this time of character assassination by group identity, I hope you both understand that my words were poorly chosen. I was really trying to answer your “unpacking” request.
            Did I explain what I believe?

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        1. I asked a simple question, hoping to get a civil, rational, and interesting response as to how YOU reconcile Objectivism and Christianity. I’ve already quoted Peikoff, from Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand (from chapter 1, in the “Idealism and Materialism as the Rejection of Basic Axioms” section, in case you need chapter and verse.) I’m not insisting Rand’s philosophy is right or that I agree with her, but am curious as to how you meld the seeming inconsistencies. If you want to actually talk in a civil manner, I’m all ears.

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          1. BH, ref my comment to David just now.
            If I could delete the first two sentences of my last reply to you I would. I strive to be a gentleman.
            If we are still talking, what about the part after those relating to Ayn’s precepts, I think she called “values”, that was the meat of the thing anyway?

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            1. Thanks for the reasoned reply Sylvia, and your understanding.
              I can go with your evaluation of my statements.
              The rules to which correct understanding of the tangible part of existence must submit, I mentioned earlier, require reason, rationality, and logic be properly applied.
              It takes no leap of faith to say a thing is what it is, but it does take faith to know that rule must always be true and stand by that knowledge by making it a basic value in ones life.
              It is an act of will that builds ones ethical foundation. All easy stuff.
              A reasonably important question then arises when we get to this point that is not so easy, “what am I”.
              Taking all these tools we have been taking about to the task of understanding that basic thing, appear to not even open the cover of what seems to be a voluminous book.
              Never fear, there is some indication that people have worked this problem before, and from their effort comes the possibility I might not need to reinvent everything to find out an acceptable answer.

              So, here we are, a person, an ego or id or soul or spirit, whatever, that probably would benefit from some understanding of the nature of itself.
              We have all the means needed to understand the working of all things made of atoms and molecules, we can dissect the actual act of creation nearly back to it’s beginning, measure things a million miles away to a quarter of an inch, and yet, with all of that, the majority of people don’t have a clue who they are.
              Will leave this part of the discussion here before I get too far ahead. 😎

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          2. BH, specifically to reconciling my commitment to reason and logic with my faith in Christendom.
            At first brush I say they are not mutually exclusive.
            Thinking a little longer about the obvious question, Is faith irrational?, I say no.
            You say how so, well my answers never satisfied the Atheists in the Objectivity community for sure.
            I maintain that any knowledge requires a measure of faith. The rub comes where logic is used as rules to apply to that part of existence that is not physical and that is where faith is needed the most because normal references completely fail in that realm.

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            1. David, while BH reads up to prepare her reply, I’ll throw this in: As in other discussions I’ve had, it comes down to the idea that God cannot be measured because he is great and spiritual. My question still stands: Then why assume that God exists? What indicators exist that reveal him?

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            2. Dave, trying to operate a bit out of my league here.
              I can absolutely see how one might step away from their faith with great works like Kenny’s “The Five Ways”, where he pokes holes in St. Thomas’ five proofs of God.
              I am not a deep thinker and not particularly well read, just know I need some kind of compass that does not fail when I am lost.
              I find tradition to be worthy of some modicum of respect even if I can not put why that is into words right now. 😎

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            3. Thank you, David S. I can appreciate being on the defensive due to previous experience. (Too many stories to relate here, but I get it.)

              So, tell me if I understand you correctly – you hold much of the Objectivist view to be accurate, particularly its reliance on reason, rationality, and logic. However, because it only encompasses that which can be known through the process of intelligent reason, there may be things it misses. Those things are unknown and objectively unknowable, therefore their existence cannot (at least theoretically) be ruled out. Those are in the domain of faith, not reason.

              Is that a fair summary? If so, yes, I can see that most Objectivists would become objectors. However, that’s fine with me. One of the purposes of David’s post was to get people to think and perhaps come to terms with how they approach their faith (or lack of it). So often people try to make what they think is an objective, concrete argument for what and why they believe, but actually rely on subjective experience, feelings of certainty, and circular reasoning.

              Holding to a beneficial faith for subjective, personal, unquantifiable reasons is fine – but it is also very different than concrete, verifiable fact. Science and religion aren’t enemies, but engage in different realms – and when the subjective is brought into the realm of law and public policy as though it were immutable fact there can be tragic consequences.

              By the way, my name is Sylvia. WordPress is only letting me log in to post comments using an old alias, hence “beckoning horizons”. Take care.

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  4. it’s interesting that I was an atheist who talked people out of being christians and became one without seeking in a lay witness weekend at a methodist church… I am not perfect but have been totally changed and have spent a lifetime of apologetic study and became a lay evangelist.. out paths have crossed mid stream somehow… blessings…

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    1. That is interesting. I’ve met a few others with stories similar to yours. Belief/Nonbelief seems to be on a continuum for some, and there’s some back and forth action that occurs.

      I’m glad you’re happy with where you are.

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  5. David Mercer, thanks for inviting people to this conversation with respect and open mindedness. I have struggled with my faith all of my life and now I simply consider myself an agnostic, but still leaning towards believing is something bigger than us . Faith in a God cannot be proven with logic. Although logic and reasoning could have been given to us by God himself for us to use to find him , even if it takes centuries and millenniums to reach that level of transcendence. Anyways, finding God is a subjective experience , and maybe that’s what it was meant to be. I came across the following video which impacted me tremendously. It is a speech by former atheist Jim Warner Wallace, and he uses scientific argument to try to prove the existence of God. It might interest you.
    https://thesonofgod.org/2019/01/15/proving-god-using-only-science-and-common-sense-every-sceptic-should-watch-this/

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    1. Hi Noel. I have seen this video before. I’ll try to look at it again sometime but it’s over an hour long.

      I appreciate your comment and your sharing that you’ve struggled about this. As a professor once told me–thank you for struggling.

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  6. Tell about your theology using critical reasoning. How do you know that what you believe is true?

    Although I value critical reasoning when supporting opinions/points of view, faith is not an opinion or point of view to me. It is belief without reason. I believe because I feel, not because I know. Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “Believing is seeing.” My faith came first and then I saw reasons for my belief. My faith comforts me, motivates me, inspires me, challenges me, sustains me. All feelings. Not really reasons.

    Can you describe God without using imagery?

    No. I cannot. My God is not a physical being. I can only describe through imagery. I think in imagery most of the time anyway. Again, faith is belief without proof. I don’t need to see a physical person or even picture a physical person to have faith. I know you don’t want narrative but …

    There’s a photo I have of a girl in our church standing on a boulder at the side of our church. The boulder was placed there in memory of one of our elder members who gave so much of herself to others and was a awesome inspiration to many. When she died at age 96, she was still a forward-looking intelligent woman who admonished us to let the children lead and give way to the next generation. The little girl standing on that rock has her arms raised, her eyes closed, and her face looking up. Nobody told her to pose. I don’t think she even knew someone (not I) was taking her photo. But I feel the presence of God in that photo.

    Can your God be described without quoting the Bible?

    I can’t describe God with or without quoting the Bible. I have no physical description for God except for God as manifested in Jesus but that is not THE image of God.

    I have no interest in “winning” you “over” or persuading you to accept my belief. I wear hats but I’d feel silly putting feathers in them. When I am trying to persuade people, I use mostly logos, steering away from pathos.

    My image of God is in people – mostly in the marginalized – or in what people do that signals I’m in the presence of God – one example is my friend who spends many days every week delivering food, diapers, formula, and hope to asylum seekers at the border when she’s not standing in front of the courthouse where hearings take place to protest what is being done to them.

    I understand why atheists are atheist. It makes sense. Some people need to see before they believe. I don’t feel insulted or attacked when people question or deride my faith. It isn’t a reasonable thing. I’ve already accepted that. But I still believe and live out the faith I profess.

    As long as you cause no harm to yourself or others, I have no problem with whatever you believe.

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  7. I believe in “God,” because it is the term used by the faith tradition I was raised in, but I no longer believe a number of things about God as described by that faith tradition (I’m a cradle Methodist). I still consider myself Methodist and Christian and use that as my way to approach something much bigger than me, and, in the end, beyond full understanding. That I suppose is where faith comes in.

    I believe in a creator/creative force which I refer to as God. That probably makes more a diest. I don’t believe in a personal God as one who is looking down on us and moving the chess pieces of our lives. I believe in science and accept the big bang theory, but then ruminate on what was before, and what started the first bang. Those are the unknowables I suppose. I believe there is something after this because I think the First Law of Thermodynamics makes it possible. We are made up of matter and animated by energy. The first law explains that energy is neither created nor destroyed. So the essence of who we are can’t simply vanish at our death.

    I know, you said to avoid examples, but a lot of this came to me one day on the way to teach a Sunday School class. I’d walked outside, and in a shorter tree on one side, a bush on the other and a tree above was a very large and intricate spider web. I know it wasn’t there the day before, I’d mowed the lawn and would have walked through it, so it had been completed overnight. It was wider than my arms would reach, and it wasn’t just perpendicular to the ground, but at a reasonable angle. Somehow that made it clear to me that there is more to all this than just a giant accident of science.

    I don’t think there is an old man in white robes floating on a cloud. I don’t think we’re a game simulation playing out for a far superior race, so it is something I don’t believe we can ever get our head fully wrapped around. I think this creative force is too great to ever describe, but I’m convinced of its existence by the complexity of all that surrounds me. I choose to try to approach that as a Christian but also believe there are many valid ways to try to approach something so vast.

    In short David, I can’t describe God, but that’s the very thing that makes her God. I suppose I could never get through Seminary. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. “But I don’t refuse to believe. I always wanted to believe. I’ve spent my life trying to believe.” -DM

    And this is why it hurts so much to finally realize No One is there. Oh how I wanted it, longed for it. That close, special, Father/Child relationship with my Creator. The problem is that it is all one sided and that will never change. No one, especially me, is doing a dance on His grave.

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