Saturday, November 12, 2016

Joe Omundson

More questions that killed my faith

(For questions 1-3 see this post.)

4) God's answers to prayer

The premise: When you pray to God, he answers. He might answer "yes", "no", or "maybe". It might be immediate or it might take a while. It might be mysterious, or roundabout, or it might be a direct response to what you asked for. But you can trust that he always answers.

The question: If any result, at all, can be used to say "look, God answered my prayer", isn't it impossible to disprove prayer? In that case, what meaning does it have? Unless there is real evidence that prayer is effective, how is praying to God anything more than a nice sentiment? If the Christian God is the only true God, shouldn't the result of Christians' prayers be measurably different that those of other faiths? Why do devotees of all religions observe a similar benefit from spending time in prayer, meditation, or worship?

There are a lot of Bible verses that promise tangible results to prayer. For example, Matthew 7:7-11:

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"

Why don't Christians take this literally? Why do they worry about losing their jobs, if they really believe that all they have to do when they can't afford food and shelter is pray to the God of the universe and he will provide?

"Well, that's not how it works. Other verses say you have to pray according to God's Will for your prayers to come true. You can't just get whatever you want from God. And you aren't supposed to put God to the test."

If your heart was filled with the Spirit when you accepted Christ, don't you know God's Will? Isn't that already how you're praying? So why not believe the Bible and expect results, as so many verses promise? This bit about praying according to God's Will is just another layer of illusion. If you pray and it came true -- must have been God's will. Didn't come true? I guess it wasn't his will for you. In other words: whatever is going to happen is going to happen and you can't change it with prayer, because his will is beyond our understanding. "Don't put God to the test" -- in other words, ignore the fact that the Bible's promises about prayer aren't reliable.

The answer that satisfied me: The voice of God is something we can create in our own heads. We are good at seeing patterns where there are none. We are good at dancing until it rains and then believing our dance made it rain. In any measurable test, prayer doesn't work in a supernatural way. You could pray to your refrigerator and get the same result as praying to God: some of the requests happen, some don't. Prayer is a placebo, and it works the same in many different religions. It's just a tool to help people access a part of their own minds... not direct communication with an omnipotent supernatural being.

5) Draw near to God and he will draw near to you

The premise: God loves his children, and he speaks to them to tell them they are his. If you open up your heart to him you will experience his abundant love, the same love which will keep you amazed for eternity in heaven. Sometimes you might go through a "desert time", a dry spell of not feeling God or hearing from him, but this is part of a lesson he's teaching you and ultimately his love for you is infinite and perfect.

The question: Then why do so many Christians never feel any real presence of God, despite years of authentic devotion and honest attempts to open up to his love, hours and days spent crying for his presence and desperately yearning to feel held by him?

Those years I spent searching for his love and assurance... why didn't I ever hear anything back or experience anything like a loving supernatural force?

The answer that satisfied me: The idea that there is a God who wants you to feel loved by him simply isn't true. Some people are good at feeling imaginary love and other people aren't. It's another placebo. For some people the effect is strong enough that it really helps them feel happy on a day-to-day basis; other people get nothing out of it. If it works for you, they will say "great, isn't God's love amazing?" If it doesn't work for you, "just hang in there and keep trying, God won't give you a bigger dry spell than you can handle, he really does love you, don't expect that your needs are going to be met in any specific way because that's arrogant and God's ways are beyond our understanding." If we believe that God will absolutely draw near to us if we draw near to him, and he isn't drawing near to us, then clearly we aren't doing a good enough job of drawing near to him.

6) Anyone who leaves the faith was never a Christian

The premise: If a Christian decides to leave the faith, it's not because they made a rational choice after fairly evaluating the Christian experience. It's because they never authentically experienced God and his perfect love; anyone who is a true Christian enjoys God's love so much that they would never, ever choose to leave. All real Christians remain believers forever.

The question: Is it easy to become a Christian, or not? When pastors give altar calls at the end of their sermons, they lead the congregation through a simple prayer of inviting Jesus into their hearts and accepting them as their personal lord and savior, and then they inform anyone who followed along that they are now saved and going to Heaven. If one prayer is enough for the Holy Spirit to come in and change your heart forever, then how can it be true that someone who honestly seeks God for years and then decides to leave was never a Christian?

The answer that satisfied me: This is nothing more than a way to invalidate the personal experience of those who reject Christianity. If Christians accepted that some people give God a fair trial and still end up disbelieving, it would cast doubt on the idea that God's grace is perfect, that his salvation is delicious, that his Holy Spirit always does incredible heart work. So, in order to avoid cognitive dissonance, Christians are fed an easy solution: that person was never a believer.

This logic is fragile because most Christians will eventually have a close friend or relative who leaves the faith after being a devoted Christian. When that happens, the Christian has a choice: they can either reject the logic that a real Christian never leaves the faith, having known their friend's heart intimately, and be forced to wonder why the Holy Spirit doesn't work 100% of the time; or they can turn against that friend and criticize them for being a heretic because they simply cannot accept the idea that losing faith is possible. The more fearful the person is, the more likely they are to choose the 2nd option, because they don't want to accept that someday they could come to the same conclusion. They want to believe their own fate is sealed and secure and that the doubts they have will never increase to an unbearable level like their friend's did.

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Write comments
Alex Wall
November 12, 2016 at 2:11 PM delete

Wow! Totally agree with all of this. It's such mind f*ck, especially when I child grows up immersed in it and doesn't know there is a whole big world of other options out there, then is made to feel guilty about not drinking the kool-aid. I began to reject church at about 10 years old. I made sure to ask embarrassing questions in Sunday school. But, I was fortunate. The people around me didn't really care that much whether I stuck with it or not. New England is a much different place.

November 12, 2016 at 11:43 PM delete

People find comfort in their beliefs and that's ok. In many ways folks make their own realities. I find comfort in my reality and my attitudes. My Mother was a student of religions, so every "bible" and belief system was in her library, which I had read by age 14. So I decided to not embrace any particular faith, but respect others desires to follow theirs. I prefer to thank the Universe for it's gifts and trials and be grateful for them and try to learn from them when they come my way.

Joe Omundson
November 13, 2016 at 7:36 PM delete

That's what gets me too -- how it affects people who grow up in it and never know about other options.

I'm not too sure really how people around me would have reacted if at age 10 I started to reject church. It just wasn't something I considered. Portland isn't known for being very religious, so it can happen anywhere. It might have been my own personality that kept me from rebelling but it's a bit hard to tease that apart from the brainwashing when you're told from a young age that you'll go to hell without Jesus and he's the only thing that makes you a good person.

Joe Omundson
November 13, 2016 at 7:47 PM delete

Interesting. Your comment along with Alex's are leading me to another thought: when kids are not really forced into religion, but allowed to explore it casually, they don't tend to become as bitter about it later in life. They can accept whatever religious preferences people have without caring too much.

I think a lot of the hardcore, asshole atheists got to be that way because they were brainwashed into religious systems at a young age. For them, leaving it was a difficult and scary ordeal, and they know firsthand how damaging it can be. So they will not be able to relate to your sentiment of "if it works for you, go for it". They know the traumatic and abusive side of religion and want to see it fall.

I'm somewhere in between. Sure... people need to find comfort. And people are allowed to believe whatever they want. I can't say who's right and who's wrong. But I also don't think it's a totally harmless thing. I see religion causing a lot of destruction in the world, social and otherwise. How much delusion & fairy tale is it OK to believe just to feel better about yourself, especially if you're trying to force it on other people or incorporate it into law?

Overall I agree with you about taking whatever gifts and trials the universe gives you and trying to learn from them. Good enough! I don't see the need for a religion on top of that.