Alpha Course: Reviewed

by Stephen Butterfield

WEEK 8: “How Can I Resist Evil?”

As the group trickle into the church I notice that there is no Long-Standing Male member this evening. I am informed that he won’t be in attendance tonight as he’s attending a work colleague’s retirement celebration.

As ever we start the evening with chats among ourselves. Lots of smiles and laughter, and of course a bowl of fruit salad or a slice of cheesecake each. I go for the glass of cold-water option, again.

After about twenty minutes or so the pastor brings up the subject of God not being slow to act – which we touched upon last week. He says to me, “There’s a verse in the Bible that I mentioned last week, 2 Peter 3:9, but I didn’t give you the full verse. What it says is that the Lord is not slow in doing what he promised the way some people understand slowness. You questioned why God did not intervene [in the case of innocent, defenceless little children being raped]. But God is being patient with you. He does not want anyone to be lost. He wants all people to change their hearts and lives”.

I don’t see how this answers the question of why God does not act to save innocent, defenceless and terrified infants from being raped by paedophiles. Maybe he’ll offer a full explanation this week. We’ll see…

The pastor grabs this week’s DVD, entitled “How Can I Resist Evil?”, and sticks it in the machine. Away we go…

Gumbel begins with, “I remember when I first became a Christian. I had great difficulty coming to believe that there could be a God. And then somebody said, “There’s a devil that exists” and I thought “Oh my goodness. Surely you don’t expect me to believe that?! It’s bad enough believing in God but that is stretching my imagination””

Yes, Nicky Gumbel the hardened sceptic. Imagine that!

He then tells us that, remarkably, there are people who find it very easy to believe in the devil, more so than to believe in God.

He admits, though, that many people have difficulty believing in a devil in the first place. What does the Bible say on the matter, he asks.

Gumbel asks us to turn to Ephesians 6: 11-12 which reads: “Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”

“Why should we believe in spiritual forces of evil?” asks Gumbel. We have three strong reasons for doing so, he claims. The 1st of these is that “it makes sense of the world”.

Interesting.

He continues, “We see evil regimes, institutional torture and violence, mass murders, brutal rapes, terrorist atrocities on a scale unimaginable, sexual and physical abuse of children. These things litter our newspapers daily”.

Yes, and these things litter almost every page of the Bible, too.

He then tops it off with the remarkable claim that, “Any kind of theology or worldview which ignores the existence of spiritual forces of evil has a great deal to explain”.

Why does it? Why would a non-theistic worldview have great difficulty explaining existence without “spiritual” forces of evil being present? It would appear that Gumbel is offering us another one of his many unsupported assertions.

The 2nd reason for believing in “spiritual forces of evil” is “the Christian experience”. For example, “the struggle against temptation”. And Gumbel adds, “if we’ve had an experience of the Holy Spirit we begin to come a little bit more aware of the opposition”.

The 3rd, “and most important”, reason for believing in “spiritual forces of evil” is “because of the Bible”. Gumbel tells us that the apostle Paul believed in such forces, and that “Jesus himself was tempted by the devil”.

Gumbel then confidently concludes that “scripture, tradition and reason all point to the existence of the devil”.

He then asks, “What are the devil’s tactics?”. In answer to this he explains that Jesus told us that the devil’s ultimate aim “is to destroy us”

Gumbel states, “Right at the beginning of the Bible we have an exposé of how the devil works”. He then asks us to turn to Genesis chapter 3 and describes how the devil’s initial tactic was to raise doubt in the human mind, and how he talked Eve into eating from the tree of knowledge. The devil tries to plant the seeds of doubt in the heads of Christians too, claims Gumbel. “It’s the precursor to the main attack” he warns.

That’s right, whatever you do make sure you don’t have any doubts about God’s existence! If you do then you’re obviously in the first stages of Satan’s deception, and if you continue doubting you’re going to be brutally attacked, somehow. Scary stuff indeed!

What a great deterrent against free thought, huh?

Gumbel then spends a few minutes telling us of the Garden of Eden tale and how “God didn’t want us to know evil, he wanted us to know only good”.

That’s right; God didn’t want us to know about bad and evil things, but he placed a tree in the Garden of Eden which contained fruit that, when eaten, would reveal knowledge of bad and evil things! Wouldn’t it have been a better idea not to put such a tree there in the first place?

Remember, God created humans with an inquisitive nature. But, strangely, he becomes mad if they are inquisitive about a strange and magical tree that he’s placed in the middle of their Garden. If he didn’t want them to be inquisitive then he shouldn’t have designed them with such a nature in the first place!

Imagine leaving your young children at home one evening, and placing a plate of delicious homemade buns in the middle of the room. If you don’t want your children eating those buns, which you already know are your children’s favourites, then don’t leave an uncovered, unprotected plate of them within sniffing and touching distance of your hungry children! Put those buns away in a safe place where they cannot be touched. Don’t leave them so your children are driven by a temptation to eat them.

Imagine you come home later that day and find some of those delicious buns missing from the plate, and your kids’ smiley, happy faces covered in icing sugar and chocolate. What would be a fitting punishment do you think? Sitting them down and explaining to them how they should obey rules in the future? A slapped wrist perhaps? Sent to bed early? No more sweets for a week? Grounded for a fortnight? How about banishing them from your comfortable home into the dead of night, injecting them with an assortment of previously unknown diseases, and inflicting the same punishment on their offspring too? And then after that, to top it off, torturing them all for an eternity? Does this sound like the perfect punishment for succumbing to temptation? A temptation you knew they would succumb to? Does it sound fair to you? Of course not. But get this; the Christian God deems this to be the perfect punishment, but on an unimaginably larger scale. But lets not forget, of course, that he only punishes us “because he loves us!”

Getting back to the Garden of Eden story: The devil tells the woman that if they eat from the tree they will become like God – knowing good and evil. Did Adam and Eve know that to eat from the tree was an “evil” thing to do rather than a ”good” thing? If so then they already had knowledge of good and evil. But if they didn’t know what “good” or “evil” were then you can hardly blame them for doing something “evil” (i.e., eating from the tree) when they were completely ignorant of the concept to begin with.

After Adam and Eve had eaten from the tree “the friendship with God was broken” states Gumbel. And we have seen the consequences of that breaking of trust: All of the horrors that have befallen mankind are a consequence of Eve eating an apple in the Garden of Eden. Gumbel offers us the explanation: “What we see here is a breakdown in human relationships, a breakdown between Adam and Eve. They start fighting each other. We see down in history the breakdown of relationships, the breakdown of marriages, the breakdown of homes, the breakdown of relationships at work. We see it in countries: we have civil wars [and] wars between nations. It all starts here [points to the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis]”

Gumbel reminds us that “one of the tactics of the enemy is to put a thought in our mind and then whip round the other side and condemn us for it”

Hmmm, is this “enemy” God by any chance? Sounds just like him! He puts a thought in our minds by placing a mysterious, magical tree in front of inquisitive animals such as us, and then condemns us for acting upon that very thought!

The devil may have some nasty tactics up his sleeve but King Jesus can save us from all of that nonsense, states Gumbel, because he “has set us free from the addictions, habits, [and] patterns of the past. And that means we don’t have to do the things we used to do. We’re free. We have been transformed from the dominion of darkness to the kingdom of light – the kingdom of Jesus, where Jesus rules.”

I’m trying my best to keep a straight face here. Seriously, I am. The kind of language that these Christians use is just so childish. They speak of an invisible kingdom, ruled by a magical and invisible man, who isn’t particularly keen on men kissing other men but is quite partial to impregnating young virgins and handing out real estate to a bunch of nomadic goat-herders in the olden days. In the eight weeks so far I’ve seen no reason to believe that what they’re claiming has any basis in reality, but I’ve had very good reasons to believe that what they’re offering up are nothing but infantile fairy tales.

Gumbel turns up the heat, “The name of Jesus has SUCH POWER, he exclaims.

Gumbel then tells us the real-life tale of a drug using, violent drunkard who was later convicted of murder. A number of years down the road he was in a coma in hospital. He obviously came out of the coma because he himself wrote about it. I’ll let him pick up the tale in his own words:

“It looked as if my life was over. My mother was summoned to the hospital by the authorities to sign the papers to switch the ventilation machine off that was keeping me breathing. And she turned up at the point where these lads, who had been trying to tell me about Jesus on the streets, had turned up at the hospital. They said to my mother, “Can we pray for your son?” and she said, “Yes”. And they said, “We know someone who loves him and wants to help him. So they came in to this room, in intensive care, and prayed for me. They said, “In the name of your son, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, give this man new life”. And I woke up and started breathing myself. Four days later my mother told me about them praying to Jesus. And I said, “What does Jesus want to know about a scumbag like me for?” So I heard all these stories about Jesus and when I came out of hospital I wanted to look into it. So I went along to this Alpha Course at the church. I attended on the third night and I remember being there and swearing. I had four front teeth missing and I was a right rebel. I hated myself but I remember saying, “Jesus, if you’re real come in to my life. These people tell me that you can change me and set me free. If you are real then come and show me”. I had my arms out like this and I fell back and started crying. From that day on I was totally transformed. I had a desire to tell people about Jesus”.

Isn’t it amazing that ordinary, everyday folk can walk in to a hospital, sit at the foot of the bed of a person who is in a deep coma, and manage to bring them back to full consciousness simply by muttering the magical words, “In the name of your son, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, give this man new life”? I’m sure that today’s medical science community would love to speak to these talented lads. Don’t you?

And another thing: If it’s possible to change cretins into pillars of the community, then why aren’t these gifted Christians praying to God to change the mindset of paedophiles and rapists?

Gumbel warns us that “The battle is not over yet. On the cross Satan was defeated and demoralised. The cross and the resurrection are the DECISIVE MOMENTS IN HISTORY. But the devil was not destroyed. There will come a time when he IS destroyed, when Jesus returns”.

In “history”?

He then likens this scenario to that of the 2nd World War, when D-Day was a decisive moment for the Allies, even though the war was not yet won. We had to wait until VE Day for that. Gumbel tells us that Jesus’ resurrection was D-Day for the human race in their battle against Satan, and when Jesus returns to win the war that will be our VE Day!

Remarkable.

Gumbel ends his presentation by assuring us that when Jesus returns he will make the world a better place. In fact, states Gumbel, “we will be better off than we were in the Garden of Eden!”

No treacherous, talking snakes and magical trees with dangerous fruit? Yes, we’d better hope it’s better than THAT!

The pastor ejects the DVD.

The new Christian male is the first to speak. He says that he didn’t used to believe in the devil, but after hearing Gumbel’s talk he now KNOWS that the devil exists. Was Gumbel’s presentation that convincing? It’s dawned on the new Christian male that the devil is alive and well because of “how he tantalises you, tricks and deceives you”.

He gives us an example. He states that advertising is the work of the devil because it triggers envy. “All advertising is wrong,” he says. The pastor agrees with him, “There’s been some research done that says if you want a happy society you should ban advertising. Because, like you say, it creates envy, a want for more, and dissatisfaction”. I ask, “What about advertising for the Alpha Course? There’s posters for Alpha on the back of buses”. The pastor pauses for a moment and replies barely audibly “It’s marketing. It’s good marketing”, and then turns to the table behind him to tuck into some cheesecake. I guess that’s the end of that particular topic, then.

After polishing off his plate of lemon cheesecake the pastor states almost despairingly, “I can’t understand people who worship the devil. They’ve recognised that there’s a spiritual side to life and yet they choose to worship the devil. What causes people, who have chosen to have faith, to pursue evil?”

I don’t know, but I’m tempted to ask him why Christians throughout history have done that very same thing.

The pastor then offers us an example of why it is fruitful to be one God’s children:

Pastor: “I despair of myself sometimes. I’m seeking earnestly to follow Jesus, and there’s a line in one of my favourite songs that says “May I reflect the beauty of my Lord”, and my desire in my life is to reflect the beauty of my Lord, to have the attitude of Christ. But sometimes I’m so far from that but, you know, but, God convicts me of my sin and thankfully I can ask forgiveness and God speaks to me. Even just yesterday God spoke to me. He gave me a Bible verse and said, “This is what you need to help you deal with this area of your life”. So this morning that is what I studied”.

I’m still fascinated, and perplexed, by this kind of claim. It’s all so wishy-washy, so vague, so unfalsifiable, and so… imaginary. The creator of the universe talks to these people, but none can offer a decent argument to support such a claim. It really blows my mind how they expect to get away with such fanciful notions.

My fellow sceptic asks about the Garden of Eden, and what kind of sense any of it can possibly make, considering that God is supposedly omniscient (all-knowing):

My Fellow Sceptic:“God supposedly created this wonderful place, but he must have known what was going to happen, because he knows everything”.
The Group As A Whole: “Yeah”
My Fellow Sceptic: “So, what a pointless exercise that was!”
New Christian Male: “God tried to bring up a civilisation but then he gave them a doubt in their minds as a test. God thought, “Will they turn against me? If they do I’ll wipe them off the face of the earth””
Me: [Sarcastically] “He sounds like a nice bloke”
My Fellow Sceptic: “Adolf Hitler wanted to wipe the Jewish nation off the face of the earth. How is he any different to God?”
Pastor: “The question you raised is a very difficult one.”

Why is it a difficult question? Hitler attempted to wipe a nation off the face of the earth, God succeeded in wiping every nation off the face of the earth (thanks to his lovely flood). The pastor considers Hitler’s to be the most evil mind ever to exist, yet he considers God’s mind to be nothing but complete love. Work that out!

My fellow sceptic wants to know why God would create humans knowing in advance, and for certain, that they would fall. Knowing too that he would slaughter them all for doing so (barring a handful) and that he would have to start again. And knowing too that it would go wrong ONCE AGAIN, and that he would then have to send himself down in the form of a man to get nailed to some wood in order to make it better again. God knew all this in advance. “How silly is that?”, asks my fellow sceptic.

Pastor: “What about your children? You had children knowing that they would be naughty. Knowing that it would be difficult. Knowing that at times they would rebel against you. And yet you still chose to have them… I entered into fatherhood knowing that potentially my children could do wrong. Potentially they could cause me heartache and pain. I hope they wont but I chose to have children because I wanted a relationship them. Similarly this is why God chose to have children, as it were”

This is a poor and perhaps deceptive analogy. Humans aren’t omniscient. They do not possess complete knowledge of all future events. They don’t “know” what each of our children will or will not do during their lives. We understand that there’s a possibility that certain things may happen, but we don’t know this for a fact. If we knew in advance that our child would grow up to be a new Adolf Hitler I’m sure that most of us would not go ahead with the pregnancy. But none of us have this kind of knowledge. I offer the pastor an example relating to what I’ve just written:

Me: “Lets say that you’re at a dinner party and there’s a sexual chemistry between you and a certain lady. You’re both attracted to each other and it looks likely that things will progress so that both of you end up having sex. Suddenly God grants you the power to see into the future. You see that a consequence of you having sex with this lady will be her falling pregnant and giving birth to your baby. This baby grows up to be a tyrant of such magnitude as to put the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Genghis Khan to shame. In fact this child of yours goes on to become responsible for the deaths of hundreds of millions of innocent people. So, knowing this information in advance, would you still have sex with that lady?”
Pastor: [Pauses] “I don’t know because… err… people do stupid things… err… in selfish moments… that… that… are…”
Me: “But remember, you’ve been given a vision of what WILL happen in the future if you end up having sex with this lady”
Pastor: [Struggling to find the right answer] “I might be so infatuated and lustful after that lady”
Me: [Shocked] “So you’re not sure if you would or would not??”

Notice how he’s squirming away from offering a definite answer? He’s intelligent enough to know why I’m asking that particular question, and that’s why he’s choosing not to answer it. Think about this for a moment: I’ve just asked him if he would refrain from having sex with a stranger if he knew that by doing so he would save the lives of hundreds of millions of innocent people. And he couldn’t even bring himself to say, “Yes”. Remember, this chap is a university-educated man, an intelligent man, and a supposedly moral man so can he REALLY believe that a one-off sexual encounter with a stranger is more important than the lives of hundreds of millions of innocent people?? What kind of person does this make him out to be?

Stop and think for a moment about what the Pastor is saying here. Please, read again what he’s just said. Comments like his are particularly revealing about the mindset of the deeply religious individual.

I’m worried. Very worried. Aren’t you?

The conversation continues:

Pastor: “What I’m saying is that…. humanity… men…. some men… commit adultery, do immoral things, and are driven by sexual urges”
Me: “Surely that kind of prior knowledge would stunt those sexual urges?”
Pastor: “I don’t know. People have done things in life knowing that the consequences could be horrendous.”
Me: “And what kind of people does that make them? But anyway I’m not asking about other people, I’m asking about you. Would YOU go ahead regardless of the horrendous consequences you KNOW will occur?”
Pastor: [Long pause] “I know what you’re saying”
Me: “God had that kind of prior knowledge before he made mankind. God KNEW IN ADVANCE that he’d end up slaughtering most of us, that billions would die of starvation, and that there would be countless rapes and abuses perpetrated against innocent people. He also knew that Hitler would eventually arrive on the scene and be responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people. But God went ahead with it all the same. How is God not then culpable?”
Pastor: [Pause] “Satan is always wanting us to concentrate on the negative when it comes to God. But God has given wonders for humanity to experience, and when you do experience them they far outweigh the negatives. God delights in humanity delighting in his creation, and with them being with him and walking with him and loving him”
Lady Two: “Yes, loving him!”
Pastor: “And it all has to be taken into context and balance. We shouldn’t blame God for the negative”

It’s clear to see that these people will believe that God is good regardless of any evidence to the contrary. Nothing will budge them from this belief. And I mean nothing. Their minds are impenetrable to such thoughts.

Lady Two decides that now is a good time to tell us more about her personal testimony. You know the one by now: where she prayed for “100% faith” and God filled her with his Holy Spirit. Yes, that one. This time, though, she reveals more about the experience. Something very interesting in fact.

She tells us that many years ago she met a young man who she really liked. In fact she loved him. She adored him. He was “the one”. However, there was a problem. This young man was a Christian, and she wasn’t. The young man told her that, “I like you but I can’t go out with you if you’re not a Christian, because according to the Bible you shouldn’t go out with a non-believer because the relationship will be unevenly yoked”. Lo and behold that very night God filled her with his Holy Spirit and she became a Christian. She then went on to marry that young man. How terribly convenient!

I think Lady Two has revealed more than she needed to. She’s all but admitted that the experience was psychological rather than supernatural.

Sadly, however, her marriage to this gentleman was not to last. Who was to blame for the separation I wonder? Yes, you guessed it… Satan.

Yes, Satan had got in to the mind of her husband. She explains:

Lady Two: “The devil came in to my marriage. I saw my husband become depressed when he was around me. He wasn’t pulling his weight in the relationship. He wouldn’t even take the children to the park”
Me: “And do you think Satan was responsible for his change of attitude towards you?”
Lady Two: “Yes, I believe that Satan got into his head”

I wonder about the strength of Satan’s powers of deception, so I ask:

Me: “How powerful is Satan’s power of deception?”
Lady Two: “Very, very powerful”
Me: “So how do you know that Satan hasn’t deceived you into believing that God exists, when in fact there is no God?”
Lady Two: [Very long pause] “Because… err” [another long pause]
Me: “Remember, if you’re being deceived by ultra-powerful Satan then you won’t know that you you’re being deceived. His immense powers will see to that”
Lady Two: “It’s because…. err… because…I know… err… that night I did business with my maker. I spoke to him from the bottom of my soul. I did everything right. I said to him “I want you in my life”. I sought him. I said that I was sorry for everything I’d done in my life, and I meant it. I was picturing him as the holy God and me as his child”

Notice how she doesn’t actually answer the question? She just continues with her now famous testimony. For any “Lady Two” fans out there, who haven’t heard her testimony for at least one week, I’ll include the remainder of her “answer” here:

Me: “Yes, but I’m asking how do you know that all of that wasn’t a deception by Satan?”
Lady Two: “I said all of it in Jesus’ name and I had the filling of the Holy Spirit. It was a COMPLETE bathing in LOVE. That’s what it was. It was LOVE. I know it sounds a bit weird, but it was love. It was just like being on the edge of the seashore, and it was like a guiding hand. My brain thought, “What is this?” I actually remember saying to myself “What is this?” and it was a guiding hand that just started to pour in to me. And it was ABSOLUTE LOVE. After about seven waves of the spirit I was completely suspended in this state of utter joy and state of union with God. It was COMPLETELY LOVE. And I realised that the God that I’d sought all of my life was convincing me 100% that he was there. The irony is that I’d even said to a friend once that not even vicars could have 100% faith”

This is the 8th week of the course and I’m sure she’s told me her testimony during every single session so far. I conclude as follows:

Me: “So you do know when Satan is and is not deceiving you, yes?”
Lady Two: “Yes because it was complete love”
Me: “So it would appear that his powers of deception aren’t so powerful after all, then”

Sensing that she’s letting me slip away, and that her beloved testimony is failing to hit the mark (yet again), Lady Two cranks it up a notch:

Lady Two: “I’ve had healings as well. God has worked in my life on other occasions since that time! I once had laryngitis for weeks and I’d been telling everybody about the conversion I’d had, and I’d been trying to convince people to turn to God. I had the Holy Spirit pushed through the blockage in my throat and it healed me. A Baptist minister had the ‘touch of healing’ and we were praying for God to cure my laryngitis. And he did there and then”
Me: “Why doesn’t this gifted chap work his magic in the local children’s hospital? Why does he summon God to heal a woman with a sore throat, which rarely last for more than a few weeks anyway, but not a child stricken with leukaemia?”

My question is met with a deafening silence. They seem momentarily lost for words. That is until the pastor chips in with a stutter:

Pastor: “Actually there is a growing healing ministry in this area. We are seeing more and more people healed miraculously.”
Me: “And how many of these are scientifically verified?”
Pastor: “Well, I think there’s a real cynicism out there…”
New Christian Male: “Yes, they’re scared of losing their jobs”
Pastor: “But I’m sure there are some Christian doctors that have faith and will verify healings”
Me: “Why do medical students spend years at medical school, years earning their degrees, masters degrees and PhD’s, when all they have to do in order to cure someone of an illness is to offer up a quick prayer to God?”
Pastor: [Long pause] “Well… errr… I believe that God uses people’s skills as well”

If it’s the medical skills of the doctor that are responsible for the “healing” of a patient then why invoke God at all?? Why say that God uses the doctor and his skills to heal people? This is like claiming that your favourite football team won their match because you were wearing your lucky socks. You can quip to any potential sceptic, “Oh yes, the footballers themselves played a big part in the win, but my lucky socks intensify the footballers’ skill levels”. This is nothing but superstitious thinking. But how do these Christian claims differ from superstitious thinking? I don’t see how they do.

Lady Two continues in full flow:

Lady Two: “If you’re in the Lord he will honour you and bless you and give you ministries. If you are obeying him in your life, and he knows when you’ve done business with him, he knows when you’ve humbled yourself before him, confessed your sins, and asked him to be your Lord and master, he knows when you’ve meant it. He knows you inside out. When your heart is in union with him, he knows that. All I’m saying is that THAT NIGHT I reached him because I MEANT BUSINESS WITH HIM”.

Oh boy, am I glad I attended the Alpha Course. This is fun!

She then adds that “if life is just a joyride for seventy years, you get married, go on holidays, and have kids…[then] it’s all a waste of time if at the end of it we all go to dust! That thought depresses me!”

Religious beliefs may be consoling, but that doesn’t make them true. And that is precisely what the Alpha Course is about, demonstrating the truth of Christianity to non-Christians like me. Sadly I’ve seen nothing to demonstrate that in the 8 weeks that I’ve been in attendance.

And like I’ve asked in a previous blog entry, why would the fact that life is temporary make it a waste of time? I ask:

Me: “If you have a night at the theatre, and at the end of the magnificent performance the curtains come down, would you think, “Oh, it’s finished. It doesn’t go on forever? What a complete waste of time that was, then!” Would you really think that”?
Lady Two: “I’m not interested in entertainment”

Maybe not, but she certainly provides plenty of it for me! Notice, too, how she didn’t actually answer the question.

Lady Two sits motionless for a moment, as if summoning up a diagnosis for my scepticism. Suddenly it dawns on her, and she says:

Lady Two: “You know what your problem is, don’t you? I think that God is telling me what your big problem is. Do you know what it is?”
Me: “I don’t know. What is it?”
Lady Two: “You’re doing what loads of people do. But I can honestly say I NEVER did it.”
Me: “And what’s that?”
Lady Two:BLAME GOD

She pauses for a moment, looks me in the eye and continues:

Lady Two: “You’re saying ‘he’s done this’ and ‘he’s done that’. You’re blaming God!”
The Group As A Whole: “Yes you are!”
Pastor: “That’s the thing that is stopping you from believing”
Me: “Do you mean a lack of evidence?”
Pastor: “No. You’re of the stance that if there is a God then you’re going to blame him for everything. That’s what stopping you believing in him. Just as Nicky Gumbel said in his presentation: In the very beginning Satan said, “I’m going to blame God”.”

The group nod in agreement. I sit smiling. But before I have chance to respond the pastor says, “Time’s up!”

Everyone laughs, including me.

Lady Three wants to end the session by reading aloud a Bible verse. She reads Isaiah 66:1-2:

“This is what the LORD says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” declares the LORD. “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.”

It’s been an interesting evening. Once again I’ve enjoyed it immensely. We’re all about to pack our things away when suddenly Lady Two says to me, “Try to see him [God] as Holy in your mind. See him as Holy, and then see yourself as just his child.” I respond by saying that I’d have to first believe that God exists, but I can’t do that until I’m aware of some sufficient evidence in his favour. She’s flabbergasted that I don’t accept her testimony as an example of such sufficient evidence, and snaps at me, “Then what happened to me that night??!!” I respond politely with “You had an experience”

The pastor shouts, “STOP!”. He smiles, and I know what he’s smiling for. He knows that Lady Two is getting ready to give me her testimony again, in full. So he’s nipped it in the bud to save us an additional twenty minutes.

The pastor officially ends the session with a prayer. Everyone reaches for their jackets. As I’m packing my things away and reaching for my coat Lady Two shuffles over to the chair beside me and says, “I’m dying to convince you! I’m dying to convince you!”

Lady Two: “When I had my experience I was a respected teacher so I was sure that people would believe me. People know that I’m not a liar; they know I’m respectable, so I thought I’d be able to convince them. I was a teacher, so why would I lie?”
Me: “What about the experiences of teachers that aren’t Christians? What about the testimony of, say, a Muslim teacher? Would you believe his or her testimony because he or she was a teacher? You wouldn’t believe them, would you?”
Lady Two: “I only know what I found”
Me: “And they say the same thing. Remember, I’m looking at this objectively, so what reason would I have for believing that your experience was true and theirs wasn’t?”
Lady Two: “I don’t know”
Me: “You don’t find such testimony to be convincing, regardless of how sincere the person may be. Regardless of how trustworthy they normally are, or of what job they have.”
Lady Two: “I don’t know about Muslims. I only know about what I’ve been brought up with in this country. I just want to work for peace and to be a good person. I don’t believe in killing people. Some of these people [Muslims] go out and kill in the name of their God. As Christians we’re not supposed to do that at all.”
Me: “Christians have been killing people for centuries. How do you explain the Crusades, the Inquisition, or the witch trials?”
Lady Two: “When the Holy Spirit comes upon you you’re supposed to align yourself with God and follow a pure life devoted to him.”
Me: “I understand that you’re passionate about your belief in God, and I’ve learned over the last couple of months that you’re incredibly keen to tell me all about how you came to Christ. But obviously you know that I’m not convinced by it, but I must stress that I don’t think you’re lying to me. I don’t doubt that you’ve had an experience of some kind, but that is not enough in itself to convince me that your God exists. You yourself do not believe such testimonies. They are not enough to convince you. You wouldn’t believe a Muslim, a Sikh or a Hindu.”
Lady Two: “No, because I believe in the Trinity”
Me: “So you wouldn’t believe a word they said, no matter how strong their conviction, yes?”
Lady Two: “That’s right. But I believe in a merciful God. I hope somehow he will be merciful [to them]. That’s what I hope. But all I know is this – it does say in the word of God that you only come to God through the Son.”
Me: “The word of your God, yes. But they also have the word of their god. They have their own holy books. This isn’t enough to convince you, though.”
Lady Two: “Right”
Me: “They have experiences, just like you do. But, again, this isn’t enough to convince you that what they’re saying is true”
Lady Two: “Right”
Me: “Then you must appreciate the fact that I’m not convinced by what you’re saying. Remember, you’re just as sceptical as I am.”
Lady Two: “Right”
Me: “What I’d like you to do is to think of something that you would find convincing if it was given to you by someone of a different religion. A method that you would trust. We know that you don’t necessarily trust personal experiences. You’re not necessarily swayed by Holy books, or by faith. So what trustworthy method do you have for showing me that your God exists?”
Lady Two: “Some of them [people of other religions] lead very good lives but some of them are killing. It’s like when they drove them aeroplanes into them buildings on September the 11th. That’s not what God wants! That’s not a loving God!”
Me: “The mindset of those people that committed the atrocities on 911 is not representative of all Muslims. Those people were fanatics. Not all Muslims are fanatics. Are we to dismiss a religion because some of its adherents kill people? There are Christian fanatics too, don’t forget. We have Christians today killing doctors who perform abortions. We’ve had Christians who burned an untold number of “witches” at the stake. We’ve had the Crusades and the Inquisition. Christians have killed millions. Am I to dismiss Christianity because of the Christian fanatics throughout history?”
Lady Two: “The Christian faith is a faith of love. It’s a faith of “go in peace” and of “love thy neighbour”. It’s a faith with the fruits of the Holy Spirit in your heart.”
Me: “Is it a good argument in favour of dismissing a religion if some of its adherents have committed atrocities and killed people?”
Lady Two: “It is for me”
Me: “Ok, so I should dismiss Christianity for that very reason then, yes?”
Lady Two: “No”
Me: “Then that’s double standards”
Lady Two: [Long pause] “I can only tell you how I found God, and that was through the Trinity”
Me: “That’s all well and good, but it’s not enough to convince someone else. Remember, you don’t necessarily find personal experiences to be convincing. And neither do I.”
Lady Two: “I just know it was a God of love that filled me up”

She then offers me her testimony once again. The whole she-bang: How she prayed for 100% faith, how the Bible sank into her chest, how God’s love poured into her, and how the Holy Spirit filled her up. She finishes it off with, “I long to convince you, Stephen!”

Me: “I could be convinced by evidence that stands up to scrutiny. However, everything I’ve heard so far does not.”
Lady Two: “Ok. [Pauses as she has a long think] The day I went to that prayer meeting [the one where her laryngitis was healed] I heard a voice say to me, “God wants to heal you at three o’clock”. And it was about three o’clock that I got healed!”

I tell her that I’m glad that her throat got better, but that she’s just offering me an account of a personal experience. It doesn’t register with her, though. She carries on:

Lady Two: “It was like a dam in my throat. There was a blockage and there was this force that came up in my throat and pushed this blockage out, and I heard God say, “Pray!” so I just prayed out loud and my voice was normal again!”

Once again, I tell her that I’m glad that her throat got better, but that it’s nothing more than an example of her “personal experience”. She doesn’t seem to get the message, though, and carries on unperturbed:

Lady Two: “All I know is that it was a God of love that filled me up that night. I knew I’d done my business with him, and I’d said sorry for the sin in my life. I prayed these things in Jesus’ name, so I did things according to the Trinity. That’s how I got my answer”
Me: “As I’ve said before, that’s all well and good but it’s your own experience, not mine. These things aren’t necessarily enough to convince others, and you agree because you aren’t convinced by the testimonies of people from other religions.”
Lady Two: “But I do believe God is a God of love and that he wants to save everybody”

She pauses for a moment, smiles at me and says in an almost begging manner, “Just try. Please, TRY your best to see God as a loving father who created you and wants you to be in union with him. Get serious about him! Are you prepared to be his servant? For him to be your Lord and master?”

Me: “If I find evidence in support of that then maybe I will, yes”
Lady Two: “I saw him as my father and I was his child. I wanted to obey him. I wanted to put myself right with him. Is your DESIRE to want to be right with him? Do you want to deal with your sin? Have got that DESIRE?”
Me: “If there’s something there then I’ll act on it. As yet, though, there’s nothing there. But who knows? By the time this course has finished I might have found something. We’ll see. I must be honest with myself and with the group. I won’t lie to you”
Lady Two: “Just think about if everybody followed the word of God, if we all had one husband or one wife and we all had a happy little family. If we all prayed with our families, children were obedient to parents, and there was no sleeping around or pre-marital sex. Just imagine if everybody obeyed the word of God!”
Me: “Like I said last week, God could have made a system like that in the first place. But he didn’t”
Lady Two: “He’s tried”
Me: “Again, like I said last week, he can’t ‘try’ anything, he’s supposedly all-powerful.”
Lady Two: “He’s tried!”
Me: “The simple fact of the matter is that he could have made a system where everyone got along, where people didn’t abuse children or rape old ladies. But he didn’t create such a system. He must take at least some of the blame. If he exists, that is”
Lady Two: “I promise you he does. I promise you with all my heart that he does exist!”
Me: “Well, like I say, think of some good evidence, using a method you find to be trustworthy, and I’ll have a look at it. I can’t be fairer than that”
Lady Two: [She thinks for a moment, then continues] “I think this country generally works for good. It’s a Christian country and it generally works for good. That’s the main ethos behind us. Parliament says prayers on a morning. We are generally a Christian country. I think the power of prayer has kept us strong. We defeated Hitler. During the war years there were lots of vicars praying and praying and praying, and God answered them. He made us defeat Hitler.”
Me: “And what about the German vicars who were praying and praying and praying? Did their prayers fail?”
Lady Two: “The power of prayer won against the evils. Prayer is winning against the evils all the time”

I suppose the skill and bravery of the allied soldiers had nothing to do with it, then? Just like my lucky socks influencing the result of a football match, the prayers of British people – to a Christian God – made sure of our victory. The soldiers’ participation in the war was just incidental. Madness!

I’ve always been fascinated by prayer, and the claims that people make regarding it’s supposed efficacy. I decide to put prayer to the test. Let’s see if Lady Two finds answered prayers to be a convincing method for showing the truth of religious claims:

Me: “Is there anything in your life that you’d like to happen sometime soon?”
Lady Two: “Yes, I want to get back with my husband”
Me: “Ok, how about I pray tonight to Lord Vishnu and ask him to guide your husband back into your life?”
Lady Two: “Who is Lord Vishnu?”
Me: “A Hindu god”
Lady Two: “Oh”
Me: “So, I’ll make the prayer tonight and if you and your husband are reconciled anytime soon then that will be all the proof you need to show that Lord Vishnu has answered my prayer. Yes?”
Lady Two: “No, no”
Me: [Chuckling] “Do you see what I mean?”
Lady Two: [Embarrassed and frustrated giggle] “Yes”
Me: “You don’t even accept answered prayers as evidence. So why expect me to accept them, then?” [Nor does she trust “holy books”, “personal experiences”, or “faith”. What a sceptic!]
Lady Two: [Long pause. She takes a deep breath and, looking frustrated, begs with me again] “If only I could give you my experience. You would just… you know… you would just ABSOLUTELY believe.”
Me: [Still chuckling] “And if a Muslim was sat next to you now and said, “If only I could give you my experience. You would just absolutely believe” you wouldn’t find his sincerely held belief to be in the least bit convincing.”
Lady Two: “It was complete love that poured into me. It POURED into me”

At this point I put my hand on her shoulder and say reassuringly, “I don’t doubt that you’ve had an experience. I don’t doubt you.”
She bows her head and in apparent dejection she whispers, “I don’t know how to convince you, Stephen”

Me: “You could convince me with some decent evidence”
Lady Two: “I’d love to convince you!”

She pauses for a while. Everyone else, with the exception of the pastor, has gone home. I smile and reach for my jacket. This triggers her into having another go at convincing me:

Lady Two: “Christian countries are surviving, and there’s lots of Christians coming in to the fold everyday.”
Me: “There are Christians starving to death in Africa. In what we call Christian countries.”
Lady Two: “Yes, I know, but the United Nations are on to it, aren’t they. They’re trying to do something about it.”
Me: “Why doesn’t God do something about it? He could put crops in the fields and rainwater in the lakes and rivers in an instant. But he doesn’t”
Lady Two: “Because he’s given us free will”

Talk about going round and round in circles! This conversation looks as though it could go on for an eternity. I bend down for a drink of water, and it’s at this point the pastor wanders over to us, looks at his watch and states that it is time that he locked up. We all laugh.

Tonight’s session has been an absolute corker. What I need now is a very strong cup of coffee!

November 3, 2008 - Posted by | Alpha Course, Atheism, Christianity, God, Religion, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

44 Comments »

  1. Absolutely fantastic read as ever Stephen. I wish I could deal with the faithheads on my alpha course half as well as you do. Maybe a quick prayer to Vishnu will do the trick…

    Comment by EaseThisJam | November 3, 2008

  2. I found myself facepalming at their actions all the way through, it’s like a huge wall in their minds that prevents understanding

    Comment by Stylesjl | November 4, 2008

  3. “Why does it? Why would a non-theistic worldview have great difficulty explaining existence without “spiritual” forces of evil being present?”
    Answer it then. Explain what he’s referring to as the spiritual forces of evil from a non theist world view. It’s a simple point of Gumble’s. Hardly worth examining imho.

    “That’s right, whatever you do make sure you don’t have any doubts about God’s existence! If you do then you’re obviously in the first stages of Satan’s deception, and if you continue doubting you’re going to be brutally attacked, somehow. Scary stuff indeed!”
    I don’t mean to be insulting but that’s laughable. Take you, now. You choose not to want to be in touch with what will make you healthy, so you’re choosing ill health, or death, in spiritual terms. I don’t think it’s that hard a concept to grasp. Why the ridiculous conclusion?

    “What a great deterrent against free thought, huh?”
    Funny. To me it seems like you’re trying to limit free thought with deliberately nieve logic.

    The Adam and Eve story

    You couldn’t really think that this story was actually literally true in isolation and not, as is glaringly obvious, a description of human nature. To me at least, that would be ludicrous. Also then, would it be ludicrous to extract the story, as you have done, away from it’s contextual meaning tied in as it is with the description of humanity.

    “Hmmm, is this “enemy” God by any chance? Sounds just like him! He puts a thought in our minds by placing a mysterious, magical tree in front of inquisitive animals such as us, and then condemns us for acting upon that very thought!”
    And that’s really messing with the logic. We cause ourselves distress by our natural actions separating ourselves from our healthy state. No. To you our health is actually our illness… you can see why I object to your bastardisation of the Christian message I hope. Yours is one very confused logic.

    “I’m trying my best to keep a straight face here. Seriously, I am. The kind of language that these Christians use is just so childish. They speak of an invisible kingdom, ruled by a magical and invisible man, who isn’t particularly keen on men kissing other men but is quite partial to impregnating young virgins and handing out real estate to a bunch of nomadic goat-herders in the olden days. In the eight weeks so far I’ve seen no reason to believe that what they’re claiming has any basis in reality, but I’ve had very good reasons to believe that what they’re offering up are nothing but infantile fairy tales.”
    For you, that something could be described so simply defies your right to apply your intellectual might that must be needed to solve such a complex problem. That such a simple answer might be true is insulting. You roll out banal rhetoric in the face of logic.

    “Isn’t it amazing that ordinary, everyday folk can walk in to a hospital, sit at the foot of the bed of a person who is in a deep coma, and manage to bring them back to full consciousness simply by muttering the magical words, “In the name of your son, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, give this man new life”? I’m sure that today’s medical science community would love to speak to these talented lads. Don’t you?

    And another thing: If it’s possible to change cretins into pillars of the community, then why aren’t these gifted Christians praying to God to change the mindset of paedophiles and rapists?”
    He didn’t say about bringing the person back to full consciousness. He was talking about spiritual life and death – something entirely different, that you seem to have missed.

    People of every persuasion are changed similarly, every day. Even wealthy cretins like you and I.

    It isn’t people that do the changing, but God.

    “I’m still fascinated, and perplexed, by this kind of claim. It’s all so wishy-washy, so vague, so unfalsifiable, and so… imaginary. The creator of the universe talks to these people, but none can offer a decent argument to support such a claim. It really blows my mind how they expect to get away with such fanciful notions.”
    The Devil wanted Jesus to prove he was God once and for all by throwing himself off a mountain, and by saving himself the suffering of crucifixion. Then we’d all have undeniable proof. Why didn’t he do that? Do you need it explaining to you? Do you not see the logic?

    “This is a poor and perhaps deceptive analogy. Humans aren’t omniscient. They do not possess complete knowledge of all future events. They don’t “know” what each of our children will or will not do during their lives. We understand that there’s a possibility that certain things may happen, but we don’t know this for a fact. If we knew in advance that our child would grow up to be a new Adolf Hitler I’m sure that most of us would not go ahead with the pregnancy. But none of us have this kind of knowledge”
    The Bible is written in human language, so that we can understand it the best we can. The pastor shouldn’t shy away from the question, it’s not a difficult one. You limit God with your understanding of him. That doesn’t make you right, it makes you ill-informed. If you can’t answer how it’s possible to understand more than the infinite then logically, surely you can have incomplete understanding of such a being. Sorta nonsense question really.

    “It’s clear to see that these people will believe that God is good regardless of any evidence to the contrary. Nothing will budge them from this belief. And I mean nothing. Their minds are impenetrable to such thoughts.”
    You mean it’s impossible for you. Clearly, God IS good. God is love. That’s what you come to understand if you read it correctly. It’s like you are saying water is dry. Hopefully no sane person would agree with you. You are reading from your own dictionary, that no one else has access to. Speak the same language and perhaps communication will occur.

    “Oh boy, am I glad I attended the Alpha Course. This is fun!”
    Your enjoyment seems to be in the mocking of people who don’t think precisely as you do. You take pride in offering seemingly to you, bullet proof arguments, whilst totally avoiding the real subject yourself where it applies to your own understanding.

    “Am I to dismiss Christianity because of the Christian fanatics throughout history?””
    Funny, I thought that was precisely the root of your opinion.

    ““If I find evidence in support of that then maybe I will, yes” “
    There you have it – The Bible says you can’t have evidence, yet you demand it as a condition. How ridiculous. Why do you even begin along the road. You dumbfound me.

    ““If there’s something there then I’ll act on it. As yet, though, there’s nothing there. But who knows? By the time this course has finished I might have found something. We’ll see. I must be honest with myself and with the group. I won’t lie to you” “
    rotfl

    ““Again, like I said last week, he can’t ‘try’ anything, he’s supposedly all-powerful.” “
    But we know your understanding is distorted.

    Regards,
    Mark

    Comment by m0rk | November 4, 2008

  4. Hello M0rk,

    I haven’t had sufficient time to answer individual comments as of late, but luckily I’m in the unusual position of having a spare 10mins or so.

    So, now then, where do I start…

    “To me it seems like you’re trying to limit free thought with deliberately nieve logic… And that’s really messing with the logic… Yours is one very confused logic… You roll out banal rhetoric in the face of logic… Do you not see the logic?”
    You’re quite fond of “logic” I see. Just out of curiosity, which examples of “logic” are you referring to? Highlight a few for me. Thanks.

    “Answer it then. Explain what he’s referring to as the spiritual forces of evil from a non theist world view. It’s a simple point of Gumble’s. Hardly worth examining imho.”
    It is not my burden to disprove the existence of “spiritual forces”. My worldview is self-evident. Nature exists. I have nothing to explain. If you, or Nicky Gumbel, want to argue for the existence of “spiritual forces”, or for the existence of intelligent beings that transcend nature, then you’re more than welcome. Offer your explanation and, dare I say, offer your evidence (I’m aware that you’re not particularly fond of that word, though). Maybe I shouldn’t hold my breath.

    “Take you, now. You choose not to want to be in touch with what will makes you healthy, so you’re choosing ill health, or death, in spiritual terms. I don’t think it’s that hard a concept to grasp.”
    I’m “choosing” nothing of the sort. It is literally IMPOSSIBLE for me to believe some of the claims that are being made on the Alpha Course.

    “The Adam and Eve story: You couldn’t really think that this story was actually literally true in isolation and not, as is glaringly obvious, a description of human nature. To me at least, that would be ludicrous.”
    These people consider the Adam and Eve story to be literally true. You think they’re being ludicrous? I agree.

    “It isn’t people that do the changing, but God.”
    You admit that God changes people, but he doesn’t change the mindset of paedophiles and rapists. I wonder why that is? I thought he was concerned with our welfare?

    “The Devil wanted Jesus to prove he was God once and for all by throwing himself off a mountain, and by saving himself the suffering of crucifixion. Then we’d all have undeniable proof. Why didn’t he do that? Do you need it explaining to you?”
    Yes please. That would be lovely.

    “Clearly, God IS good. God is love. That’s what you come to understand if you read it correctly”
    Clearly he’s good? Have you read the Old Testament by any chance? If you have then perhaps you haven’t read it “correctly”?

    “The Bible says you can’t have evidence, yet you demand it as a condition. How ridiculous. Why do you even begin along the road. You dumbfound me.”
    I dumbfound you because I ask for some evidence??? My goodness, are you serious? In order to function as grounds for belief – particularly in a case of this magnitude, where my eternal well being is supposedly on the line – evidence must precede the acceptance of an idea. If you’re admitting there is no evidence then why should I take anything you say seriously? What grounds would I have for believing any of it? How could you possibly be of any assistance here? Think about that.

    Cheers,

    S. Butterfield

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | November 4, 2008

  5. “I haven’t had sufficient time to answer individual comments as of late, but luckily I’m in the unusual position of having a spare 10mins or so.”
    oh goodie

    “You’re quite fond of “logic” I see. Just out of curiosity, which examples of “logic” are you referring to? Highlight a few for me. Thanks.”
    Theology is based on logic. You don’t seem to want to start thinking about it. The Bible is a logical proposition. You trash all of it in your deliberately childish style.

    “It is not my burden to disprove the existence of “spiritual forces”. My worldview is self-evident. Nature exists. I have nothing to explain. If you, or Nicky Gumbel, want to argue for the existence of “spiritual forces”, or for the existence of intelligent beings that transcend nature, then you’re more than welcome. Offer your explanation and, dare I say, offer your evidence (I’m aware that you’re not particularly fond of that word, though). Maybe I shouldn’t hold my breath.”
    Cop out. Nature exists explains all of the bad stuff that happens in the world does it? Perhaps Nicky was correct then.

    “I’m “choosing” nothing of the sort. It is literally IMPOSSIBLE for me to believe some of the claims that are being made on the Alpha Course.”
    You’re choosing nothing of the sort because you don’t understand that that’s what we’re talking about. Simple as that. You have a basic lack of knowledge of the facts, apparently fuelled by very commonly quoted rhetoric. And people say that the religious are blind sheep.

    “These people consider the Adam and Eve story to be literally true. You think they’re being ludicrous? I agree.”
    No, you mis-quote them because you refuse to understand the wider context.


    You admit that God changes people, but he doesn’t change the mindset of paedophiles and rapists. I wonder why that is? I thought he was concerned with our welfare?”

    He changes and doesn’t change people as he wants. If you choose to be a rapist or paedophile then that’s your choice. I might kill you if I knew of you, but God offers unlimited love and forgiveness to you, which is why he’s so good, and I’m not. You say he’s bad for not changing you and not letting you have the choice. To me, simple logic. To you, an impossible and confusing contradiction.

    ““The Devil wanted Jesus to prove he was God once and for all by throwing himself off a mountain, and by saving himself the suffering of crucifixion. Then we’d all have undeniable proof. Why didn’t he do that? Do you need it explaining to you?”

    Yes please. That would be lovely.”
    & you don’t see the absurdity of that question. God is telling you, in the Bible, that it isn’t his nature to provide solid proof. That is counter truth. Your existence wouldn’t be what it is now, this beautiful world and it’s beautiful nature wouldn’t exist, not with physical laws in place as it’d be un-natural. God is natural. God created this world as it is, as you experience it and can observe it.

    “Clearly he’s good? Have you read the Old Testament by any chance?”
    Clearly you read it and understood nothing.

    “I dumbfound you because I ask for some evidence??? My goodness, are you serious? In order to function as grounds for belief – particularly in cases of this magnitude, where my eternal well being is on the line – evidence must precede the acceptance of an idea. If you’re admitting there is no evidence then why should I take anything you say seriously? What grounds would I have for believing any of it? How could you possibly be of any assistance here? Think about that.”
    Yes you’re being absolutely ridiculous. There isn’t a mallet big enough it seems to get through your skull the fact that God will not provide solid proof of existence. How plain can I make that. How plain can the Bible make that.

    I can’t believe that you seriously ask me to consider such a contradiction to stated fact when it comes to Christianity. I know, but you don’t seem to, that Christianity isn’t what you think it is.

    Regards,
    Mark

    Comment by m0rk | November 4, 2008

  6. “Theology is based on logic. You don’t seem to want to start thinking about it. The Bible is a logical proposition. You trash all of it in your deliberately childish style.”
    I’m asking you to give me a particular example (or examples) of this “logic” that I’m supposedly not understanding. Let’s have a look at it/them. Thanks.

    “Nature exists explains all of the bad stuff that happens in the world does it?”
    Doesn’t it? If you disagree then I’ll ask you once again… If you want to argue for the existence of “spiritual forces”, or for the existence of intelligent beings that transcend nature, then you’re more than welcome. Let’s hear what you have to say.

    “You have a basic lack of knowledge of the facts, apparently fuelled by very commonly quoted rhetoric.”
    Which “facts” are those? Give me some examples please.

    “… you mis-quote them because you refuse to understand the wider context.”
    I haven’t misquoted anyone. The words you see in the blog are from the digitally recorded audio, verbatim. I think it’s clear to see that you have more of a problem with the members of the Alpha Course group than you have with me. You don’t like what they say, and neither do I. We agree. So what’s your problem?

    “He [God] changes and doesn’t change people as he wants.”
    Exactly. He changes the heart of a naughty young boy or a certain man in a coma, but he doesn’t seem as keen to change the hearts of paedophiles and rapists that litter every society on earth. Maybe God needs to re-evaluate his priorities?

    “Your existence wouldn’t be what it is now, this beautiful world and it’s beautiful nature wouldn’t exist, not with physical laws in place as it’d be un-natural. God is natural. God created this world as it is, as you experience it and can observe it.”
    No sermons please. Thanks.

    “God is telling you, in the Bible, that it isn’t his nature to provide solid proof. That is counter truth… Yes you’re being absolutely ridiculous. There isn’t a mallet big enough it seems to get through your skull the fact that God will not provide solid proof of existence.”
    Terribly convenient, isn’t it? The thing is, M0rk – and I don’t know if I need one of those big mallets of yours to drive this point home – without supporting evidence in favour of your God’s existence I have absolutely no grounds for believing him to exist. You think that’s being ridiculous, do you? Seeing as evidence means nothing to you, I suppose you’re open to believing in absolutely anything, then? Yes?

    By the way, I’m all for sensible and cordial discussion but you’re getting a tad close to the bone with some of your recent comments. Let’s keep it civil, please.

    Cheers,

    S. Butterfield

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | November 4, 2008

  7. Hi Stephen,
    I hope you had a nice trip to the Algarve. I see you’ve been exercising faith in the airlines and the pilot (wink, wink).
    While I’ve enjoyed reading your blog especially your sense of humor, I believe the disucssion has strayed off the main reason you signed up for the Alpha Course to begin with. That is, could the claims of Christianity be true? I have no problem if you decide to reject Jesus and Christianity, but I just want to make sure you have the facts straight and know what you are rejecting.
    So here in a nutshell are the claims of Christianity:
    1. You exist, the world exists (hopefully there is no disagreement with this point)
    2. We will all die. (2 for 2 I hope)
    3. We’ve all done bad things. Some much worse than others. (3 for 3!)
    4. There is a God, a holy and just God. (Alright, I realize this is where you get off but hopefully you will hear me out)
    5. Because God is just, he will punish all the murderers,rapists and pedophiles very harshly. Unless we are perfect we will also be judged according to what we have done. (Hitler will get punished much more severely than we will, but we will get our due)
    6. Since none of us are perfect, none of us can know a holy God or be with Him.
    7. God is also a loving God, God wants us to know Him and be with Him.
    8. But a Holy God can not coexist with tainted humans. (Much like matter and anti-matter)
    9. The only way for God and man to coexist is to deal with the sin that humans have committed.
    10. He could have snapped his fingers to do away with sin, but that would not have satisfied his justice and would have minimized sin. (Would you be satisified if the penalty for a serial murder was a snap of the finger?)
    11. Instead God came to earth as a man, lived a perfect life, and was crucified. While He was on the cross God poured out His wrath on Him and thus paid the penalty of sin for mankind and satisfied the justice of God. (Too bad we didn’t live in Israel during Jesus’ time, otherwise we could have viewed the events firsthand and had a boatload of evidence!)
    12. To demonstrate His power over death, he was resurrected, ascended back into heaven and promises to return.
    13. In order to let future generations know that God did come to the earth, it’s all documented in the Bible. (No cameras or DVD players back then, too bad)
    14. Now whoever trusts their life in the hands of Jesus can have their sins paid for on the cross(forgiven) and have a relationship with God. Those who reject this message will still have to pay the penalty of their own sin after they die.
    Now if you understand this message and reject it, then be on your merry way and go live your life the way you want. Just don’t be ignorant about what you are rejecting and don’t blame God when you are rightfully judged. But if you do find some truth to this message, let’s continue on the journey. Please let me know if you have any questions or do not understand any part of the message. Also, I wanted to ask you what type of evidence will you accept?

    Thanks,
    Frank

    Comment by Frank W. | November 5, 2008

  8. “I’m asking you to give me a particular example (or examples) of this “logic” that I’m supposedly not understanding. Let’s have a look at it/them. Thanks.”
    We have enough we’re already discussing/ youhave raised, we don’t need any more. It’d confuse things.

    “Doesn’t it? If you disagree then I’ll ask you once again… If you want to argue for the existence of “spiritual forces”, or for the existence of intelligent beings that transcend nature, then you’re more than welcome. Let’s hear what you have to say.”
    Thing is you aren’t bothering to describe it with that statement, seemingly supporting Nicky Gumble’s point.

    “I haven’t misquoted anyone. The words you see in the blog are from the digitally recorded audio, verbatim. I think it’s clear to see that you have more of a problem with the members of the Alpha Course group than you have with me. You don’t like what they say, and neither do I. We agree. So what’s your problem?”
    You’ve quoted them verbatim and added your own misinterpretation. Forgive my ineloquence. I trust your dictation, but I also know what they are saying. You seem not to.

    “Exactly. He changes the heart of a naughty young boy or a certain man in a coma, but he doesn’t seem as keen to change the hearts of paedophiles and rapists that litter every society on earth. Maybe God needs to re-evaluate his priorities?”
    He doesn’t forcibly change anyone, and that’s the point. You the paedophile he leaves to make up your own mind if you’re right or wrong. To “re-evaluate his priorities” he’d have to remove free will. Simple and logical.

    “No sermons please. Thanks.”
    lmao.

    “Terribly convenient, isn’t it? The thing is, M0rk – and I don’t know if I need one of those big mallets of yours to drive this point home – without supporting evidence in favour of your God’s existence I have absolutely no grounds for believing him to exist. You think that’s being ridiculous, do you? Seeing as evidence means nothing to you, I suppose you’re open to believing in absolutely anything, then? Yes?”
    Like assuming 1 + 1 is 2, yes, it’s convenient; and also entirely logical. That’s the conundrum presented to you by the Bible. In Jesus own lifetime, to the people who actually saw him, he provided no conclusive proof. You seem to want more, which isn’t ever what the Bible or Christianity offers, but you persist with the futile search for it. Yes I’m flabberghasted at your futile search.

    “By the way, I’m all for sensible and cordial discussion but you’re getting a tad close to the bone with some of your recent comments. Let’s keep it civil, please.”
    No problem. I think you push boundaries too. Aplogies if I overstepped the mark, I’ll try to reign it in.

    Regards,
    Mark

    Comment by m0rk | November 5, 2008

  9. Stephen

    Excellent blog as usual.

    If I’ve understood you correctly, your stance appears to be not so much a rejection of Christianity but rather total scepticism about the existence of a spiritual (or supernatural) dimension. In short, you doubt there is anything but the material world and what we experience through our five senses. I have a suggestion for you – 2 very interesting books.

    [important note: speaking a Christian, my guide is the Word of God as set out in the Bible supplemented by plenty of prayer.]

    1) Read about Edgar Cayce (see ‘There is a River’, a biography of his life http://www.amazon.com/Story-Edgar-Cayce-There-River/dp/0876043759). There are so many aspects of Cayce’s life (his ‘miracle’ cures, his ‘readings’) which simply cannot be explained unless you accept the existence of a spiritual dimension. I would like to hear you argue otherwise. Now, I do not for one moment believe that everything he said through his trances was inspired by God – possibly, the complete opposite, – but I offer Cayce’s life as an example of supernatural forces working through him:

    2) Read: The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot. Again, similar questions are posed here as in Cayce but this book is completely mind-blowing. A taster: “Author Talbot writes that “. . . there is evidence to suggest that our world and everything in it. . . are also only ghostly images, projections from a level of reality so beyond our own it is literally beyond both space and time.” Hence, the title of his book. Beginning with the work of physicist David Bohm and neurophysiologist Karl Pribram, both of whom independently arrived at holographic theories or models of the universe, Talbot explains in clear terms the theory and physics of holography and its application, both in science and in explanation of the paranormal and psychic. His theory of reality accommodates this latest thinking in physics as well as many unresolved mind-body questions. ”

    As I said above, I offer these suggestions ONLY as a way to shake you from your apparent conviction that the spiritual world does not exist. Changing this conviction is only the first part of your journey, but I am convinced you are so fixed in your thinking that something less orthodox is required. For the record, I am fairly certain that non-benevolent spirits were working through Cayce…the deception of Satan, perhaps.

    Comment by Anthony | November 5, 2008

  10. Hello Frank,

    In response to your 14 points:

    I’m with you on the first 3. However, as it stands at the moment I can’t see how points 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12 and 14 are anything other than wishful thinking. Point 10 requires an explanation, and point 13 is merely an example of what you “believe”.

    “ Also, I wanted to ask you what type of evidence will you accept?”

    The type of “evidence” that doesn’t collapse under the slightest scrutiny, isn’t demonstrably false, or isn’t contradictory in nature.

    All the best,

    S. Butterfield

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | November 5, 2008

  11. Hello M0rk,

    “We have enough we’re already discussing/ you have raised, we don’t need any more. It’d confuse things.”
    Quite clearly, then, you have failed to 1) offer me the specific examples of “logic” that I’m supposedly failing to understand, and 2) argue for the existence of “spiritual forces” or for the existence of intelligent beings that transcend nature.

    I have no problem with you failing to support your claims, M0rk, but it does make for somewhat of a short debate. Seeing as that is the case I’ll keep this response brief.

    “In Jesus own lifetime, to the people who actually saw him, he provided no conclusive proof. You seem to want more, which isn’t ever what the Bible or Christianity offers, but you persist with the futile search for it. Yes I’m flabberghasted at your futile search.”
    Ok, here’s where you’re going wrong… My website is not entitled “Christianity: Reviewed” or “The Bible: Reviewed”, it’s entitled “Alpha Course: Reviewed”. I’m not writing a review of the Bible or of Christianity in general, I’m writing a review of my time spent on the Alpha Course. You say that I’m being ridiculous by looking for evidence in favour of the Christian God. But here’s the important point that you seem unable to grasp…this course claims to have such evidence! It claims to have supporting and persuasive arguments to demonstrate that the Christian God exists. I’m merely taking a look at what they have to offer. If you don’t like the fact that these people (Nicky Gumbel and his crew) are making such claims then why don’t you get in touch with them and make your feelings known?

    As it stands at the moment it’s clear for every reader of this blog to see that you’re obviously barking up the wrong tree.

    Good luck.

    S. Butterfield

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | November 5, 2008

  12. Hello Anthony,

    “If I’ve understood you correctly, your stance appears to be not so much a rejection of Christianity but rather total scepticism about the existence of a spiritual (or supernatural) dimension”
    At the moment, yes, I am sceptical about the existence of a supernatural dimension. I have yet to flat-out reject Christianity in its entirity, but I must admit that as each week passes it’s looking more and more likely that I will eventually.

    By the way, thanks for the book recommendations. I’ll keep an eye out for them.

    All the best,

    S. Butterfield

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | November 5, 2008

  13. Hi Stephen,
    I suspected you would only agree with my first 3 points. My purpose was to simply lay out what the Christian message is, I didn’t expect you to agree with it. I just wanted to make sure you are fully aware of what you are rejecting.
    I suppose I should have rephrased my previous question. What piece of evidence could be produced today in order to convince you that Christianity is true?
    Thanks,
    Frank
    P.S. I think it is great that you are grilling the Christians in your class. Shame on them for not being able to give you a reasonable answer. They are probably learning more from the course than you are.

    Comment by Frank W. | November 5, 2008

  14. From Gumbel’s video ‘And I said, “What does Jesus want to know about a scumbag like me for?”’

    This is the level of respect that Christians have for humanity.

    We are all scumbags , compared to Jesus.

    ‘New Christian Male: “God tried to bring up a civilisation but then he gave them a doubt in their minds as a test. ‘

    Gumbel ‘one of the tactics of the enemy is to put a thought in our mind and then whip round the other side and condemn us for it”’

    Don’t these people actually understand the videos they have just watched?

    Gumbel claims that it is a diabolical ruse to put a thought in our mind and then condemn us for it, and the Christians on the course nod, and tell us that that is just what God did!

    Comment by Steven Carr | November 5, 2008

  15. Wow, what a fascinating post.

    I think where Lady Two errs is that, in her enthusiasm for her beliefs (which are grounded upon a spiritual experience which occurred in a specific theistic context), she unfortunately makes a couple of fundamental epistemological errors, which you’ve unearthed in your conversation with her. It’s not uncommon both for theist and non-theist lay folk, I’m afraid.

    For example, your question of “well, what about a Muslim who claims to have experienced a miracle?” is, I think, a very valid one.

    I submit the proper response to that question would be: “I will evaluate the Muslim’s testimony on its merits and remain agnostic on the issue until sufficient evidence comes in in order to apportion my belief appropriately”.

    The Christian could then quite understandably place the onus upon the skeptic to produce a suitable Muslim candidate (or candidates) who had experienced similar phenomena. That seems reasonable to me.

    Interestingly, in my own study of Islam, I have found that a significant proportion of Muslims eschew the concept of miracles, noting the paucity of religions claims in the Qur’an itself. A similar situation seems to exist for Buddhism, which seems rather cool on the concept of an interventionist creator itself.

    I’m quite open to evidence from either of these religions to furnish evidence to challenge this contention. If such evidence were forthcoming, that would constitute some level of proof towards establishing the plausibility of their worldviews.

    Now, as far as Christianity is concerned, detailed testimonies of the miraculous are actually rather common, more so than one might initially think. Off the top of my head I’d recommend William James’ “The Varieties of Religious Experience” and Bilquis Sheikh’s “I Dared To Call Him Father” as profitable starting points for such investigation.

    To put a personal spin on things; in my own life I’ve had a couple of interesting numinous experiences, which I’ve written about elsewhere, which I find personally constitute some additional pieces of evidence in addition to those others that I find compelling (e.g. anthropic fine-tuning, etc.) to establish the overall plausibility of theistic belief.

    In my own case, each of these experiences occurred spontaneously, within specific theistic contexts, wholly unexpected and unasked for. Now, unlike Lady Two, I make a more modest claim regarding their explanatory value in that I am quite happy to entertain non-theistic hypotheses for them.

    The most likely candidate – auto-suggestion – actually doesn’t hold too much water with me, since some of the phenomena (rich and instantaneous glossolalia for instance), are very much trans-rational in nature and were indeed behavior that I previously thought to be unnecessary and even a little embarrassing. (that is, until I experienced them, of course)

    As a result, I have found that I now think along very similar lines to Marcus Borg, the respected liberal Christian author who also has had a number of fascinating numinous experiences. Like Borg, I myself have been forced to take seriously the claims of people like Lady Two, who, although they lack philosophical sophistication, nonetheless seem to have tapped into a reality that really does warrant some sort of deeper explanation.

    Finally, regarding your earlier question of why don’t charismatic “healers” engage themselves in hospitals where they could implement a sort of systematic healing program; I submit that a rather straightforward answer might exist: They do not have complete control over their gifts. Rather, it is ultimately up to God and his choice alone as to when, where and through what channels such miracles are permitted to occur.

    The question then follows; “Well, why doesn’t God drop miracles into the mix more often?” (or as you say, why doesn’t he re-evaluate his priorities) and the answer to this is complex.

    It all comes down to how we view miracles and the role that they fulfill in this world. We err if we think that such miracles exist soley for our physical comfort, convenience or to extend our lives indefinitely. (recall that in Christian tradition, even Lazarus died eventually!)

    Instead, I submit that the purpose of miracles is to act as “hints of transcendence”; wonderful and subtle events that point beyond themselves to a greater, deeper reality, one that extends beyond the mere physical world.

    According to this definition, we ought to expect that such events would be occasional, rather than widespread. But nonetheless I contend that a Christian is well within her epistemic rights to consider these events as confirmation that the Creator who runs the whole show (i) cares about humanity and (ii) possesses the necessary power and will to, someday, embark upon a process of restoration, repair and recreation of the created order. Miracles thus can be seen not as random magic tricks, but as genuine glimpses of transcendence and a powerful and fascinating foretaste of future possibilities to come.

    Such a view of God is entirely consistent with, and I think is indeed enhanced by, the claims of Christianity.

    Sorry for the long essay, I hope it’s been valuable or interesting to you in some way! :)

    cheers,
    James

    p.s. Have you heard Nicky’s testimony of his “more power” experience yet? I’d love to hear what you would infer as being the best explanation to account for this occurrence.

    Comment by James Garth | November 6, 2008

  16. James Garth: An excellent post. I was going to expand on the Cayce phenomenon to illustrate evidence for the general existence of the supernatural dimension, but there is plenty of material in your post for anyone lingering curiosity to follow up. It answers Stephen’s question: ““well, what about a Muslim who claims to have experienced a miracle?””

    Paranormal activity, including certain acts some might describe as ‘miracles’, is certainly not limited to actions of the Christian God (the Holy Trinity). Unlike Jesus’ works, not all other ‘miracles’ have a benevolent purpose. In eschatology, it is said that the anti-christ will succeed in ensnaring many people exactly through the use of miracles; the miracle worker may even call himself Christ or Jesus. Do we know of anyone today meeting this description?

    Enter Maitreya: http://www.share-international.org/background/miracles/mi_main.htm
    http://www.lightinfo.org/maitreya/bc1125pc.htm

    I believe the Alpha Course has noble aims and is spreading the right message about Christ’s love for all and God’s plan for us. Question: is it effective in converting the most sceptical of individuals who do not reach out to the Holy Spirit in humility? Not on the basis of Stephen’s experience it is not. I would like to know, of the 1.3 million people who have actually attended the course, how many were either atheist/ agnostic before attending and became Christians afterwards – it is a statistic I can’t find anywhere. Certainly, if Stephen’s class is representative, many people who join the Alpha Course already have some religious conviction.

    Comment by Anthony | November 6, 2008

  17. “I have no problem with you failing to support your claims, M0rk, but it does make for somewhat of a short debate. Seeing as that is the case I’ll keep this response brief.”
    SIDESTEP !!

    Rather than discuss the points you’ve raised, you’d rather discuss new & yet unknown points. I have little interest in discussing life, the universe and everything just now.

    “Ok, here’s where you’re going wrong… My website is not entitled “Christianity: Reviewed” or “The Bible: Reviewed”, it’s entitled “Alpha Course: Reviewed”. I’m not writing a review of the Bible or of Christianity in general, I’m writing a review of my time spent on the Alpha Course. You say that I’m being ridiculous by looking for evidence in favour of the Christian God. But here’s the important point that you seem unable to grasp…this course claims to have such evidence! It claims to have supporting and persuasive arguments to demonstrate that the Christian God exists. I’m merely taking a look at what they have to offer. If you don’t like the fact that these people (Nicky Gumbel and his crew) are making such claims then why don’t you get in touch with them and make your feelings known?

    As it stands at the moment it’s clear for every reader of this blog to see that you’re obviously barking up the wrong tree.”
    No, I’m saying the “type” of evidence you’re demanding is contrary to what is clearly stated to be on offer. “That’s your folly.”

    The course “can’t” claim to have that sort of evidence, as it’d be contrary to the statement of Christianity that I keep trying to tell you.

    You repeatedly fall foul of the schoolboy error.

    In my opinion you’re consistently evading confronting the issue. I continued to comment as I saw mileage in the evolving discussion. You keep shutting the door.

    Kind regards,
    Mark

    Comment by m0rk | November 6, 2008

  18. ”SIDESTEP !!”
    Huh?

    M0rk, you’ve constantly referred to my misunderstanding of this supposed “logic” that you know of. I’ve asked you several times for specific examples. However, for some reason you have failed to offer a single one. Why, then, would you accuse me of sidestepping the issue?? I must say I found that to be rather strange.

    “I’m saying the “type” of evidence you’re demanding is contrary to what is clearly stated to be on offer. “That’s your folly.” The course “can’t” claim to have that sort of evidence, as it’d be contrary to the statement of Christianity that I keep trying to tell you.”
    Then I suggest you contact Holy Trinity Brompton. Or I suggest you talk to the members of the Alpha group that make those very claims. I am only writing about the things that are occurring on the course. Once again, you’re clearly barking up the wrong tree.

    “In my opinion you’re consistently evading confronting the issue. I continued to comment as I saw mileage in the evolving discussion. You keep shutting the door.”
    This is nothing short of bizarre. I asked you to give me examples of the “logic” I’m supposedly misunderstanding. I also asked you to offer an argument in favour of the existence of “spiritual forces” or for the existence of intelligent beings that transcend nature. You continue to avoid that. You’re constantly making claims that you will not (or cannot) support, but then have the audacity to accuse me of “consistently evading confronting the issue”!! If you’re going to make claims then please have the decency to back them up. If you don’t want to do that (which seems to be the case) then why are you here?

    M0rk, seriously, we can’t continue to waste time like this. After the eloquent and intelligently constructed posts by Anthony and James, it’s a shame that yours has to lower the tone of the dialogue to such considerable lengths. You’re a hair’s breadth away from wanting a slanging match. Everyone can see that. It’s a real shame.

    I wish you well,

    S. Butterfield

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | November 6, 2008

  19. Antony talks about the Maitreya

    What could have caused Benjamin Creme to start to say that such a person lives, and is a real, historical person?

    Surely the simplest explanation for Creme preaching a Maitreya is that there is a charismatic figure living and teaching today.

    Of course, the fame of this person has not spread beyond a small circle , which is why nobody else writes about him.

    But in 2,000 years the existence of the Maitreya will be considered axiomatic and anybody who questions whether such a person lived will be called irrational and living in a fantasy land :-)

    Here are just some of the miracles worked by Maitreya, whose miracle-working is evident in every strata of writing about him by his followers :-

    ‘Such wells have been created by Maitreya all over the world — one in Germany, a place called Nordenau where thousands of people have taken the water, and one north of New Delhi where suddenly an empty well gushed this water, which was found to have miraculous healing properties.’

    Maitreya appeared to not just 12 people or 500 people, but 12 TIMES 500 people, or 6000 people.

    ‘He appeared ‘out of the blue’ on the 11th of June, 1988, in Nairobi, Kenya, before 6,000 people. One moment he wasn’t there, the next moment he was standing beside the woman dressed in blue. Her name is Mary Akatsa.’

    Gosh, Christians would kill for evidence like this!

    Comment by Steven Carr | November 7, 2008

  20. Agreed Steve. Let me try to stop the confrontational attitude now.

    Do you logically deduce then that confrontation is not as profitable as respect?

    Applying logical reasoning from a source of established guidelines as Christianity models, to me equates to what I too often refer to as logic.

    I obviously can agree with these guidelines, although of course I have issues. Some of it isn’t easy, but that isn’t to say it isn’t right. Questioning and doubt are the most important aspects of any person’s spiritual life. It’s what I honestly believe that you aspire to.

    An argument in favour of spiritual forces.

    I personally have dreams of future events. I don’t see that now as something important or beneficial. More a challenge to me in my personal beliefs not attributing too much to it.

    As I think I’ve said, I believe scientific knowledge/ theories and my personal belief are completely compatible. There is no contradiction there at all. Of course I construct my own understanding. To me though it works out. You will likewise have arrived at your conclusions. We strive to progress in our understanding.

    The point of belief in Christianity is stated as striving to achieve “life in all it’s fullness”. Believing in my supernatural being, I believe, is the best way to achieve that.

    Comment by Mark | November 7, 2008

  21. Hello M0rk,

    ”Applying logical reasoning from a source of established guidelines as Christianity models, to me equates to what I too often refer to as logic.”
    That’s all well and good, but you still failed to offer me a specific example of “logic” that I’ve supposedly misunderstood. Present your example as a syllogism if you’d prefer. Highlight where I’m going wrong.

    “An argument in favour of spiritual forces:
    I personally have dreams of future events. I don’t see that now as something important or beneficial. More a challenge to me in my personal beliefs not attributing too much to it.”

    You have dreams. That’s fine. But no one can verify these dreams, only you. With respect, M0rk, that’s hardly a strong argument.

    ”The point of belief in Christianity is stated as striving to achieve “life in all it’s fullness”. Believing in my supernatural being, I believe, is the best way to achieve that.”
    That’s great, and I don’t doubt for one moment that you believe that. I really do hope that you live your life in pursuit of achieving all of its fullness. Like I say, I wish you well.

    All the best,

    S. Butterfield

    [Note to everyone: The transcript for Week 9, entitled, “Does God Heal Today?” is just about complete, and will be uploaded first thing in the morning, Saturday 8th November]

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | November 7, 2008

  22. Hi Stepehen,
    I know you are a busy person and probably have not had time to respond to my last post or it may have gotten lost in all the other posts, but I am genuinely asking you the question “What piece of evidence could be produced today that would convince you that Christianity is true?” I submit there is no piece of evidence that could do it. Even if someone miraculously found the original Bible manuscripts, I’m sure they would be disputed and dismissed by many. Or even if Jesus himself were to come back to earth and peform miraculous signs and wonders many would just call him a illusionist or demon possesed. I am not saying you should not search for evidence. On the contrary! What I am suggesting though is that you create a realistic expectation of what would be required to convince you that Christianity is true. Gather the evidence and see what fits best. If the evidence points you to a world where God does not exist, then put faith in that and live accordingly. If the evidence points toward Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, or Hinduism then follow their beliefs. But if the evidence best fits with what Christianity teaches, then believe in that. Ultimately it comes down to faith in whatever you believe. Even an aetheist expresses a large amount of faith in what they believe. In my experience what I have found is that Christianity actually requires the least amount of faith compared to other religions or aetheism (I was a staunch aetheist and came to faith much later in life). So keep up your search and see which world view makes the most sense. If you are genuinely seeking, I believe you will find the truth.
    Thanks,
    Frank

    Comment by Frank W. | November 8, 2008

  23. Steven Carr…will respond to your post on the Week 9 thread

    Comment by Anthony | November 8, 2008

  24. FRANK
    Even if someone miraculously found the original Bible manuscripts, I’m sure they would be disputed and dismissed by many.

    CARR
    Frank knows atheists better than we know ourselves.

    If I suddenly found the original Bible manuscripts in my desk drawer, I would dismiss the millions and millions of pounds I would get for them, as an ‘hallucination’.

    Of course I would! I’m an atheist, aren’t I?

    I might think that I would be convinced by finding the original manuscripts in my desk drawer, acheiving overnight world fame, having them validated by countless experts and receiving millions of pounds for their sale to the British Museum, and receiving millions more for interviews and press reports.

    But Frank knows me better than I know myself.

    I would simply dismiss all of that as an ‘hallucination’

    Comment by Steven Carr | November 8, 2008

  25. Hi Stephen.

    Sorry I thought you were wanting evidence of logic as it applies to Christianity, & not your own statements (hence my introductory statement). Apologies.

    You make very many contrary interpretations to that which is accepted. You certainly don’t have to accept popular conclusion, and popularity has zero influence on actual truth.

    I know from experience that debating individual texts is entirely fruitless, as by their very design I’d suggest that their perfectness lies in their tendancy to be open to interpretation. That’s one huge get out clause but is at the same time completely perfect. The Christian Bible is strongest when it follows this rule imho. Take the first 4 words… “In the beginning, God” in the beginning “I am”. An all encompassing statement that would deserve the ‘perfect’ label alone.

    Until recently I was atheist myself, so I understand your view. Belief is very easy to dismiss. That’s the way it’s designed.

    Let me know if there’s anything specific you’d like me to tackle.

    I do share some dreams with my wife, and maybe our lives are influenced by the knowledge. It’s an impossible task to separate superstition, as chance could always be the true answer. This again to me is perfect truth. To understand the pitfalls fully would make a person fully equipped to handle such problems. This is what the Bible tackles. It enables a person to be fully clued up on the subject.

    I wish you well too.

    All the best,
    Mark

    Comment by Mark | November 8, 2008

  26. I am fascinated by Mr. Carr’s response to my last post and I think it tells alot about his position and his character. If Mr. Carr found the orginal Bible manuscripts, instead of using them to know and understand God, he would use them for personal profit and fame. There is another person in the Bible who did the same thing, Judas Iscariot. Judas had more evidence than any other human being in history (along with the other 11 apostles) as to who Jesus was. He was able to converse directly with Jesus and witnessed first hand all of his teaching and miracles. However instead of using this evidence to know and understand God, he used it to obtain 30 pieces of silver. His focus was on himself and what he could gain. There are people throughout history who no matter what amount of evidence you provide them, they will fail to believe. They continually demand evidence but the truth is there is no evidence you could produce which would convince them otherwise. Using my previous analogy they are like blind men who insist that color does not exist no matter what evidence you provide. However, God still loves people like Mr. Carr even though they shake their fists in His face. God is giving Mr. Carr chance after chance to repent as long as he draws breath. However if Mr. Carr refuses to repent, God will not force him into heaven, instead Mr. Carr will be eternally separated from God. I hope Mr. Carr does repent and believes, but if he doesn’t he will be judged and sentenced appropriately.

    Comment by Frank W. | November 9, 2008

  27. FRANK
    If Mr. Carr found the orginal Bible manuscripts, instead of using them to know and understand God, he would use them for personal profit and fame.

    CARR
    You think I should refuse to sell the original Bible manuscripts to the British Museum?

    What should I do with them? Put them on the fire?

    And how on earth could I avoid personal fame if I found the original Bible manuscripts in my desk drawer?

    Sheesh. Some Christians…..

    FRANK
    There are people throughout history who no matter what amount of evidence you provide them, they will fail to believe.

    CARR
    They are called Christians.

    We have already had Christians on this web site claiming they believe other religious people have worked miracles, but they are not going to follow them.

    And, of course, Christians project their attitudes on to non-believers….

    FRANK
    God is giving Mr. Carr chance after chance to repent as long as he draws breath.

    CARR
    Repent of what? I don’t even have any points on my driving licence, yet Frank thinks all non-believers are scumbags who need to repent, or else his God will send them to Hell for stealing a pencil from work.

    FRANK
    I hope Mr. Carr does repent and believes, but if he doesn’t he will be judged and sentenced appropriately.

    CARR
    I guess Frank thinks he should NOT be sentenced for the crimes he has done.

    What has he done that is so terrible that he pleads for mercy?

    I dread to think. He must be a right scumbag if he thinks he deserves to go to Hell for what he has done.

    Thank God I know that I am a good person.

    Comment by Steven Carr | November 9, 2008

  28. Now we’re finally getting somewhere.
    Mr. Carr so confidently states Thank God I know that I am a good person.
    Wow, what a bold statement! My question back would be, what standard do you base that on? By what basis does he declare that he is a good person? Based on his own set of morals? Based on society’s standards? Should I just take his word for it? Using that logic everyone would declare they are a good person . The liar can say, I’m not as bad as a thief, I’m a good person. The thief can say, I’m not as bad as a pedophile, I’m a good person. The pedophile can say, I’m not as bad as a murderer, I’m a good person, etc… God’s standard is perfection. The fact is we have all done something wrong in our lives. That just means we are all lawbreakers and deserved to be judged, some harsher than others. I do not have a horrible history of crime as Mr. Carr suggests. I have no criminal history and no points on my driving record either. However, I realize that I have sin in my life and that needs to be dealt with if I am to be reconciled to a holy God. God does not send people to hell for stealing pencils from work as Mr. Carr suggests. Instead what He does is sends us a life line and says, here take my hand I’ll rescue you. We can either grasp His hand or we can we can say no thanks, I don’t need your help, I’m a good person. So it is Mr. Carr who is choosing to go to hell, not that God want to send him there. It is everyones decision whether or not they want to accept God’s provision or not.
    Unless people realize they have done wrong, they will never accept the message of Christ. Why? Because what do people need a Savior for if they have never done wrong and have nothing to be saved from? In the light of God’s standard of perfection, can anybody say they are “good”? Are you willing to admit that you have done at least one wrong thing in your life and therefore not good? If not you are just fooling yourself and Christianity is not for you. Christ’s message is for imperfect people, not perfect ones.

    Comment by Frank W. | November 12, 2008

  29. I think Frank Walton is claiming he can’t say that Mother Theresa was a better person than Adolf Hitler, because why should we ‘just take his word for it.’

    Christians have no moral standards. They admit it. They claim they cannot tell if one person should go to Hell for stealing a pencil from work , while another person is forgiven for being a murderer.

    Frank thinks all people are scumbags who deserve to go to Hell.

    This is called ‘Christian love’

    Comment by Steven Carr | November 13, 2008

  30. Who is Frank Walton?
    My full name is Frank Wang if you must know. Don’t think you know everything Mr. Carr, it just makes you look foolish.
    Mother Theresa was a much much better person than Adolf Hitler, who said she wasn’t? But that doesn’t change the fact that we have all done wrong.
    This brings up an excellent point. From the Christian persepective there is a big difference between Mother Theresa and Hitler. Someone like Hitler will receive a very severe punishment for his heinous crimes, but from an atheist’s point of view he never will have to pay for his crimes. Which is the more just view?
    The fact is for an atheist, matters of morality and right and wrong are irrelevent. Since there is no god in their view, how they live doesn’t matter. To an atheist Mother Theresa and Adolf Hitler are now in an equal place, 6 feet under the ground.
    The Christian moral standard is perfection. But we all fall short, sorry Mr. Carr even you are not perfect. The test of whether or not a person enters heaven is not whether they stole a pencil or committed murder, it’s whether they stepped through the door to heaven. If Mr. Carr doesn’t want to enter the door to heaven, why should God force him to enter it? It is his choice and he is choosing the path of condemnation rather than forgiveness.
    Yes, we all are sinners (or scumbags as Mr. Carr puts it) and we all deserve to go to hell. But God has created a way out. God gives people the option to enter heaven but he forces no one.
    If you knew of an escape route out of a burning building, wouldn’t you want to tell others about it? This is ‘Christian love’. If you choose to stay in the building that is your choice, I’m not twisting any arms, I’m just letting people know there is an escape route.
    No matter how much Mr. Carr wants to spew hate, hurl insults and twist the Christian message, the fact is God still loves him and wants him to repent. If he doesn’t want to escape the burning building and instead chooses to be burned, it isn’t because he wasn’t told there was an escape route, it is his choice to remain in the building.
    I find it very interesting that Mr. Carr is so angry at a God that he doesn’t believe exists.

    Comment by Frank W. | November 13, 2008

  31. FRANK W
    If you knew of an escape route out of a burning building, wouldn’t you want to tell others about it?

    CARR
    Your alleged god will not lift one finger to save a screaming child as it burns to death in a blazing building.

    But don’t worry, this god will tell the burning child where the fire exit is, provided it repents of its sins….

    Frank is right about one thing. Both Mother Theresa and Adolf Hitler are now equal, 6 feet under the ground.

    There is no Hell, no Heaven and no god to send people to Hell for stealing a pencil from work, while not lifting one finger while 6 million of his chosen people are slaughtered.

    Comment by Steven Carr | November 14, 2008

  32. Mr. Carr’s statement that God is not lifting one finger is false. Not only has God provided a fire exit, he has provided smoke detectors, fire alarms, a lighted pathway to the exit, people to guide them to the exit, and is currently holding back the flames. He is doing this so everyone (including Mr. Carr) has the chance to escape the building. However, there are those who remain in the building and say, “there will be no fire, I like in here”. That is their choice but they must also accept the consequences. Beyond those who deny the buidling is on fire, there are those who are disabling the smoke detectors, obscuring the exit route and guiding people to a path with no exit. Should not those people receive a stricter judgement? Mr. Carr, you’ve made it abundantly clear that you wish to remain in the building and nobody is forcing you to the exit, but won’t you not let others decide whether they want to escape the building instead of trying to obscure the fire exit? Even if you are correct and the building is not on fire, what does it matter to you whether people want to leave the building or not?
    Mr. Carr, using your belief system, how can you judge the actions of Hitler? Wasn’t he merely demonstrating the survival of the fittest? I find it hypocritical for you to judge the actions of others but not allow the Bible to judge your actions because you have declared yourself as a “good person”. Many who have been reading this blog could conclude you are actually a pretty rude person.
    I guess the only definitive way we will find out whether Mr. Carr or I am right is after we die. If Mr. Carr is right then after we die nothing will happen and we will cease to exist. However if Jesus was right, then there will be judgement and eternal reward or separation. Let every man decide for themselves.

    Comment by Frank W. | November 14, 2008

  33. Frank W. knows as well as anybody that if a child is screaming as it burns to death in a blazing building, his alleged god will not lift one finger to help anybody.

    And Frank W. thinks I cannot consider myself a better person than Hitler, and threatens me with non-existent demons like his Jesus, who he claims will kill me unless I love him.

    Is Frank W. having a laugh when he claims Hitler
    was ‘demonstrating the survival of the fittest’? Hitler shot himself. Does Frank W. really think that a true Darwinian demonstrates ‘the survival of the fittest’ by killing themselves?

    Judgement came to Hitler when he was alive. He had nothing to fear from any god, but he answered to humanity to such an extent that he killed himself, as the country he loved lay in ruins all around him.

    Humanity did more to punish Hitler than Frank W.’s imaginary friend, who Hitler thanked for saving him from assassination.

    Comment by Steven Carr | November 14, 2008

  34. Frank W. ‘Many who have been reading this blog could conclude you are actually a pretty rude person.’

    CARR
    Ooh, Frank’s imaginary friend is going to burn me in Hell for all eternity for the crime of being ‘rude’.

    There’s justice for you.

    When it comes to rudeness, we atheists are poor, incompetent amateurs compared to the Christians in the New Testament.

    Take 2 Peter ‘They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish.

    They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood!’

    Such rudeness!

    And take Jesus, a very rude person, who Frank W. will surely condemn to Hell for the crime of being a pretty rude person.

    In Matthew 23, Jesus calls people ‘hypocrites’, ‘blind guides’, ‘blind fools’ , ‘a son of hell’, ‘snakes’, ‘brood of vipers’.

    How can atheists compete in rudeness with the person Frank W. worships?

    Why does Frank W. say people are ‘rude’, when his Lord and Saviour resorted to vulgar abuse, calling people names, and being the sort of person that Frank claims should be sent to Hell for not being good?

    Comment by Steven Carr | November 14, 2008

  35. It does not surprise me that Mr. Carr is not able to provide any rational arguments for his position, instead he resorts to insults and merely calling God ‘imaginary’ as if that closes the case. The fact is his belief system does not account for someone like Josef Mengele who committed atrocious acts upon humanity and then went on to live a full life and was never brought to justice. I actually feel sad for Mr. Carr. I don’t know him personally but it sounds like he may have had a traumatic experience when he was younger in order for him to be so angry and hostile at a God he says doesn’t exist. Other atheists/agnostics who have contributed to this blog like Ian Edmund and Stephen Butterfield are able to provide civilized reasonable explanations for their atheistic beliefs and are open to debate and discussion. But for Mr. Carr it seems personal as his posts ooze anger and hatred. Mr. Carr, I mean this from the bottom of my heart, I hope you find peace and rest in your quest for meaning in your life.
    All the best,
    Frank

    Comment by Frank W. | November 14, 2008

  36. FRANK
    It does not surprise me that Mr. Carr is not able to provide any rational arguments for his position, instead he resorts to insults and merely calling God ‘imaginary’ as if that closes the case.

    CARR
    Frank accuses me of insults but can only say that ‘imaginary’ is an insult, not an argument.

    I guess it is not a rational argument to call Zeus, ‘imaginary’, and only childish people call Thor ‘imaginary’.

    But Frank knows that he has no arguments, so he has to pretend he is a victim, being insulted.

    And if he can’t find any insults, he simply makes them up.

    These ‘insults’ of mine are as imaginary as Frank’s imaginary friend is imaginary.

    As for real insults, the person Frank worships thought nothing of calling people ‘snakes’, ‘hypocrites’, ‘blind fools’.

    Frank plays the victim card, as he has nothing else, when it is his religion that demonises other people , calling them a ‘son of Hell’.

    I don’t care twopence about Christianity, but I hate organised hypocrisy.

    It is not your imaginary friend I am angry at Frank, it is his representatives on Earth, who write books calling people ‘dogs’, ‘sons of the devil’, ‘a synagogue of Satan’, and claim that their god has mandated whole tribes of men, women and children to be killed.

    Comment by Steven Carr | November 15, 2008

  37. FRANK
    The fact is his belief system does not account for someone like Josef Mengele who committed atrocious acts upon humanity and then went on to live a full life and was never brought to justice.

    CARR
    I already said there is no god to bring about justice.

    Frank actually agrees!

    Comment by Steven Carr | November 15, 2008

  38. Wow! I’m not sure if Mr. Carr is unable to comprehend simple arguments or is just so blinded by his anger that his thought process has somehow been altered.
    First of all I pointed out Josef Mengele because from the atheist viewpoint he got away with unspeakable atrocities and will never be brought to justice. He is only one example of the thousands of murderers and criminals worldwide each year that are never brought to justice and never will. However from the Christian viewpoint Josef Mengele (and anyone who commits evil) will stand before God to account for their crimes and will receive an extremely harsh and just punishment for their crimes. In no way am I agreeing with Mr. Carr, actually the complete opposite.
    Secondly, yes it is a poor and irrational argument to call anything imaginary just because you say so, you must back up your opinion with reasonable arguments. Others in this blog have been able to provide reasonable arguments for their belief or unbelief but Mr. Carr has been unable to so, he just uses the ‘imaginary’ defense.
    Thirdly God does not send people to hell for being rude. I was merely poking holes in your argument that you believe you are a “good person”. My point was that although you may think you are “good”, others can easily conclude that you are not so good by reading this blog. So the issue here is by what standard do we measure who is “good” and who is “bad”? If everyone determined whether they were good or bad based on their own morality, then everyone would claim they are good. So it is presumptious for you to boldly declare that you are a good person. Read Luke 18:9-14 and see if you can relate.
    So Mr. Carr if you are unable to follow simple logic I’m afraid our discussion will end here. I’m sure you’ll take something out of context from what I just wrote and twist it, I would expect nothing less. It has at least been entertaining to read your responses and I hope others have been entertained by your responses as well. I’m not sure if you are a young lad or not, but I hope you will learn to construct your comments in a more mature way, then others may take them more seriously. If you are angry at Christians, I would advise you to channel your energy to be a loving good example and then you may persuade some that what you believe is true because honestly I don’t think you are convincing many people by your behavior. I really hope you find what you are looking for to put your soul at rest.

    I wish you all the best,
    Frank

    Comment by Frank W. | November 16, 2008

  39. What started off as an enjoyable read in week 1 has, unfortunately, descended into something rather shoddy. I would now treat the alleged impartiality of this investigation with suspicion.

    Comment by S. Chew | June 6, 2009

  40. thanks for this interesting site… because I had the same experience as lady two… the power of love.. when I asked Jesus to come into my life.. it was so unbelievable that it left me silent.. I could not believe what happened to me and thought I had lost the plot… it was so strong… a powerful force of love travelled through my body.. incredible… I always say before you try it and find out for yourself… you have nothing to lose by asking Christ into your life… I cant make you believe… that is your choice… and so it should be…

    Comment by lisa | July 25, 2011

  41. Hello Stephen

    Me again :-) A corker indeed. This was to be my last Alpha course session, as I decided that it just wasn’t for me after some of the assertions of ‘fact’ in the video and the group discussion afterwards. The group leader, church elders & regular church attenders (who make up the majority of the group) seemed to warm the theme of the devil, claiming he really gets interested in you when you commit to Christ & have experience of the Holy Spirit – he tries to get you then apparently. If you doubt your faith that is the devil we were told (both by Gumbel & the Pastor) – a rather neat double bind I thought, puts a stop to all that thinking business that’s for sure. No wonder two people broke down during this session.

    This session gave us Genesis as indisputable ‘fact’, never mind the lack of mentioning dinosaurs & other such since discovered facts. Alpha appears to treat all scripture as fact without discussing or questioning the origins of it, which is what I find most disturbing.

    Actually no, what I find most disturbing is how many vulnerable people there were in that room (& probably on Alpha courses all over the country). I count myself in on that, I have been going through a bit of a rough patch & was searching for something, some meaning, positivity in my life and thought this might help. They were all very friendly nice people it’s true & some of the discussions were interesting, but as the course wore on I could sense a building subtle pressure – the course basically tells you you’re damned if you don’t accept Christ. I thought this insidious.

    I’m still glad I did the course, if only to find out what form of Christianity I don’t like. My search will continue, I’m intrigued by the Quakers who at least seem more tolerant of other view points.

    Many thanks for this blog, it’s been very interesting and great to read a different perspective, you’ve also given me some good laughs throughout. Best wishes to you & your family.

    Comment by Anon | March 29, 2012

  42. I should add – the course basically told me I was condemned if I didn’t accept Christ in the way that they wanted me to.

    Comment by Anon | March 29, 2012

  43. Hello Anon,

    Even though you have now called it a day with your Alpha Course, I do hope you enjoyed it.

    From my experience, the Quakers seem to be much more “reasonable” than the types of Christian you’ll find on an average Alpha Course.

    Sorry to hear that you’ve been going through a rough patch lately. Whatever direction you take I hope everything works out well for you.

    Best wishes,

    Stephen

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | April 2, 2012

  44. This writer has read Gumbel’s book, Questions of Life, which is the main text for Alpha teaching. The 263-page volume relies on mainstream evangelical writers, as well as the likes of the aberrant John Wimber. Though agreeing for the most part with the CRN Journal article, this writer might have stressed things from a slightly different perspective and have had less concern for a few of the points. Maybe we could call it giving the devil his due.

    Comment by Kareem Waters | January 8, 2013


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