Alpha Course: Reviewed

by Stephen Butterfield

WEEK 5: “Why And How Should I Read The Bible?”

This week’s review will be shorter than usual. The reason for this is that my audio recording device, which I use to record each session, sadly ‘gave up the ghost’ about one hour in to this week’s proceedings, and I didn’t notice this until I was typing up this transcript. Thankfully my device managed to last long enough to record the full presentation that was given by Nicky Gumbel, but the group discussion that followed is sadly lost. Divine intervention perhaps?

Therefore this week I will just be having a look at what Mr Gumbel had to offer. Next week I will endeavour to raise a few more points about this week’s session so that I have some recorded material to work with, as I don’t want to do the group a disservice by constructing conversations from memory. I want to continue as I have done in the previous four weeks, which is to type the discussions up as they actually happened – verbatim – from the audio recordings.

I can’t be fairer than that.

So let’s begin…

I’m one of the first to arrive for this week’s instalment. The pastor and the new Christian male are discussing the action from last weekend’s football (soccer) matches, so we have a laugh and a joke about that for ten minutes or so. The rest of group trickle into the room and we chat for a while as we enjoy a drink and a bowl of fruit salad.

After we’ve all been ‘fed and watered’ the pastor slips tonight’s DVD into the player. This session is called, “Why and How Should I Read The Bible?”…

Gumbel begins this week’s presentation by telling us of the time he and his father journeyed to Russia armed with a concealed box of Bibles.

Why the hidden stash of Bibles?

Gumbel explains to us, “It was back in 1976 and Russia was behind the Iron Curtain and we knew that there was persecution of Christians.” So much so that for the average Russian Christian, “it was very hard to get hold of a Bible”

So off they went in search of people who they thought “would appreciate these amazing Russian Bibles.” In one particular town in central Russia, Gumbel and his father attended a church service but found it “difficult to tell at the time whether the people in the church were genuine Christians or whether they were members of the KGB who were infiltrating the meetings”

I assume Gumbel was then guided by the Holy Spirit to take notice of a man who “had a wonderful beaming face.” Gumbel considered this ‘beaming face’ an obvious giveaway, and led him to conclude that the cheesy-grinned Soviet MUST have a faith in Christ.”

After the service he followed the smiley man outside and eventually down a neighbouring street “until there was just him and I alone”. Gumbel pulled out a new Bible and offered it to the gentleman. “He was just SO excited!” exclaims Gumbel. “He was jumping up and down. He was dancing!” In no time the pair of them were “running up and down the street dancing together!”

Joyous scenes indeed.

Gumbel then asks us, WHY was this man SO excited?” There is a momentary pause and the audience leans forward to hear his answer. Gumbel continues, “The Bible is the most popular book in the world”

He goes on to tell us that the works of Shakespeare have been translated into 60 languages, but such numbers pale into insignificance when compared to the Bible. The Christian holy book, he assures us, has been translated into over 2,000 languages. He adds, “it’s the world’s best seller by several miles” and that “44 million copies of the Bible are sold every year”. Impressive numbers, I’m sure you’ll agree.

But how important are such numbers?

British author, J.K Rowling, sold 11 million copies of her book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in the first 24 hours of its release back in 2007, and has since gone on to sell nearly 500 million books from the Harry Potter series. Do such mind-boggling numbers tell us anything about the truth content of those books? No they do not. And the same goes for the Bible. The sales figures for a book are no guide to the truth of claims made in that book.

Gumbel is still spouting numbers, and offers us the interesting statistic, “In the average American household there are 6.8 Bibles”. Really? I’d bet that in the average American household there are 6.8 mullet-style haircuts too. So what?

He tells us that the Bible is “the most powerful book in the world” and that it has “the power to change lives” and he caps it off by telling us that it’s “the most precious book in the world”. I don’t know about you but I’m getting the sneaking suspicion that Gumbel is quite fond of the Bible and that he would heartily recommend that we read it.

He then asks us, “Why is it so popular? Why is it so powerful? Why is it so precious?”

To answer this he offers us a Bible verse (the Bible is precious because the Bible says so?), [Matthew 4:4]
Jesus answered, ‘It is written: Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Gumbel elaborates, “Material things leave us with a sense of unfulfilment, because human beings, all of us, were created to live in a relationship with God” and that such a relationship is triggered by reading the Bible. God communicates with us through the pages of his word – his “written revelation”.

“The Bible is a manual for life” says Gumbel. Oddly enough I never got that impression when I read the Old Testament. Perhaps all the best tips for living a wholesome, peaceful life were hidden somewhere in between the genocide and incest. I’ll look a little closer the next time I read it.

As we have just learned, the Bible is God’s revelation to us in written form, but God has revealed himself to us in other ways too, claims Gumbel. “God has also revealed himself in creation”. He continues, “The earth proclaims his handiwork. You only have to look around!” He then offers us some examples, “Look at a beautiful sunset, look at the oceans, look at the stars, they speak about God”

Says who? God?

Try this as an experiment: approach a Christian and say, “Allah has revealed himself in creation… The earth proclaims his handiwork. You only have to look around!” and then offer some examples in support of your claim such as, “Look at a beautiful sunset, look at the oceans, look at the stars, they speak about Allah”. See what kind of response you get. I think it’s safe to say that such a claim will be met by ill-concealed laughter and perhaps derision. This is yet another example of how religious people find their own arguments to be completely unsatisfactory.

Gumbel then tells us that science helps us to discover God. He states, “Science is an exploration of the way in which god has revealed himself in creation. That’s why there’s no conflict between science and faith. Indeed they complement one another. They’re two different ways in which we explore Gods revelation.”

He then quotes possibly the greatest scientific mind of all time, Albert Einstein: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind”. Gumbel uses Einstein perhaps in the hope that such a name will make any uninformed sceptic think, “Hmmm, Albert Einstein agrees with what Nicky Gumbel is saying, so I’ll have to take Christianity very seriously indeed.”

But did Albert Einstein believe in the Christian God?

No he did not. Nor did he believe in ANY personal god. It was Albert Einstein who wrote the following:

“It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”

Einstein is hardly endorsing Christianity, is he?

Back to God’s supposed written revelation, the Bible. Gumbel admits that difficulties can arise when reading the Bible. One such difficulty, he says, is the existence of suffering. “Every Christian believes that God is love. And yet there is this extraordinary amount of suffering in the world. How can we hold on to believing in a God of love AND seeing all the suffering that is in the world?” What we mustn’t do is abandon our belief, he advises. What we should do, rather, is “wrestle with those problems. And as we wrestle with those problems we get a deeper understanding of the Bible and a deeper understanding of the problems. The Bible is our supreme authority”

He adds that by reading the Bible we “find out what is right in God’s eyes and what is wrong in God’s eyes” He states that the Bible is, “full of practical material for how to bring up children, for example”.

If the Bible is to be believed then I’m not so sure if child welfare is high on God’s list of priorities. He seems to have a penchant for slaying defenceless infants whose only ‘crime’ is to have been unfortunate enough to be the first-born child of a certain couple for example, and God seems to have a liking for having infants offered up to him as a burnt offering (only to present the child’s father, the man assigned the duty of killing the boy, with a rib-tickling “Gotcha! I was just seeing if you’d obey me!” seconds before the child’s throat is to be slit). Yes, God is love indeed.

Gumbel then makes the point that we need rules in life. Without rules there would be anarchy and chaos. Thankfully God has that covered, as he offers us the greatest rulebook of all in the shape of… yes you guessed it… the Bible.

To highlight the fact that we need rules he offers us the tale of how he was once roped in to refereeing a boy’s game of football, after the designated referee failed to show up. Unfortunately Gumbel didn’t know the rules of the game, so it wasn’t long before the match turned into chaos. Thankfully the real referee eventually turned up and managed to sort out all the mess. He imposed the basic ground rules and the boys went on to have a great game of football. They had rules to follow and a lawgiver to obey. Things are better that way, says Gumbel. Similarly, he suggests, life is better when we have basic ground rules to follow (the Bible) and a lawgiver to obey (God).

Gumbel wants us to realise that just because God has laid down some rules for us this does not make him a dictator or a bully. On the contrary in fact, as Gumbel explains, “God loves us. He hasn’t given us this [the Bible] to restrict our freedom. He’s given us this book to set us free. To enjoy life as he intended us to live it.”

Gumbel continues, “He didn’t give us the command ‘You shall not kill’ because he is a spoil-sport… He didn’t say ‘Don’t steal’ because he wanted to ruin our fun… He didn’t say ‘Don’t commit adultery’ because he wanted to ruin all our fun. He said it because he knows that people get hurt. And he doesn’t want people to get hurt because he loves us. This [points to the bible] is how to live. This is life at its very best, and within that we find freedom.”

Moving into top gear now, Gumbel adds that the Bible is “a love letter from God”.

A love letter?

I must admit I haven’t had many love letters in my life, but the ones that I have received have been conspicuously lacking in grizzly tales of mass human slaughter, rape, and torture. If I were to receive a “love letter” from a lady whose career highlight to date was the extermination of the entire worlds population (with the exception of 8 individuals), and that such a lady also had an unhealthy fascination with torturing homosexuals and the non-religious, I think it’s safe to say that her letter would hardly ‘warm the cockles’ of my heart. And I doubt that I’d be inviting her over to my parents’ home for Sunday luncheon anytime soon. I’ll go out on a limb here and admit that those kinds of “love letters” are, to me, a tad unattractive. Maybe that’s where Gumbel and I differ.

Sticking with the love letter theme Gumbel tells us of the time he was parted for a few weeks from his then fiancée (who later became his wife). He found it very difficult, but the two of them wrote to each other every day. Every morning he’d get up and look for a letter popping through the letterbox. “If I saw a letter with [his fiancée’s name] on it I felt this excitement, this thrill. Why? The letter in itself wasn’t what it was about. It was because of the relationship. Because it was a letter from the person I loved” Gumbel, of course, is likening this scenario to that of the Christian’s relationship with God, and the warm personal attachment they feel when they read his love letter to them – the Bible.

Gumbel assures us that God “brings faith to those people that are not Christians” when they take time to read the Bible. As the apostle Paul states [Romans 10:17], “faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of God.”

Surely there are millions of people that have read the Bible and haven’t been imbued with faith as a result? I’m certainly one of them. Why does God not treat us all equally?

Keeping up a strong gallop, Gumbel enthuses “it never ceases to amaze me that this book, about a person who lived two thousand years ago, we can actually KNOW that person. We can speak to them and they speak to us through this book. Communication is vital to any relationship, that’s how we develop relationships, and that’s how relationships grow and strengthen.”

I don’t see much of a “relationship” there, to be honest. I’m a big fan of the work of Robert. G. Ingersoll, the magnificent orator and freethought advocate of mid-to-late 19th century America, but I don’t have a “relationship” with him, as such. His words touch me very deeply and they satisfy me intellectually, but I don’t claim to be in a “relationship” with Robert. G. Ingersoll. Not in the everyday sense, at least. Gumbel claims to have such a relationship, in the everyday sense, with God through the pages of a book. I think Gumbel is misleading us by misusing the word “relationship” in the way that he does.

If anyone is interested in reading some of Ingersoll’s work you can click on his name in the paragraph above, or alternatively you can find a link to his writings to the right of this screen, under the “Links” header.

Moving on…

All parents know that when you have a child you have to feed it so it will grow. Gumbel tells us that the Bible is “spiritual food. It helps us to grow” and that it “brings joy and peace”, as well as “gives us wisdom” and “challenges us” and “guides us”

He stresses now that it’s an absolute must that we read God’s word. “If you want to grow as a Christian. If you want your relationship with God to grow you need to set aside time to read the Bible.”

We should read it “rather like with foods: little and often”, then gradually increase the dosage. He suggests that we go to a solitary place to read, as this may help us focus on the message.

Gumbel adds, “I think you’ll find that if you do this on a regular basis over the years you’ll find that day-by-day God speaks to you. Sometimes in very ordinary ways and sometimes in very important ways”

Gumbel then offers us an example of when God spoke to him regarding one particularly important matter. A matter involving his father, “a secular Jew by background”, who died in 1981.

Gumbel states, “I never quite knew, because he was a man of very few words, what he thought or what he’d come to believe. And when he died I was obviously very sad because his death came very sudden, but also I was worried about whether he really had a relationship with God, through Christ. Whether he really had a belief, a faith. It was about ten days after he died that I was reading the Bible [and] I prayed that God would speak to me. I read a verse that day from Romans 10:13 and it says this, ‘For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ I sensed God say to me, ‘Your father DID call on me and he WAS saved.’”

I happen to feel for Gumbel on this point. I’m sure that every ounce of his being hopes that his father survived death, that he’s living in a paradise free from pain and that he’s in a state of perfect happiness. As humans we all want what is best for our loved ones, but, I’m sorry to say, I don’t see how these supposed admissions from God are anything but wishful thinking on Gumbel’s part. I really don’t.

There are plenty of people that claim to hear voices in their heads. Many of whom are now locked in lunatic asylums for our (and their) safety. Peter Sutcliffe (The Yorkshire Ripper) was also convinced that he had heard the voice of God in his head commanding him to slaughter prostitutes. The thing is I have no good reason for believing that the lunatics are telling the truth and, similarly, I have no good reason for believing the testimony of Gumbel. Though I am not for one moment likening him to the lunatics listed above. He is, on the whole, a reasonable fellow. Only when religion enters the fray does he, in my eyes at least, deviate from reasonableness.

Shortly after God had assured him that his father was safe in heaven, Gumbel’s wife entered the room and said, “I’ve just been reading a passage in the Bible and I think I’ve got a verse which is for your father. Its Acts 2:21 and it says this, ‘And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’”

Obviously Mrs Gumbel knew of her husband’s concerns regarding his father’s fate (as stated earlier), so it’s hardly surprising that she would tell him of a verse that would possibly offer him some emotional comfort. Gumbel doesn’t see it that way, though. He sees this as God guiding his wife to that particular verse so as to prove that he’s a caring God, and that he is a God who is eager to put their concerns to rest.

Through Gumbel’s presentation we’ve come to learn that God speaks to people. He speaks to the Gumbel family and supposedly millions of others too, but Gumbel wants to know about members of the audience, particularly the fence sitters and would-be-Christians amongst them. A fully focused Gumbel asks, “Let me ask you this question tonight. Do you think the Lord may be trying to speak to YOU?”. A doe-eyed Gumble then looks toward the audience and pleads in a whisper, “In which case will you let him?”

There’s a quiet pause as the room looks towards Gumbel contemplatively. He then brings the presentation to a close with a prayer.

There were quite a few points worthy of discussion in tonight’s session, as I’m sure you’ll agree. A couple of issues that I want to get my teeth into are:

1 – How the Christians in the group reach the conclusion that stars, oceans and sunsets are “designed”.

And…

2 – How the Christians in the group reconcile the existence of an all-loving God with the existence of gratuitous evil in the world.

We did touch upon these issues in our discussion after tonight’s presentation, but, as stated earlier, they weren’t recorded. So I wont include them here. Hopefully I can steer the conversation towards these topics in the coming weeks.

Next week’s session is entitled, “How Does God Guide Us?”

Until then…

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October 4, 2008 - Posted by | Alpha Course, Atheism, Christianity, God, Religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

17 Comments »

  1. I, as a Christian, have no problem with any other person who is not a christian interpreting what they see around them differently to me. Religions are about human spritual nature. Looking at the sights of nature inspires awe that is described in religious language in many forms, but it is all the same truth. So your accusation isn’t true for me.

    In the quoted statement of Albert Einstein: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind” I don’t believe Einstien needs to be interpreted religiously at all. But I appreciate your clarification for those who may be decieved.

    The relationship certainly is completely different from merely reading a book. Christians talk to their God understanding how he is from the book. Again I’m dumbfounded that you say you were a Christian but you never understood these things. It’s the “Hells gates locked on the inside” thing.

    We block out God’s love (in the terminology, but you could call it refusing to accept good things happenning to you, for example), it’s in our nature (hence the fall story, an integral theory to the hypothesis). So learning as much as you can about a loving God so that you can “live life in all it’s fullness” (what Christianity is all about, aiming for that fullness rather than the opposite), or trying to get as close to him as possible through reading and talking to him and sharing with others on the same path, is ultimately beneficial to you.

    Shame the machine broke. Look forward to next week’s installment!

    Comment by m0rk | October 5, 2008

  2. Oh by the way, Psalm 14:1 says; “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”

    Please let your cynicism lead you to truth. As you “investigate” Christianity, take a look at Jesus. You’ll be glad you did. He’s made the way for your salvation, sir.

    Don’t be a fool.

    Comment by Paolo Romano | October 6, 2008

  3. Paulo, maybe the fool says…. “I’ll believe everything it says in the bible”…

    That’s the issue under discussion, surely?

    Comment by qmonkey | October 6, 2008

  4. Hi again Stephen. Glad to hear you’re still going! How are things going with the people in your group? Are you getting to know them better over the weeks?

    I hope you don’t mind if I have a shot at some of your questions. I’ll try not to respond at length, because plenty of other people have already done so – and much more succinctly than I – but perhaps I’ll be able to point you in the direction of some responses if you’re interested enough to engage with them.

    There are plenty of smaller things you say in your write-up that make me shake my head and want to respond, but I’ll be here forever if I do that! But I’m going to stick to one or two things that you mention in particular: the problem of evil and relationship with God.

    Firstly, I should point out that your questions about creation, science etc have been addressed in plenty of places elsewhere. I’ve recently been recommended ‘Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?‘ by Denis Alexander, head of the Faraday Institute in Cambridge. I don’t want to get into this particular discussion, because in my experience creation either leads you to worship God or it doesn’t and no argument will make you see it differently! Myself, I’m a physics graduate and I sometimes found doing physics a worshipful experience (I know, geeky!) but mostly that was actually to do with enjoying patterns and loving the way our minds recognise and respond to beauty in physical patterns (see post on non-trivial congruence!)

    Anyway, onto your 2nd question. This is called, as I’m sure you know, the problem of evil. And of course you’re by no means the first person to raise it! Many Christians and others struggle with this question, or one of its many variations. Mostly it goes something like this: ‘why does a loving God allow suffering in the world?’ or ‘why is there evil in the world that God created good?’ – these are important questions. There is a huge amount of suffering, evil and injustice in the world – and every one of us has to respond to that (unless we’re happy ignoring it). We want someone to blame, someone to pay, someone to punish. We want justice! And it’s right to want it!

    The first part of answering these questions is to see that a big part of the problem is us. We have a choice between good and evil, between truth and a lie, between love and hate, and a lot (if not most) of the time we make the wrong choices. A huge amount of the injustice in the world is caused by one human being oppressing another, or one group oppressing another group. If you believe that we are responsible moral agents who make free choices (as most Christians do) then the person to blame is not God – but those who do evil (and that includes me). The question of what morality is without God is a question for another day (finally one the atheists have to wrestle with instead!)

    Anyway, the second part of the issue is suffering that is not caused by human beings directly. This is where Christians hold a number of varying views, but I hold to a ‘world at war’ theodicy (a theodicy is an explanation for the problem of evil). This is a view held by people like pastor Greg Boyd (and NT Wright, mostly). (As well as the problem of human sin) it sees the world as a battle between God and forces of darkness, seeking to bring death and destruction to his creation (although God himself is not threatened and does of course win the war!). If you don’t believe in God or you’re unlikely to give much credit to this view, as it requires you to believe in dark spiritual forces, but I’ll throw it out there anyway! (Although, it’s interesting that sometimes people find the ‘darkness’ first and only later discover God.)

    Anyway, most people will then say ‘well, even if God doesn’t cause it, why does he allow it?’ or questions like ‘why did he answer their prayer to be healed and not mine?’. These questions are really difficult, not least because they’re often accompanied by real suffering and heartache. Most of the time we can only say ‘I don’t know’. We live in a complicated, messed-up world.

    Here’s a couple of articles that may help: 1. Greg Boyd explaining why God must ‘tolerate evil’; 2. Physicist John Polkinghorne’s (different) view of ‘edge of chaos‘ – read my brief summary.

    One of the reasons all these are such difficult questions is that the Bible doesn’t seem to really address them (except in Job, and even then, when God shows up, it’s not really to give an answer as such…) The Bible isn’t concerned with offering a philosophical explanation of evil, as it is with telling the story of how God is dealing with it. Bishop NT Wright says this:

    The Gospels thus tell the story, unique in the world’s great literature, religious theories, and philosophies: the story of the creator God taking responsibility for what’s happened to creation, bearing the weight of its problems on his own shoulders. As Sydney Carter put it in one of his finest songs, “It’s God they ought to crucify, instead of you and me.” Or, as one old evangelistic tract put it, the nations of the world got together to pronounce sentence on God for all the evils in the world, only to realize with a shock that God had already served his sentence. … God has been there. He has taken the weight of the world’s evil on his own shoulders. This is not an explanation. It is not a philosophical conclusion. It is an event in which, as we gaze on in horror, we may perhaps glimpse God’s presence in the deepest darkness of our world, God’s strange unlooked-for victory over the evil of our world.

    (from here, an article on the problem of evil.)

    I find I’ve already written more than I intended to, so I’ll try to be much briefer in answering the second point!

    You said, “Gumbel claims to have such a relationship, in the everyday sense, with God through the pages of a book. I think Gumbel is misleading us by misusing the word “relationship” in the way that he does.”

    I’m sad to hear that you didn’t hear God speaking to you when you read the Bible and you didn’t feel you had a relationship with God when you believed in Christian faith previously. Is this something you were a bit cross/upset about at the time? Or did it not come up?

    It sounds like your experience of reading the Bible and not hearing from God has made you very doubtful that this is possible for Nicky, myself or any other Christians – would that be a fair statement?

    At any rate, Nicky isn’t claiming to have a relationship with God through reading the Bible in a way you can liken to reading any other book and claiming to be in a relationship with the author (unless you really are!) – because that would be crazy, of course. I hope you don’t think Christians are all insane! His example of the letters from his fiance is meant to illustrate that the letters themselves are not the sole content of their relationship. It is precisely because they were in a relationship that he loved to receive them and read them. Christians read the Bible because they have a relationship with God and they want to know him more – so they read and enjoy his ‘letters’. (And mostly it’s his letters that introduced him to them to start with!) Of course, God’s letters are a lot more complicated! Mostly because he gets other people to write them for him, but anyway…

    A relationship with God goes a lot further than reading the Bible. Like I said in a comment before, the theme of marriage comes up again and again. When you love someone, you just know. Having a relationship with an invisible God isn’t easy (Philip Yancey wrote a great book called ‘Reaching for the Invisible God‘, which raises a lot of these questions) but despite my doubts from time to time, there’s a reality to it that I can’t explain. It’s not just about feelings, although there are many feelings of course, it’s not even just about transformation, although of course you see some massive transformations in many people who become Christians (and I have seen God work many changes in my own life), but it’s something altogether more mysterious.

    I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe it, and I think the best way I can do this is just to describe to you a picture I have in my head right now. This is just what it feels like to me. In my picture, I’m surrounded by deep fog and nothing is real or solid. I’m reaching out in the fog and then, finally, there – I’m touching something solid! I’m pressing it – have I found the wall? But it’s not hard and rough, but pliable and warm. It’s a person!

    I’m sorry, that probably sounds all quite nuts to you. But it’s the best way I can describe something of what it’s like. Or perhaps this will make more sense: You know when beauty is just beauty? Or when you listen to a wonderful piece of music and there’s a ‘yes!’ inside you? For me it’s like a deep bell resonates inside me. Beauty, music, truth, love, Jesus. Suddenly it’s like my ears just lined up just right.. and, I hear it!

    Ok, I’m going to stop now before I waffle on any more with what probably sounds like nonsense to you!

    I think one suggestion I’d like to give you, if you don’t mind, is to try to get to know the people on your course more deeply if you can. We’re all imperfect people and we get things wrong a lot of the time, but there’s no substitute for real community. It’s good to dialogue with real people, rather than just debate ideas.

    Blessings on the journey!

    Clare

    Comment by C Miller | October 11, 2008

  5. Clare,

    God is not dealing with evil.

    It is mankind who eliminated smallpox.

    God did nothing, almost as though he did not exist.

    What was the point of your long quote by NT Wright, where he writes fantasy about how God was crucified.

    You may as well have written that evil has been solved because Harry Potter defeated Voldemort.

    We know that when Harry Potter defeated Voldemort , nothing changed as far as evil was concerned in the real world.

    And Jesus being crucified changed nothing in the real world.

    “It is an event in which, as we gaze on in horror, we may perhaps glimpse God’s presence in the deepest darkness of our world, God’s strange unlooked-for victory over the evil of our world.”

    That was just garbage. Children still burn to death in blazing houses, no matter how many times Bishops declare that their god has defeated evil.

    And your description of your imaginary friend simply reinforces the popular stereotype that Christians are grown-ups who still have imaginary friends.

    Comment by Steven Carr | October 14, 2008

  6. Steven,

    Jesus is my imaginary friend? Perhaps you’re right. Perhaps I and a million others have dreamt it all up. That’s a possibility, sure, and it’s certainly crossed my mind from time to time! It’s not like I haven’t weighed it as an option. Though, as an imaginary friend I’d probably have gone for someone a bit less ‘full-on’ if you know what I mean.

    I’m amused that you would mention Harry Potter. He seems like a good chap but I’m not sure anyone’s claiming to have a relationship with him (except Ginny perhaps? 🙂 So I’m not sure the question of ‘aliveness’ (or ability to affect the real world) is really in dispute! On the other hand, when you *know* someone the question of their existence doesn’t really come up – unless, like you say, you start to doubt your own mind and experiences. We could be crazy, it could all be some great shared hallucination, that’s true.

    But seriously, I think in the end my response would be something like Puddleglum’s reply to that same question in ‘The Silver Chair’ by CS Lewis. I imagine you’re not a Narnia fan, so here it goes:

    [They are trapped in an underground kingdom and the queen/witch has enchanted them. She has been persuading them that the world above (the ‘Overworld’) does not exist and there is no such thing as the sun…]

    “There’s Aslan.”

    “Aslan?” said the Witch, quickening ever so slightly the pace of her thrumming. “What a pretty name! What does it mean?”

    “He is the great Lion who called us out of our own world,” said Scrubb, “and sent us into this to find Prince Rilian.”

    “What is a lion?” asked the Witch.

    “Oh hang it all!” said Scrubb. “Don’t you know? How can we describe it to her? Have you ever seen a cat?”

    “Surely,” said the Queen. “I love cats.”

    “Well a lion is a little bit – only a little bit, mind you – like a huge cat – with a mane. At least, it’s not like a horse’s mane, you know, it’s more like a judge’s wig. And it’s yellow. And terrifically strong.”

    The Witch shook her head. “I see,” she said, “that we should do no better with your lion, as you call it, than we did with your sun. You have seen lamps, and so you imagined a bigger and better lamp and called it the sun. You’ve seen cats, and now you want a bigger and better cat, and it’s to so called a lion. Well, ‘tis a pretty make-believe though, to say a truth, it would suit you all better if you were younger. And look how you can put nothing into your make-believe without copying it from the real world, this world of mine, which is the only world. But even you children are too old for such play. As for you, my Prince, that art a man full grown, fie upon you! Are you not ashamed of such toys? Come, all of you. Put away these childish tricks. I have work for you all in the real world. There is no Narnia, no Overworld, no sky, no sun, no Aslan. And now, to bed all. And let us begin a wiser life tomorrow. But first, to bed; to sleep; deep sleep, soft pillows, sleep without foolish dreams.”

    “One word, Ma’am,” [Puddleglum] said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if their isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”

    That pretty much says it for me.

    I could certainly discuss with you some of the things you said in more detail, but as you’ve made up your mind that God is imaginary and the Bible is as fictional as Harry Potter, I’m not sure there’s much value in discussing them! (Why do you keep discussing them btw? Are you a friend of Stephen’s and concerned that he will start seeing things as well? 😉

    For me it’s reality and even if I am crazy, I’d rather live in the light of that world than be ‘sane’ according to your definition.

    Hope that’s okay with you!

    Comment by C Miller | October 15, 2008

  7. So Clare is not able to produce a single bit of evidence that her imaginary friend is real.

    But to her it is reality.

    I guess, if people feel pain in legs which have been amputated (as some people do), then to them the leg is real, and they need no evidence that the amputated leg is no longer there.

    Comment by Steven Carr | October 16, 2008

  8. In regard to your comment:

    “Try this as an experiment: approach a Christian and say, “Allah has revealed himself in creation… The earth proclaims his handiwork. You only have to look around!” and then offer some examples in support of your claim such as, “Look at a beautiful sunset, look at the oceans, look at the stars, they speak about Allah”. See what kind of response you get. I think it’s safe to say that such a claim will be met by ill-concealed laughter and perhaps derision. This is yet another example of how religious people find their own arguments to be completely unsatisfactory.”

    You have put your own words into the mouths of Christians (rather similarly to that which Dawkins does regularly in his books) and then commented that (your own) idea is absurd.

    If you look at the natural world you can either decide it had to be created by a creator or that it was the result of a series of cosmic accidents. That can be (and ususally is on both sides) judged from your own previously held beliefs (theistic or atheistic) or on a more objective basis of statistical likelihood and logic. If you decide for a God hypothesis (whether Yahweh, God or Allah or Vishnu or any other name) you are a theist. Christians do not object to observation of the natural world leading people towards theism rather than atheism. Of course Christians will believe that the view that Muslims have of God (Allah) and much else is not correct and of course Muslims will believe the other way round but that is a very different issue to whether you believe in some form of Creator God or not.

    Comment by Gordon Mackley | October 16, 2009

  9. Hello Gordon,

    You said: “You have put your own words into the mouths of Christians (rather similarly to that which Dawkins does regularly in his books) and then commented that (your own) idea is absurd.”
    Actually, Gordon, in my example I put words in to the mouths of Muslims not Christians. And I did this to show how weak the religious claim is, i.e. that a specific god (not a generic/deistic one) designed the earth, the oceans and the sunsets. Such arguments don’t stand up to scrutiny, even to the religious mind, as my example amply demonstrated.

    “Of course Christians will believe that the view that Muslims have of God (Allah) and much else is not correct and of course Muslims will believe the other way round…
    Which is, after all, the exact point I was illustrating. Nothing more.

    All the best,

    S. Butterfield

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | October 20, 2009

  10. It’s not in a Christian’s best interest to ask an intelligent, thinking, rational person to read the bible. Indeed, the very contents are Christianity’s worst indictment.

    Comment by Joe Bigliogo | June 1, 2010

  11. Hi Stephen, just found this blog as I’m doing an Alpha course – I see this blog is some years old and don’t know if you still maintain it… Anyway, I’m interested in your take on it – the group I’m in appears to have no ‘doubters’ apart from me and I’m not brave enough to challenge some of the things said which leave my mind reeling.

    We were sent away to read as much of the Gospel of Luke as we could after this session – I’ve read a fair bit, and while it’s clarified some points I have come away feeling depressed. The main thing is that I’ve discovered in the eyes of God & Jesus both my husband and I are adulterers – he was divorced before he met me, but apparently divorce is not recognised so our long (& happy) marriage is technically adultery. Had he stayed in an unhappy marriage that would have been okay according to the bible. I now have the knowledge that my marriage to the only man I have ever loved is a sin. In the words of The Pet Shop Boys – “Everything I’ve ever done, Everything I ever do, Every place I’ve ever been, Everywhere I’m going to It’s a sin” 🙂

    To me I’ve always respected Christianity, that it can encompass kindness, compassion, forgiveness (I know some lovely Christians) – I’m curious about it, wanting to know more, hoping it may enrich my life, but this Bible reading has dashed much of that. I don’t need to believe in Heaven, I have no problem with my life ending when it will and there being nothing, I’m not greedy for more, I try to live a good life and that is enough for me. The threat of Hell & damnation is quite a different thing however, and the bible is full of that.

    Comment by Anon | March 5, 2012

  12. Hello Anon,

    If these certain passages aren’t enough in themselves to put you off Christianity altogether then you could try what many Christians recommend that you do: that is, to pray to God for guidance on the matter. Christianity is (supposedly) all about a “relationship” with God, so, if this is true, and you are of course a genuine seeker, then God will make his position clear to you.

    I hope you enjoy the remainder of your Alpha Course experience. Do let me know how you get on at the end of it all, and do tell if you have any success with the prayer (if you choose that route, of course).

    Best wishes,

    Stephen

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | March 5, 2012

  13. Thank you for your reply Stephen, that is a very helpful suggestion and I’ll consider it. I can see that many people who are condemned in the words of the bible, for example homosexuals, still have faith – and so must surely somehow reconcile the fact their lives and the scripture are at odds. It’s possibly one of the biggest challenges faced by the churches today – to take scripture verbatim or not.

    I’m enjoying your blog, and must look into the various links you provide. The Alpha course is worthwhile so far (very nice group & facilitator), but I find the videos with Nicky Gumbel less so – in the one about reading the bible he swiftly glosses any questioning over the accuracy of the scriptures (the time lapse between the events and the recording of them isn’t addressed as a possible problem), and from my perspective that wasn’t helpful.

    Comment by Anon | March 7, 2012

  14. I don’t know where Gumbel got his figure of over 6 Bibles per household in the US; the only figure I’ve been able to find is an average of 3. For comparison, the average US household size as of 2010 is 2.5, and US gun ownership is 88.8 per 100 people – so the average American lives in a house with three Bibles and 2.25 guns!

    Comment by Phil | June 24, 2013

  15. Do you think the Lord may be trying to speak to YOU? … In which case will you let him?”

    Emphasis added. This one line confirms what I’ve always thought about Alpha – it’s geared towards producing an intense emotional experience in vulnerable people, then telling them that their experience proves the reality of God and reeling them in as converts. Shoddy stuff, and to my mind basically not very Christian. There doesn’t seem to be anything on this course about what Jesus actually said and did, let alone about what he might have been telling people to do (Matthew 19:21 anyone?) – it’s all about the spiritual warm fuzzies.

    Comment by Phil | June 25, 2013

  16. Can I suggest the following blog? http://robbellcom.tumblr.com/post/66107373947/what-is-the-bible

    It’s a very different take on things, it questions and encourages readers to take a different view of the bible from what has been traditionally taught. Here’s a snippet from part 1:

    “I’ll address some of the ways many people were taught to think and talk about the Bible- as God’s word, The Good Book, the living word, principles for living, The Word, the absolute standard, THE INERRANT TRUTH ABOUT WHICH THERE CAN BE NO COMPROMISE, God’s view on things, the ultimate owners manual, and so on -and why those ways of thinking and talking about the Bible aren’t working like they used to for lots and lots and lots of people.”

    I promise it’s a great read and will challenge both Christian and sceptic alike.

    Comment by RT | February 4, 2014

  17. Its funny that you would take the time to come against this. If there is no God and Christ has no power, what are you afraid of? so many being decieved?Even if I was among the religions who were not sure who god is but believe in god, I would not reset my thinking to that of the very few.
 Meaning atheists. How deluded are they actually to think that they, the 3% of the world, are the most enlightened? Eistein did not believe in a personal god but believed in a god. He was smart enough to know that according the the laws of nature it is impossible to create something out of nothing. Einstein quote:
    “I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings.”

    Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the SoulHowever, it would also seem that Einstein was not an atheist, since he also complained about being put into that camp:

    “In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views.”5

    “I’m not an atheist and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangements of the books, but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God.”

    Briefly, regarding your lack of understand of the Bible, it is a love letter and it is a guide. What you do not understand is that the plan of salvation is Gods love for humanity and the guide for us threaded throughout time . the old testament talks about who God is, the events of history , and how God worked within the depravity of man. Jesus, the fulfillment of the law, is the uncondiitonal love of God for the sins of man.

    Have some peace in your life. Stop attacking others beliefs. If you dont believe in God at least be honest in your comments or accept and tolerate others beliefs……billions of us who believe.

    Comment by donna | April 20, 2015


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