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A Conversation with a Christian : from atheists.org 3

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Is there any validity in the notion that an atheist like Dave, one who intellectually hates and is repulsed by any claim whatsoever of a “divine source”, somehow in the end finds himself living in alignment with that source? This is only conceivable if your teleology with regard to the ultimate purpose of the Christian life is “to live a descent life”. I see nothing in the Christian faith or the scriptures that allow for such a teleology so I am forced to call this notion invalid.

When Dave describes his moments of “feeling transcendence” and “oneness”, he readily admits that these are illusions – tricks that his mind plays on him when he is put in certain mental states by environmental stimuli. He further recognizes the tendency he may have to feel connection with something outside himself. Again, however, he has convinced himself that this is just an illusion, though nice to enjoy while it lasts. Perhaps, he thinks, because this gives his life a sense of meaning. Intellectually, however, if Dave really stuck to his own convictions and principles, these illusions are no more able to confer meaning for someone than the moment you appear to see stars flying around you when you receive a good blow to the head. Both are illusions played upon the senses by the mind. What warrant can Dave have in saying the one has meaning when the other does not? They are both illusions. There is no sense, [third person in the conversation], in trying to identify with what Dave has been describing as “feelings of transcendence”. What you are talking about is something Dave has not experienced and chooses not to experience. 

Besides, experiencing God and His kingdom is not really a matter of “good feelings” or “good words” repeated over and over again is it. As Paul says, it is a matter of power – power to raise the dead, power to heal the sick, power to set captives free. What do “feelings of transcendence” have to do with this?


I don’t want to argue about the purpose of church… I think we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on that, as far as magic healing and so on. I do need to point out, though, that your belief that I was never really a Christian isn’t justified. I believed that Jesus was the son of God, that humans were sinful and deserving of Hell, but that because Jesus died on the cross, if we accepted his gift of salvation, we could be spared that. That’s the definition of Christianity in my book. If you disagree, I’d be interested in hearing more about why. I think that the reason it’s important to you to believe that I was never really a Christian is because it’s hard for you to accept that someone could, having felt and experienced a real connection with Jesus, at some later point fail to recognize that. Of course, I don’t see it as a failure to recognize it; I see it as a recognition of what it really was all along, but we don’t have to get into that. I am sometimes tempted to feel the same way about former atheists I meet – it’s hard for me to accept that they were ever really atheists, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t.

The other thing I need to say is that I don’t “intellectually hate” nor am I “repulsed” by any claim whatsoever of a divine source. I hate and am disgusted by many of the behaviors humans engage in when their brains are infected with the virus that is religious fundamentalism, but that’s not the same thing. The claim of a divine source in itself doesn’t make me angry or disgusted. Anger is the emotion you feel when you perceive injustice. Repulsion or disgust is the emotion you feel when you perceive a risk of contamination. I feel neither of these. What I feel is pity and sadness. It may appear to be anger but there is an important distinction if you pay careful attention to what I write and say and so on. I am angry at people who try to use religion to bully others, or use religion to make other people suffer, or use religion to defraud people, or use religion to stifle scientific progress, or use religion to subjugate women, or use religion to justify bigotry, or use religion to justify war, or use religion to steal credit for human accomplishments. I get frustrated when I see people misunderstanding certain aspects of logic and statistics and so on, but it doesn’t anger me; it’s more just that I think it’s unfortunate that they are ignorant about cause and effect and magical thinking and so on. And the pity comes when I think about the people who do not understand that they are being taken advantage of or that they do not have to imprison themselves in rules that aren’t really there. I feel sadness because so many people are living out their one and only lives in a fantasy-land. That is what I really feel, not hatred or anger.


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