Josh McDowell, fundamentalist Christian apologeticsNOTE: This post isn’t quite finished, but we decided to put it out here anyway — due partly to higher-than-usual blog readership (typically 35 to 55 pageviews per day — over 1,000 per month & increasing steadily)… As always, thank you for reading; we really do appreciate it. We welcome all comments, so please feel free to express yourself regardless of your beliefs.

As I began to suspect as a tween, there were major issues with the conservative Christian fundamentalist beliefs I’d been raised to believe. Pretending to ignore this fact and proceeding with the locally expected church life as usual was, to me, a despicable, distasteful, unacceptable option.book covers, fundamentalist Christian apologeticsIt sure took this blogger & lifelong seeker long enough to commit to independent, honest, serious research concerning specific beliefs in modern Christian fundamentalism. In my early 30s — after so much procrastination and pain, which was apparently a necessary part of my path — I finally decided to embark on an intense, deep, honest, thorough, objective-as-possible quest for religious/ spiritual truth. The primary motivation was the aforementioned nagging, overwhelming feeling that never went away… that annoying mental splinter that continually reminded me that the entire modern conservative Protestant Christian belief system had evolved into a fatally flawed mass of untruths and irrational silliness.

I simply had to find out what was true and what wasn’t.

fundamentalist Christian apologeticsThe religion of my family was burdened with a low believability factor; there seemed to be a desperate, brittle quality to the "churchy" answers typically given by Christian apologetics in response to the notoriously difficult questions that have always (but more emphatically now, perhaps) faced religion as a whole. Virtually every answer I received from a true believer or read in a Christian book seemed canned, rehearsed, and dodgy. For some reason, the Christian apologists and those who read their works either could not detect or chose to ignore the logical fallacies which tainted and ruined (made inadmissable) most of their explanations.

But the problem is not so much RELIGION as it is RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISM. Most of the religious criticism in this Search for Truth blog is directed toward fundamentalist Christianity and other brands of religious fundamentalism — not the more tolerant and open-minded religious practices and worldviews including more legitimate, rational strains of Christianity. We honor and respect all tolerant, respectful, open-minded, compassionate religious views. [ Quick test: Are you a religious fundamentalist? ]

The truth is, the literal (or near-literal) interpretations of the Bible which modern conservative churches in the United States choose to embrace for some sad, unfathomable set of "reasons" (unfortunate circumstances and excuses) break down completely against reason and rational thought.

The United States is a wonderful and amazing country, but yet only a shadow of what it could be if popular beliefs were more in line with reality and basic universal spiritual principles.

Christian apologetics is a field of Christian theology determined to present a rational basis for Christian beliefs, provide believable answers to the toughest questions, and defend the relatively literal interpretation(s) of the Bible famous painting of Satan, the devilpreferred by fundamentalists. We believe today’s fundamentalist Christian apologetics community represents the last gasp of a stubborn-but-desperate beast, a fading "face of Satan."[1] We see rational thought, logic, reason, and universal spiritual principles being embraced in place of Christian fundamentalism — and in truth, there could not be a better development for planet Earth and its inhabitants.

[1]Why compare religious fundamentalism to “evil”?
Carefully and objectively contemplated, fundamentalism itself is far closer to “true evil” than freethought, secularism, humanism, agnosticism, and perhaps even atheism (excluding the militant fundamentalist atheists, who are actually just as negative and closed-minded as Hard Right Christian fundamentalists). Under the veil, religious fundamentalism represents a troubling obstacle to peace and civility on our planet. Countless horrific acts of mankind have been and continue to be carried out by [ insert any religious fundamentalist belief system here ] in the name of God. Basic universal spiritual principles seem to have been forgotten within many Christian fundamentalist circles, replaced with supernatural, often irrational dogma that could be accepted only alongside literal interpretation of scripture. The practical teachings spread by Jesus and other great spiritual teachers are consistently overshadowed by the non-practical supernatural aspects resulting from continued, blatant misinterpretation. Tolerance, compassion, and acceptance is not dispensed equally to those outside their own tight circles. Extreme closed-mindedness has become synonymous with Hard Right Christian fundamentalism. In stepping back for a moment to take an honest look at the details of their worldview, one senses the remote likelihood of fundamentalist beliefs actually being true. Their tunnel vision and closed minds cause many harsh lessons taught by world history to be forgotten. In the United States and elsewhere, rigid religious beliefs often correspond with support for waging war against other countries…

Frankly, it seems there are more than enough religious art: Creation paintingsolid reasons to beware of religious fundamentalism. This is exactly why adherents are leaving denominational fundamentalist Christianity in droves to find more tolerant and compassionate groups with which to worship. (If your conservative church happens to be the exception, please tell us about it in the Comments section below.)

Upon reading this opinion regarding the two creation stories in Genesis, I knew this material would serve as an excellent example of the dubious nature of fundamentalist answers, still oozing with that low-believability factor that will always plague religious fundamentalism:

One final but forceful point should be made. In Matthew 19:4-5, the Lord Jesus combined quotations from Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. He declared: "He who made them from the beginning made them male and female [Genesis 1:26], and said, For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh [Genesis 2:24]." religious art: Creation paintingIf the liberal viewpoint is true, how very strange that Christ should have given not the slightest hint that the two accounts involved a multiple authorship and contradictory material![1] Obviously, the Son of God did not endorse the modern Documentary Hypothesis.

When the texts of Genesis 1 and [Genesis] 2 have been considered carefully, one thing is clear[2]: an objective evaluation reveals no discrepancies[3], nor is a dual authorship to be inferred. Devout students of the Bible should not be disturbed by the fanciful, ever-changing theories of the liberal critics[4]. It is wise to remember that the Word of God was not written for the benefit of “scholars,” but for the common person[5]. The Scriptures assume that the average person is able to understand the message and to know that the source is divine[6]. (Source: Apologetics Press)

The two paragraphs above are part of a serious effort to disprove the notion that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 contain two separate creation stories, possibly written by two different authors. While the above attempt at an answer might receive a B for effort – for it is, after all, at least a valiant attempt to convince doubting fundamentalists to remain in the fold. However, it completely breaks down when confronted by even halfhearted human rationality & objective critical thought.

Notes

sheep [1] There are so many problems with this that I presently won’t burn up my time on the details. Suffice to sadly admit that most people do not bother to think for themselves in challenging ways regarding their beliefs; the masses are like herds of sheep. Seeking real religious and spiritual truth does not mesh with simple-minded adoption of a nation’s preferred religion, nor with adopting the religion of one’s peers, or family….

[2] Clear to whom, exactly? Primarily to those who already believe it

[3] An objective evaluation tends to reveal discrepancies; however, an evaluation lacking in objectivity does not; they got this one backwards (probably intentionally).

[4] Apologetic defenses are often rife with personal pleas practically begging readers to remain within the fold & discouraging religious doubt — and even downplaying critical thought. Join the masses, they plead.

Here, the opinions of skeptics and other intelligent folks (that is, those who do not fall for the standard religious dogma or the paranormal literal interpretations of religious texts) are called fanciful, ever-changing, "liberal critics" –- probably a careful choice of words designed to induce negative feelings toward those with liberal, progressive, "threatening" politics. The possible implication that non-fundamentalists are also liberals is wildly inaccurate, obviously.

Another fundamentalist mantra: "If you doubt what we say, then you must be a liberal."

[5] The Bible was intended for common folk, not for scholars…
I agree with the idealistic wish: Cogent, written, spiritual teachings should be aimed toward everyday people. The writing style(s) should not be overly complicated or technical. Sadly, this is not the case! A new Bible student will quickly see much evidence to the contrary, due to subject matter whose meaning literally pivots upon cultural contexts (all of which will be missed by non-anthropologists), language contexts, era contexts, to name only a few of the obvious ones. The mastery of Hebrew, Greek, and possibly Aramaic is a must for those concerned about possible translation issues. The Bible — as it is commonly misinterpreted today — demands higher education and advanced degrees. Ironically, the actual teachings of Jesus and other great spiritual teachers are very simple — deceptively plain — and can be understood by anyone with a bit of objectivity, knowledge, and experience!

[6] The average reader will know the source is divine…
Who are these "average readers"? In Sunday school, perhaps… mostly those who already believe — those raised to believe. This blogger agrees that average and/or uneducated folks are much more likely to fall prey to the sophisticated, educated, smooth-talking religious hucksters — often paid amazingly well to spread their divisive, legalistic, fundamentalist message. However, it is hard to blame followers who were spoon-fed their religious fundamentalism from the day they learned to crawl. (I’m in that category, too.) In truth, the religious systems themselves inherently contain clever devices that minimize any real, dedicated efforts by adherents to study the material in an objective, meaningful way. That’s sad.

Another problem is what fundamentalists really mean when they talk of God and the divine. They are almost always speaking of an external entity — a being that typically dwells outside of themselves. In truth, the only place one can find truth, experience inner peace, and reach heaven is within one’s self… within the Self.

Religious fundamentalism is a human tragedy that few even realize exists — especially from the inside…

lightning from nearby storm at night in Nashville - Stephen Frasier PhotosAll we can do is promote rational thought, encourage adherence to basic universal spiritual principles in all facets of life — and, hopefully, help to persuade a few readers to examine all forms of fundamentalism with a much keener eye & investigate rigid religious beliefs more closely, intently, and rationally, with open minds.

It’s amazing that such a large proportion of U.S. Christian Protestant fundamentalists has never even read the Bible in its entirety. Alarmingly few believers are able to explain where the Bible came from in the first place. This is not surprising to those who have experienced those closed religious lives first-hand.

In any case, the typical apologist diatribes take for granted the belief or assumption that the Bible represents a solid, coherent, divine message or vision, rather than what it really is: a handpicked, after-the-"fact", disparate collection of writings from across oceans of time written by numerous authors — with all the current books of the Bible having been voted in by priests around 325 C.E. in the Council of Nicaea[11].

classic religious painting: Adam and Eve in Garden of Eden, serpent - talking snakeThe following paragraph came from the same source, Apologetics Press:

If you were to open your Bible and begin reading, you would quickly come to understand how the Universe got here, including the Earth, and how we human beings came into existence. You would read about the first two human beings, Adam and Eve, and how they disobeyed God’s directive to them, thereby introducing sin into the world. This circumstance becomes the central concern[10] of the rest of the Bible: human sin and God’s intention to atone for that sin so that humans can be reconciled to Him through the forgiveness of their sins. (Source: What the Bible Says about the Church of ChristApologetics Press)

This is so typical of the thinking that goes on within the closed systems of fideism and religious fundamentalism. One can see the subtext right through the detritus; it says something like, "We are right, everyone else is wrong, and here’s our proof!"

What the Bible Says about the Church of Christ is a 96-page document — part of a series designed to poke holes in competing denominations within Christian fundamentalism. That is, the series represents an effort by this group to discourage believers in other churches, many of which differ on mere minutiae — what many would consider to be trivial practices.

Using musical instruments in church is a great example of a seemingly trivial issue or squabble between fundamentalist Christian sects. Churches of Christ will not mix with the Southern Baptists because the latter uses instrumental music as part of its worship; the Church of Christ is a capella only, teaching that music apart from the human voice is not approved for use in church. (This blogger was raised in the Church of Christ in Nashville and attended a private Christian school from first grade all the way through college!)

If you attend church but are secretly harboring doubts about how closely your church’s teachings actually conform to reality & truth, then you are exactly where I was at age 30. If spiritual truth is important to you, please do yourself a HUGE favor and launch some serious research. Go at it more intensely, objectively, closely, and seriously than ever before — that is, if having beliefs that align with reality and truth is important to you…

Taoist yin-yang symbolizing absence of dualism You will find that TRUE OBJECTIVITY concerning religious belief is quite difficult to achieve, at first; but that changes with ongoing study. Continue to research religious/spiritual traditions from all angles — Taoist, Buddhist, agnostic, etc. — even atheist viewpoints, no matter how offensive. The point is maintaining an open mind. It helps to assume from the start that every religion has an equal if remote chance of being true — and it’s your job to find the truth.

Taoism: statue of Lao TzuDiscover for yourself what the smartest, most influential people throughout history came to believe for themselves. Believing in a thing simply because some other person or group believes in it, is certainly not a sufficient reason in itself to adopt the belief; however, looking into these matters is a priceless exercise in learning, knowledge, perspective, and finally wisdom. For those who engage in long-term spiritual quests, inner peace grows and grows… finally resulting in complete freedom… really.

Notes

[10] All of mankind is tainted with original sin (from fruit-eating)
Here we see the sadly popular fundamentalist belief that man is born defective and bad, and that one must embrace a paranormal belief system and go through a supernatural process in order to fix oneself and make it to heaven. It appears the practical elements have been forsaken for the paranormal aspects of religion, causing the beautiful spiritual message to be overlooked entirely!

It never ceases to amaze that so many people in the United States and elsewhere purport to believe this massive religious mess and eternal suffering is the result of such an innocent mistake as eating the wrong fruit — an action based solely upon on the simple recommendation of a talking snake. OMG!!

[11] Origin of the Bible

…many of the original books of the bible were deliberately left out. The apocryphal books were eliminated over several of the following ecumenical councils. In 553AD, in the second ecumenical council of Constantinople, the remaining ideas of reincarnation and the transferring of souls from one body to another were deleted from the Bible.

Did you ever wonder what happened to Jesus between the age of 12 and 32? Most of his life was left out of the final version of the New Testament. I have read in some places that he left Jerusalem, and went to India during that time and learned Buddhism from the Indian masters. [Ed.: This is even more believable after one researches the large number of amazing, even suspicious similarities between Buddha’s teachings and the teachings of Jesus 500 years later.] Well, that obviously just didn’t fit the agenda of the church or Constantine’s agenda at the time, so all books and passages referring to those many years of the life of Jesus Christ were removed from the scripture that ended up in the Bible we see today.

So, is the Bible we see today the "unerring exact word of God" as told to the 40 people credited with writing the various books remaining in the Bible? Or is The Qur’an the real truth? Or is it the Bhagwad Gita? Or the Tao Te Ching? Or the Avesta? Or some other holy book? These are all holy books that represent the teachings of many major religions and each has literally hundreds of millions of followers who believe completely in the validity of THEIR respective holy book.

You must decide for yourself which you believe is the divinely-inspired words of the creator of the universe – or if any of them are. Perhaps you may decide none of them are and they are all merely the machinations of politics and power. It’s up to you.

The purpose and scope here is not to determine such heady questions, but merely to outline some of the history behind the Bible and path that the original documents took before they became the Bible we see today. (Source: Where Did the Bible Come From: Another interesting, thought-provoking article by Val Serrie

)

Resources: Questionable quality of Christian apologetics & typical "churchy" answers

Please help spread the message any way you can:

  1. Fundamentalism — whether religious or political — is one of the true, major, current scourges on the planet; nothing good can come from it.
  2. The way forward for all mankind is to embrace basic universal spiritual principles in all affairs.
  3. Individuals, groups, and nations should not expect others to adopt their own culture-specific or religion-specific traditions, practices, or beliefs; instead, mutual respect should reign.

This post was started on Sunday, May 06, 2012

For later:
Creation story issues

Yahweh created the tree of knowledge of good and evil with delicious fruit which grants great wisdom to those who partake of it. Then he showed it to the humans and told them not to eat it.

Isn’t this the equivalent of placing a $100 on a Mississippi sidewalk and expecting no one to grab it? Is this wise or loving in any form or fashion?

The __ argument portends that the amazing design of nature and the intelligence of man points to a creator. Yet the amazing intelligence (in some respects, anyway) of God somehow does not need a creator…

hiking at Fiery Gizzard near Monteagle, TN - fall 2008Are There Two Creation Accounts in Genesis? Apologetics Press
http://www.apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=6&article=1131

• Why did God plant the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden in the first place?
• Why would God need to rest? This implies physicality and is definitely not indicative of omnipotence.